Kyiv’s Soviet-era Motherland Monument is finally being converted from imperial symbol imposed by Moscow to that of the patriotic and defiant Mother Ukraine.
By Lubomyr Luciuk
August 6, 2023
I hated her the first time I saw her. That was in 1989. Definitely not a case of “love at first sight.”
She was there every time I visited. I couldn’t avoid seeing her. I would tell the locals about how ugly this gal was, how even glimpsing her triggered an atavistic rage in me, and how she needed to go. Yet she stayed exactly where she was.
I’m talking of course about Ukraine’s great matriarchal symbol and prominent landmark, the Motherland Monument.
Except for a few old-timers nostalgically mumbling about their “good old days,” most people agreed with me but didn’t have any plans for removing her. They had other priorities back then, like returning Ukraine to its rightful place in Europe. It was only after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s legions illegally seized Crimea and attacked eastern Ukraine in February 2014 that public opinion started to change.
Then, after Russia began its genocidal campaign against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, people really began seeing things differently. While their focus remains on defending themselves against the same-old foe, Ukrainians are finally doing something about this rather grand and ageless dame.
On the one hand, the change underway may seem rather ill-timed – an unnecessary distraction and expense when there’s a war going on. But it’s not. Something had to be done, and it’s more of a conversion than a censure, which is actually a good thing.
Her revamp began only a few days ago, although the idea was put forward in 2018 by my colleague and friend, Dr Volodymyr Viatrovych. As the director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, he supported a decision approved by Ukraine’s parliament, in April 2015, intended to further Ukraine’s de-Communization. To promote that fine purpose, he proposed that the monument be recast.
Mounted on a raised platform, the 62-meter-tall statue looms over the nation’s capital – a woman of stainless steel holding aloft a sword and bearing a shield sporting the hammer and sickle, a symbol of the USSR. Unveiled in 1981 by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the near-moribund Leonid Brezhnev, this Soviet seductress has spoilt Kyiv’s cityscape ever since.
At last, she’s getting a much-needed makeover. Her new look will be complete by Aug. 24 to coincide with Ukraine’s Independence Day. Of course, Ukraine’s just fightback against Russian imperialism won’t be over by then, but this conflict, having become a true war of independence,
will conclude with a casting-off of the Russian yoke, regardless of the date on which the battlefield victory comes.
The success of Ukrainian arms will, furthermore, remind everyone that Ukrainians are not Russians, never were, and never will be. Between now and then Ukrainian millennials and their successors, most of whom never languished in a Soviet milieu, have agreed on how their homeland should be represented.
Not succumbing to the purblind passions of those braying mobs that went around the West selectively vandalizing monuments that offended their overwrought psyches, Ukraine’s more-thoughtful citizens have instead repurposed the colossus looking down upon them.
They divined this could be accomplished with but a modest correction, involving nothing more than excising the shield’s stigmatic Communist-era hammer and sickle and replacing it with the tryzub, Ukraine’s national symbol. With that simple fix, work is now underway to transform an imperial relic, giving it a patriotically Ukrainian, and more wholesome, identity.
And so, the Motherland Monument, once little-more than a reminder of Ukraine’s subjugation by Moscow’s men, has been reimagined as a good woman, defending her children against all foes, hallowing the memory of those who, in every generation, sacrificed themselves for Ukraine’s independence.
Neither damaged, nor erased, she has been made into a purposeful emblem – a herald for the Ukrainian nation. She even got a new name. Hereafter, she will be known as Mother Ukraine.
Following Ukraine’s coming victory over Russian fascism, I will return to Kyiv. One of the first things I will do then is visit Mother Ukraine, to take another look. This time I am sure it will be love at first sight.
Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada, a Fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, and co-author, with Volodymyr Viatrovych, of Enemy Archives: Soviet Counterinsurgency Operations and the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023).