Ukrainian decommunization laws

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Ukrainian decommunization laws were passed in 2015, in the early stages of the Russo-Ukrainian War. These laws relate to decommunization as well as commemoration of Ukrainian history,[1] and have been referred to as "memory laws".[2][3] They outlawed the public display of Soviet communist symbols and propaganda, equating it with Nazi/fascist symbols and propaganda.[4]

As a result of the law mandating the removal of communist-era monuments, and renaming places associated with communists or the USSR in general. As result, Ukraine's toponymy was radically changed, with many pre-1917 names restored and even more Ukrainianized names introduced.[5] More than 51,493 settlements, streets, squares and buildings have been renamed.[6]

The laws have raised some concerns about freedom of speech, as well as international concerns that they honor some organizations and individuals that participated in the mass murder of Jews, Poles, and Communists during the Holocaust in Ukraine and massacres in Volhynia.


Instrumental in drafting the laws were Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Viatrovych and politician Yuri Shukhevych.[7][2][8] The laws passed on April 9, 2015, in the Verkhovna Rada with overwhelming support[7] and were enacted by president Petro Poroshenko on May 15 that year.[9] This started a six-month period for the removal of communist monuments and renaming of public places named after communist-related themes.[10] The laws were published in Holos Ukrayiny on 20 May 2015; this made them come into force officially the next day.[11]

In May 2017, 46 Ukrainian MPs, mainly from the Opposition Bloc faction, appealed to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to declare the laws unconstitutional.[12] On 16 July 2019 this court upheld the laws.[12]


The decommunization laws are composed of:

  • Law no. 2558 "On Condemning the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) Totalitarian Regimes and Prohibiting the Propagation of their Symbols" — banning Nazi and communist symbols, and public denial of their crimes. That included removal of communist monuments and renaming of public places named after communist-related themes.[9]
  • Law no. 2538-1 "On the Legal Status and Honoring of the Memory of the Fighters for the Independence of Ukraine in the 20th Century" — elevating several historical organizations, including the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, to official status and assures social benefits to their surviving members.[1][2][9][7]
  • Law no. 2539 "On Remembering the Victory over Nazism in the Second World War"[9]
  • Law no. 2540 "On Access to the Archives of Repressive Bodies of the Communist Totalitarian Regime from 1917–1991" — placing the state archives concerning repression during the Soviet period under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.[13][9]


In Ukraine as well as abroad, some scholars have expressed concerns about freedom of speech and research with regard to the above laws, issuing an open letter to the President.[7][9][14][15][16][17] Particularly problematic is Article 6 of Law 2538-1 on "Responsibility for violating the legislation on the status of the fighters for Ukrainian independence in the 20th century", which stipulates that: "Citizens of Ukraine, foreigners, and also stateless persons who publicly insult the people specified in article 1 of said Law harm the realization of the rights of the fighters for independence of Ukraine in the 20th century and will be held to account in accordance with Ukrainian law", and that: "The public denial of the fact of the legitimacy of the struggle for Ukrainian independence in the 20th century mocks the memory of the fighters for independence of Ukraine in the 20th century, insults the dignity of the Ukrainian people and is illegal”.[7] Critics have argued that this law is attempting to "legislate history" and restricts free speech.[18][8]

The 2538-1 law has also been controversial abroad, since some of the organizations and individuals that it is to be honoring are recognized as having participated in the mass murder of Jews, Poles, and Communists during the Holocaust in Ukraine and massacres in Volhynia.[1][2][7][14][19] The law was also passed on the day of the Polish presidential visit to Ukraine, and has been described by Polish politician Tomasz Kalita as "a slap in the face".[20] Former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller declared in a televised interview that OUN was responsible for mass murders of Poles, and challenged the Ukrainian law enforcement to persecute him.[21][22] Ukrainian politician and president of the Ukrainian parliament Volodymyr Groysman, who visited Poland shortly afterward, stated that the law is not intended to be anti-Polish, and was intended to be anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi instead.[23]

Effects on Ukraine[edit]

Removal of a Lenin monument in Khmelnytskyi on 21 February 2014 during the Euromaidan-protest

