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Lenin Out: Ukrainian Soccer Club To Change Name Amid Decommunization

The Ilich iron and steel plant in Mariupol, named after Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
The Ilich iron and steel plant in Mariupol, named after Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Ukraine's ban on Soviet symbols has a soccer club in the city of Mariupol looking for a new name.

Illichivets Mariupol got its name from Illich, the sprawling steelworks that was its initial sponsor, which in turn is named after Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Under decommunization laws adopted in May amid severe tension with Moscow and a war with Russian-backed rebels who are at Mariupol's doorstep, that's no good.

The legislation bans Soviet symbols, so Illichivets is seeking a new name -- and asking fans to help choose one.

The Ukrainian Premier League club is offering a list of possible names in a survey posted on its website.

More than 8,100 people had voted by July 15, with just over 50 percent favoring Metallurg.

Along with Metallurg, which means "steelworker" in Russian, the simpler name FC Mariupol has also proved popular with the respondents.

The list of seven possible names also includes Lokomotiv and Novator. Both names along with Metallurg and Metallurh -- the same word in Ukrainian -- are among the club's former names.

The club has changed its name at least eight times since it was established in 1960.

It is not clear when Illichivets will conclude the survey and announce its new name.

The club has already missed the June 21 deadline Ukrainian authorities had set to get rid of Soviet symbols.

Proponents of the package of four decommunization laws, which came into force on May 21, hope they will help bring about a final break with the country's Soviet past.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, a move most of the world's nations consider illegal. Kyiv and NATO say Russia has sent troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine to help separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 6,400 people since April 2014.

The Azov Sea port city of Mariupol lies close to rebel held-territory in the Donetsk region, and rebel leaders have spoken of trying to take it. It has been targeted in rebel attacks, and fierce fighting has raged nearby.

Lawyer Serhiy Ryabenko says the soccer club's name violates the decommunization laws, as it bears the name of a communist leader.

Oleksandr Hlivinskiy, a prominent sports commentator who works as the national soccer team's press attache, said the name change will provide a welcome opportunity for the club to rebrand itself.

He supports the change, saying Illichivets conveys the message of an "absolutely false and destructive communist ideology."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on a report by RFE/RL's Ukraine Service correspondent Yana Polyanska

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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