Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has approved two new laws intended to erase signs of Russian culture in Ukraine. The statutes seek to rechristen all places in the country thought to carry Russian names, while local authorities will be required to “free public space from the symbols of the Russian world.”
Adopted last Friday, the laws will prohibit names that “perpetuate, promote or symbolize the occupying state or its notable, memorable, historical and cultural places, cities, dates, events,” and “its figures who carried out military aggression against Ukraine.”
The new statutes will take effect in 30 days, after which local officials will have six months to completely scrub public places of Russian culture. A board will be established to determine what names must be purged.
Since 2014, Kiev has waged a culture war against Russian influence in Ukraine. After a coup overthrew Viktor Yanukovych that year, new language laws were imposed that sought to marginalize the Russian language, which previously carried official status. Having worked as an actor and comedian before becoming president, Zelensky’s own work has not escaped the ban campaign, with his movie ‘Love in the Big City 2’ prohibited by Ukraine’s State Film Agency in 2018 because it was originally filmed in Russian.
Roughly a fifth of Ukrainians identify as ethnic Russians, while a comparable number consider Russian to be their native tongue, including large proportions in Crimea and the eastern Donbass region.
After Moscow ordered its troops to invade Ukraine last year, Zelensky has only intensified the “de-Russification” process. In recent months Kiev has nationalized the media, outlawed Zelensky’s political opposition, targeted branches of the Orthodox church it claims has ties to Moscow, and torn down monuments that represent historical Russian influence in Ukraine.