ZAPORIZHZHYA , Ukraine -- Communist Party officials in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhya say they are planning to erect a monument to former Soviet leader Josef Stalin in early May, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.
Oleksandr Zubchevsky, a Communist Party deputy on the Zaporizhzhya city council, told RFE/RL on March 29 that the idea for the Stalin monument came from World War II veterans.
He said they "resent the fact that there are monuments to the criminals [Stepan] Bandera and [Roman] Shukhevych in western Ukraine, and we have no monument to the person who saved the entire world from the brown plague of the 20th century -- fascism -- and who transformed Zaporizhzhya from a provincial town into a powerful industrial center."
Bandera and Shukhevych are controversial World War II-era nationalist leaders who are viewed by many in eastern Ukraine as traitors because they fought against Soviet forces, although they are viewed by many in the western part of the country as heroes.
It would be the first new Stalin monument erected in Ukraine since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Zubchevsky said the monument will be about three meters high and mounted on granite. The Communist Party has not disclosed either the name of the sculptor -- saying only that he is from Kyiv -- or the exact location of the monument.
Zaporizhzhya residents told RFE/RL that it will probably be placed near the local Communist Party offices, not far from the city center, where it will be easy to guard.
‘Suffering Of Millions’
Like many Zaporizhzhya residents, Mayor Yevhen Kartashov is against glorifying Stalin.
The local Party of Regions faction, which has a majority in the city council, said that it will not object to the plans if they are enacted legally. But Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, a senior Party of Regions member, is concerned by the monument.
Lavrynovych said in Kyiv on March 29 that "it is inappropriate to return to the pages of history that brought suffering to millions of people. Tyrants should be in history as a lesson to later generations, and not the subject of glorification."
Critics have called on the central government to intervene.
Stepan Khmara of the Ukrainian People's Party told RFE/RL that the state's Security Service should act to prevent the erection of the monument. He pointed to the January decision by a Kyiv court that ruled Stalin was guilty of genocide for engineering the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 in which millions of people died.
The Communist Party did not ask the Zaporizhzhya city council for permission for the monument, explaining that it will appear on a private plot of land and doesn't need the council's approval.
As a result, lawyer Tetyana Montyan believes it will be difficult to stop their plans. "All European countries have laws which envision what a person can and cannot do on private territory," she said. "In Ukraine this branch of law is not developed at all."
The nationalist Svoboda Party has already warned that it will destroy the Stalin monument in Zaporizhzhya if it is erected.
In the meantime, Communist Party officials say the Zaporizhzhya monument to Stalin is only the first of several.
Zubchevsky said the next one should be located in western Ukraine to remind nationalists that it was Stalin who united Ukraine within its present borders in 1939.