Ukraine has removed Soviet-era signage from a hilltop monument in Kyiv, amid a conflict that has seen the country fight to reassert its cultural identity in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Kyiv last week replaced the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol with a trident – the Ukrainian coat of arms – on the shield of the Motherland Monument, which dominates the capital’s skyline.
“We believe that this change will be the beginning of a new stage in the revival of our culture and identity, the final rejection of Soviet and Russian symbols and narratives,” the Ukrainian culture ministry said. The week-long operation to dismantle the Russian insignia was completed on August 6, according to the ministry.
The monument, a 102 meter-tall statue that towers over the surrounding area, is made of steel. Its construction began in 1979, and it depicted a woman holding a sword and a shield emblazoned with the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol.
The Russian Foreign Ministry insisted on Sunday that “mother cannot be renamed.”
“In Kiev, a trident was installed on the monument ‘Motherland,’” the ministry’s spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said on Telegram, using the Russian spelling of Kyiv. The Ukrainian government’s campaign to switch the international name from the Russian Kiev to Ukrainian Kyiv was part of pre-war efforts by the Ukrainian government to get rid of old Soviet names and establish a stronger sense of national identity.
“This is the whole essence of the Kiev regime and the cyborgs led by it. Mother cannot be renamed. She is one. And the only thing you can do with it is to love. And they don’t know how.”
Putin’s desire to undermine Ukrainian national identity and autonomy has remained a key motivation for the conflict.
When the Kremlin launched its invasion in February 2022 Putin suggested Ukraine had no right to exist as an independent state, identifying the eastern part of the country “ancient Russian lands.”
Shelling from Moscow has wiped out significant architectural landmarks in Ukraine over the past year, including most recently in the historic city center of Odesa, which UNESCO designated a World Heritage Site amid the threat of Russia’s invasion.
Asserting national identity
Kyiv has seen much change in recent years. The Moscow Bridge, a 816 meter-long structure over the Dnieper river, was renamed in 2018 as the Northern Bridge.
The quad that once celebrated Soviet statesmen Andrei Ivanov has been the Latvian Square since 2018. The triangular plaza is sandwiched between the Butyshiv Lane and Omelyanovich-Pavlenko Street, previously known as Andriy Ivanov Street and Susorov Suvorov Street.
Ukrainian flags feature prominently across the city, with a red star on top of the famous Hotel Ukraine being repainted blue and yellow.
A mile-long street stretching across one of Kyiv’s residential neighborhoods was once known as the Ivan Kudrya Street. In 2019, it was renamed John McCain Street, in honor of the former US presidential candidate.
“A lot of people approve of the change,” Andreyi Pobigay, a long time employee of a kitchenware store on the John McCain street, told CNN in February 2022.
“It’s a good thing. Kudryn was exploding our churches and historical objects, whereas McCain actually helped Ukraine,” he added.
McCain won the hearts of Ukrainians when he traveled to Kyiv in late 2013, meeting opposition leaders and even visiting the Maidan Square, the site of anti-government protests.
Kudrya, meanwhile, was a Soviet spy and a leader of a sabotage group in Kyiv during World War II. When the Kyiv city council announced the renaming of the street, it said his main task was “to fight Ukrainian nationalists.”
“McCain was the one who spoke to US senators and the US government so that sent help to Ukraine … meanwhile, Russia, our brother country, is now the aggressor towards us. So I think it’s the right thing,” Pobigay added.