Odesa’s Catherine the Great Monument and the Legacy of the Russian World - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Odesa’s Catherine the Great Monument and the Legacy of the Russian World
Catherine the Great monument in Odesa, Ukraine on Aug. 15, 2021 (Ruslan Harutyunov/Shutterstock)


May 6, 1900 (Old Style)

The crowd in Katerynynska Square grows larger with each passing moment, fed by a continuous stream of pedestrians making their way down Katerynynska Street, or up the sandstone steps of the Primorsky Stairs, toward the elegant triangular piazza that lies at the heart of old town Odesa. Ladies in their finest toilettes de promenade, accompanied by gentlemen in frock coats and stiff collars, emerge from four-wheeled droshkies, raise their silken parasols, and assume vantage points along the pavement, in the park, or on the capacious balconies overlooking the square. Soldiers in parade uniforms stand strictly at attention, photographers line up shots with their view cameras, and dignitaries pace back and forth, mulling over their coming speeches. Flag bunting and garlands flutter in the Black Sea breeze, and all around there is a continuous hum of voices conversing in myriad tongues — Russian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, Greek, Armenian, and French among them — a cacophony that competes with the raucous laughter of the seagulls in the harbor, and with the stirring brass fanfares of regimental marches and imperial anthems that echo down the cobblestone streets.

All eyes are on the bronze statue group being unveiled today in the center of the square, on this the 100th anniversary of the death of Aleksandr Vasilyevich Suvorov, prince of the Russian Empire and victor of the Russo-Turkish War of 1787–1792. The newly installed monument does not, as it happens, actually depict Suvorov, but rather Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, crowned Catherine II, empress regnant of Russia, and better known as Catherine the Great, portrayed here as a middle-aged woman of full habit treading on a mound of abandoned Turkish standards. She is joined by smaller representations of four of her most trusted servants: Prince Platon Zubov, Prince Grigory Potemkin, José de Ribas y Boyons, and François-Paul Sainte de Wollant, each of whom played an important role in the establishment of Odesa in 1794. When the Odesa City Council approved plans for a memorial dedicated to Catherine II and her subordinates on Sept. 23, 1891, it was hoped that the project would be finished in time for the city’s centennial, but the team of architects, sculptors, and engineers led by Yuri Meletyevich Dmitrenko had only managed to complete the granite pedestal when the commemorative festivities came around on Aug. 22, 1894. Now, at long last, and in time for the tangentially related centennial of Suvorov’s death, as well as the dawn of a promising new century, the various pieces of the sculptural group have successfully been cast in bronze, joined together, polished, patinated, and affixed to the circular base — yet another artistic adornment for a city dubbed the Pearl by the Sea, not to mention a potent symbol of Russian rule.

As the inauguration ceremony comes to a close and fireworks light up the sky over Odesa, it is hard to imagine that any Russians in the cheering crowd are thinking about the contradictory nature of the new monument, which has simultaneously been dedicated to the “founders” and the “conquerors” of the city. There is no acknowledgment that, before the 1792 Treaty of Jassy, Odesa had been a Crimean Tatar port known as Khadzhibey, a coastal settlement featuring docks, homes, caravanserais, a lone minaret, and a stout stone fortress dominating the horizon, which was sensitively recreated in Gennady Ladyzhensky’s 1899 landscape painting Khadzhibey, now in the Odesa National Fine Arts Museum. It will go entirely unmentioned that the town, before that, constituted a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and was called Kaczubyeiow, according to Jan Długosz’s 15th-century Historiae Polonicae. It was from here, in 1413, that a shipment of grain was sent by the Polish king Władysław II Jagiełło to the besieged defenders of Constantinople; more than 600 years later, wartime grain shipments from Odesa remain a matter of pressing international concern. And there is no inclination to recall how the Golden Horde, the Cumans, the Pechenegs, and the Scythians had at different times dominated this southern littoral region that lies so far from the northern Muscovite heartland. A certain amount of credit might be given to the ancient Greek colonists who identified the site as an ideal warm-water port, but as far as the average Russian is concerned, it was the czarina Yekaterina Alekseyevna Romanova and her trusted courtiers who had brought civilization to Odesa in 1794, and that was that.

