«The compromise was exhausted.» Expert of Ukrainian Institute for the Future about May 9 celebration

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Since 2016, the Soviet May 9 celebration turned into a compromise state holiday in Ukraine – the Day of Victory over Nazism in World War II. Although Russia is currently waging a full-scale war against the Ukrainian people, the Verkhovna Rada didn’t manage to cancel its official celebration and move to honour this day on May 8. Candidate of Historical Sciences, expert of Ukrainian Institute for the Future, Serhii Hromenko, explained for Lviv Now why this happened and how Ukrainians should really interpret their role in the Second World War.
photo: profpressa

photo: profpressa

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The Verkhovna Rada failed to cancel the celebrations on May 9 in Ukraine. Why do you think we still can’t give up this date officially?

Until 2014, Ukraine was somehow dominated by the Soviet-Russian discourse of war with a great victory and a slightly less emphasis on «grandfathers who fought.» It was only from the beginning of the Revolution of Dignity that the rethinking of World War II began within the framework of wider communication. In particular, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was completely rehabilitated as fighters for Ukraine’s independence and freedom, but at the same time, those of its opponents among the Soviet forces, who contributed to the expulsion of the Nazis from our territory, were not condemned. That is, in 2014, a compromise was reached: on the one hand, we are supposedly for the UPA and the European tradition, so we celebrate May 8, and on the other hand, we leave May 9 to those who cannot bid farewell to the Soviet past, saying that we have almost half a country of such people and it’s not worth disturbing them when the citizens are already annoyed [with other issues].

Such a compromise, obviously, did not satisfy both camps. All the same, there were those who marched with the «Immortal Regiment» and red flags, while national circles protested or ridiculed these moves. Finally, in 2022, this compromise was exhausted. It has become clear that we mustn’t tolerate the entire Soviet narrative, so there is no point in making concessions to pro-Russian citizens. Those who remained pro-Russian after the aggression of RF have already sided with the enemy, while for the those without a firm position, it’s time to decide and make transition from a compromise of double celebration to the real «May-8-ness», as I would call it.

Read also: «We must complete the transition from Soviet memory to European traditions.» A historian about May 8 and 9

Why didn’t the Verkhovna Rada do that? Because in 2019, the parliament recruited people whose historical views were extremely well expressed by the early Zelenskyi – it does not matter what language they speak, what monument stands on the street, if this street is well paved and lit. It cannot be said that those who joined the «green» majority were pro-Russian or enemies of Ukraine and its people. However, unfortunately, this is not a problem for them, they do not understand the complexity, why it’s important, they still think that the past can be negotiated «somewhere in the middle». This does not happen, you need to make sharp, sometimes unpleasant decisions. It’s a pity that Ukrainian society had already matured, while the Ukrainian government, represented by the majority, had not yet.

Isn’t it paradoxical that this year, Ukraine will celebrate the Day of Victory over Nazism together with the «brotherly» people, who in fact, like the Nazis, started war against us?

In fact, it’s not so paradoxical, there will be just a pretty good «watershed». We will see who, despite the Russian aggression, the great humanitarian changes over the past eight years, the European perspective, will still be able to celebrate May 9. Let them make themselves known, and we’ll see.

It is difficult to say how many such supporters there will be. Probably, this social opinion is preserved in the 20% of the population, but we need understand that during the current martial law, there will be no appropriate representation. Fighting is taking place in the regions most affected by this Soviet narrative. Therefore, definitely, nothing will be there. And Kyiv, for instance, has been Europeanizing for a long time, so only pro-Russian marginals could hold a «Sabbath» on May 9. I also hope that there will be no one among the Ukrainian leaders to lead the celebration of this day, after Illia Kyva fled to Moscow.

How should we now interpret the role of Ukrainians in World War II, particularly, in the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany?

This is a question of a separate book not written yet. We mustn’t just move away from the old Soviet patterns, but understand that Ukraine was deprived of subjectivity in that war. We were, in fact, a victim, a bargaining chip of two totalitarianisms – Soviet and German. The fact that Ukrainians joined the victory over Nazism in the Soviet Union army does not whitewash the latter as such. Nor does it make criminals those Ukrainians who fought for Nazi totalitarianism against Soviet totalitarianism. The concept of light allies and the dark axis, which is common in the West, merely doesn’t work in Eastern Europe.

Finally, we need to understand that the Ukrainian Second World War is not just about repainting whites to blacks, or vice versa. Narratives need to be completely rewritten to show that Ukrainians stood on different sides against their will, and there were no good or bad, right or guilty. The real army that fought for Ukraine in reality, not behind a screen, was the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. And when the last deputy understands this, because the majority of Ukrainians already agree with it, then we will be able to move on.

I believe that the day will come when arguing about the Second World War will stop, as, for example, the First World War is not being argued now, because it’s no longer possible to «cut» any political dividends from this. I hope that even the most closed scientists, publicists and politicians today have realized the need for rethinking, and the conceptual issue should be resolved within a year or two.

Yulia Osym, translated by Vitalii Holich

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.


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