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  • Sam Sokol

From Antisemites to Golda Meir, Ukraine Plans to 'de-Russify' Street Names

As part of its ‘de-Russification’ efforts, a Ukrainian body is calling for Kyiv streets to be renamed, including after nationalists who supported Nazi Germany. Israel's Yad Vashem has urged the country to avoid such a step

Sam Sokol May 2, 2022

A Ukrainian government body tasked with preserving national history has called for renaming several streets in Kyiv after Nazi collaborators, as part of “de-Russification” efforts following Moscow’s invasion of the country in February.

The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory released a list of names Saturday of those it said had “made important contributions to Ukrainian or world culture, were pro-Ukrainian [and] fought against or were persecuted by totalitarian regimes.”

And while it recommended naming streets after Kyiv-born Golda Meir, who was Israel’s prime minister from 1969-1974, and “people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust,” the institute also listed historical figures affiliated with the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists such as Andriy Melnyk and Yevhen Onatskyi.

In an email to Haaretz, Drobovych noted that “according to Ukrainian law, representatives of the OUN and UPA were fighters for Ukraine’s independence and are subject to appropriate respect,” and that he is bound to treat them accordingly, although he is aware of the groups’ “ambiguous reputation.”

Such renamings are necessary “to get rid of ideological clichés and myths of the Russian imperial heritage,” the institute stated on its website. It explained that it considered “de-Russification and decolonization as a logical continuation of decommunization processes” – a reference to a series of bills passed in 2015 that prohibited the denigration of groups like the OUN and banned a variety of communist and Nazi symbols.

But for historians and Jewish leaders, the decision to include such figures as Melnyk and Onatskyi is deeply disturbing, especially as many have taken great pains to push back against Russian propaganda painting Ukrainians as Nazis and antisemites.

The authoritarian OUN was founded in 1929 and led the Ukrainian fight for statehood, including through its paramilitary wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which aided the occupying Nazi forces committing atrocities against the Jewish community during World War II.

“The naming of streets after the UPA is obviously problematic because the UPA killed about 100,000 Poles in western Ukraine and forced several thousand Poles to leave the territory. The UPA was composed of former Ukrainian policemen who helped the Germans murder 800,000 Jews in western Ukraine,” said German-Polish historian Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe.

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