The unveiling of the Monument to the Founders of Odesa, with its simplified and decidedly rosy view of the past, present, and future of the city, and of the Russian Empire as a whole, can be seen as the high-water mark of the Romanov dynasty. All the confidence on display during the ceremony would turn out to be profoundly misplaced, for quite soon after the apogee came a precipitous decline. The streets, alleys, and staircases that had funneled the city-folk of Odesa towards the celebration in Katerynynska Square would, five years later, be slick with blood, first in June of 1905 when hundreds of workers, protesting with the support of the battleship Potemkin mutineers, were cut down by Cossack guardsmen’s sabres, and then in October when the city was convulsed by a series of deadly and destructive anti-Semitic pogroms. A regime that had so recently reveled in the glories of the past, while looking expectantly towards the future, instead found itself teetering on the brink of revolution.

When the Bolsheviks assumed control of Odesa in the aftermath of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, the first order of business was to do away with the ideologically problematic Founders memorial. The Odesa City Council was ordered to “remove from its pedestal the monument to Catherine,” though “the question of its preservation or destruction needs to be transferred to the Petrograd artistic committee under the chairmanship of Comrade Gorky.” For the next three years, Odesa was to be a prize fought over by the Reds and the Whites and the Ukrainian People’s Republic, plus intervening armies from Germany, Austro-Hungary, Romania, Greece, and France, so it was not until 1920 that the removal order was carried out. The sculpture of Catherine was damaged beyond repair during its dismantling, but segments of the four other figures were sent to the Odesa Museum of Regional History, Maxim Gorky’s artistic commission having determined that the aristocratic portraits were worthy of partial preservation on purely aesthetic grounds. In their place, a hideous concrete and pink granite bust of Karl Marx was plonked down on the plinth, but it was far too small for the setting and had to be replaced with a full-length rendition of the same political philosopher, promptly dubbed “Karl II” by waggish locals. Then, in 1965, yet another change was made to the site, with the Marx statue swapped out for a Potemkin Mariners monument nicknamed “the Iron,” and euphemistically described as “non-aesthetic.”

Katerynynska Square thus represents a sort of mise-en-scène of Odesa’s involuted collective memory. Its name has been changed seven times by various governments and occupying forces; other appellations include Elizavetynska (after Empress Elizabeth), Diukivska (after the duc de Richelieu), Karla Marxa, and Adolfa Hitlera. The artworks displayed on its granite pedestal have been changed about as often, and it is tempting to view the alterations in terms of degeneration and degradation, the pattern of aesthetic decline from the neo-Baroque splendor of the Founders to the tedious socialist realism of the Marx and Potemkin sculptures being readily apparent. But our perspective is not necessarily that of the imperial-era celebrants on that spring day in 1900, nor that of the Bolsheviks who despised the aristocratic sculptures enough to relegate them to the dustbin of history. We needn’t feel beholden to hackneyed chauvinisms, and can assume the vantage points of, say, the Tatars whose port of Khadzhibey preceded Odesa, the Moldavian and Romanian colonists who founded Moldavanka (now absorbed into an Odesan neighborhood) long before any Russians arrived on the scene, or the Cossacks who likewise dwelled in the lands downstream from the Dnieper Rapids before Catherine’s armies dismembered the Zaporozhian Sich and the Crimean Khanate. We can acknowledge that history, like the city of Odesa itself, is bewilderingly complex, sometimes beautiful, sometimes inspiring, sometimes decadent, sometimes bloodstained, and always in flux. Yet facile imperial myths have a tendency to die hard, and no more so than in Odesa’s Katerynynska Square. 


