prop·a·gan·da /ˌpräpəˈɡandə/

chiefly derogatory Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view
de·com·mu·nize /dēˈkämyəˌnīz/

[with object] Remove the features or influence of communism from.
25 years after its independence, Ukraine is taking final steps to erase Soviet propaganda.
yaroslava mudrogo street, LVIV

Fading Star

Soviet stars on the facade - reminders of Lviv's communist history
Close to the center of Lviv, an old house is caught between everyday reality and the laws of decommunisation. Its Soviet stars are a clear reminder of times past, but a teardown of the facade does not seem imminent.

The Law

"On the condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) regimes and prohibition of propaganda of their symbols"
On 15 May 2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law titled 'On the condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) regimes and prohibition of propaganda of their symbols'. Its purpose is simple: Distancing independent Ukraine from the Soviet Union as far as possible. The law banned all Soviet imagery, anthems, flags or symbols like the 5-pointed star or the hammer and sickle. It also called for the renaming of streets and cities named after Soviet figures. The law was supposed to be the final push for Decommunisation, a process that had started after Ukraine's independence. In Lviv, this process was further advanced than in most Ukrainian cities: Its citizens proudly recount how their Lenin statue was the first to fall in 1989, even before the collapse of the USSR. Still, some Soviet remnants remain.
One of the remaining instances of Soviet imagery in Lviv can be found in the old airport. To the unknowing visitor's eyes, the frescoes in the waiting hall do not seem to be problematic. However, any Ukrainian has an easy time explaining the deep-lying issues with this work of art.
Olga Zbrozhko researches archival documents in the Centre for Research of the Ukrainian liberation movement. She affirms that renaming or demolishing monuments must only occur after a public debate.
Some are more critical towards decommunisation. Architect Yulia Bogdanova even draw parallels to the era that is being erased.
The decommunisation law has its exceptions. It does not apply to museums, art, education, private collections and antique trade. Two important provisions exclude places of burial and the 'presentation and reconstruction of historical events' – essentially making sure that war monuments are allowed to stay.

This is an illustration of the discord in the government's history policy. While it condemns the Soviet Union, it is still proud of its victory over Nazi Germany. Together with the decommunisation law, Poroshenko signed a law 'On perpetuation of the victory over Nazism in the Second World War of 1939-1945'. It elevated a 'reverent attitude' to the memory of the victory in World War II to a 'sacred duty' for state and citizens alike, establishing a new national holiday. While much of the law was focused on remembering the Ukrainian victims of both Nazi Germany and the USSR, it still includes the celebration of the Soviet victory.

This means that some communist monuments are here to stay. A prominent example is Lviv's Monument of Glory.
Monument of Glory,
Lonsky Prison Museum, LVIV

"Would you have a monument of Hitler in Germany?"

A visit to a former Soviet prison
A former police station that was left from the Austro-Hungarian empire turned into a dark place of Soviet history: The Lonsky Prison. Before World War II, Poland used this prison for so-called 'Anti-state elements', for Ukrainians who wanted to build their own state.

From 1944, it belonged to the main security agency of Soviet Union – NKVD, later renamed to MGB and then KGB. Until the end of Soviet Union Lonsky was the main investigation prison in Lviv for political prisoners.

Nowadays, the building is in the condition as it was left and used as a museum. It serves as a reminder of the crimes committed by the communist regime.
In this place – where propaganda was part of the daily life – decommunisation can mean something different. Here it is not about denying the past, but to distinguish between history and crime.
Lonsky Prison Museum,
University of Veterinary Medicine, LVIv


For many, the most important exception to the decommunisation law is art. Yes, there is plenty of Ukrainian art from 1917-1991 that does not have Soviet features. Still, getting rid of all the paintings or poems that might remind people of communism would be a considerable blow for Ukraine's art. Sometimes, the struggle is not even about trying not to destroy art - but about not being able to preserve it.
A friend of Alexander says that from a certain angle, he can see the image of legendary Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko in place of the destroyed mosaic.
Even with all the efforts to get Soviet symbols out of public spaces, nostalgics can hold on to their keepsakes if they are not considered propaganda. In private spaces, even those that could be called propagandic are allowed to remain.
Jerusalem café,
Decommunisation is a tall order. Even if lawmakers try to force it, waving the final goodbye to Lenin and his successors has to happen in the minds of the people. It is impossible to erase the past - but it is possible to stop appreciating Soviet leaders who brought so much pain over Ukraine. Changing a country's view on history this fundamentally takes time. But in Ukraine, the transition from Soviet propaganda to independent Ukrainian thinking has been going on for 25 years.

Even if many criticize the new measures, they can also be a chance to strengthen civic society. Renaming streets to contemporary heroes or remembering the victims instead of the perpetrators of communism can pull a country together. And those who still love their October Stars…well, they can keep them.
Natalia Patrikieieva
Sophie Alena
Martin Schauhuber
Lisa Kuznietsova
Kate Gornostai

This project was made during the International School of Multimedia Journalism, a cooperation between UCU School of Journalism and Mediacommunication and FH Wien University of Applied Sciences Vienna.
Lviv, Ukraine, February 2016.
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