Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Ukraine tears down controversial statue

By Rostyslav Khotin
BBC Ukrainian Service

Site where the statue of the Ukrainian political leader Hryhoriy Petrovsky once stood
A concrete slab is all that remains of the statue of Hryhoriy Petrovsky

A statue of a politician considered to be one of the main instigators of the man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s, has been demolished.

The authorities tore down the statue of the Communist leader of Ukraine when it was part of the former Soviet Union, Hryhoriy Petrovsky.

It was carried out just days before Ukraine commemorates the victims of the famine, known as the Holodomor, or genocide.

President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree ordering the removal of monuments to Soviet leaders, "in memory of the victims of the Holodomor".

The statue stood in Kiev's Europe Square - one of the capital's most prestigious locations.

Between seven and ten million people died in what officials say was a deliberate policy pursued by the former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry who were opposed to the collectivisation of farming.

Close ally

Hryhoriy Petrovsky was an ethnic Ukrainian and a committed member of the Bolsheviks - the movement of professional revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin, who seized power in 1917 and went on to found the Soviet Union.

Petrovksy saw himself as an internationalist, and rejected Ukrainian nationalism.

Statue in Ukraine
Statues have been defaced by Ukrainian nationalists

He fought against the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic (1917-1919), which was crushed by the Bolsheviks.

Petrovsky became the interior minister of the Russian Soviet Republic before returning to Ukraine in 1919, where he served as prime minister until 1938.

He was thought to be a close ally of Stalin, whose purges led to the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian communists.

Local historians think he and the Ukrainian Soviet Communist leader, Lazar Kaganovich, were the main executors of Stalin's policies in Ukraine.

Other historians, like Vasyl Marochko, a member of an official commission which investigated the Holodomor, say that when Petrovsky realised the extent of the famine he pleaded twice with Stalin to provide Ukrainians with more food.

His requests, they say, went unheeded.

Increasingly unpopular

Last year, the statue to Petrovsky was defaced by young Ukrainian nationalists who threw paint over it, and wrote in graffiti: "To Petrovsky, the executioner of the Ukrainian people".

Earlier this year, the still-standing Lenin monument on Kiev's main street, Khreshchatyk, was also damaged by the same group.

former Soviet Ukraine political leader Hryhoriy Petrovsky
Hryhoriy Petrovsky was a close ally of Stalin

In that incident, Lenin's nose and one of his hands were broken off with a hammer.

Less prominent statues to Ukrainian Soviet communist leaders have been removed before.

But Petrovsky, whose body is interred near the Kremlin wall in Moscow, is perhaps the highest profile figure to have his statue demolished.

His legacy has not completely vanished, because the central industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk still carries his name, much to the annoyance of some Ukrainians.

"The city should have been renamed when Ukraine gained its independence," says Vadym Skurativsky, a leading Ukrainian writer.

Erasing the past

Ukraine has been slow to remove historical monuments to Soviet leaders, despite the country's first president, Leonid Kravchuk, issuing orders aimed at "de-sovietisation" in the early 1990s.

The process has gone much further in the Ukrainian-speaking western regions than in the industrialised, largely Russian-speaking eastern regions.

The Holodomor has emerged as a contentious issue in Ukraine's relations with Russia.

Moscow insists that other republics, particularly southern Russia and Kazakhstan, also suffered from famine during the 1930s.

It rejects the assertion from Ukraine's leadership that there was a deliberate policy of anti-Ukrainian "genocide".

But Ukrainian historians point to the widespread use of Soviet interior ministry troops to requisition desperately needed food, as well as the ban imposed on the movement of peasants to the cities.

The commemorations on Saturday will be marked by church services all over Ukraine, the laying of wreaths, and a gathering of Ukraine's leaders at a recently completed monument to the victims on a hillside location in Kiev.

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