Oct. 27, 2007

History is repeating itself this evening, as crowds assemble in Katerynynska Square for the unveiling of a recast Monument to the Founders of Odesa, painstakingly recreated by a team led by Kyiv-based sculptors Oleg Chernoivanov and Nikolay Oleynik. Smiling girls dressed in the green uniforms and gold-trimmed tricorn hats of the imperial-era Preobrazhensky Life Guards Regiment stand at attention in a ring around the memorial, as actors in 18th-century attire stroll about the piazza. The assemblage is not quite so large, nor as ebullient as the one a century ago, the eccentric cosplay lends an ersatz feel to the proceedings, and there is another feature that was not present during the 1900 ceremony: a police cordon protecting the event from irate protestors.

Bringing Catherine and her companions back to Katerynynska Square was the brainchild of Ruslan Serafymovych Tarpan, a prominent businessman and member of the Odesa City Council, representing the ardently (some would say treasonously) pro-Russian National Bolshevik Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. “The desire to restore Katerynynska Square in all its beauty, visible on old postcards, appeared in my youth,” insisted Tarpan in notably apolitical terms, and “that’s why I acted as a funder and sponsor of the restoration of this monument. It was a thorny, but exciting way for me. It was a matter of honor for me to restore it in the form in which it was at the beginning of the twentieth century, when in 1901 [sic] at the World Exposition in Paris, this square was named as the best in Europe.” Thorny is certainly one word for it, given that Tarpan’s pet project quickly turned controversial, attracting the opposition of Ukrainian nationalists, political parties including Svoboda, the Ukrainian People’s Party, and Our Ukraine; Cossack activists; and members of the Orthodox Church.

In the early days of Russian Odesa, Katerynynska Square was consecrated ground, initially intended as the site of a military church dedicated to the martyr (and Empress Catherine II’s namesake) Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Emperor Paul I, Catherine’s mentally unstable and likely illegitimate son, canceled the building project before his own assassination, but the Orthodox  Christian community in Odesa has always seen the current state of the square as something of a profanation. In late July of 2007, members of Cossack civil society groups had a cross blessed by an Orthodox priest before surreptitiously setting it upright on the construction site, in a last-minute bid to raise awareness of the square’s hallowed history. It was to no avail. Ruslan Tarpan’s security firm simply pulled down the cross, broke it into pieces, and deposited it in a nearby garbage can, which did little to defuse growing tensions. The primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate), Patriarch Filaret, then lent his voice to the debate, asserting that “the monument to Catherine II should not have a place on the land of independent Ukraine. Its establishment is a desecration of the memory of the muzzled Cossacks, the enslaved peasants, and the persecuted church.”

Pro-Western and pro-independence Ukrainian politicians, scholars, and pundits similarly opposed the return of Catherine and her minions on historical grounds. Three researchers at the National Institute of Strategic Studies’ Odesa Branch — Oleksiy Volovych, Mykhailo Matsiuk, and Oleksandr Muzych — authored a strident editorial entitled “Perpetuating Butchers,” in which they noted that “in the Baltic countries and Poland, imperialist and Soviet monuments were decisively torn down as symbols of those countries’ colonial dependence on Russia. After some hesitation, Russia honors both its imperialist and Soviet symbols, including monuments.” Tarpan’s restoration of the Catherine II monument was altogether in keeping with the Russian approach, which was all the more disturbing given the 18th-century empress’ notorious treatment of Ukrainians. As Volovych, Matsiuk, and Muzych comprehensively demonstrated, Catherine II’s regime had a tyrannical track record unmatched until that of Stalin, having abolished the Cossack Hetmanate, liquidated the Cossack orders and closed Cossack schools, signed edicts banning instruction in Ukrainian, ordered that Ukrainian-language religious texts be replaced with Muscovite versions, attacked the Zaporozhian Sich even as its Cossacks aided Russia in battle against the Turks, printed Russian dictionaries that described Ukrainian as a “Polish-distorted version of the Russian language,” and, worst of all, introduced the abhorrent institution of serfdom to Ukrainian lands that had never known it.

