A pro-Russian group in Ukraine calling itself the Kharkiv Partisans issued a threat this week to execute five Ukrainian citizens for every Soviet monument torn down as part of recent laws passed by the Ukrainian Parliament. The laws ban Soviet and Nazi imagery and order that all related monuments be removed or destroyed, Newsweek reported Thursday. The group said that each monument “equals about five Ukrops,” using a derogatory term for Ukrainians.
The Kharkiv Partisans have claimed responsibility for more than a dozen guerilla bombings around Kharkiv in recent months. Those bombings targeted both civilians and military personnel. A February bombing of a pro-government rally killed two and injured 10, and an April 1 bombing targeted a military installation. Filipp Ekozyants, the public voice of the Kharkiv Partisans, said a dozen Ukrainian soldiers were killed in that blast, though the claim has yet to be confirmed. Interfax News Agency reported that a police commander and his wife were injured.
“Soviet soldiers will always remain heroes and liberators of Ukraine,” a spokesman for the group said in a YouTube video posted earlier this month, Newsweek reported. The new Ukrainian laws require all Soviet imagery on buildings to be removed and street names honoring Soviet figures to be changed, and criminalize the “glorification” of both Nazi and Soviet regimes.
Supporters of the anti-Russian Maidan movement pulled down more than 100 communist monuments and statues last year in the weeks following the fall of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainians have struggled with their country’s violent Soviet history since the fall of the USSR in 1991. For many ethnic Ukrainians, the Soviet regime that ruled over Ukraine for more than 60 years was an abusive occupying force that sought to destroy the Ukrainian identity in favor of a more Russo-centric one. The Holodomor, a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine that lasted from 1932-33, is seen by many Ukrainians as an act of genocide perpetrated by Josef Stalin's regime as a way to crush Ukrainian independence movements.
Kharkiv, which lies near the Russian border in Ukraine’s northeast, and its citizens are largely split along pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian lines. On Sunday, a group of masked men pulled down a number of Soviet statues in the city. The half-dozen or so men worked quickly and did not appear to be part of a government-sanctioned team.
While some praised the laws banning Nazi and Soviet imagery, others criticized them for being impractical, costly and inflammatory. Russian politicians leaped to denounce the laws, calling them anti-Russian and disrespectful to the millions of Soviet service members who died in World War II. Critics said the measures would only stoke the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government, which has generally calmed following a February ceasefire agreement.