A Lenin down is a kind of Eastern European happening that’s sure to catch the fancy of political types across the ocean, and there was one last weekend in Kharkov. Kharkov is interesting because it’s the second largest Ukrainian city, wholly Russian-speaking and a Party of Regions stronghold. So, it’s a popular uprising for freedom, right? A sign that Ukraine is becoming a modern, democratic, civilized, European and prosperous. So prosperous.
Hold your horses — this is more in the vein of the age-old Nazi-commie rivalry. When former president Viktor Yanukovich was deposed, and Russia was massing troops on Ukrainian border, Kharkovites were readying themselves for a quick takeover. But Russians didn’t come, some of the separatist leadership was arrested, the mayor survived an assassination attempt and refugees poured in from nearby Donetsk and Lugansk. Donetsk and Lugansk regions are traditionally known as Donbass, but, given the war and destruction, Ukrainian started referring to it as Luganda. Nobody wants to be the next Luganda, so Kharkov quieted down.
Kharkov generally errs on the quiet side. A pacific town, it over the centuries gave refuge to runaway serves from Poland, those escaping Khmelnitsky uprising and, finally, the pogroms in Western Ukraine Belarus. 3/4 of my great-grand-parents fled to Kharkov in the late 19th-early 20th century. On the eve of WW2, Kharkov was 1/3 Jewish. This is not to say that the metropolis was some sort of philosemitic neverland, I myself have some stories about growing up there. And yet, after Ukraine declared independence, it elected Jewish mayors.
Anywho, as Ukrainian soldiers and military equipment for war in neighboring regions rolled this spring and summer, the Ukrainian side of Kharkov perked up. Some individuals partook in running around the city, painting it blue and yellow, the colors of Ukrainian flag. A few dozens (perhaps even a hundred or so) attended various patriotic events, organized regularly around various downtown landmarks, usually the Holodomor-era monument to Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko.
This picture of the August 23 “One Ukraine” rally in Kharkov was taken by an attendee and featured on social media. Do they look like they are about to topple a 20-meter monument?
This weekend’s rally, on the other hand, was attended by thousands. Here’s how Chabad describes it:
Possibly in response to the city’s perceived lack of Ukrainian patriotism and openness to Russia, Sunday saw a gathering of about 8,000 pro-Ukrainian protesters in central Kharkov. At the end of the protest, the crowd marched towards Freedom Square’s 20-meter-high statue of Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Lenin; once there, protesters wearing masks and Ukrainian colors began sawing at the massive monument’s feet. Although pro-Russians vigorously defended the statue from attack in February, on Sunday evening, after hours of work that went unimpeded by police, Lenin came tumbling down.
Some of the attendees of the were immediately identified on twitter as Svoboda leadership. Svoboda, formerly the Social-Nationalist Party, has its stronghold is western Ukraine.
Whether or not these two are the leadership of this Nazi organization , they are seen proudly flashing the Svoboda 3-finger salute
Protesters took trophy pictures on the podium, many bearing Nazi flags and engraving Nazi symbols into the podium.
A collection of pictures from the rally. The engraving in the top left picture reads “Glory to Ukraine” and features the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol. The symbol is prominently displayed on the yellow flag
I, for one, would like to ask Nazis, Ukrainian, Russian, Estonian, English — and all other kinds — to get out of the anti-communism business. So kind of you to offer help, but we got it all covered and, really, you don’t have the moral high ground. For the record: I’m not shedding any tears for Lenin, but I no longer live in Kharkov and I am not, to say the least, a fan of rag-tag Nazi formations.
On related note, I was opposed to what Russia did in Grozny either, but I don’t side with Chechen terrorists.
The engravings in this side of the Lenin podium include the Ukrainian trident, Nazi-era salutation “Glory to Ukraine! — Glory to heroes!” and”Bandera-papa” or “daddy Bandera” in reference to Stepan Bandera, Ukrainian fascist collaborationist leader whose followers staged pogroms before the German Nazis came, happily joined SS Galicia, exterminated Jews, Poles, Belorussians and others and ran their own concentration camps for Jewish professionals — you get the idea. And, oh, if Bandera is the papa, do these bastards have a mama? Ukraine? Anarchiya?