It was Catherine II, then, who had first shackled Ukraine to the Muscovite yoke. “You profane when you introduce the slave yoke and hard labor into a country of perfect peace and freedom,” wrote the Ukrainian philosopher Hryhory Skovoroda, inveighing against Catherine II’s government. The Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, for his part, was even more candid, labeling the empress a “bloodthirsty she-wolf.” The fires of Ukrainian nationalism are easily stoked, and soon protestors were burning effigies of the empress in the streets of Odesa, and accusing Ruslan Tarpan, who was after all a member of a Russophile National Bolshevik political party, of being a Russian agent tasked with undermining Ukrainian statehood in the aftermath of the pro-western Orange Revolution of 2004. Then-President Viktor Yushchenko archly requested that the Odesan authorities “just please do not erect monuments to Peter I. Let’s respect our history, let’s be proud that we are Ukrainians,” the better to avoid future unpleasantness. It is unsurprising, then, that the Oct. 27, 2007, unveiling of the recast monument was a relatively subdued affair compared to its exuberant Romanov-era precursor.

Three years after realizing his childhood dream of restoring Odesa’s Catherine II monument, Ruslan Tarpan would find himself on the lam, credibly accused of massive fraud relating to the botched construction of a deep-sea sewage discharge pipeline. The socialist pro-Russian oligarch-turned-fugitive, said to have amassed a fortune through embezzlement and state contract “tender trolling,” took up residence in the United Arab Emirates, though he has been occasionally spotted in Russia and Israel. The monument he left behind increasingly became a focal point of internecine strife. Following the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity and the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, pro-Western Odesans again demanded the removal of the inflammatory monument to Muscovite imperialism. Pro-Russian activists responded in kind, undertaking a “Catherine March” from Sobornaya Square to Katerynynska Square on Nov. 4, 2014, in honor of Russia’s National Unity Day. The sculptures of Catherine II, Prince Zubov, Prince Potemkin, José de Ribas, and François-Paul Sainte de Wollant had to be put under police protection. History was repeating itself yet again, as the Odesan authorities were obliged to revisit the fate of the Monument to the Founders of Odesa, and the age-old “question of its preservation or destruction.”


December 28, 2022

“You might not like it,” proclaimed the Russian comedian Yevgeny Petrosyan during the frankly bizarre, Springtime for Hitler–esque Russian state television New Year celebration, “but Russia is expanding.” This is a common trope among Russian chauvinists, who often refer not only to the Russkiy mir, or “Russian world,” but to an all-encompassing “Russian globe.” As the political scientist Sergey Mikheyev phrased it, “Where do the borders of Russia end? Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] clearly said: nowhere. Okay, then, let’s make a globe of Russia.” (Just imagine that.) The goal of Russia’s ongoing brutalization of Ukraine, according to Putin ally and Vice President of the Russian National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, is to “build an open Eurasia, from Lisbon to Vladivostok” however that would work. And then we have Kirill Stremousov, the pro-Russian blogger put in charge of the short-lived, now-defunct Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, who in October 2022 produced the following poetic masterpiece:

I see mountains and valleys.

I see rivers and fields.

It is all Russian expanse.

It is my homeland.

I see Prague and Warsaw, Budapest and Bucharest.

It is all the Russian state.

How many favorite places you can find here.

I see pagodas in Sri Lanka, Korea, and China.

Wherever I drive my tank is my beloved homeland.

I see the Amazon river with crocodiles.

It is Russian land, it is my homeland.

Here are the pyramids and the Nile full of waters

Washing the Russian shore — My Rus, I am proud of you.

I see Washington in the valley, I see Dallas and Texas.

How pleasant it is to drink Russian kvass here in Russia.

The sun is rising over Sydney, a platypus is in the pond.

