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Page last updated at 07:34 GMT, Saturday, 4 July 2009 08:34 UK

Lenin's nose put out of joint in Kiev

By Marta Shokalo
BBC Ukrainian

Damaged Lenin
Some Ukrainians clearly believe it is time to get rid of Lenin's statue in Kiev

The recent damage caused to Lenin's monument in Kiev has provoked a debate about the future of the capital's only public monument to the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Ukrainian Nationalist Congress party is proud to proclaim that it smashed the statue's nose and left hand.

Kiev police have arrested a number of men suspected of causing the damage.

After 19 years of Ukrainian independence, statues of Lenin are still quite common, particularly in the eastern part of the country.

And despite earlier calls for its removal, the Kiev Lenin, which is situated at the top of the city's Shevchenko's Boulevard has somehow managed to survive intact until now, partially on account of it being the work of a renowned Soviet era sculptor, Sergey Merkurov.

Barbarism

But far from discussing the monument's artistic merits, the small crowd milling around the damaged statue on a hot summer's day, watched over by two policemen, argue about politics.

"It is just barbarism," says an elderly woman.

I came here to ask his forgiveness. I said to him: Ilych, forgive them for what they did to you…
Raisa Petrivna

After seeing the damage on television, two teenagers wanted to see it for themselves.

"I liked this monument, they should let it be. You cannot erase history and you should look towards the future," says one of them.

Many people come to look, argue, take pictures or just stand around contemplating the defaced monument.

One man says: "I'm happy I lived to see the day. I would happily cut off his head myself."

He is not dissuaded by the arguments about the statue's artistic value.

"There were many Hitler statues of artistic value in Germany. It would not occur to anyone to keep them."

Humiliating

Some see the forthcoming removal of Lenin from his pedestal for repairs as an opportunity to rid the city of what they see as a symbol of the Soviet occupation of Ukraine.

"A continuing presence of Lenin's monuments in our country is humiliating to any Ukrainian with a national conscience," says one middle-aged man.

But 80-year-old Raisa Petrivna tearfully declares: "I was resting at my dacha when I heard about this act. I came here to ask his forgiveness. I said to him: Ilych, forgive them for what they did to you…"

For Raisa Petrivna, Lenin represents her Soviet youth, she is already collecting money for the repairs.

A Ukrainian Communist Party official says it will raise the money to get the karelia marble statue repaired but that it will cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But ultimately the decision whether or not to return the listed monument to its traditional location belongs to the Ukrainian government.

Death mask

A Kiev architect, Heorhiy Duchovichnyi, warns against removing the monument on political grounds, but also questions its artistic merits, stressing that it was put up in haste when it was realised in 1946 that unlike all the other Soviet republic's capitals, Kiev had mysteriously remained Lenin-free.

"They took an existing Lenin statue made for an exhibition in New York of Soviet achievements. And the pedestal was found in the Zhytomir region. It was originally meant for some heroic Soviet figure who had unfortunately become a victim of Stalin purges," he says.

Looking at the damaged monument, a Kiev historian, Olexander Anisimov says that the statue should be repaired and remain where it is.

"The sculptor, Sergey Merkurov was an interesting man. He personally took Lenin's death mask in 1924 and indeed had created a lot of Lenin monuments right across the Soviet Union," he says.

But Mr Anisimov's main concern about the potential disappearance of Lenin's monument from the top of Shevchenko's Boulevard is the future of the boulevard itself.

The 4km, tree-lined street is the longest boulevard in any European capital, he says.

The historian is worried that without Lenin's monument in place, the ever-growing Kiev traffic may swallow up the boulevard which may become yet another six-lane highway choked with cars.



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