The desire to create a “de-Russification” in Ukraine

At a bookstore in Kyiv, Yulia Sydorenko, 33, is dumping a collection of old books — some gifts from childhood friends — that have lost their appeal recently.

Why? They are written in Russian.

“Russian books have had no place in my house since February 24,” Sidorenko said, referring to the day Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

“I got them for my 20th birthday with my friend’s inscription on them. I took pictures of them,” she said of the books she once held dear.

She showed a range of children’s books, and said she was sure her children “will never read Russian stories now”.

Sydorenko is a steady stream of people who haul piles of books (sometimes suitcases or carriages) to the Siayvo bookstore.

Inspired by a client who wanted to clean up unwanted parts of their home library, the bookstore decided to recycle Russian books, give newspapers new life and help the military.

“In two months, we collected 25 tons of books. Their recycling brought in 100,000 hryvnia (2,700 euros),” shop owner Iryna Sazonova told AFP.

After Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the 2014 Donbas war, Ukraine began tearing down Soviet-era monuments and changing place names.

But since February, Ukrainians are considering using Russian in private and public places, even though 19% of Ukrainians say their native language is Russian.

Nuance is essential

The Bulgakov Museum, where the famous Kyiv-born Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov has lived for 13 years, is under pressure and the National Writer’s Union of Ukraine intends to turn it off.

Bulgakov was accused of being imperialist and anti-Ukrainian, especially in his novels white guardwhich is at the heart of the museum’s main exhibition.

“War is black and white, but in art, nuance is essential,” museum director Lyudmila Gubianuri told AFP.

“There are a lot of nuances in Bulgakov’s work, but people tend to ignore them,” she said.

Gubianuri acknowledges that museums must adapt to the challenges of the situation.

“Our team is working on a new concept that will be established in dialogue with the public,” she said.

People passing by the museum had mixed opinions.

For 27-year-old teacher Anton Glazkov, closing the museum was wrong because “war and art are not always linked”.

But Dmytro Cheliuk, 45, who runs a nearby clothing store, said: “It’s time for us to de-Russify and remove the Russian Empire from our streets.”

Activist Oleg Slabospitsky took a hands-on approach to removing Russians from public spaces.

Since the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the 33-year-old has donned an eye-catching vest several times a week and dragged a ladder around the city to remove overly Russian street signs like “Moscow Street”.

the language of the enemy

“These initiatives have to come from the people themselves,” he told AFP, before taking down three plaques on Moscow Street with friends.

In Kyiv, known for its long boulevards, teams sometimes spend entire days “de-Russifying” city streets.

Kyiv City Hall recently voted to rename 142 streets with a reference to Russia. Another 345 streets await the same fate.

Formerly known as “Moscow”, the street now honors Prince Ostrotsky, a dynasty of Ukrainian statesmen in the 16th century.

When Shevchenko University was damaged by a salvo of Russian missiles last August, management removed a plaque commemorating Bulgakov, who attended the university a hundred years ago.

Oleksandr Bondarenko, head of Slavic research, said the measure was “understandable” because the plaque could offend passersby who lost loved ones in the war.

Ukrainian school curricula no longer feature Russian lessons, nor the work of Russian writers. Instead, a new class on the war with Russia was added.

The history of the Soviet Union is now also presented through the prism of imperialism.

Teachers at Bondarenko are not enrolling new Russian students this year because literature and language courses are currently being adjusted.

“Meanwhile, the information warfare course is now at the heart of the curriculum,” Bondarenko said.

“In a hybrid war like this, you have to learn the language of the enemy to get to know him well. Sworn translators are in high demand in war crimes trials.”

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