Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Recent articles of Melissa Martin

Building bonds through words and ideas for 150 years

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Building bonds through words and ideas for 150 years

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Friday, Nov. 25, 2022

Some years ago, I wrote a really bad column. To be clear, it wasn’t the first time something I’d put in the paper landed with a thud, nor was it the last; they can’t all be winners. Brains (at least my brain) aren’t reliable machines. Quality control leaves a little something to be desired. You can put them to work pushing out words, but they don’t always function.

The point is: I wrote a piece that sucked, and for the most part, readers were nice enough to look the other way, the same as you do when you see someone accidentally walk into a street lamp. It’s a kindness. I did get one email though, that made no bones about how nonsensical and self-absorbed the reader thought the piece was.

He wasn’t wrong, but at that moment, feeling a little vulnerable, I fired off a response that vented how sensitive I was feeling. “I’m a person,” I wrote, that much I remember. I’m a person. I’m sorry you didn’t like it, some columns won’t be for everyone and sometimes I just don’t get it right, but I’m still a person, and emails like this hurt.

A week later, a card arrived in my mailbox at work. I opened it. Inside was the most gracious handwritten note; the reader apologized for how his first message had come across. What he wrote then was so thoughtful, so caring, it made me realize with a jolt that, though this reader and I had never met, in his mind, we were not actually strangers.

Friday, Nov. 25, 2022

Longtime Free Press subscriber, Doris Ames, reads the paper every day in her living room. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Soundtrack to the resistance

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Soundtrack to the resistance

Melissa Martin 12 minute read Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022

On a bitterly cold night in early November, as darkness fell over Winnipeg’s streets, a long line of people shuffled down an Exchange District sidewalk, huddled against whips of thick snow. As they inched forward their voices caught the wind to reveal a notable distinction: for every one person speaking English, about three were speaking Ukrainian.

That night was for them, for the newcomers. It was the last stop of Ukrainian hip-hop troupe Kalush Orchestra’s first North American tour, and in Winnipeg, as with every other performance, displaced Ukrainians packed the venue. They wore flags draped over their shoulders. They danced as their tears flowed, and for a few hours, they felt a little closer to home.

The timing of the tour was no coincidence. It, too, was an artifact of war, bringing the performers to where their fans had fled all over the world. Other Ukrainian music stars are set for similar jaunts this winter. But the tour was also a sign of Kalush’s rising global fame: just two days after the cosy Winnipeg show, they headlined the spectacular MTV Europe Awards.

In a way, Kalush’s arc tells a story about all that has happened; their career will always be tied to the war. In the first months of the invasion, their hit single Stefania was a fixture at Ukrainian solidarity rallies and in TikTok videos cheering Ukraine; in May, the tune won the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest, buoyed by a record-smashing surge of viewer votes.

Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022

MELISSA MARTIN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ukrainian hip-hop troupe Kalush Orchestra performs for a packed crowd, largely made up of newcomers, at Winnipeg’s Exchange Event Centre on Nov. 10.

LGBTTQ+ skateboarding community crashes into evangelical-run facility’s repressive policies

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LGBTTQ+ skateboarding community crashes into evangelical-run facility’s repressive policies

Melissa Martin 8 minute read Monday, Nov. 21, 2022

When Maddy Nowosad was 18 years old, she stumbled across a video on Instagram, a clip of dazzling tricks by American pro skateboarder Mariah Duran.

The video sparked something inside her. A memory of how much she’d loved skateboarding as an eight-year-old kid before she’d drifted away from the sport for lack of friends who liked it as much as she did.

Inspired, Nowosad took up skating again. At first just in her backyard; but in 2019, she found The Edge.

The facility, Winnipeg’s only full-sized indoor skatepark, would transform her life. For her and countless others, it would be their entry point to the city’s close-knit and famously positive skateboarding scene. A place to tend their physical well-being, but also to build something like a second family. A place of peer support, and of healing.