Loudspeakers are playing the Russian anthem.

I start my day with the Russian anthem.

Native Americans smoke a pipe and share it with me,

Everybody in the world loves Russians — in my homeland.

Stremousov perished in a Nov. 9, 2023 “car accident” (the wreckage of which featured a surprising amount of bullet holes) while fleeing advancing Ukrainian forces, thereby depriving the world of an up-and-coming literary superstar, but his poem on the Russian world lives on, a testament to just how deluded Russian propagandists have become in recent years.

One place the Russian world is not expanding is Odesa, where on Dec. 28, 2022, the Monument to the Founders of Odesa once again came down, bound for the Odesa National Fine Arts Museum. Ever since Russia renewed its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the historical ensemble in Katerynynska Square had been repeatedly vandalized with red paint, while Catherine was bedecked with an executioner’s cap on her head and a hangman’s noose dangling from her outstretched arm. A 7-meter high fence was erected around the statues, but public opinion had unquestionably turned against Catherine and her courtiers. On Nov. 30, at the 16th session of the Odesa City Council, deputies supported the motion to dismantle and move the Catherine monument, as well as an equestrian statue of Prince Suvorov located off on Pivdenna Road, by a vote of 43–1, with Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov supporting the decision after reviewing public opinion polls.

Recent years have seen Soviet-era memorials come tumbling down in Czechia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all part of a broader campaign of de-Sovietization and derussification. At this particular historical moment, it is safe to say that not “everybody in the world” is as enamored with the Russian world as the late Kirill Stremousov, although there are those on the tips of the political horseshoe who remain ardently Russophile for historical reasons, or think Putin’s regime is “based” just because it decriminalized domestic violence, or what have you. In Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic region, however, the Muscovite threat is approached with the seriousness it deserves.

Derussification has become increasingly necessary as the rhetoric coming out of Putin’s Russia grows ever more unhinged. Pundits on Russian state television debate whether Ukrainians can be “reeducated” or whether they simply have to be eliminated. The separatist militant Igor Girkin, recently found guilty in absentia for his role in shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, urges the Russian military to use fewer resources attacking the Ukrainian military, and instead concentrate on “bridges, railways, tunnels, that is, the destruction of transport infrastructure, which will lead to the collapse of supplies for the population, hunger and so on.” The Russian Federal Guard Service issues memos warning that the Western “religious (pseudo-religious) organizations” and “individuals possessing psychic abilities,” some of them armed with “PSI generators” and other mysterious devices, are trying to brainwash the Russian people. Official organs continue to broadcast nonsense about secret biolabs and anti-Slavic weaponized migratory birds, along with the merits of nuclear war against Berlin, London, or Washington.

On the religious front, the Orthodox “anti-cult” activist and archpriest Alexander Novopashin rants about how Ukrainians, infected by a “cannibalistic Nazi ideology,” are drinking the blood of Russian babies, adapting an old blood libel for a new era. Protodeacon Vladimir Vasilik has detected a larger conspiracy involving “long-term plans to connect the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church. The year 2025, the anniversary of the first Ecumenical Council, which Catholic heretics and Greek traitors of Orthodoxy are going to celebrate in such a perverted way, is also known. And they decided to elect Ukraine as a testing ground for such a connection.” Pulling the strings is Pope Francis, who, according to Vasilik, is “a crocodile who, when he eats his prey, sheds tears incessantly, but eats, nonetheless. In the same way, the Pope of Rome can weep, lament, and mourn. However, this will not stop him from eating the Orthodox — his work is such, and more precisely, his nature is such. He is not the Pope, not a father, but he is a thief, a real thief. And ‘the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy’ (John 10:10).” Vasilik’s conclusion, no doubt derived from his careful study of the Gospels, is that Russians “have only one choice: win or die.”

