The memorial - a sloping triangular slab of red granite on a raised platform - is scheduled to be installed this spring in West Hollywood's Plummer Park, in the heart of the area's Russian-speaking immigrant community.
West Hollywood officials said the monument is the first such tribute in the U.S. to veterans of a foreign army.
"It's a symbol for a bright future," said Yefim Stolyarskiy, 83, president of the Los Angeles Assn. of Veterans of WWII, which has 538 members. A lieutenant colonel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, he served 30 years in the Red Army.
"It's a reminder of how people gave their lives for future generations."
"Today, we have democracy and peace," said Efim Kutz, a Ukrainian native, former army sergeant and a founding member of the veterans group, who emigrated from Kiev in 1977. "We hope that this monument will at some stage belong to the whole city."
It will be unveiled May 8, a day before Victory Day, when the former Soviet Union officially observes the end of what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War. Russian-speakers comprise about 6,000 of West Hollywood's 37,000 residents, according to city statistics.
The community has since blossomed into a thriving enclave with Russian-language bookstores, kosher shops and a hodgepodge of businesses sporting signs in the Cyrillic alphabet.
The veterans had been lobbying for a monument for the last eight years, Stolyarskiy said.
In 2001, City Councilman Jeffrey Prang introduced a proposal to donate a piece of land in Plummer Park, along with city administrative and logistical services, for the project. A citizens’ commission of community members and city officials solicited public submissions for the design of the structure and selected the winner. A rendering by Mikhail Naruzetskiy, 74, a sculptor from Ukraine who came to West Hollywood in 1993, beat about a dozen other designs.
Rising to an 8-foot, 6-inch peak, the slanting 7-ton triangular mound will feature three white cranes and the engravings of four lines from a poem titled "Cranes" by Soviet poet Rasul Gamzatov.
Prang said the monument would cost around $100,000. Funding has come from private and business donations, along with contributions from the city of West Hollywood and Los Angeles County.
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where many movie stars are buried, agreed to build the monument, which was chiseled in India.
Cemetery President Tyler Cassity, whose company is subsidizing the cost of its work, said at least 10,000 Russian speakers are interred at Hollywood Forever. Planning for the monument was not without dispute. One group of veterans felt some names should be engraved on the monument; others preferred leaving it blank.
"There was dissension and disagreement over the names themselves, and not everyone would be able to have their names on the monument," Cassity recalled.
Hollywood Forever came up with a solution. A bench and TV monitor will be mounted in front of the monument. Visitors will have access to a liquid-crystal touch-screen that will display a photo or video clip of old soldiers relating their life story on camera, or through a voice-over.
Natalie Parker, the cemetery's documentary filmmaker, has collected about 5,000 oral histories from Russian speakers in the community, and many clips to be used at the monument will be drawn from that collection. Other interviews are still to be done.
But many community members initially viewed the film project with skepticism, wondering why the stories of ordinary soldiers would be of interest.
"A lot of people think their lives are just regular lives and their stories don't need to be told," said Parker, a native of Moscow, who came to the United States in 1991. "But each life is just a magnificent experience."
Many of the veterans came to America as seniors, to join children who had settled in West Hollywood. "These are incredibly hearty people with amazing life histories, that demand to be heard and deserve to be heard," Prang said.
"They survived the Holocaust. They survived the Nazi invasion of their country. They survived Josef Stalin, who was an anti-Semite. And they survived communism," he said.
As the number of Soviet veterans in West Hollywood declines - 30 died last year - many community elders are saddened that young people don't know or appreciate the role their grandparents played during the war, or the global alliances that existed at that time.
But Prang says the message behind the monument will speak to viewers of all ages and backgrounds. "Even though it's about former Soviet veterans," he said, "it's about American citizens, American residents, American immigrants who have become part of the fabric of our community…. They are people who contributed to world peace and justice."
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