A portrait of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin has been hung at a Moscow subway station in celebration of the 82nd anniversary of the opening of the Russian capital’s underground transport network.
The portrait appeared at the entrance of the Sokolniki subway station in northeastern Moscow on May 14 as part of a historical recreation of the opening of the Moscow Metropolitan on May 15, 1935.
The event -- which included a banner praising the "great, dear Stalin" as "the initiator and inspiration for the metro’s construction" -- drew fire from many Russian social-media users who criticized it as an official lionization of a bloody dictator.
Viktor Shenderovich, a prominent humorist and biting opponent of President Vladimir Putin, suggested an upcoming holiday should be marked with portraits of Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo.
“He was a serial killer, you say? Well, that’s true, but that’s small potatoes. At the very least compared to Stalin," Shenderovich wrote on Facebook.
Stalin remains a polarizing figure in Russia. Admirers credit him with the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and the industrialization of the Soviet Union, while others denounce his purges that killed millions of Soviet citizens.
Critics also say victory over the Nazis was won by Soviet soldiers and people despite major mistakes by Stalin from start to finish.
New monuments to Stalin have cropped up in several cities and towns in recent years, and critics accuse Putin of presiding over a steady rehabilitation of the dictator's image during his 17 years in power.
Surveys conducted by independent pollster Levada-Center in January showed that almost 50 percent of Russians view Stalin favorably -- the highest proportion in the last 16 years.
Putin himself has publicly given a mixed assessment of Stalin, saying in 2009 that "no one can throw stones now at the people who organized and led this victory" in World War II.
He added, however, that this "positive picture" was achieved at an "unacceptable price," criticizing a governing style that led to the suffering of "millions of our compatriots."
Stalin's portrait at the Sokolniki station was accompanied by one of Lazar Kaganovich, a Bolshevik and Stalin associate after whom the Moscow subway was originally named.