MOSCOW – In the latest act of solidarity with Ukraine in Russia, a group of people have apparently scaled the heights of one of Moscow’s iconic Stalin-era skyscrapers, hoisted a Ukrainian flag over it, and painted the Soviet star at its peak yellow and blue.
The incident took place under cover of darkness in the early morning hours of August 20 at a massive 32-floor elite apartment building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment in downtown Moscow in the vicinity of both the Kremlin and the Federal Security Service headquarters.
It is not yet clear who was behind the stunt, although police have reportedly arrested four young Russians with climbing gear, all of them believed to be residents of Moscow and the surrounding region.
To hoist the flag and paint the star, the climbers presumably would have had to scale the 176-meter building -- or find another way to reach its peak.
An unidentified Moscow police official told the Interfax news agency that the group used "an internal staircase" to reach the top floor of the building and then used "special equipment" to reach its spire.
A video posted by various Russian media purports to show one of the pranksters parachuting down from the height of the Stalin-era building after daybreak.
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The detained quartet deny their guilt, according to press reports. An unidentified police official told the ITAR-TASS agency that the group claims they were simply thrill seekers and had nothing to do with the stunt. "The two young men and two girls say they jumped from a high building with parachutes. They say they didn't hoist any flag and didn't paint the flag," the official said.
Despite the confusion, the caper was welcomed by liberal bloggers, many of whom have watched uneasily for months as the Kremlin has annexed Ukrainian territory and supported a separatist uprising in its east.
"It's the beginning of change," a Twitter user with the handle "Reincarnation" tweeted on the microblogging site.
Here are some more tweets from the scene.
The incident marks the latest in a series of acts of solidarity with Kyiv in Russia, despite the patriotic fervor that accompanied Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist insurgency.
In other examples, some opposition activists have taken to singing the Ukrainian national anthem when they are arrested.
Last week, Andrei Makarevich, front man for the popular band "Mashina Vremeni" (Time Machine) traveled to eastern Ukraine where he performed for internally displaced children, a move that saw him branded as a "traitor" by Russian lawmakers and pro-establishment musicians.
After Malaysia Airlines MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down in rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the liberal opposition "Novaya gazeta" newspaper ran the controversial cover page: "Forgive Us Netherlands." The majority of the 298 people killed on MH17 were Dutch.
And the popular Russian rapper and songwriter Noize MC also performed last week at a music festival in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, with a Ukrainian flag, drawing accusations in Russia of "betraying" his homeland.
"I went to the edge of the stage and a girl in the crowd gave me a yellow-blue flag," Noize MC, whose real name is Ivan Alekseyev, wrote on his VKontakte page.
"As a token of friendship between our peoples...I of course took it."
Alekseyev added that by playing in Ukraine, and accepting the flag, he "wanted to show that our people are brothers and friends. What we do not need is to fear and hate each other." He added: "I've never danced to the tune of the state, no matter what kind of state it was. I am for the people."
It is unclear whether the detained climbers will be charged with vandalism.
According to an online poll conducted by the liberally oriented Ekho Moskvy radio station, 74 percent they should be released provided they repaint the star.
In a post on his Facebook page, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lauded the stunt, which came just days before his country celebrates Independence Day on August 24.
"On the eve of Independence Day we are starting an initiative called 'Our Colors,' which is devoted to the Ukrainian flag," Poroshenko wrote.
"And it is symbolic that, on this day, our colors have been painted on what is perhaps the greatest skyscraper in Moscow. I urge Ukrainians throughout the world, wherever they are, on the eve of the anniversary of our independence, to decorate their homes, offices, and cars in our national colors."
-- Tom Balmforth