Demolition and preservation of Soviet era monuments

Since the age of the Egyptian pharaohs, grandiose monuments have been erected to honor rulers and compel their subjects worship their visages long after their mortal deaths. The Soviet commitment to public demonstration of their iron-fisted power is no more apparent than in the statues and monuments left behind after Ukraine’s independence.

Monuments always suffer when a seismic shift of governments occurs. A war of symbols left over from the Soviet era and those depicting Ukraine’s independence ensued when President Leonid Kravchuk, the former secretary of the Communist Party, signed an order to dismantle Soviet symbols throughout the country. Monuments to communist leaders and their followers along with references to the Communist era on road signs and public squares were destroyed. The first monument of Lenin to be torn down was in western Ukraine in the city of Ternopil and had the appearance of an idol’s public execution by some observers.

Under the glare of television lights, Ukrainians destroyed monuments to Lenin and road signs and renamed streets and schools. Supporters of the Soviet ideology blew up the monument to Stepan Bandera, the leader of Ukrainian nationalists, twice. Arguments over the dismantling of the monument to Stalin flared with advocates of the statue’s demise chiseling names of those repressed by the murderous leader on its pedestal.

Though many Soviet-era symbols were torn down during the early months of Ukraine’s independence, the number of solemn monuments, especially those depicting Lenin, in Ukraine is impressive. Lenin still stands in Besarabs’ka Square in Kyiv and imposing iron monuments are a constant reminder of the Soviet’s belief in their own grandeur in small towns and villages across Ukraine.

As the fervor calms with each passing year, the argument for preserving the past wins a few more battles in the war of symbols. Still, monuments are regularly stained with garish paint or a pelting of eggs suggesting that as long as the memory of Bolshevik ideology remains, these bronze and granite statutes will have to watch their iron backs.