The Mother Ukraine monument been given a makeover to replace the Communist hammer and sickle with a tryzub on the shield. Photo from Wikipedia/Olexndr Gusev

Mother Ukraine turns into freedom’s symbol

By  Lubomyr Luciuk, Catholic Register Special
  • September 8, 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 she was, how even glimpsing her triggered an atavistic rage in me, how she needed to go. Yet they did nothing.

She stayed where she was. Except for a few old-timers, nostalgically mumbling about their “good old days,” most people agreed with me but didn’t have any plans to remove her. They had other priorities in those days, like returning Ukraine to its rightful place in Europe.

It was only after Putin’s legions illegally seized Crimea and attacked eastern Ukraine, in February 2014, that public opinion started to evolve. Then, after Russia began its murderous campaign against Ukraine and Ukrainians, on Feb. 24, 2022, people really began seeing things differently. While their focus remains defending themselves against the same old foe, Ukrainians are finally doing something about the old Soviet-era seductress. While this may seem rather ill-timed, an unnecessary distraction and expense when there’s a war going on, it’s not. Something had to be done. It soon will be, sort of. Frankly, it’s more of a conversion than a censure. Yet that’s actually a good thing.

Her makeover 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 one of Kyiv’s most prominent landmarks, the Motherland Monument, be recast.

Mounted on a raised platform, this 62-metre 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, she has spoiled Kyiv’s cityscape ever since.

At last she’s getting a much-needed makeover. Her new look will coincide with Ukraine’s Independence Day. Of course, Ukraine’s just war 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 Generation Z 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 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 a tryzub, Ukraine’s national symbol. With that simple fix, they transformed 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. Fittingly, she even faces Moscow. 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.

After Ukraine’s coming victory over Russian fascism, I will return to Kyiv. One of the first things I will do is visit Mother Ukraine, to take another look and say a prayer. 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)

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