LOOKING FOR LENIN
Looking for Lenin tumbles from the epicenter of the Ukrainian Maidan revolution in Kiev, out to the eastern fringes of Ukraine. Being in east Ukraine feels like being taken back to the 80s, crumbling apartment blocks, Soviet era cars and trams, gaudy interior decorations and midday drunks. It felt like things had not moved on, like either the place had clung on to the past, or the future never came to take over from where the Soviet Union left off. Little wonder why many still clung to former glory and looked east to Moscow, to memories of something greater, to something strong. The people in the east of Ukraine have a mixed connection to Russia, with many here being ethnic Russians who moved here during the Soviet Union, and Russian being the main language spoken day to day.
As I traveled east of the river Dnipro, it felt like falling into a Cold war era spy movie. The fall of the Soviet Union ended a seven decade long experiment, and disillusion of it had reached it’s peak in the satellite states. The opening to the west brought with it the possibility for social and economic advancement, and opening up to the outside world.
On the 15th May, 2015, the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, signed a set of laws that started the process of removing of Communist monuments and icons, and renaming public places, such as towns and streets, that have a Communist/Soviet names. With the war taking place, Lenin was falling all over the country, as people viewed the statues as a symbol of Russia’s imperial past and former control of Ukraine. In the small town of Manhush, a group of boys and girls practiced traditional dance. Outside in the main square of the town stood a marble plinth where Lenin once stood. When asked, the boys said they didn’t care about Lenin or the statues. A couple in the Dnipropetrovsk metro said that they would not tell their children about Lenin. But many expressed remorse and anger at the removal of the statues. “I don’t like Communism, but it’s bad to pull them down. It’s like a museum, it’s a memory, you don’t need to destroy it.”
The Soviet Union was decisive in shaping and forming the culture and identity of modern Ukraine. Regardless of people’s feelings towards Lenin, his actions have had a heavy influence on their lives. But modern anger has trumped history, and the Ukrainian people are symbolically severing their link to their past under Russian imperialism. Russia has always been keen to maintain influence over the former Soviet states, but it’s loss of Ukraine has taken the two countries to war.
I had varenyky with an elderly woman in her home in Dnipropetrovsk. She had lived through the state orchestrated famine of 1932-1933, Stalin’s terror, the fall of the Berlin wall and the break up of the Soviet Union. She said the best years where under Brezhnev, being able to eat sausage everyday and even affording fish. But she says today she doesn’t remember the taste of fish anymore, today is the hardest life has ever been for her. Ukrainians look to Europe now as the future, and hope to move out from their neighbour’s shadow, but two years on they are finding the fruits of their revolution have yet to materialise.