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Ukraine tore down statues and rename hundreds of streets to erase Russia’s past

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On the streets of Kiev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is about to walk out. Andy Warhol is coming.

Ukraine is accelerating efforts to erase vestiges of Soviet and Russian influence from its public spaces by tearing down monuments and renaming hundreds of streets to honor its artists, poets, soldiers, pro-independence leaders and others, including war heroes of this ‘year.

After the February 24 invasion of Moscow, which killed or wounded untold numbers of civilians and soldiers and pummeled buildings and infrastructure, Ukrainian leaders have turned a campaign that once focused on dismantling its communist past into a “de-Russification” campaign.

The streets that honored revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin or the Bolshevik revolution were largely gone already; now Russia, not the Soviet legacy, is the enemy.

It is partly retribution for crimes committed by Russia and partly an affirmation of a national identity by honoring Ukrainian notables who have been mostly overlooked.

Russia, via the Soviet Union, is seen by many in Ukraine as having for generations stamped its dominance over its smaller southwestern neighbor, consigning its artists, poets and military heroes to relative obscurity, compared to more Russians. famous.

If the victors write history, as some say, the Ukrainians are rewriting themselves, even if their fate hangs in the balance. Their national identity is having what could be an unprecedented upsurge, in ways big and small.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy started wearing a black T-shirt with the inscription: “I am Ukrainian”.

He is among the many Ukrainians who were born speaking Russian as their first language. Now they avoid it, or at least limit its use. Ukrainian has traditionally been spoken most in the western part of the country, a region that at first avoided Russian and Soviet images.

Much of northern, eastern and central Ukraine is making this linguistic shift. The eastern city of Dnipro on Friday tore down a bust of Alexander Pushkin, like Dostoyevsky, a giant of 19th-century Russian literature. A crane strap was unceremoniously wrapped under the statue’s chin.

This month, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced that 30 more streets in the capital will be renamed.

Volodymyr Prokopiv, deputy head of the Kyiv city council, said Ukraine’s “de-communization” policy since 2015 was applied “softly” so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Russian-speaking and even pro-Moscow population of the country.

“With the war everything changed. Now the Russian lobby is powerless, indeed, it doesn’t exist,” Prokopiv said in an interview with the Associated Press in his office overlooking Khreschatik Street, the capital’s main thoroughfare. “Renaming these streets is like erasing the propaganda that the Soviet Union imposed on Ukraine.”

Throughout the war, the Russians also tried to stamp their culture and dominance on the areas they occupied.

Andrew Wilson, a professor at University College London, warned of “the dangers of rewriting the periods of history where Ukrainians and Russians cooperated and built things together: I think the whole point of de-imperialisation of Russian culture should be that of specifying where we have previously blinded – often in the West”.

Wilson noted that Ukrainians “are taking a pretty broad approach.”

He quoted Pushkin, the 19th century Russian writer, which might understandably irritate some Ukrainians.

For them, for example, the Cossacks – a Slavic people from Eastern Europe – “mean freedom, while Pushkin portrays them as cruel, barbaric, old-fashioned. And it needs Russian civilization,” said Wilson, whose book “The Ukrainians” was recently released in its fifth edition.

In its program, Kiev conducted an online survey and received 280,000 suggestions in just one day, Prokopiv said. Then, a panel of experts sifts through the responses, and city officials and street residents give the final stamp of approval.

Under the “decommunization” program, some 200 streets have been renamed in Kiev earlier this year. In 2022 alone, the same number of streets have been renamed and 100 more are expected to be renamed soon, Prokopiv said.

A street named after the philosopher Friedrich Engels will honor the Ukrainian avant-garde poet Bohdan-Ihor Antonych. An avenue whose name translates as “Friendship of Peoples” – an allusion to the different ethnicities under the USSR – will honor Mykola Mikhnovsky, an early advocate of Ukrainian independence.

Another avenue recognizes the “Heroes of Mariupol,” fighters who withstood for months a devastating Russian campaign in that Sea of ​​Azov port city that eventually fell. A street named after the Russian city of Volgograd is now named Roman Ratushnyi Street after a 24-year-old environmental and civic activist who was killed in the war.

A small street in northern Kyiv still bears Dostoyevsky’s name, but will soon be named after Warhol, the late US-born Pop Art visionary whose parents had family roots in Slovakia, across the western border of Ukraine.

Valeriy Sholomitsky, who has lived on Dostoyevsky Street for nearly 40 years, said it could go either way.

“We have less than 20 houses here. There are very few of them,” Sholomitsky said as he shoveled snow from the road in front of a faded address sign bearing the name of the Russian writer. He said Warhol was “our artist”—with Eastern European heritage:

Now, “it’s going to be even better,” she said.

“Maybe it’s only right that we’re changing a lot of streets now, because we were calling them incorrectly,” he added.