Toppling Soviet monuments in Ukraine goes beyond Lenin

Ukrainians pull down the largest statue of Lenin in Kharkiv, Sept. 2014

Statue of Lenin in Kharkiv being pulled down in September 2014 (AP/Igor Chekachkov)

The removal of monuments to Soviet Communism in Ukraine has now gone past tearing down statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin. As reported by, on April 11th in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, three statues of other Bolsheviks were toppled at night by unidentified masked figures claiming to be enforcing a law passed on April 9th. The law bans all propaganda and symbolism of both Nazism and Soviet Communism. Law No. 2558 ‘On the condemnation of Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and the prohibition of propaganda using their symbolism’ followed close on the heels of another law officially renaming the ‘Great Patriotic War,’ so that in Ukraine it is now referred to as ‘World War Two.’

Students and workers in Budapest, Hungary, next to a toppled statue of Stalin during the Hungarian uprising (October 1956)

Students and workers in Budapest, Hungary, next to a toppled statue of Stalin during the Hungarian uprising (October 1956)

Under current circumstances, this renaming was a natural political development: to refer to a war as ‘patriotic’ when it is referred to as such by an aggressor state (Russia) seems absurd. Furthermore, the Soviet Union was not an entity whose official ideology valued ‘patriotism.’ It was the antithesis of patriotic sentiment, since it believed all nation-states were worthless, and only international proletarian revolution had ultimate value. The proletariat – according to Marxism-Leninism – did not identify with nation or country, but only with a workers’ revolution and overturning the old order. The title ‘Great Patriotic War’ was a ruse conceived by Stalin’s regime to win sympathy for the war effort in desperate times. It was a trick to appeal to the Soviet masses to fight Nazi Germany, with which Stalin had heinously and foolishly attempted to form an alliance.

Statue of Soviet KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky in Moscow is dismantled as the USSR collapses

Statue of Soviet KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky in Moscow is dismantled as the USSR collapses

The destruction of Soviet Communist hagiography is not popular with many in Ukraine, particularly in the east. While western Ukrainian cities long ago removed images of Lenin and other Communist leaders from their public areas, in the largely Russian-speaking east, most residents have viewed such figures – until recently – with a shrug at worst, and at best as heroes. The reality is that most of these people were monsters. Lenin, Dzerzhinsky, Stalin and others still viewed with respect in Russia were responsible for the torture, starvation and deaths of millions of ordinary people. Whatever anyone may feel about Communism as in some way a ‘good cause,’ those responsible for creating and consolidating the Soviet state that existed from 1917 to 1991 were mostly murderous and tyrannical. There is a point at which ordinary people’s misconceptions as to the integrity of figures from their own history must be dispelled – for the good of all.

The Bolshevik figures whose statues were torn down in Kharkiv are Nikolai Rudnev, Yakov Sverdlov and Sergo Ordzhonikidze. The masked figures who toppled them posted a video of their acts to youtube. It is evident from the footage that no officials from the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD – the national police force) attempted to obstruct or stop them.

Nikolai Rudnev

Nikolai Rudnev

Nikolai Rudnev (1894-1918) was made deputy commissar for military affairs of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic, an artificial entity set up by the Bolshevik government in Moscow to carve territory away from Ukraine during the Russian Civil War and carry out mass slaughter in the Ukrainian countryside. A true believer in the Bolshevik cause, Rudnev was mortally wounded just shy of his twenty-fourth birthday, and was buried in the Russian city of Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad, then Volgograd) in October 1918. His body was later disinterred and re-buried in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where a city square was named after him.

Yakov Sverdlov on a Soviet postage stamp

Yakov Sverdlov on a Soviet postage stamp

Yakov Sverdlov (1885-1919) was a Soviet Politburo member and chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) for over a year after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917. A close ally of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, Sverdlov played a critical role in organizing the Bolshevik Revolution. He helped close down the Constituent Assembly (the elected Russian legislative body that briefly existed into the Bolshevik era), and carried out Lenin’s order to execute Tsar Nicholas II and his family. The city where the executions took place (Yekaterinburg) was named ‘Sverdlovsk’ until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sergio Ordzhonikidze (left) with Soviet secret police chief and torturer Nikolai Yezhov

Sergio Ordzhonikidze (L) with Soviet NKVD chief Nikolai Yezhov

Grigol (‘Sergo’) Ordzhonikidze (1886-1937), a Georgian, was a close confidante and ally of the dictator Joseph Stalin. In 1920, he directed ‘de-Cossackization’ as head of the North Caucasus Revolutionary Committee, deporting inhabitants that had rebelled against Bolshevik rule and burning entire villages to the ground. He became a full Soviet Politburo member and was at one point People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry. He later criticized collectivization (which led to the famine in Ukraine and other areas of the Soviet Union) as a ‘disaster’ and also opposed the purge of fellow Communists in the 1930s. Although the official report of Ordzhonikidze’s death specified that he had died of a heart attack, it is now generally believed he committed suicide by blowing his brains out at Stalin’s behest. He was buried in the Kremlin Wall in Moscow.

За ніч у Харкові знесли три пам’ятники комуністичним лідерам

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