So Nazis tore down a commie, so what? Well:
1. War in Donbass is coming to a close. In the late summer separatists went on offensive, retaking some of their strongholds. Ukrainian armed forces ran out of resources and Kiev surrendered Donbass. Is Ukraine now defending Kharkov? Is toppling statues the best Ukrainian nationalism can come up with in its fight against Russia?
The flag in the center on top of the podium is that of the notorious Azov Battalion of Ukrainian National Guard in which Nazi volunteers from around Europe had been reported to serve. What is the flag doing in Kharkov? My guess is that a national guardsman is on leave from nearby Donbass city of Mariupol where the unit is stationed
2. The Lenin down was not approved by the locals who, after hearing the news, showed up in large numbers on local social media and expressed opinions that were overwhelmingly negative. Strangely, nobody called for reconstruction of gulags. Here is a representative sample:
“Nobody did more for Ukraine than Lenin, read history carefully. Who was first to unite and give the notion of country Ukraine?”
“Let’s fight for UKRAINE But history and monuments shell be history for our children let them stay in place”
“Why are they dividing our city?”
“They will do the same onto us. They don’t see the difference between a monument and a human being. And now everyone put on your vyshivanki [Ukrainian peasant shirts, -- ed.] and be happy that history is being rolled in mud.”
The last one is a reference to Mariupol which was taken over by Azov Battalion in the summer. In preparation to the separatists’ counteroffensive, locals were photographed attending pro-Ukraine rallies in peasant shirts. The custom of wearing peasant shirts did not exist in the area prior to the entrance of Azov.
The following day the locals went to clean up the podium, removing all Ukrainian flags, and mayor Gennady Kernes promised to restore the monument, although it’s not clear how the city can afford it. Kharkov was one of the few fiscally solvent Ukrainian regions, but it’s heavily dependent on trade with Russia which is now dwindling.
3. What does this mean for Ukraine’s politics? Locally this development might signal a confrontation between the democratically elected pro-Russian traingulater Kernes and Kiev-appointed governor Ihor Baluta of centrist nationalist Fatherland. Baluta ordered police to stand down, but “vandalism” is now investigated. Interestingly, former Kharkov governor MIkhail Dobkin was arrested on separatism charges earlier this week. But I doubt this is merely a centrist-nationalist/pro-Russian confrontation.
This guy, a resident of Lviv, showed up with a NATO flag, unfortunately. Ukraine lost Donbass but toppled Lenins, should US now guarantee their independence from a country on which they are dependent economically, socially and culturally?
In the capital of Kiev, Maidan is back, protesting against the “special status” of Donbass and for lustration of Communists and, especially, Party of Regions. Protesters burnt a few tires, threw a few political opponents in trash, forcing the passage of a lustraion law, and causing Poroshenko to backtrack on special status of rebel-controlled Donbas areas. Nationalist extremists, defined as Svoboda, Pravy Sektor and Radical Party, constitute just over 10% the electorate, but they are a power to contend with because few outside Luganda dare to oppose them. This is how BBC described the events in Kharkov:
On Sunday night, when nationalist protesters had already gathered around the statue for a “Kharkiv is Ukraine” rally, the governor of Kharkiv region, Ihor Baluta, signed an order to dismantle the statue.
Some correspondents say the order was probably a last-minute face-saving move.
This Lenin down was certainly no controlled demolition. Kharkov authorities were concerned that the gargantuan statue can fall through the ground and into the subway station. No cops were present and sole defender of Ilich was beaten and made kneel “before the people” (wait, isn’t that against Geneva Conventions?). One of the protesters lost an eye. On the other hand, the events had to be coordinated by someone.
While removing statues of Lenin, Ukrainians erected this guillotine monument in Dnepropetrovsk. Maybe the problem they have with Russian revolutionary terror is that it wan’t done right. Try itr again, Ukraine!
To sum up, last weekend eight thousand Nazis, possibly from all over Europe, but majority are likely to be from Western Ukraine, descended on the most tolerant city in the country and destroyed a monument that the locals didn’t mind keeping around. Ukrainians will be lucky if this is the end of it.