Far from Ukraine’s embattled eastern front, a new struggle is being waged — not from the trenches, but over leafy side streets and broad avenues. That is where the enemy goes by the name Pavlov. Or Tchaikovsky. Or Catherine the Great.
Across Ukraine, officials are starting projects to, as they say, “decolonize” their cities. Streets and subway stops whose names evoke the history of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union are under scrutiny by a population eager to rid itself of traces of the nation that invaded in late February.
“We are defending our country, also on the cultural front lines,” said Andriy Moskalenko, deputy mayor of Lviv and head of a committee that has reviewed the names of each of the city’s more than 1,000 streets.
It is not the first time Ukraine has undertaken such an effort: After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was one of many Eastern European countries that renamed streets and removed statues commemorating an era of communist rule that became synonymous with totalitarianism.
This time, the decision to erase Russian names is not just a symbol of defiance toward the invasion and Soviet history, said Vasyl Kmet, a historian at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. It is also about reasserting a Ukrainian identity that many feel has been repressed under centuries of domination by its more powerful neighbor, he said.
The western city of Lviv is one of many areas undertaking “decolonization” campaigns. So, too, is the northwestern city of Lutsk, which plans to rename over 100 streets. In the southern port city of Odesa, whose inhabitants are mostly Russian-speaking, politicians are debating whether to remove a monument to Catherine the Great, the Russian empress who founded the city in 1794.
In Kyiv, the capital, the city council is looking into renaming the Leo Tolstoy subway stop after Vasyl Stus, a Ukrainian poet and dissident.
And it’s not only Russian names that are under scrutiny. The Lviv committee also plans to delete street names in tribute to some Ukrainians. One is named after writer Petro Kozlaniuk, who collaborated with Soviet security agencies, including the KGB.
Removing the names of some cultural icons — has proved more divisive. The history of figures like Pyotr Tchaikovsky can be tricky: The classical composer’s family roots were in modern-day Ukraine, and some musicologists say his works were inspired by Ukrainian folk music.
But the committee’s ruling was unanimous: Tchaikovsky would go.