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Ukraine attempts to hide Russian symbols in its cultural counter-offensive

A Ukrainian museum hides Russian masterpieces, writers Pushkin and Dostoyevsky are besieged and shunned by the “oppressor’s language”. As the war progresses, Ukrainians intensify efforts to suppress Russian cultural influences. Ukrainian efforts to eradicate Russian influence date back to the 2022 invasion, but the 18-month war has fueled a campaign to remove Soviet symbols and Russians from public spaces, while trying to boost Ukrainian identity. As well as the military campaign, Ukrainians are waging a cultural counter-attack, renaming Soviet-era street names, toppling statues and removing works of Russian literature from shelves. Such efforts are particularly visible in the Russian-speaking border region of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, which was captured at the beginning of the invasion. The shell-damaged walls and boarded-up windows of the Kharkiv Art Museum testify to the brutality of the war. After the invasion, the word “Russian” was removed from the name of its “Ukrainian and Russian Art” department, museum official Maryna Filatova told AFP. The museum was quick to secure works such as the iconic “Zaporogian Cossacks Writing a Letter to the Sultan” by Ukrainian-born Russian painter Ilya Repin. Invading Russian forces. Works by artists believed to be Russian were moved to a secret location. It is not clear when they will be displayed again, points out the museum’s director, Valentina Myzygina. – “The city of mourning” – says Filatova, “the city is suffering, the city is in mourning.” “People don’t accept Russian art, it’s not the right time.” The museum is currently showcasing works by local artist Viktor Kovtun that depict the “reality of war”, along with installations made from remnants of Russian weapons that stormed Kharkov. In city parks, statues of prominent Russian figures such as 19th-century author Alexander Pushkin have been vandalized or vandalized. The works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Mikhail Lermontov will be removed from the school curriculum. For many Ukrainians, these literary giants are symbols of the neighboring country’s expansionist rhetoric. Many Kharkiv residents, including those who grew up speaking Russian and have families on both sides of the border, now speak only Ukrainian, once disdained by some as a peasant language. This is the case of Mykola Kolomiets, 40, who runs a children’s art studio. For them, speaking Russian left “an unpleasant taste” in their mouth, as if “they had eaten something rotten”. Enforcing a boycott of Ukrainians without questioning their patriotism can be risky. According to the mayor, “to insist on people to give up the Russian language is not the best step.” “The more you push, the more resistance there will be.” warns Terezov, who speaks to AFP in Ukrainian but addresses his staff in Russian. The process of eliminating Russian influence partially began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and escalated with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “De-Russization is long delayed, but it is not the point of no return,” says Rostislav Melnykiv, head of the department of Ukrainian literature at Kharkiv University, which was devastated by a Russian offensive last year. Publisher Oleksandr, 39 Savchuk says the invasion sparked unprecedented interest in Ukrainian cultural figures, especially those banned in the Soviet era. His publishing house, which lost many copies in a fire following the Russian invasion, nearly doubled sales of books in Ukrainian. “We don’t want people to just change languages,” he says. “We want them to feel more Ukrainian.”bur-ac/as/mas/es

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