"There are no tyrannies that would not try to limit art, because they can see the power of art. Art can tell the world things that cannot be shared otherwise. It is art that conveys feelings."

 - Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine 

Уяви Україну – Митець як свідок / Imagine Ukraine – The Artist as a Witness

©Photographed by Sergey Illin
Справжня декомунізація / Real Decommunization, 2022

Real Decommunization

"You want decommunization?” asked Vladimir Putin, rhetorically addressing Ukrainians in a televised address on February 22nd, 2022, two days before Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine. “That suits us fine. But don’t stop halfway. We’re ready to show you what real decommunization means for Ukraine."

Putin referred to a current government policy of “decommunization” in Ukraine;  the renaming of streets named for Soviet heroes, the deconstructing of Lenin statues, and so on. As part of the Ukrainian government’s response to the war in Donbas, and Russia’s attempts to leverage Soviet nostalgia in its propaganda, the policy mandates the removal of the symbolic legacy of the Soviet past.

However, as Putin sees it — and this was made clear in his address — Ukraine owes its existence to Soviet communism. Ukraine, he seems to believe, is an artificial state, created by the Soviet leadership from part of the territory of the Russian Empire. Putin’s words “that suits us fine. But don’t stop halfway” are a coded threat — for him successful decommunization  means the end of Ukraine. The Russian Federation will take the Ukrainian people back where they have always belonged, in Putin’s contemporary Russian empire, killing all those who resist.

Putin’s acts of war achieves the opposite of what he intends.

Ukraine, as an idea or state, will not be destroyed after his “decommunization” through a war of annihilation. What will be destroyed is the Soviet legacy as part of the physical reality and psychological identity of Ukraine. What will be destroyed are links, partial identifications, and commonalities between Ukrainians and today’s Russia.

Through Russia’s campaign of bombs and blood, destruction and annihilation, any Russian and Soviet legacy in Ukraine is being once and for all cleared away, discredited, and made impossible.

The war crushes the last illusions that returning to the Soviet Union or reintegrating into the Russian sphere of dominance could mean anything other than terror, lies, fear and humiliation.

Out from under this destroyed Soviet past, Ukraine appears as it was and will be: a country with a deep past, with a present full of courage, unconditional love for freedom and with a future that can, with urgency and passion, be created anew.

This is the third, fully apocalyptic step in Putin’s policy to try to force his Russia upon Ukraine (and Europe). Through acts of war, Putin inadvertently shows today’s Russia’s real nature of terror and dictatorship, and forces Ukrainians to defend themselves. These acts do not, as Putin intends, rebuild the past, but rather clear the way for the future (including waking up EU-Europe in the process).

To review the previous steps in this dialectic:

In 2013 the Kremlin bribed then-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych into not signing an EU association agreement, and instead increasing ties with Russia. All across the country, Ukrainians faced with the imminent perspective of a future under the Kremlin’s domination, took to the streets, advocating peacefully for Ukraine free to decide its own cultural and economic associations, without bowing to Russian colonial ambition. Risking their lives, they defeated Yanukovych in the Revolution of Dignity. In one of the first acts of the new government, the EU association agreement was signed, signaling that Ukraine had clearly turned away from Russia and towards Europe and the EU.

In 2014 the Kremlin responded to these democratic expressions of the Ukrainian people by annexing Crimea and fomenting pro-Russian separatist movements in the east of Ukraine. With Russian advisors, weapons, commanders and soldiers, Russian proxies conquered part of Donbas. Ukrainian society was galvanized by these attacks, overcoming previous internal divisions and structural weaknesses of its governance, and mounting a strong, armed resistance. Volunteers fought, volunteers supplied the troops and cared for the wounded, and the army changed rapidly. Ukraine persevered, eventually signing the Minsk agreements in 2014 and 2015, facilitated by France and Germany. It is now clear that Russia’s part in these agreements was based on the assumption that various loopholes in the protocols would allow Russia and its proxies to keep Ukraine unstable and out of euro-Atlantic structures. But again, Ukrainians expressed their will: Ukraine is a European nation. The goals of EU-Integration and NATO membership were enshrined in its constitution. 

And now, in 2022, “decommunization” through a war of annihilation, that crushes physically the Soviet legacy in Ukraine, along with its other victims, and which makes an identification with today’s Russia impossible for any freedom-loving individual.

“We’re ready to show you what real decommunization means for Ukraine.”

It is impossible to know if Russia will still kill thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions in this war. However, there can be no mistake that Russia has the will to kill and destroy as much as possible and enormous capacity for destruction.

Therefore, it would be in bad taste today to emphasize only the brightness of Ukraine’s future and neglect the horrors of the present. But this bright future is inescapable.

Ukraine’s people have always been wonderful; smart, hard-working, inventive, forward-looking. For such people the Soviet and post-Soviet legacy has been a heavy ballast, as a political factor of manipulation.

When the dust settles, we will find a destroyed country, and this is a crime and a tragedy. The people of this nation, however, are a people with the will, the ability, and the resources, to create themselves and their country anew.

Ukraine will have the opportunity to start anew. With the Soviet  baggage of the past decades no longer a force of domination and instrument of manipulation by the Kremlin, but a part of a diverse past to be reflected in scientific research, artistic positions, and a consciously chosen very rich identity.

Ukraine can start anew instead of only repairing, or trying to transform slowly out of a mixed and difficult legacy. Ukraine can do it right, from the start, based on an extremely rich and diverse history.

Which once more makes Ukraine one of the most important, exciting and interesting future members of a future Europe and European Union.

EU-Europe often lacks urgency and passion, and the ability to not adapt but to create. This got lost in peace and wealth. But only urgency and passion will allow us to address the vital threats ahead, and survive. Ukraine, decommunized by Russia through death and annihilation, can bring this power and passion. Rebuild Ukraine - recreate Europe.


Thomas Weihe