Odessa goes to war against Russian culture

In Odessa, a bronze statue looks out over the city’s famous Potemkin Stairs toward the Black Sea, its chest nestled in protective sandbags. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, citizens across the country rushed to protect their precious heritage from bombing.

he monument to the Duc de Richelieu, a 19th-century governor who helped transform the port into a modern cosmopolitan city, was considered worthy of protection. But 200 meters away, another monument – to Catherine the Great, the Russian empress who founded Odessa – provokes more ambivalence. A petition calling for its removal has garnered over 26,500 signatures.

In February, the threat to Odessa was existential as roads were blocked and beaches mined against an expected invasion. For Vladimir Putin, Odessa was a prime destination because of its Russian heritage. Returning it to Russia would cut off Ukraine from the sea.

Six months later, the threat of invasion has receded, and this summer the war in Odessa is a cultural war waged by Ukrainians who have turned against all things Russian.

Other Odesans see this cultural cleansing as a threat to the soul and identity of Ukraine’s third-largest city. Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov is now in a delicate situation. In a war that has turned much of Ukrainian society against all things Russian, his city must decide which ties to the city’s Russian past are worth preserving.

Once the pride of the Russian Empire, today Odessa is a vibrant cultural center whose cobblestone streets are filled with Baroque and Rococo architecture, stylish bars and restaurants and a world-famous opera house.

Many of the fortifications erected in March to defend the city in the event of street fighting have been removed and life goes on with a semblance of normality. Municipal workers in blue overalls and yellow tops repair roads where bollards and planters are painted the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

The city’s one million residents are mostly Russian speakers who take pride in their Odesian accent and their city’s unique heritage.

Statues and street names celebrate Russian writers with ties to Odessa, including Alexander Pushkin, who lived in the city for two years, and Ukrainian-born Nikolai Gogol, who wrote his classic dead Souls while i live here

Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referred the petition calling for the removal of the statue of Catherine the Great to city authorities, which have formed a commission to examine the future of local landmarks honoring Russian figures.

“Personally, I do not support a memorial war at a time when our country is at war,” Mr Trukhanov said, arguing that any attempt to rewrite history could be polarizing with emotions heated.

But he will put his own views aside, he said, as the commission considers moving monuments and sculptures from squares and streets to a monument park.

Odessa City MP Peter Obukhov has compiled a list of laws and street names he wants removed as part of the city’s “de-russification”.

An 18th-century statue of General Alexander Suvorov and the district named after him, he said, should represent a symbol of Russian imperialism. But historical figures with a strong connection to Odessa should remain, including Pushkin and Gogol.

“Putin created this situation where Ukrainian society hates everything Russian, so now we see these things in a new light,” Mr Trukhanov said, explaining how public sentiment about Odesa’s Russian heritage has been clouded.

Since the Euromaidan uprising of 2014, the Ukrainian language has emerged as the cornerstone of a national identity increasingly at odds with Russia, and the Ukrainian government has introduced legislation aimed at encouraging its use.

Ukrainian is the mandatory language for most aspects of public life, including schools, while new laws this year restricted the availability of Russian books and music and obliged printers registered in the country to publish in Ukrainian. ©Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/odesa-goes-to-war-with-russian-culture-41942185.html Odessa goes to war against Russian culture

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