In 1991, after seventy years of Soviet repression, Ukraine declared its independence. Those living in Kharkiv, its second largest city, may remember it as the most uncertain period in the country's history. But Kharkiv's statue of V. I. Lenin – the largest in Ukraine – stood even as the nation around it was crumbling.
That is until September 28, 2014, when hundreds of Kharkiv’s Anti-Russian protesters tore down the 28-foot monument, sawing off its feet and pulling it down from its high base at the Freedom Square.
I was born in Kharkiv and remember that statue well. It stood at the head of what was then the Dzerzhinsky Square, the largest public square in the Soviet Union (larger than the Red Square in Moscow). In addition to mass political chaos, the end of the centralized Soviet rule brought food shortages, hyper-inflation and, for the first time in seventy years, the threat of widespread unemployment and homelessness. But instead of toppling the monument, Kharkivians extricated their resentments through ridicule and humor, joking that Lenin’s forward-beckoning hand showed the way to the public bathrooms.
Beyond the Freedom Square, there were many smaller effigies of Lenin in Kharkiv. But it was at the foot of this one that my first-grade teacher ceremoniously pinned the October Star to the lapel of my school uniform – the first rite of passage for every Soviet child. This nostalgic sentiment is no more rational than blaming Lenin for what Putin has caused. But I never learned the cynicism of post-Soviet adulthood – my family and I soon immigrated to the United States – and all that I remember of home and childhood is now being dismantled one Lenin statue at a time.
|Vladimir Tatlin, Seaman (Self Portrait), 1911, State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg|
Yet already a Web search for the three sculptors and architects responsible for the largest statue of Lenin in Ukraine – M. K. Vronsky, A. P. Oleynik and A. A. Sidorenko – yields virtually no results. And now that the monument is toppled, its unique art and history are likely to pass into oblivion. Lenin may have outlived his pedestal in Kharkiv’s central square. But his monument is more than a Soviet relic and must be preserved – not melted down, as some Kharkivians insist, to make arms and tanks for the Ukrainian army.