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Kyiv Seen As Using A Bit Of Street Smarts To Rankle Russia

  • Claire Bigg

The newly renamed Volunteer Battalion Street in Kyiv, home to the Russian Consulate

The newly renamed Volunteer Battalion Street in Kyiv, home to the Russian Consulate

It's a just matter of days before Russian diplomats in Ukraine start working on Volunteer Battalion Street, a quiet tree-lined thoroughfare in downtown Kyiv.

The street, named in honor of the irregular forces battling pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is home to the Russian Consulate.

Kyiv authorities renamed it last week after the Ukrainian fighters in what appears to be a thinly veiled barb against Russia, whose leaders are widely accused of backing the separatist rebels.

The street formerly commemorated the so-called Panfilov's Men, a group of Red Army soldiers who took part in the defense of Moscow in World War II.

The Kyiv City Council said the goal was to "honor the memory of volunteer battalions that have made a significant contribution to the struggle for independence, the development of the Ukrainian state, the maintenance of international peace and security."

Although the actual signs have yet to be replaced, the street already appears as Volunteer Battalion Street on Google Maps.

Renaming a street or a square to irk a political foe is not a new strategy. Numerous countries, from the United States to Iran, have used street signs to make a political point.

Streets featuring foreign embassies have been a choice target.

In 1981, Iran famously changed the name of the street where the British Embassy was based in Tehran from Winston Churchill to Bobby Sands -- the prominent member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who had died the same year in a prison hunger strike against British rule in Northern Ireland.

The move sparked a furious reaction from Britain, which sealed the entrance to the embassy and knocked through a wall into another street to create a new entry point -- and, by extension, a new address.

British authorities announced last month that they planned to reopen their embassy on Bobby Sands Street, shut down in 2011 after it was ransacked by a mob protesting international sanctions slapped on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

It's unclear which entrance will be used.

In 1984, Washington renamed the street outside the Soviet Embassy in honor of dissident and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov.

While it remains unclear whether the two events are connected, Sakharov was soon allowed to return to Moscow after years of forced exile.

India and China, too, are no strangers to the tactic.

Back in the early days of communist rule in China, the country renamed the U.S. Embassy's street in Shanghai Antirevisionism Road to pour scorn on the brand of communism upheld in the neighboring Soviet Union.

In India, communist officials at the height of the Vietnam War changed the name of a street where the U.S. Embassy was based in Kolkata to Ho Chi Minh Sarani, in honor of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader who presided over his country throughout much of the war.

Today, the time-honored practice of using street signs as foreign policy tools is showing no sign of abating.

In the United States, Senator Ted Cruz has been lobbying to rename the street in front of Cuba's embassy in Washington after slain Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya.

A vocal critic of Cuba, Paya was killed in a car accident in 2012 along with fellow dissident Harold Cepero. Their supporters have accused the Cuban government of staging the crash.

Last year, an initiative to rename the street outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington after Liu Xiaobo, China's most famous dissident, successfully riled officials in Beijing.

Meanwhile, activists in Berlin are hoping to change the name of the street outside the U.S. Embassy to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor wanted by the United States for leaking classified documents revealing the vast scale of the country's surveillance programs.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


     

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