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9 May, 2017

Our Victory Day

What is it for the modern Ukraine?

So is it our victory or not? I'm not talking about the demonstrations with “Ribbons of Saint George” that will take place on Tuesday – and they are sure to take place. That's just another special operation with a specific budget, performers, objectives and, most importantly, a specific intended recipient. I have no interest in picking apart the political myth of "Thank you, grandpa, for the victory" (optionally Mozhem povtorit or "We could do it again"), its origin and implications for the umpteenth time.

The question is rather whether Ukraine considers itself a party to the Day of Remembrance that most of Europe marks on May 8, commemorating the end of a terrible episode of World War II – the bloodiest, but not the only one.

The first, spontaneous temptation is to distance ourselves from anything connected with communist dictatorship. Only the lazy have not drawn parallels between Stalin's empire and Hitler's Reich. The differences are purely cosmetic – the results, including the number of victims and, just as importantly, the number of mangled, corrupted souls, are symmetrical. If it wasn't our war, so it isn't our victory. Is that it?

But let's start from the very beginning and think logically. Victory over whom/what? Over one of the ugliest phenomena in human history, a chemically pure evil in political and ideological form. Nazi Germany, regardless of its counterpart and temporary ally, was one of the worst threats to all humanity in the 20th century. Accordingly, its defeat was one of the most important and successful events of that hundred years.

RELATED ARTICLE: How the cult of soviet WWII veterans was created - and how they were treated right after the war

Next point: whose victory is it? The obvious and only correct answer is the Allied Powers. The fact that the Stalin’s inhumane and equally dangerous regime was part of them does not change anything in this statement. At that time, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was an integral part of the regime and Ukrainians were the second largest nationality in the Red Army. Here it would be appropriate to remember Ukraine's casualties in WWII. Expert estimates range from 7 million people (including those killed at the front and civilian deaths, in particular because of the Holocaust) to 10 or even 13 million with indirect demographic losses. So much for "not our war"! Against this background, symbolic arguments, such as the names of Ukrainian military commanders or the four Ukrainian Fronts do not add anything fundamental, although they obviously meant something to the people there at the time.

Indeed, as a result of all these events the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a state (at that time, a quasi-state) regained part of its ethnic territory and enjoyed the status of a United Nations co-founder, so it can formally be regarded as one of the victor countries. Then an ideological question inevitably arises: can we consider ourselves the heirs of Soviet Ukraine? Or, rather, to what extent are we its heirs?

Here I consider it necessary to set the record straight. I am a persistent and consistent supporter of the decommunisation policy. Even of such drastic measures that many find excessive. I also believe it is necessary to move gradually from de-Sovietisation to the decolonisation of culture and the public space. For example – the shame of it! – I see no tragedy in renaming the street and square honouring the genius belonging to all mankind Leo Tolstoy, who was in no way linked to Ukraine apart from once visiting his relatives in Kyiv. At present I do not see little-known businessman and landowner Yevhen Chykalenko as an alternative, but rather an equally distinguished Kyivan, doctor Volodymyr Karavayev. If only because the street was named after him before the revolution. But that is a whole other range of issues that should be discussed separately.

RELATED ARTICLE: Between the Nazi troops and the Red Army: what Stalin's "liberation from the Germans" and Hitler's "liberation from the Bolsheviks" had in common for Ukrainians

For now, we should go back to understanding the dilemma: to pretend that out of our entire history from 1920 to 1991 only the Holodomor famine and Ukrainian Insurgent Army are relevant for us, or to finally agree to consider all the triumphs and at the same time all the treachery of our immediate ancestors as our own, accept responsibility for their great deeds, but also for their errors and crimes (yes, crimes!), because they could not have been committed without the help of local people and were sometimes directly led by them.

Again, this should be talked about separately and at length, without simplifications and speculation. In the meantime, my interim conclusion is that yes, this is my holiday. Just not in the style that emerged in Communist Party offices and later at the gatherings of Moscow spin doctors. Rather as it is in Europe. Where the victims, trials and tribulations are mentioned, but also the supreme manifestations of resistance and courage that ancestors should not feel ashamed of before their descendants. I do not see how and why we are supposed to be different from Europeans, especially in this regard. It's time to grow up, and Victory Day is another reason and chance to do just that.

Translated by Jonathan Reilly

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