Monday, Nov. 21, 2022

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Maddy Nowosad, centre from left, Geoff Reimer, former Edge staffer, and Charla Smeall, owner of Sk8 Skates, and other members of Manitoba Skateboard Coalition (MSC) are photographed just off Higgins Ave. in Winnipeg Monday, November 21, 2022. The MSC, and other members of the skateboard community are coming together to create a new and inclusive skatepark.

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City’s cherished KUB rye could become slice of history if owner can’t sell bakery

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City’s cherished KUB rye could become slice of history if owner can’t sell bakery

Melissa Martin 4 minute read Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022

Of all the many ways I’m a bad Winnipegger, being a latecomer to KUB bread is one. It’s not my fault; I didn’t grow up with rye. My parents were WASPy immigrants from the American Midwest who never quite picked up on the city’s more insular culinary traditions; when I was a kid, all the loaves in our house were white.

So my introduction came much later, as a freshly minted adult. I tried it for the first time in its natural habitat, which is to say, late at night in some perfunctory community centre hall. There are many rye breads in Winnipeg, and some are better than others. But for whatever reason, when it came to wedding socials it had to be, and was almost always, KUB.

Oh, it was magic, then. Midnight bread. Mop-up bread. A bread to invite a second wind. Palm-sized, smeared with mustard, served on paper plates with more anticipation than ceremony. Slap a slice of ham on there. Squeeze it around a suspiciously yellow cube of cheese. It wasn’t fine dining, but it satisfied a simpler urge. More primal. In those moments, it was love.

Sometimes, love is about familiarity, more than anything. It’s the comfort of knowing what to expect, and knowing it will be repeated. And Winnipeg has never been too eager for change. The tenor of the city, in general, is one of wanting most things to stay the same. But nothing ever does.

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022

JASON HALSTEAD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Employee Justin Ross puts loaves of rye onto a cooling rack at KUB Bakery on Erin Street in the West End on Nov. 2, 2016. KUB Bakery has been making Winnipeg-style Rye bread, using virtually the same recipe, since 1923. (See Sanderson ‘The City’ story for Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016)

Disconnected in our comforts

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Disconnected in our comforts

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022

When the lights went out on Sunday night, I was halfway through a book I’d started that morning, not intending to finish it in one sitting but having been seduced, without my realizing, deep into the story. The book was Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. It’s a special book, a beautiful piece of writing. It’s also very hard to describe.

The book’s main character is the titular narrator. We meet him as an inhabitant of a strange world, a labyrinth of vast halls lined by statues, a labyrinth that contains mysteries and oceans. We learn the world as he explores it; I won’t give too much away. Only to say it’s about how innocence is a matter of perspective, shaped by the walls of where we are contained.

So I too was lost in the book’s great halls on Sunday night, when the real world, or at least the part of Osborne Village outside my window and much of Winnipeg beyond, suddenly went dark. In the silence, no more gentle refrigerator hum, I listened to the sounds of feet stumbling through nearby suites, as neighbours searched for what went wrong.

I tried to go back to my book. I lit a candle, but it didn’t throw off enough light to reach the page. Annoyed at being stolen from the world I’d been exploring, I turned on my phone instead. Across social media Winnipeggers were figuring out the extent of the Hydro outage, reporting in from across River Heights. (In all, over 29,000 customers were affected.)

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022

Manitoba Hydro’s power transmission lines lace the northern skies around Gillam and Fox Lake. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

We remember for those who can’t — and couldn’t — forget

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We remember for those who can’t — and couldn’t — forget

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022

There’s a phrase that comes up often when the talk turns to veterans of past and passing generations. The father who never really opened up to the daughter; the grandfather who tucked his memories, along with his uniform, away in an attic. Those who came before, honoured in occasional ceremonies but always partly opaque, even to those they loved most.

“He never talked about the war.”