Judging from the flattened cities and mass graves that pockmark the Ukrainian landscape, it is clear that the actual choice between winning and dying has been presented not to the Russians, but to their victims. The Russian Federation, lest we forget, can always withdraw its forces from Ukraine, pay reparations, dispose of its criminal regime, and set about building a civilized country that is not a clear and present threat to itself, its neighbors, and the international community. Centuries of learned helplessness make this an unrealistic scenario in the short-term, however, and in the meantime the Russian populace will be subjected to an endless stream of propagandistic drivel that would be mildly amusing, if it did not have such deadly consequences.

Leonid Gozman, writing in the pages of the Novaya Gazeta, has suggested that Vladimir Putin’s unwitting mission “was to destroy Russia. And he succeeded. Now, he can leave in peace. In truth, that was the only thing he managed to achieve, nothing else. A declining economy, worsening demographic situation, deepening technological backwardness, and all-encompassing hypocrisy — these are the achievements of Putin’s reign. The list could go on for a long time. With war and mass murder being the pinnacle of the achievements.” Gozman’s assessment of Russia’s decline, especially in moral terms, is bleak, given that:

A country is not just a territory, it is something bigger. The territory will remain no matter what, as will most of the people: even today, it is not the majority of Russians who are fleeing. A country is the culture, way of life, self-identity, an image it represents in the world. A country is the connection of the present to the past — succession. It is the connection of the future to what is happening today and to what went on in the past. Our country had already disappeared once before — it was destroyed by the Bolsheviks. After the 1917 October Revolution, a territory remained where madness was afoot, but it no longer had any connection to Russia, its culture, or its history, except for maybe, to its darkest moments — like the reign of Ivan the Terrible. The territory was a rejection of both Russian culture and its history, it killed and exiled those who had symbolised the country of before, it consigned to oblivion and distorted the images of those who had died before its conception in 1917. Then, it spent decades trying to painfully revive itself — but it never was reborn entirely.

“Something very similar has happened now,” concludes Gozman. “There is no longer a country. Not only was everything we had been building since the end of the eighties destroyed. There is no Russian culture. Yes, La Scala’s season opened with a Mussorgsky and Chekhov’s plays are being put on all over the world. But if before behind these names stood something called grand Russian culture, now Pushkin or Tchaikovsky exist as if by themselves, they are not connected to any culture. They exist, but behind them there is only emptiness.”

It is true that there is madness afoot in post-Soviet Russia, which lacks the polished cultural veneer provided by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Glinka and Tchaikovsky, Repin and Vasnetsov. But this is where Russian liberals tend to lose the plot, suggesting as they do that the Putin regime is a break with history rather than a continuation of it. When disturbing reports emerge about Russian plans to construct 25 prisons and three labor camps on temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory, and when the Russian military and manufacturing industries become increasingly reliant on prison labor (so-called “Gulag economics”), one need only recall the obvious historical precedents in the form of the imperial Siberian exile and Soviet corrective labor camp systems. When Alexey Milchakov, co-leader of the Wagner Group’s Rusich unit currently rampaging across eastern Ukraine, gives an interview in which he expresses the desire to exterminate Ukrainians on the grounds that “only a dead man doesn’t shoot you in the back” and “the dead don’t make children,” we must admit the signs were there. After all, Milchakov earlier filmed himself torturing and mutilating a puppy, and has proudly admitted “I am a Nazi. I won’t go any further, nationalist, patriot, imperialist, and so on. I say it directly: I am a Nazi.” Rusich is an extreme example, but even opposition activist Aleksei Navalny has referred to Georgians as “rodents,” equated Muslims with “cockroaches,” and maintained that the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula is not “a sausage sandwich or something that you can take and give back.”

