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Kyiv Could Rename 'Moscow Avenue' After Nationalist Bandera

Vox-Pop: Bandera Avenue Or Moscow Avenue?
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WATCH: Vox-Pop: Bandera Avenue Or Moscow Avenue?

Kyiv is considering stripping a major thoroughfare of the name Moskovsky Prospekt, or Moscow Avenue, and renaming it after late Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera -- a move that would be certain to anger Russia.

The possible change is part of a push to rid Ukraine of Soviet-era symbols under “decommunization” laws that were passed last year after ties with Russia were torn apart by Moscow’s seizure of Crimea and support for separatists in the east.

The Kyiv City Hall commission that deals with name changes has approved the proposal, Volodymyr Vyatrovych, the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (UINR), said on his Facebook page on March 2. He said the UINR had made the proposal.

Vyatrovych said a day earlier that the commission has asked Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko to put the proposal to public debate in the capital. Such a debate, if Klitschko decides to initiate it, could take up to two months.

Under legislation adopted in May 2015, the communist government that ruled between 1917 and 1991 is condemned as a criminal regime.

Its symbols and propaganda are banned -- a measure that requires the removal of all communist monuments not related to World War II and the renaming of public places and landmarks bearing Soviet names.

The legislation applies the same treatment to the Nazi German regime, which occupied and controlled much of Ukraine during World War II.

Bandera, a nationalist resistance leader who fought against both Soviet and Nazi forces, is a deeply divisive figure seven decades after the war.

He is hailed as a freedom fighter by many Ukrainians, particularly in the west, but is considered a Nazi collaborator by Russia and by some in eastern Ukraine.

In 2010, outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko awarded Bandera the posthumous title of Hero of Ukraine, but the move was condemned by the European Parliament as well as Russian, Jewish, and Polish organizations, and was declared illegal by President Viktor Yanukovych, whose ties with Moscow were far warmer than Yushchenko’s. The award was officially annulled in January 2011.

Since Yanukovych was pushed from power by the Euromaidan protests in February 2014 and fled to Russia, Moscow has repeatedly referred to the pro-Western leaders who replaced him as “Banderovtsy," which in Russia is used as a derogatory term to describe Ukrainian nationalists.

Relations between Kyiv and Moscow have been badly damaged by Russia’s military-backed takeover of Crimea in March 2014 and its ongoing support for separatists in a war that has killed more than 9,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Anger over Russia’s aggression has given much greater impetus to Ukraine’s efforts to break with its Soviet past. Under the “decommunization” laws, dozens of statues of Lenin have been toppled and streets renamed.

Written by Eugen Tomiuc based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service
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