That’s not universally true, of course. Some of them did talk about it, most often to each other. Some were always able to tell their spouses or their children what they’d seen. Others did so only in the twilight of their lives when historians came calling, anxious to gather as many oral histories of one or war or another before it slipped from living knowledge.

Still, many never talked. Maybe they couldn’t bear to relive it, couldn’t bear to open the doors in their minds behind which they had placed the memories of friends who didn’t make it. Maybe they thought nobody else could understand what they’d done, and how it had truly felt when they had to do it. Maybe they thought nobody really wanted to hear it.

Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022

We remember the stories never told, because so many of those who could tell them never came home, and so many of those who did could not speak of what they’d seen. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Twitter's erratic new owner is unlikely to repair the deteriorating ‘global town square’

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Twitter's erratic new owner is unlikely to repair the deteriorating ‘global town square’

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Friday, Nov. 4, 2022

Within his first week as Twitter’s new owner, billionaire Elon Musk declared that the social media platform was “freed,” shared a link to a baseless conspiracy theory about the man who is accused of attacking Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer and announced that, in the near future, Twitter would charge users US$8 a month to keep certain perks.

It felt like a social media trifecta for the 2020s: a moralizing brag, a misleading lie and then a monetization squeeze.

Among users, the reaction was chaotic. Musk’s fans revelled in his pronouncements, but among many other regular users, a sort of despair set in. Quite a few announced they would quit Twitter. Some may have already done so.

To folks that never got sucked into Twitter, the storm over its future under Musk-led private ownership may seem like a lot of drama about nothing, but it matters. Social media has changed our society irrevocably, in ways both good and bad; we’ve yet to fully understand, let alone reckon with, the depth of its effects. What happens online doesn’t stay there.

Friday, Nov. 4, 2022

FILE - Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition on March 9, 2020, in Washington. Musk plans to lay off most of Twitter's workforce if and when he becomes owner of the social media company, according to a report Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, by The Washington Post. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Pamela Mala Sinha mines family history to tell story of overlooked generation of new Canadians

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Pamela Mala Sinha mines family history to tell story of overlooked generation of new Canadians

Melissa Martin 10 minute read Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022

It’s the early 1960s. A young bride steps off a plane in Montreal and at first she doesn’t recognize her husband because he’s wearing a suit and a beret, and she was imagining him as they’d met at home in India.

That night, she looks at the swirling white outside, and in her exhaustion remarks how dusty it is in Canada. She doesn’t really know snow.

The next day her husband takes her to Winnipeg, where he’d been hired as a professor at the University of Manitoba. They settle into an apartment on River Avenue, beside a small park. Their marriage had been arranged, so they’re learning this new country the same way they are learning each other, which is to say, it will take some time.

There aren’t many South Asian people in Winnipeg just then, and the young bride doesn’t speak much English. She spends most days alone. For the first month, she sits at the window of that River Avenue apartment and stares out at a city covered in snow, wondering how to carve a space in it big enough for a life she can call her own.

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Playwright Pamela Mala Sinha, left, and her mother, Rubena Sinha, outside the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre, where Pamela’s play, New, debuts on Saturday.

A large majority of Winnipeggers chose not to buy in to what civic race was offering

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A large majority of Winnipeggers chose not to buy in to what civic race was offering

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Friday, Oct. 28, 2022

The numbers will haunt Winnipeg for the next four years, in one way or another. There are a few that stand out. They tell us a little about Winnipeg, and a lot about this election. And they’re a warning sign about our civic politics, if not quite — or not yet — a 911 call. So let’s take a moment, and review some of the key figures.

Here’s where we start: 27.5 per cent. That’s the share of cast ballots that lifted Scott Gillingham to the mayor’s chair, and it’s both the smallest vote total and the smallest share for a winner in this city in over 50 years. It was enough, in this case, for a razor-thin win over Glen Murray, whose early lead collapsed by his own hand, but it shouldn’t be confused for a triumph.

