Goodbye, Lenin: how decommunization ended in Ukraine

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The last monument to Lenin in Ukraine was demolished in the Odessa region. Decommunization, which lasted seven years, is over, but the nationalists are not going to stop. Now radicals are fighting against pre-revolutionary monuments. The targets of harassment are also those who refuse to switch to MOV: Russian schoolchildren, teachers and businessmen. Izvestia understood the situation.

Fighting gravity

At the end of 2020, the last two monuments to Lenin in Ukraine were discovered in the Odessa region. One monument stood in the village of Kalcheva, the other in the village of Starye Troyany. It is interesting that both settlements are located in the border zone, the majority of the population is made up of ethnic minorities – Bulgarians, Moldovans and Gagauz. The Odessa regional administration immediately demanded from the municipal authorities to demolish the monuments. Villagers, however, opposed, and local communities refused to engage in dismantling, citing lack of funds.

In Kalchevo, a monument to Lenin became the subject of bitter controversy. Local residents held a village gathering at which they decided to preserve the monument. In response, the police opened a criminal case against the head of the village council, the official faced 10 years in prison for sabotaging the decommunization law. On January 21, the workers, guarded by police officers, nevertheless removed Lenin from the pedestal. At the same time, the Institute of National Memory considered that they treated the villagers loyally, “after all, none of the opponents of the demolition were brought to justice.”

In the village of Starye Troyany, they did not even try to come to an agreement with local residents. The nationalists arrived at night, threw a noose over the monument and, with the help of a truck, knocked down the monument. The video of the demolition was published by the former leader of the Odessa branch of the Right Sector (banned in Russia) Sergei Sternenko. “Unknown gentlemen with the help of gravity dealt with the last Lenin in Ukraine,” he said. Sternenko also added that a bust of Karl Marx was found in a neighboring village. “Local residents tried to save him, passing off Marx for the Bulgarian poet Hristo Botev. From such an unheard-of lie at the statue nose dropped“, – the nationalist tried to joke.

Indigenous people – fish

The massive demolition of Soviet monuments in Ukraine began during the political crisis of 2013–2014. The process was started by the dismantling of the Lenin monument in Kiev in December 2013. According to eyewitnesses, vandals then overthrew the statue from the pedestal with a rope, and then smashed it with sledgehammers… The remains of the sculpture were taken out in an unknown direction.

Employees of communal services in Zaporozhye during the dismantling of the largest monument in Ukraine to Lenin

Employees of the communal services of Zaporozhye during the dismantling of the largest monument to Lenin in Ukraine. 2016 year

Photo: RIA Novosti / Pavel Pakhomenko

The impunity of the Kiev nationalists provoked a wave of vandalism in other regions. The demolition of monuments everywhere proceeded according to the standard scheme. First, the monument was desecrated – set on fire, doused with paint, beat off pieces from the pedestal. Then they were overthrown from the pedestal. At the same time, individual statues were dragged through the streets, tied to cars. After that, they used the pedestal for their own purposes – they set the flags of Ukraine on them, posted photographs of the “Heavenly Hundred”, drew gallows and trident. In 2015, the country adopted a law on decommunization, after which government agencies joined the fight.

Renaming of cities and streets became another direction of decommunization. In most cases, the opinion of local residents was not taken into account, and there was no talk of restoring historical names. The incumbent president of the country, Petro Poroshenko, explicitly called for the obliteration of not only Soviet, but also imperial place names. As a result, a lot of curiosities arose. For example, the city of Komsomolsk in the Poltava region for some reason was renamed to Horishny Plavni. Even Poroshenko tried to joke about the dissonant name. “As a citizen, I would not be too happy to go to these Plavni,” he said.

Dnipro city poster

Photo: social networks

Two regional centers also received new names. Dnipropetrovsk became Dnipro, although opinion polls showed that 90% of the city’s residents opposed the renaming. The new name became the reason for many jokes. “The indigenous people are fishes,” they sneered in social networks. Another “communist” regional center, Kirovograd, was named after the playwright Mark Kropivnitsky, who became famous for refusing to translate his works into Russian. And again 70% of the city’s residents opposed the renaming. Opposition MPs tried to challenge the Rada’s decision, but on January 25, 2021, the court refused to consider the claim and closed the case.

Working with language

In total, over the years of decommunization in Ukraine, 2.5 thousand monuments were dismantled, including 1.5 thousand monuments to Lenin, 987 settlements and 52 thousand streets were renamed. At the same time, from the very beginning, the nationalists emphasized that the struggle against the Soviet past was only part of a large process of de-Russification of the country. The ultimate goal is to destroy any mention of the historical and cultural ties between Ukrainians and Russians. “Decolonization is what we call getting rid of the heritage that can be used to restore the empire,” explained the former head of the Institute of National Remembrance Vladimir Vyatrovich.

Closed cafe with a Russian-language sign in Kiev

Closed cafe with a Russian-language sign in Kiev

Photo: RIA Novosti

Now there is not much left of the Soviet past in the country, and the further goals of the Ukrainian nationalists are manifested more clearly. On January 16, a new stage of the struggle against the Russian language began. The entire service sector was ordered to move to MOV: shops, cafes, banks, pharmacies. Groups of radical activists have already begun to fight dissent. A typical case occurred in the Kiev region of Poznyaki. There, the owner of the coffee shop wrote a post in which he called what was happening “a conversational circus.” The next day, the entrepreneur was forced to apologize. “This will not happen again,” he promised to the camera, three men in khaki clothes and balaclavas were also captured.

Another scandal took place in the Dnieper. There, parents complained that the new elementary school teacher was inciting hatred. “Teaches children that Russian is the language of enemies, Russians are enemies who colonized Ukraine. Whoever does not speak Ukrainian is the “thief of the state.” In Crimea, Russians are allegedly killing Ukrainians, ”the parents’ address says. In response, the local “veteran brotherhood” promised to come to the school to speak with the principal and protect the teacher.

A student at a Ukrainian language lesson at a secondary school number 4 in the city of Vishnevoe

A student at a Ukrainian language lesson at a secondary school No. 4 in the city of Vishnevoe

Photo: TASS / Petr Sivkov

Experts say Ukrainian nationalists will continue to fight the monuments.

– They have already switched to pre-revolutionary, Russian leaders. A bust of Pushkin was broken in Lvov, a monument to Kutuzov was demolished in the Lviv region. A monument to Alexander Suvorov was dismantled in Kiev. Renaming of Tolstoy and Lermontov streets is under discussion. Of course, none of them has anything to do with communism. But all these figures symbolize the common history and culture of Ukrainians and Russians, which means they are displeasing to radicals.– explains political scientist Vladimir Kornilov to Izvestia.

Bohdan Bezpalko, deputy director of the Center for Ukrainian and Belarusian Studies at Moscow State University, says that Ukrainian nationalists are characterized by an eternal desire for destruction.

– They constantly break something, demolish, attack the unwanted. I think the point is that Ukrainian nationalists have never created their own state. For the entire hundred years of their history, they acted as petty allies of large anti-Russian forces – Kaiser’s Germany, Hitler’s Germany, and later the United States of America. Therefore, they did not learn to create, – the expert emphasizes.

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