Ukraine, «Down Lenin, forward Gogol»: the last trench passes through names and symbols

from Francesco Battistini, our correspondent in Kiev

Mr Viatrovych: “Re-reading history is not a whim”

“We have to celebrate! A year ago today, we were throwing down the last Lenin of all Ukraine ». Behind the Rada, sitting at a café and over a cheesecake with currants, the deputy Volodymyr Viatrovych celebrates his personal Day of Remembrance: January 27, 2021 in Stari Troyany, in the remote village of Izmail Raion, when what remained of Sovietism was demolished.

A granite monument, a monumental grain: «There are still two in Chernobyl, but they don’t count: they are contaminated statues and nobody wants to touch them… All the others, go! Wipe off the face of Ukraine! ‘ Mr Viatrovych has been making a personal battle out of it for eight years. “It was I who passed the law in Parliament,” he lists proudly and precisely: “We destroyed 1,320 Lenin and 1,069 busts of Communists, renamed 987 towns and villages that bore a Russian name, changed its name to 51,493 streets named after Russian fighters, cosmonauts, artists. He knows that in Kyiv (which would later be Kiev, but woe to those who use the Russian transliteration, ed) did we have five Tolstoy streets? I love Tolstoy. But in the world there is not only Tolstoy! ».

Nomen amen. Renaming homeland history and burying the anti-history of the enemy is the last trench of the war, even of words, that Russians and Ukrainians are making. Krasnoarmiisk (city of the Red Army) which becomes Pokrovsk. Dnipropetrovsk which loses the reference to Petrovsky, a communist leader, and turns into a simple Dnipro. Words like apostasy. Since the end of 2018, there is a Ukrainian Orthodox Church number 1 recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and there is another, number 2, which kneels in Moscow: they have the same rites, they pray to the same God, but you risk going to jail to incense one and blaspheme the other.

Shut up, the enemy uses you: a quarter of Ukrainians have relatives in Russia, far from official occasions many speak Russian, yet from next year Russian will no longer be a compulsory subject in schools. Since Vladimir Putin published a long article last July – title: “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” – and has argued thatand the Ukrainian identity does not exist because there is only the Russian one, everyone understood why he was amassing troops at the border. And that the invasion was starting. And that it was not enough to take up arms: “Our existence defends itself by rejecting everything that Putin wants to impose on us – says Viatrovych, who is a historian by trade -. Until ten years ago, his people were in charge here. And the schoolbooks still described Stalin as a big-hearted leader. Changing names, rereading history is not a whim: it is geopolitics ».

They know this on both sides of the border. Are they telling Moscow to keep their hands off the Russian Tchaikovsky, whose Ukrainian spirit the Kiev Conservatory always exalts? In Kiev they claim Gogol, born in a Russian village that is now Ukraine. And on to arguing over Chekhov, born on the Sea of ​​Azov, or over Malevich’s suprematism that emerged in Kiev and moved to Moscow … «Was Gogol Russian only because he wrote in Russian? – asks the deputy -. So was Kafka Austrian, Czech or Jewish? All countries quarrel about these things. The difference is that over these things, here, there is war ». A true story is less and less true than a fictional one and everything is worth it. A stone’s throw from Maidan is the restaurant of chef Ievgen Klopotenko and a sign at the entrance: «If you think the borsch be Russian, your life has no meaning. ‘

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