The taproots of Russian chauvinism go very deep indeed. When Putin’s speeches draw upon the writings of fascistic or anti-Semitic ideologists like Aleksandr Dugin, Ivan Ilyin, and Lev Gumilev, it must be remembered that none of this is particularly new. Consider the legacy of Pyotr Krasnov, the Don Cossack leader and Nazi collaborator who praised Operation Barbarossa for heralding the “liberation of Russia from Judeo-Bolshevism,” and who remains influential to this day owing to his 1927 novel Behind the Thistle (Za chertopolokhom), which was set in the 1990s and describes a post-communist Russia in which the monarchy has been restored. Shielded from the prying eyes of the “rotting democratic west” by a giant wall of impenetrable thistle, Krasnov’s ideal state is one in which dissidents are arrested and “return home with black stumps in place of their tongues,” and in which Jews “no longer have the power to rule over us nor can they hide under false Russian names to infiltrate the government.” “Some might say,” wrote Krasnov, “that the Russian government is now totalitarian, only this is not the same sort of totalitarianism as that of the Communists and the Masons of the West. They bow down to some invisible force, whose aim is destruction, but our society is founded on the bedrock of family and at its head is the Tsar, blessed by God, a man whose thoughts are only about the prosperity of Russia.” Behind the Thistle, rediscovered in 2002 and republished in numerous editions over the last two decades, remains a major, if disturbing, influence on Eurasianist ideologues like Aleksandr Dugin, and a statue of the Nazi collaborator Krasnov can be found on display at the Yelanska Cossack Museum Memorial Complex in the Rostov region.

So all this madness did not appear out of nowhere. Leonid Gozman is right that “a country is the connection of the present to the past,” but he errs by suggesting that Russia’s past ever disappeared. The Russian empire that “muzzled the Cossacks, enslaved the peasants, and persecuted the Ukrainian church,” as Patriarch Filaret put it, still exists. The Russian empire that partitioned Poland, committed the Circassian genocide, and turned much of Eurasia into an open-air prison still exists, just in a newer guise, that of Putin’s terrorist pariah state. Russian chauvinism, revanchism, and ressentiment may have been hidden behind the thistle of Western naiveté for many years, but the invasion of Ukraine has served to reveal the twisted reality of the Russkiy mir. This is why the Monument to the Founders of Odesa no longer dominates Katerynynska Square, and why the so-called Russian World cannot be permitted to return to Odesa and to Ukraine.

Writing in the aftermath of Russia’s 2014 invasion, the renowned Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan, a rather more accomplished versifier than our old friend Kirill Stremousov, one must admit, produced the anthology Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine. One of Zhadan’s most memorable contributions, “Rhinoceros,” described how

Смерть страшна, вона лякає.
Страшно відчувати сморід червоного місяця,
страшно дивитися, як робиться історія.

Death is terrible, it’s frightening.

It’s terrible to smell the stench of a red moon,

It’s terrible to watch history being made.

Despite how tempting it might be to despair under such trying circumstances, Zhadan instead urged his fellow Ukrainians:

Плач і розбивай темряву своїми теплими руками.
Плач і не відходь від нього ні на крок.
Світ ніколи не буде таким, як раніше.
Ми нізащо не дозволимо йому
бути таким, як раніше.

Cry, and dispel the darkness with your warm hands.

Cry, and don’t take a single step back.

The world will never be the same again.

There’s no way we would let it

Be like it was before.

Which is to say that Katerynynska Square, much like Ukraine as a whole, will never be like it was before — of that we can be certain.

READ MORE by Matthew Omolesky:

Dead Friends: The World of Hryhorii Skovoroda

Support for Ukraine Does Not Come From ‘Current Thingism’

Russia’s Embrace of Unreason

Matthew Omolesky
Follow Their Stories:
View More
Matthew Omolesky is a human rights lawyer and a researcher in the fields of cultural heritage preservation and law and anthropology. A Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, he has been contributing to The American Spectator since 2006, as well as to publications including Quadrant, Lehrhaus, Europe2020, the European Journal of Archaeology, and Democratiya.
Sign up to receive our latest updates! Register

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: The American Spectator, 122 S Royal Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314, http://spectator.org. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!