Because here are some other numbers that stand out. In the days leading up to Oct. 26, advance turnout at some locations was high, leading election officials to predict “very large turnouts.” But in the end, of Winnipeg’s 521,191 eligible voters, the majority stayed home: only 37.4 per cent of us cast a ballot. Over six in 10 did not.

Which leads us to another figure of note. Of the people who did vote, a smidge over half chose either Gillingham or Murray. But 47.2 per cent cast their ballot for one of the nine other people running; in a race that did have two clearly-defined front-runners, the spread could be interpreted as a rebuke of the options on the table.

Friday, Oct. 28, 2022

Signage outside the First Presbyterian Church in the Wolseley neighbourhood of Winnipeg directs voters to the polling station on Wednesday, October 26, 2022. Scott Gillingham has been elected mayor of Winnipeg, replacing Brian Bowman, who did not seek re-election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Daniel Crump

Santos secures second term in Point Douglas

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Santos secures second term in Point Douglas

Melissa Martin 3 minute read Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022

Vivian Santos is headed back to city hall for her second term as the councillor for Point Douglas.

The incumbent comfortably held off challenges from businessman Moe El Tassi and former real estate broker Joe Pereira.

In a victory speech to her supporters Wednesday night, Santos said it had been a “challenging” four years, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to hold in-person community events. As a result, some constituents felt she hadn’t been visible enough during that time, Santos said, vowing to focus her second term on building those connections.

“Moving forward, my reassurances to you, the residents of Point Douglas: I will not let that happen again,” she said, after celebrating with supporters at her headquarters in the Meadows West neighbourhood. “I will be more readily available. I have plans to open a constituency office, so that I will be more accessible within the community.”

Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022

Lieutenant-governor ceremony gathers threads of history, legacy

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Lieutenant-governor ceremony gathers threads of history, legacy

Melissa Martin 5 minute read Monday, Oct. 24, 2022

It was a nice ceremony, for those who saw it: the bugle call, the polite applause, the operatic solo sung from the Manitoba legislative chamber’s gallery.

Canada inherited its affinities for pomp and circumstance from the British, though not, perhaps, either their skill in the delivery or the collective investment in its importance. But maybe that’s for the best.

So on Monday, when former Liberal MP Anita Neville was installed as the province’s 26th lieutenant-governor in that nice ceremony, most Manitobans didn’t see it. Around 120 people watched it live on the province’s YouTube channel; for most of the province’s 1.4 million residents, life went on as normal, with the majority comfortably unaware it was happening at all.

Yet in that ceremony, threads of history tied together with the present.

Monday, Oct. 24, 2022

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Former Liberal MP Anita Neville was installed as the province’s 26th lieutenant governor in a ceremony held in the chamber of the legislative assembly on Monday.

Civic politics stuck in cycle of low-risk, low-reward policies driven by urban-suburban divide

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Civic politics stuck in cycle of low-risk, low-reward policies driven by urban-suburban divide

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022

One night this week, as evening fell over Osborne Village, residents trickled into the Gas Station Theatre at the corner of River and Osborne. They were there to meet the Sabe Peace Walkers, a street safety patrol organized along the Bear Clan model, which has been strolling the neighbourhood’s streets five nights a week since August.

The turnout was good, for that kind of meeting. The crowd, mostly seniors, was warmly supportive. They raised their hands to share stories about how the walkers had accompanied them home after dark. They nodded along when someone observed that, since the patrols had begun, something in the Village had felt calmer, as if tensions were settling.

Above all, the crowd wanted to know how they could help. For now, the Sabe walkers’ presence is a pilot project, funded by a grant from Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries; Osborne Village BIZ executive director Lindsay Somers told the crowd she was busy working to secure longer-term funding.

Would it help, residents asked, if they wrote letters to organizations with money? Could they help find a vacant space for the patrol to use as a warm public hang-out and home base? They wondered if the patrols needed items, such as warm gloves, to help the unhoused or precariously-housed people who pass the days on the Village’s streets.

Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Osborne Village in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg's most vulnerable residents should have a voice in downtown's future: advocates

Melissa Martin 21 minute read Preview

Winnipeg's most vulnerable residents should have a voice in downtown's future: advocates

Melissa Martin 21 minute read Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022

In the waning days of 2019, it seemed to Kate Fenske as if downtown Winnipeg would ride into the new year on a fresh wave of momentum. New development was in the works, including plans for more housing. Twice as many businesses had opened that year than closed, and the Downtown BIZ CEO was optimistic the area’s fortunes were shifting.

Then COVID-19 swept over the world and everything changed.

For years, downtown’s business strategy had leaned on two pillars: big events, and the roughly 60,000 people that went to work there every day. But suddenly, the office workers had vanished. There were no more concerts and Jets games. The restaurants and shops that served those crowds saw revenues crater; the streets fell silent, even by day.

At the time, the BIZ threw itself into helping its businesses survive. It wasn’t always enough. On a crisp recent afternoon, as Fenske strolls down Graham Avenue, she points at a string of storefronts that once housed a framing store, a niche café and a coffee shop. All three sit empty now, joining downtown’s 32 per cent ground-floor vacancy rate.

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tyler Muracz, acting supervisor (right) and John Medina of the Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP) outreach team in downtown Winnipeg.

Broader perception of downtown seems mired in time

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Broader perception of downtown seems mired in time

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Friday, Oct. 14, 2022

One of the most jarring signs that you’re getting older, perhaps, is when youth of the next generations start asking what you remember about the past. It’s been happening more to me, lately. It’s a strange feeling, to realize your memories are making the transition from a living description of your time, to an artifact of history; at least, it puts time into perspective.

For instance, there was that afternoon last week, when I went walking around downtown with two outreach workers from the Downtown Community Safety Partnership. It was something I wanted to do for an upcoming feature story, taking a look at one slice of the discussion over the state of downtown; to understand it, you need to get close to the ground.

The walkers were young, in their early 20s. They spend most of their workday on downtown’s streets, making connections with folks they meet, helping meet people’s needs where they can. As we walked, we chatted about the challenges that face downtown, and about how Winnipeggers see it. And that’s when they asked a question I didn’t expect.

“What was the perception of downtown like back when you started coming?” one of them asked.

Friday, Oct. 14, 2022

Pedestrians and traffic don't mix at Winnipeg's major and historic intersection of Portage and Main, and pedestrians cross the street by using an underground concourse.
JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Iranian teenage girls take raucous lead in openly challenging regime’s morality police

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Iranian teenage girls take raucous lead in openly challenging regime’s morality police

Melissa Martin 6 minute read Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022

They’re beautiful, the girls, though we can’t always really see them. In most of the videos, their faces are digitally blurred, so as to deny police the ability to track them down by computer-aided facial recognition. But we hear their voices. We see their anger, their courage, and their conviction. That’s enough to see that they are beautiful, almost beyond description.

And as the mass protests in Iran following the death of Jîna Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after her arrest by the country’s morality police, passed their third week, it is those girls that have led them. Some Iranian-American journalists dubbed it the “schoolgirl’s revolution,” and the images flooding social media now show clearly its power.

Across the country, teen girls have taken a leading voice in the protests. They’ve marched in the streets. They’ve chanted and danced and confronted police. They’ve cheered in joyful abandon as passing cars honked in solidarity. They’ve walked out of school and organized civil disruptions — and by all appearances, they’re just getting started.

They are incandescent, these girls. In one school, administration brought a member of the Basiji paramilitary to speak to the students, ostensibly to bring them under control; in response the girls surrounded his podium, tore off their headscarves and waved them in fist-pumping fury while chanting in deafening unison: “Basiji, get lost.”

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022

MAYA ALLERUZZO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

A photo depicting Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by Iran’s notorious “morality police”.