As a result of the law mandating the removal of communist-era monuments, and renaming places named after communist themes Ukraine's toponymy was radically altered and the face of whole cities has been changed.[5] All in all more than 51,493 streets, squares and "other facilities" have been renamed.[6] By June 2016 there were renamed 19 raions, 27 urban districts, 29 cities, 48 urban-type settlements, 119 rural settlements and 711 villages. The fourth largest city was renamed from Dnipropetrovsk to Dnipro.[24] In the second-largest city of Ukraine,[25] Kharkiv, more than 200 streets, 5 administrative raions, 4 parks and 1 metro station had been renamed by early February 2016.[26] In all of 2016 51,493 streets and 987 cities and villages were renamed, 25 raions were renamed and 1,320 Lenin monuments and 1,069 monuments to other communist figures removed.[27] In some villages Lenin statues were remade into "non-communist historical figures" to save money.[28]

On 24 July 2015, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry used the law to strip the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Communist Party of Ukraine (renewed) and the Communist Party of Workers and Peasants of their right to participate in elections and stated it was continuing the court actions that started in July 2014 to end the registration of Ukraine's communist parties.[29] By 16 December 2015, these three parties were banned in Ukraine. However, the Communist Party of Ukraine appealed the ban, which consequently failed to come into force. Later, the April 2015 decommunization law no. 2558 allows the Ministry of Justice to prohibit the Communist Party from participating in elections. The Central Election Commission of Ukraine prohibited the candidacy of Petro Symonenko for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election due to the fact that the statute, name and symbolism of his party, the Communist Party of Ukraine, did not comply with the 2015 decommunization laws.[30]

Late March 2019 former members of armed units of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, former Ukrainian Insurgent Army members and former members of the Polissian Sich/Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army (and members of the Ukrainian Military Organization and Carpathian Sich soldiers) were officially granted the status of veterans.[31] This meant that for the first time they could receive veteran benefits, including free public transport, subsidized medical services, annual monetary aid, and public utilities discounts (and will enjoy the same social benefits as former Ukrainian soldiers Red Army of the Soviet Union).[31] There had been several previous attempts to provide former Ukrainian nationalist fighters with official veteran status, especially during the 2005-2009 administration President Viktor Yushenko, but all failed.[31]

In 2019, video game Mortal Kombat 11 was banned in Ukraine, because of the laws banning Communist symbols.[32]


