KIEV: The sculpture shows two elderly people hugging each other in an embrace that defies age, immortalising a reunion 60 years after the end of World War II and descent of the iron curtain tore their love apart.
A new monument in Kiev unveiled this month preserves for future generations the extraordinary story of Ukrainian Mokryna Yurzuk and Italian Luigi Pedutto who were finally rewarded for never forgetting each other.
Mokryna and Luigi met for the first time in 1943 at a labour camp in Austria, where they had been imprisoned after being arrested and deported by Nazi forces in World War II. Both of them were around 20 years old. Despite the language barrier, they fell in love, helping each other to endure the hardships of camp life in a ravaged Europe.
Mokryna and Luigi both worked in the sewing workshop and the young Italian from time to time tried to make something beautiful for his Ukrainian girlfriend on the side from his main job.
And during short rest periods, they held each other's hands and walked in silence: she did not understand Italian and he knew only a few words in Russian.
In 1945, when Allied forces launched an operation to free the captives, Luigi, Mokryna and her young daughter Nadia escaped from the camp.
The Italian wanted to go to Ukraine with his girlfriend, but it was almost impossible for a foreigner to get into any of the republics of the Soviet Union at that time, as the iron curtain had come down on Europe.
After the war, both Mokryna and Luigi married other people and had families of their own in Ukraine and in Italy. But then both were widowed.
Some time later, Luigi Pedutto sent a letter to the Russian TV programme “Wait for Me”, which also airs in Ukraine, and specialises in seeking out missing relatives or people close to its viewers at their request.
The Italian was lucky: his beloved Mokryna was found in the Ukrainian backwater of a small village in Dnipropetrovsk region in central Ukraine.
-- 'Sooner or later you will be rewarded' --
It's their reunion in the TV studio in 2004 almost six decades later that is depicted by sculptors in the monument in Kiev's central Khreschatyi park.
Then, the highly-emotional Italian cried and thanked fate for giving him the chance to meet his darling once again. Since then, Luigi regularly comes to visit Mokryna, helping her around the house in the village.
Luigi visited Kiev to attend the unveiling of the statue that symbolises the love that they kept despite long years apart and post-war deprivation.
Dressed in the ceremonial uniform of the Italian Army and with a long feather in his hat, 90-year-old Luigi looked in very good shape, showing his emotion only when he removed the cloth from the newly installed monument.
“I want to wholeheartedly thank the people of Kiev, Ukrainians. I was overwhelmed with feelings,” the Italian veteran said.
“When I went to school and I was nine years old, my teacher said: 'Boys, remember: for all the tough things you have to go through sooner or later you will be rewarded'.
“I feel that now I received a high reward for the life that I lived and what I went through.”
The monument of Mokryna and Luigi has been symbolically placed in front of the so-called “bridge of lovers”, which according to tradition is decorated with large and small padlocks as pledges of eternal love.
Kiev authorities unveiled the sculpture on the eve of the May 9 holiday when Ukraine, along with Russia and other ex-Soviet states, marks the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
Mokryna Yurzuk could not attend the opening of the monument due to illness, explained Elena, one of her two granddaughters, who came instead.
“She wanted to, but could not. Our grandmother is tight-lipped, it was only not so long ago we learned the details of the story with Luigi. But, perhaps, it is thanks to this story that her life still goes on,” Elena said.
“She told me that she was in a camp in Austria, she had a friend from Italy, he helped her. Sometimes now she cannot remember what happened yesterday, but she remembers what took place many years ago.”
She added that Mokryna was not interested in celebrity, despite the interest in her story.
“My grandmother does not like the agitation around her, she responds with great restraint to it all.”