Ukrainian war history museum stands at threshold of past and present

Melissa Martin 8 minute read Preview

Ukrainian war history museum stands at threshold of past and present

Melissa Martin 8 minute read Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022

KYIV — In early April, just three days after Russian troops retreated from the Kyiv region, Yurii Savchuk, general director of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War, rounded up a photographer and drove north, into the wreckage of communities that fan out from the capital, still littered then with mines and parts of dead people.

They were searching for something. History. Perspective. For 10 days they documented the region, taking over 1,700 photos which would eventually form a touring exhibition. But they also got a sense of the record the war had left behind, both in its objects and as inscribed on survivors’ minds. It was a record they were determined to gather as soon as possible.

Just over a month later, the museum, which sprawls over a green hillside above the Dnipro River, opened its first exhibition related to the current invasion. Others would follow, including a digital exhibit memorializing children lost to the war. Since then, the museum has hosted a steady stream of diplomats and dignitaries, and a slew of curious journalists.

What those visitors find is a striking but understated collection of objects. Most of them are mundane, some are dramatic, and a handful are famous. On the first floor, a collection of items left behind by Russian soldiers: cans of peas, thermoses, boxes of rations. A trove of Russian credit cards spread out on a transport case that once held a rocket.

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022

A recreation of the Hostomel shelter contains objects collected by curators who visited the cave-like basement where dozens of civilians had sheltered for over a month in near-darkness. (Melissa Martin / Winnipeg Free Press)

War in Ukraine sparks interest in homegrown cultural forms

Melissa Martin 29 minute read Preview

War in Ukraine sparks interest in homegrown cultural forms

Melissa Martin 29 minute read Friday, Sep. 23, 2022

KYIV — Do you start with the war? The normal thing, maybe, would be to start with the war, with the morning that bombs burst over Kyiv, gunshots cracked in the streets and two dancers took their eight-year-old son and fled to a basement, from which they didn’t emerge for two weeks. That’s when much of the world turned its eyes to Ukraine, at least.

But Maksym and Viktoriia Karpenko’s life didn’t start on Feb. 24, nor did Ukraine’s, so maybe the story shouldn’t start there either. Maybe it ought to begin 20 years ago, when Maksym was just 15 years old and freshly arrived in Kyiv from Luhansk, a city in the eastern Donbas region that forms the industrial spine of Ukraine.

He’d come to the capital to dance. Four years earlier, Virsky, Ukraine’s national folk dance ensemble, had come to Luhansk, and young Maksym, who’d been taking children’s dance classes, went with his family to see the professionals at work. Their tickets weren’t great — up in the balcony, far from the stage — but even from that vantage, he was mesmerized.

“I felt the full spectrum of emotions,” Maksym tells me one night, over wine at a chic Kyiv café, as his sister translates.

Friday, Sep. 23, 2022

MANUEL ORBEGOZO PHOTO

Virsky dancers Maksym and Viktoriia Karpenko for Melissa’s 498 feature on Ukrainian arts, culture and identity. Sept. 1, 2022

Small talk, stillness, glimpses of royalty: witnessing history from its background

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Preview

Small talk, stillness, glimpses of royalty: witnessing history from its background

Melissa Martin 7 minute read Monday, Sep. 19, 2022

LONDON — It was eerie, how you could pinpoint the moment the surreal became real.

It was exactly 10:59 a.m. local time Monday, and all along the barricades that snaked away from Westminster Abbey, the first hymn of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral began piping on the loudspeakers, broadcast to a crowd of thousands that lined the route, waiting to catch a glimpse of her casket.

As the hymn’s first notes sounded, the crowd, which until then had murmured along at a lighthearted hum, fell into a stark silence. Their faces changed. Their smiles faded and gazes drifted away: grief, for those who felt it, but also a sense of something shifting. The queen is gone, really gone, and what comes next will be a transition in more ways than one.

The mood in London this week hadn’t felt funereal until exactly that moment.

