The Cultural Context of Felled Statue of Lenin in Kharkiv (Published in Russian)


Like many other forms of art, sculptures represent some form of belief or ideology in society. As generations are born and raised in a community, they make art that reflects certain aspects of society’s life in that particular era. Sculptures are regarded with importance because they are how society represents its thoughts and ideologies. In the contemporary world, sculptures are used for many purposes, like commemorating heroes or spreading messages such as liberty and freedom. In September of 2014, the Statue of Lenin in Kharkiv was toppled and destroyed (Bitušíková, 2018). This statue was the largest sculpture of Vladimir Lenin, and it was located in the Freedom corner of Kharkiv in Ukraine. Lenin was a Russian communist revolutionary who lived between 1870 and 1924. He is remembered for his role as leader of the Bolshevik Party, which became very popular during the Russian Revolution. This period marked the end of Russia’s imperial oppression and the birth of the Soviet Union, to which Lenin became the leader. It is estimated that around 100 of Lenin’s statues were destroyed by protesters across Ukraine, including some in Poltava, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, and Khmelnytskyi.
Just as it is with other post-soviet states, Ukraine’s relationship and her communist roots is a sour one. Ukraine has been home to hundreds of statues of revolutionaries such as Karl Max, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s statue in Kharkiv was unveiled in 1963 (Bitušíková, 2018) when Lenin was looked at as a revolutionary figure who was once a great leader of the Soviet Union. In the years following 2009, this statue became a target of nationalists’ fury who detest Russian interference in Ukraine matters. The situation worsened when President Viktor Yushchenko asked Ukraine to cleanse itself of communist symbols resulting in a nationwide attack on Lenin’s sculptures. This phenomenon, which became known as Leninfall, was characterized by massive destruction, replacement, and transfer of objects deemed symbols of the Russian Revolution in Ukraine’s landscape. This strategic removal and erasure of symbols of communism is part of rewriting Ukraine’s history to emphasize the victorious state that the country wants to see in its ideological, historical, and political frame. The Ukraine people looked at the towering statue with spite as it represented values that they no longer stand for. The fall of this particular statue, which overlooked many villages, is seen as a spectacle of forgetting the formerly accepted ideology and moving on to newer ones. This is evidenced by the glorious ways in which more than nine Ukrainian TV channels reported the event. The terms used, perspectives, and metaphors point to a society that has undergone an ideological transformation and removes memorabilia that honors communism from glory positions. According to this new approach, communism and soviet ideals can be remembered but just as a part of history that does not deserve celebration.
The toppling of the Kharkiv Statue is just one of the many cases of demolished Lenin statues all over Ukraine. Protestors known as Euromaidans are estimated to have toppled at least 376 Lenin statues. The dismantling of these statues caused mixed reactions from the Ukrainian public, but once they had been demolished, no one came forward to protest it, revealing how the country felt towards them. During the dismantling of the statue in Kharkiv, many Ukrainians were opposed to the government’s decision to suspend an agreement with the EU instead of picking the side of Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. This expanded the protests’ scope even further, leading to the eventual linkage of the then Ukraine president, Viktor Yanukovych, to violation of human rights and abuse of power. The protests continued to plague Ukraine, and confrontations with the police resulted in many citizens’ deaths and injuries. The demonstrations were a message to Ukrainian authorities to reject Russian influence on their country, and the Statue of Lenin, being a representation of early Russian authority, fell victim to the new wake.
Lenin’s symbolic erasure from Ukraine can be interpreted in many varied contexts, including the economic state of affairs. This is especially drawn from the observation that countries formerly communist states, such as Croatia, are increasingly dire in unemployment rates. This has raised the question among Ukrainians whether getting rid of communism and joining the European Union was the right decision for their country’s future. The toppling of this statue symbolizes the rejection of communist ideologies and signifies the shift in ideology among Ukrainians. This demolition indicates that Ukrainians have observed the failure in the transition from communism into a democratic EU. Neither communism nor the EU is the solution for Ukraine, and this twenty-meter statue serving as a giant embodiment of communist values was brought down to represent the swing.
The controversial removal of this statue sets a precedent for people belonging to countries or communities that have continually been in conflict with other groups regarding their freedom or autonomy. This demolition became one more indication of Ukraine and Russia’s hardening situation after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula damaging relations with Kyiv (Chatterje, & Gillespie, 2019). Separatists who are more aligned with Moscow in Eastern Ukraine did not demolish similar structures in their zones, and this signifies the freedom to choose which side to support in terms of geopolitical principles. Ukrainian leaders expressed their sentiments concerning the statue’s felling from its pedestals at Freedom Square through social media. Each aired opinions as a great representation of the freedom of speech gained since the era in which Lenin ruled and silenced those who opposed him.
Lenin’s statue is a tell-tale sign of the evolving nature of society and the dynamism of culture. Initially, the soviet block was characterized by leaders who rose and dominated their subjects, and any form of opposition or rebellion was repressed. The society used art in the form of sculpture to animate the afterlife of the former Soviet leader. This shows that the community has used art to remember or honor their former leaders, just like pharaohs, who were sculpted in Egypt. The statue also symbolically represents the period Ukraine spent as part of the Soviet Union and applied communist ideals in decision making. The felling of this statue revealed the change in ideology that occurs every so often in any society. This statue has answered questions about how different regimes respond to certain Russian Revolution narratives and how they want their part in the story to be told throughout its lifetime. It has served as a link between history, cultural politics, and the passing of ideas and passions in a society’s preferred way.

Bitušíková, A. (2018). Parades of Monuments and Memorials. Narodna umjetnost, 55(2), 147-164.
Chatterje-Doody, P. N., & Gillespie, M. (2019). The cultural politics of commemoration: Media and remembrance of the Russian revolutions of 1917. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 1367549419871355.