Smashing Statues

By Aaron Tannenbaum 


Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainians have been widely torn between identification with their Russian neighbors and aspirations to emulate the capitalist West. This

tension escalated in 2013 when President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly suspended talks on a European Union trade pact that would strengthen Ukraine’s economic ties to Western Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently bullied Yanukovych out of the deal, sparking ire among many Ukrainians and delight among others. This political tug-of-war exploded in 2014 when Russia violently annexed Crimea, provoking widespread protest among Ukrainian nationalists alongside displays of support from Russian sympathizers.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, scores of public squares throughout Ukraine remained de facto shrines to massive statues of Vladimir Lenin. Since December 2013, protestors have demolished and defaced over 1,000 of these statues. To Ukrainian nationalists, Lenin represents both the Soviet Union’s systematic starvation of the Ukrainian peasantry in its campaign to corral Eastern Europe into its communist utopia and Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine in his attempt to assemble former Soviet states into a Eurasian Union under his control.

Some Ukrainian officials seem to condone the passionate, if destructive, movement. “Lenin? Let him fall down,” said Interior Minister Arsen Avakov in September 2014. Some commentators worry, however, that it will not effect meaningful change. “Destroying statues… simply opens the way for the creation of new symbols,” wrote Sasha Senderovich, an assistant professor of Germanic and Slavic languages at the University of Colorado, in the New York Times in 2013. Notwithstanding the movement’s questionable efficacy, one thing is clear: Lenin may stand for Ukrainian nationalists’ traumatic histories, but he no longer stands in their towns.


Aaron Tannenbaum is a sophomore Applied Math major in Jonathan Edwards college. Contact him at