Ukraine: Svoboda ultranationalists have toppled Lenin statue

Chanting ‘hang the Commie!’, they tore down the statue of Lenin and raised the flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

Down with this sort of thing

The first time a statue of Lenin was toppled in Ukraine was in Lviv in 1989. On the 30th of June 2009, ‘nationalist and anti-Communist activists used a sledgehammer to break off Lenin’s nose and part of his left hand’. On the 1st of December 2013, more than 300 armed ‘radical protesters‘ attacked Kyiv’s riot police and its granite Lenin statue. The police used flash-bang grenades and tear-gassed the protesters and ‘crowds of bystanders’, but were nonetheless routed by the protesters. Yet, somehow, they prevented the eventually-more-than-1,000 protesters from toppling the statue.

Not ideal

Yesterday evening, chanting ‘hang the Commie!‘, the formerly neo-Nazi, still ultra-nationalist All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom [Svoboda]”‘s activists put a noose around Lenin’s neck, pulled the statue down with steel cables, smashed it up with sledgehammers, kept the head and hand as symbols, then distributed the fragments as souvenirs.

It sounds like, ten seconds into the video, someone shouts “come on” (in English).

Claims of (ir)responsibility

The Kyiv Post‘s Mark Rachkevych observed ‘a group of young men with no clear party or group affiliation‘; but the Agence France-Presse (AFP)’s Dmytro Gorshkov recorded ‘dozens of masked protesters, some brandishing flags of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party’.

Svoboda’s spokesman, Yuriy Syrotiuk (who may be thinking long-term and internationally), stated that ‘[p]articipants of EuroMaidan altogether toppled the monument’. However, one of Svoboda’s MPs, Igor Myroshnichenko (who may be thinking more locally and more short-term), claimed that his party was responsible for fulfilling (the) people’s wishes and ‘pull[ing] down this fool‘. Another Svoboda MP, Oleksandr Aronets (@aronets), broadcast and released a 26m18s video of the entire action.

Looking ahead

Toppling symbols of oppression can be a powerful expression of resistance and freedom, but only when combined with an aspiration for peace. The vast majority of resisters in Ukraine are such pro-peace, pro-democracy activists. But this faction are not. One protester warned, ‘[President Viktor] Yanukovych, you’ll be next!‘ In case that might have been (mis)understood as a metaphor for his time in power, another warned ‘Vitya [Yanukovych], the game is over!’ with ‘an effigy of the severed head of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’.

Various protesters replaced Lenin with the Ukrainian flag, the European Union flag and ‘the red and black banner’ of the fascist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The UPA were ‘mass murderers of Poles, Jews, and…. communists’, who ‘systematically murdered‘ Jews and ethnically cleansed Poles; where possible, they re-captured Jewish survivors and ran their own labor camps.

A major concern is the reaction to this action. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had already categorised the entire protest movement as ‘Nazis and criminals‘, and the police had already warned that they were prepared to use force (again). A Communist MP from Lviv, Oleksandr Holub, argued that the toppling of the statue was ‘testimony to what’s happening in the country’:

[I]t is not a revolution or a democratic (process) but a neo-Nazi revolt designed to seize power in the country…. We’re seeing many western Ukrainians (in Kyiv) trying to impose their will, their own version of history and of the future…. [I]f this won’t be stopped by law enforcement then Ukraine will cease to exist as a unified country.

Svoboda have the freedom to act irresponsibly. Their appropriation of the resistance may attract them support, while it repels moderate Ukrainian support and international solidarity from the consequently tainted revolution. If/when the state intensifies its crackdown on the resistance, it will punish peaceful advocates of democracy as well as the activists of Svoboda; and it will, then, drive people into the arms of Svoboda. The state and Svoboda win either way. The true revolution is imperiled.


As if on cue, ten minutes after I posted this, (it was reported that) the semi-autonomous police militia Berkut stormed the headquarters of Batkivschyna (Fatherland), the opposition party of Yulia Tymoshenko.

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