A November 2016 poll, showed that 48% of respondents supported a ban on Communist ideology in Ukraine, 36% were against it and 16% were undecided. It also showed that 41% of respondents supported the initiative to dismantle all monuments to Lenin in the country, whereas 48% were against it and 11% were undecided.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kiev, Lily Hyde in (2015-04-20). "Ukraine to rewrite Soviet history with controversial 'decommunisation' laws". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine's Past". Foreign Policy. 2 May 2016. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  3. ^ Nikolay Koposov (12 October 2017). Memory Laws, Memory Wars. Cambridge University Press. pp. 201–. ISBN 978-1-108-41972-7.
  4. ^ "Rada bans Communist, Nazi propaganda in Ukraine". Interfax-Ukraine. 9 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b In pictures: Ukraine removes communist-era symbols, BBC News (31 May 2016)
  6. ^ a b (in Ukrainian) Dekomunizuvaly monuments to Lenin in 1320, Bandera set 4, Ukrayinska Pravda (16 January 2017)
    (in Ukrainian) WITH 50 THOUSAND RENAMED OBJECTS PLACE NAMES, ONLY 34 ARE NAMED AFTER BANDERA, Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (16 January 2017)
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Laws 2558 and 2538-1: On Critical Inquiry, the Holocaust, and Academic Freedom in Ukraine". Політична Критика. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  8. ^ a b McBride, Jared (2015-08-13). "How Ukraine's New Memory Commissar Is Controlling the Nation's Past". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Shevel, Oxana (2016-01-11). "Decommunization in Post-Euromaidan Ukraine: Law and Practice". PonarsEuarasia - Policy Memos.
  10. ^ Poroshenko signed the laws about decomunization. Ukrayinska Pravda. 15 May 2015
    Poroshenko signs laws on denouncing Communist, Nazi regimes, Interfax-Ukraine. 15 May 2015
  11. ^ "Laws discommunization and status OUN and UPA published in "Holos Ukrayiny"". Ukrayinska Pravda (in Ukrainian). 20 May 2015.
  12. ^ a b "Ukraine's Constitutional Court Upholds Law Equating Communism To Nazism". Radio Free Europe. 17 July 2019.
    "Ukraine ultimately puts Nazis, Communists on equal footing". Belsat TV. 17 July 2019.
  13. ^ "'Decommunization' in Ukraine Carried Out Using Communist Methods - Human Rights in Ukraine". Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  14. ^ a b "Ukraine Makes Amnesia the Law of the Land". The New Republic. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  15. ^ "Open Letter from Scholars and Experts on Ukraine Re. the So-Called "Anti-Communist Law", by David R. Marples". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  16. ^ Belavusau, Uladzislau; Gliszczyńska-Grabias, Aleksandra (2017-10-19). Law and Memory: Towards Legal Governance of History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 324–326. ISBN 9781107188754.
  17. ^ "First They Came for the Holocaust Deniers, and I Did Not Speak Out". Foreign Policy. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  18. ^ "The History Wars in Ukraine Are Heating Up". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  19. ^ "Poland isn't the only country trying to police what can be said about the Holocaust". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  20. ^ "SLD: ukraińska ustawa ws. UPA to policzek dla Polski". Onet Wiadomości (in Polish). 2015-04-12. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  21. ^ "Miller: Ukraińcy przyjęli ustawę dot. UPA? Polska powinna zareagować". (in Polish). 2015-04-10. Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  22. ^ "Mówię: UPA odpowiada za ludobójstwo Polaków. Ukraińcy, ścigajcie mnie!" (in Polish). Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  23. ^ "Szef parlamentu Ukrainy: ustawa o UPA nie jest antypolska. "Wrogość między nami jest niedopuszczalna"". Retrieved 2018-03-06.
  24. ^ "Dnipropetrovsk renamed Dnipro". UNIAN. Retrieved 19 May 2016. The decision comes into force from the date of its adoption.
    (in Ukrainian) Верховна Рада України (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine), Поіменне голосування про проект Постанови про перейменування міста Дніпропетровська Дніпропетровської області (№3864) (Roll-call vote on the draft resolution on renaming of Dnipropetrovsk Dnipropetrovsk region №3864), 19 May 2016.
  25. ^ Kharkiv "never had eastern-western conflicts", Euronews (23 October 2014)
  26. ^ (in Ukrainian) In Kharkiv "dekomunizuvaly" has 48 streets and 5 regions, Ukrayinska Pravda (3 February 2015)
    (in Russian) In Kharkiv was renamed three district, SQ (3 February 2015)
    (in Ukrainian) In Kharkov, decided not to rename October and Frunze district, (3 February 2015)
    (in Russian) In Kharkiv, it was decided not to rename the Oktyabrsky and the Frunze district, (3 February 2015)
    (in Russian) List of 170 renamed streets, SQ (20 November 2015)
    (in Ukrainian) Kharkiv city council renamed 173 streets, 4 parks and a metro station, RBC Ukraine (20 November 2015)
    (in Russian) In Kharkiv was renamed even 50 streets: list, SQ (3 February 2015)
  27. ^ Decommunization reform: 25 districts and 987 populated areas in Ukraine renamed in 2016, Ukrinform (27 December 2016)
  28. ^ (in Ukrainian) Decommunisation in Zaporizhzhya, from Lenin "fashioned" Orlyk, Ukrayinska Pravda (13 June 2017)
  29. ^ Ukraine's Justice Ministry outlaws Communists from elections, Kyiv Post, (24 July 2015)
    Justice Ministry bans three communist parties from taking part in election process as they violate Ukrainian law - minister, Interfax-Ukraine, (24 July 2015)
  30. ^ (in Ukrainian) The CEC refused to register nearly fifty presidential candidates, Ukrayinska Pravda (8 February 2019)
  31. ^ a b c Former WWII nationalist guerrillas granted veteran status in Ukraine, Kyiv Post (26 March 2019)
  32. ^ "Warner Bros. cancels Mortal Kombat 11 release in Ukraine, upsetting gamers". KyivPost. 18 April 2019.
  33. ^ "Almost half of residents of Ukraine want decommunization - Nov. 18, 2016". 18 November 2016.

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