Monday, Sep. 19, 2022

The Royal State Hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II with the Imperial State Crown resting on top proceeds towards St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, Monday Sept. 19, 2022. (Justin Setterfield/Pool Photo via AP)

London calm and well-prepared on eve of funeral

Melissa Martin 9 minute read Preview

London calm and well-prepared on eve of funeral

Melissa Martin 9 minute read Sunday, Sep. 18, 2022

LONDON — When Liz Marks was just four years old, her mother took her to see Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. It was the first in what would become a string of memories Marks carries of the Royal Family, as their life milestones intertwined with her own, but she doesn’t remember much from the day the young Queen was crowned.

What she does remember: being nervous. The feel of her mother’s hand, clutching hers. And the crowds, she remembers the crowds above all, that massive sea of people thronging the London Underground subway station as she and her mother tried to make their way home, all the time wondering: “Where will we go? Where will we go?”

Sixty-nine years later, Marks found herself back in the heart of London, back in the midst of a crowd so vast it surges like the ocean, back asking where she could go. She’d flown in from where she lives now, in San Francisco, just days before; on Sunday, with her jet lag subsiding, she and her sister, Jessica Andersson, struck out towards Buckingham Palace.

What they hoped to do was scope out where they could stake out a place this morning to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession. What they found instead was a staggering flow of people spilling through the streets around the palace, making an endless march to nowhere in particular, because anywhere in particular was impossible to go.

Sunday, Sep. 18, 2022

PETR DAVID JOSEK / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

People camp out on The Mall on Sunday, the eve of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth in London, England.

London sea of flowers deep with personal experience

Melissa Martin 6 minute read Preview

London sea of flowers deep with personal experience

Melissa Martin 6 minute read Friday, Sep. 16, 2022

LONDON — Twenty-five days before the death of Queen Elizabeth, I walked to Buckingham Palace on a long layover in London, halfway through a trek between Winnipeg and Ukraine.

It was a drizzling, dreary sort of day, and there weren’t many tourists. A handful only, snapping selfies at the palace gates and moving on.

It’s surreal to remember that emptiness now, just over a month later, when everything around the palace has changed. It’s overflowing, bursting its banks with humanity, spilling visitors out into the jumble of streets at its margins. It’s the epicentre of the United Kingdom’s 10 days of mourning, moving inexorably to their close.

Every day this week, the scene around Buckingham Palace has become busier. Every day, new barricades have risen, channeling crowds into ever-tighter spaces as the preparations for the queen’s Monday funeral unfold. Every day more people arrive, and every day there are fewer places they’re able to go. But more keep coming, and there are still three days to go.

Friday, Sep. 16, 2022

Kilometres-long Queue to see queen contrast in national grief

Melissa Martin 9 minute read Preview

Kilometres-long Queue to see queen contrast in national grief

Melissa Martin 9 minute read Thursday, Sep. 15, 2022

LONDON — These last days of the week are the breath caught, the pause, the interregnum of an exquisitely choreographed public grief.

They are the lull between the solemn royal procession that brought Queen Elizabeth’s casket from where it arrived in London, at Buckingham Palace, to where it now rests for the weekend at Westminster Hall.

And in this lull, with few formal events planned, the eyes of the nation turned towards “the Queue.”

The Queue — the scope of the thing demands the capital letter — is the official line to see the late queen’s casket as she lay in state. It opened Wednesday, and within hours had swelled to jaw-dropping proportions. It is difficult to estimate how many will pass through over these four days of the viewing, but it will be well into the hundreds of thousands.

Thursday, Sep. 15, 2022

DAVID JOSEK / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

People queue to pay their respects to late Queen Elizabeth II who’s body is lying in state at Westminster Hall in London.

