News Politics Society, 11/05/2019

Commotion and Controversial Petitions on Victory Day in Kharkiv

On May 8 and 9, a number of commemorative events, dedicated to the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation and Victory Day took place in Kharkiv and its region. They were accompanied by the attempts of friendship-with-Russia advocates to politicize the moment.

On Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, the solemn event took place at the Memorial complex of Glory in Lisopark.

Representatives of veterans’ organizations, the city and regional officials, diplomats and students placed flowers to the Motherland monument.

On May 9, official commemorative events started at the Marshal Konev Height Memorial in Solonitsevka, Derhachi District, the Kharkiv Region. Veterans of World War II, combatants, those who served in the territory of other states, soldiers who fought in the east of Ukraine, the city and regional officials laid flowers on the monumental stele, honored memory of the victims of Nazism and WWII with a minute of silence, followed by a gun salute salvo.  According to the Kharkiv National Police, about 25,000 people took part in the solemn ceremony. All comers were treated with traditional soldiers’ porridge.

Sadly, May 9 remains a day of tension in Kharkiv, as pro-Russian proxies annually use this occasion as a propaganda cause for promoting the sentiment after the USSR and its communist regime.

This time, at the Memorial complex of Glory, about 750 people marched carrying photos of relatives who were killed during WWII, and the posters with “Immortal Regiment” signs.  “Immortal Regiment” is a Russian propagandistic public organization. Outside Russia, it’s considered as provocative and speculative which is used as a tool for Russian propaganda and hybrid war.

The action’s participants sang wartime songs, honored the memory of the war victims and repeatedly recited “Thank you, grandfather, for the victory!” which is regarded pro-Russian slogan, on the way to the Motherland monument.

Veterans of the war in Donbas and members of nationalist organizations with portraits of soldiers who were killed in the Russian war against Ukraine also came to the Memorial. A few verbal arguments took place between members of “Immortal Regiment” and nationalist organizations. In particular, activists chanted “Glory to the nation – death to the enemies,” after which they were accused of inciting to murder. The parties also called each other “rashists” [neologism for Russian nazis] and “fascists.”

In addition, the activists noticed a ribbon of Saint George, which has been forbidden in Ukraine since June 2017, on the portrait that was carried by one of the “Immortal Regiment’s” participants. When demanded by the activists, the police forced him to remove the prohibited symbols.

However, the actions at the Memorial were held without direct clashes.

Furthermore, on May 8, on the eve of Victory Day, two controversial online petitions were registered on the city council site. The first one called for a return to the former name of Marshal Georgy Zhukov for the currently named Petro Grigorenko Avenue and to Palats Sportu metro station which had been named after Marshal Zhukov before. The second one called for the removal of the “All for Victory” tent from Freedom Square where the activists have collected aid for Ukrainian combatants since 2014.

On the same day, Kharkiv mayor Hennady Kernes commented on the petitions on his Facebook page.

“I think that if these two petitions get the required number of votes which amounts to 5,000, I will do everything within the power of the city authorities to make those proposals a reality. It’s just impossible to look at this tent on Freedom Square, which looks dirty, with fragments of shells. It has already exploded more than once. Personally, I’m all for removing it,” he states.

Kernes added that the question of returning the avenue of General Petro Grigorenko to the name of Marshal Zhukov is more complicated.

“Both are deserving of perpetuation, but if you ask those few veterans who they called a marshal of victory? And, of course, it’s impossible to overestimate his merits in defeating fascism, and I’m calling on you to support these petitions,” the mayor highlighted.

Both petitions have got the required number of votes so far and they are going to be put into a vote of the city council.

Volodymyr Vyatrovich, the head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, advised about the illegality of renaming the avenue according to the law “On Conviction of Communist and National-Socialist (Nazi) Totalitarian Regimes in Ukraine and Prohibition of the Promotion of Their Symbols.”

“We also have to take account of the fact that in accordance with part two of Article 4361 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, actions concerning the dissemination and public use of the symbols of the communist totalitarian regime committed by a person who is a representative of the government are punishable by imprisonment for a term from 5 to 10 years with the confiscation of property, or without such,” Vyatrovich added.

In spite of these facts, Kernes is going to consider these petitions at the next city council’s session.

As for removing the tent, activists appealed to the current president Petro Poroshenko, newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials to help in supporting the viability of the tent.

According to Euro Kharkiv information center, today, city council’s representatives attached a copy of the decree on the deconstruction of the tent within three days until May 14 signed by Andriy Harkushyn, the head of parking lot of the city council’s territorial surveillance department. The same document was published on the city council’s website on May 11.

On May 12 at 12 p.m., the activists ask all concerned citizens to come to the tent which is located on Freedom Square to take part in “discussions of issues and then to visit the mayor who lives in National hotel to ask him questions about city life.”

Text: Natalia Ivanova