KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has replaced the Soviet emblem that once adorned one of the nation’s most recognizable landmarks with the country’s coat of arms.
The symbolic move is part of a wider shift throughout Ukraine to reclaim the country’s cultural identity from the Soviet past amid Russia’s ongoing invasion.
Erected in 1981 as part of a larger complex housing Ukraine’s national World War II museum, the Mother Ukraine monument stood on the right bank of the Dnipro River in Kyiv, facing eastwards toward Moscow.
Created in the image of a fearless female warrior, the 200-foot-tall statue previously held a sword and a shield emblazoned with the Soviet coat of arms: a crossed hammer and sickle surrounded by ears of wheat.
On Sunday, that emblem was replaced with the Ukrainian tryzub, the three-pronged trident that was officially adopted as the coat of arms for independent Ukraine on February 19, 1992.
Workers began removing the old coat of arms in late July, but poor weather conditions and ongoing air raids have delayed the work. The completed sculpture will be officially unveiled on Aug. 24 – Ukrainian Independence Day.
The revamp also coincides with a new name for the statue, which was previously known under its Soviet-era name of the “Motherland monument.”
The change is just one part of a years-long effort in Ukraine to erase the vestiges of Soviet and Russian influence from its public spaces – often by removing monuments and renaming streets to honor Ukrainian artists, poets, and soldiers instead of Russian cultural figures.
Most Soviet and communist symbols were outlawed in Ukraine by the country’s parliament in 2015, but this did not include World War II monuments such as the Mother Ukraine statue.
Some 85 percent of Ukrainians backed the removal of the hammer and sickle from the landmark, according to data from the country’s Culture Ministry released last year.
For many in Ukraine, the Soviet past is synonymous with Russian imperialism, the oppression of the Ukrainian language, and the Holodomor, a man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians and has been recognized as an act of genocide by both the European Parliament and the United States.
The de-Communization movement has only been accelerated by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022, where assertions of national identity have become an important show of unity as the country struggles under the horror of war.
In a statement marking the emblem’s removal on their website, Ukraine’s national World War II museum, described the Soviet coat of arms as a symbol of a totalitarian regime that “destroyed millions of people.”
“Together with the coat of arms, we’ve disposed the markers of our belonging to the ‘post-Soviet space’. We are not ‘post-’, but sovereign, independent and free Ukraine.”
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