Kyiv hostel brims with energy

Melissa Martin 9 minute read Preview

Kyiv hostel brims with energy

Melissa Martin 9 minute read Friday, Sep. 9, 2022

KYIV — At first, when the German painter arrived at the hostel on the sun-dappled street in the heart of old Kyiv, the other people who lived there weren’t sure what to make of him. His name was Paul. He was lanky and soft-spoken, with a curious way of sliding into conversations; he spent his days in the city, capturing its tired beauty with watercolours on paper.

So when word spread that he planned to paint portraits of all the hostel’s residents, the reactions were, at first, a little mixed. Some of the regulars were hesitant, but the more outgoing among them agreed; and as the sweltering last days of August slid away, they would gather around the patio tables attached to the hostel’s downstairs cafe just to watch him.

“Maybe I can just paint you here,” Paul would say as he spread his palette out on the table, taking stock of his subjects with cool, searching eyes. He’d ask them questions while he painted, probing for their thoughts about the war, about their work, about life. A painter is like a therapist, he told me once, and one by one, we all spilled out hearts out to him.

The hostel was, in a way, its own little village. It took up four floors of a stately, high-ceilinged building; during the day, its cafe was thronged by groups of chic, heavily-tattooed locals, who spent hours laughing over cigarettes and lattes. But they drifted away when the 11 p.m. wartime curfew fell over the city, and those who remained made a frayed sort of family.

Friday, Sep. 9, 2022

MELISSA MARTIN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sasha, in the middle, blows smoke as he plays guitar outside a central Kyiv hostel, next to another young man displaced from Kharkiv.

Resolve takes root among rubble

Melissa Martin 13 minute read Preview

Resolve takes root among rubble

Melissa Martin 13 minute read Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2022

KYIV — A few minutes down the road northeast of Ukraine’s capital, along the big highway that leads, if you follow it long enough, to Belarus, from where the first wave of Russian troops came, the busy streets and soaring apartment blocks fall away. What grows in their place is a grassy sort of quiet: sunflower fields, pastures and copses of pine.

You can turn off the highway there, bumping down narrow pitted roads through villages that have existed for a thousand years or more. Strings of houses, many of which have been pieced together from various parts owners acquired as they could afford them and backed by sprawling gardens, heavy now with late-summer harvests of potatoes and apples.

This is a story about the people who live in just one of those houses, in the village of Svityl’nya.

It starts like this: a mortar shell exploded on Volodymyr Lytvynenko’s home only minutes after he’d left. It blasted a hole in the earth right beside the room where he’d been sleeping, because at 62 he was too stubborn to flee when Olga, his wife of nearly 40 years, as well as their son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren had.

Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2022

MELISSA MARTIN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Torched civilian cars near the village of Svityl’nya, Kyiv Oblast, remain in the field. A sign on the wreckage asks them not to be moved, as a memorial to the people who died there.

Rest In Neglect

Melissa Martin 8 minute read Preview

Rest In Neglect

Melissa Martin 8 minute read Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022

On a sweltering afternoon in late June, Abram Peters picks his way through rows of graves, weaving around old mounds of dirt and mucky new puddles. He gestures at the ground, where grass has long since given way to dandelion and thistle, and then to a handful of headstones on a concrete plinth, which is tilting perilously off-level.

Someday, Peters says, that row will topple. It could be fixed by simply raising the plinth and filling in the space underneath, where the earth has settled. But that would require someone willing to do the fixing, which costs both time and money, and it’s been years since Peters has seen much of either being invested at Sage Creek Cemetery.

The letters carved on those headstones are not just names to Peters. They are his community.

He points out where one of his friends is buried, in a muddy dimple in the earth covered by four inches of brackish standing water. Nearby lies another grave that holds another friend: that one was dug wrong, he says. The hole was carved out half a metre into what will one day be the wife’s plot; when she’s eventually buried, the digger will have to bite into a third space.

Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Abe Peters used to own Mennonite Memorial Gardens Cemetery just southeast of Winnipeg on Symington Road. But since it's been sold to a private owner in Ontario, it has fallen into terrible disrepair.