A video showed the historic toppling of the landmark monument in the country’s largest square.
Many of Kharkiv’s residents felt very protective of the figure and cultivated nostalgic memories of him.
But the need to break away from the Soviet past prevailed and the monument that dominated Freedom square (formerly named after Soviet leader Felix Dzerzhinsky) for a half-century, was ripped away.
The so-called ‘Fall of Lenin’ – the Ukrainian movement of toppling statues of the Soviet-era totalitarian leader by strong-willed citizens – began in Kiev last winter, on December 8th, when Euro-Maidan protesters took down the statue of Lenin near the Bessarabska district.
Soon after, over 150 monuments throughout Ukraine were felled by Ukrainians to show that they are eager to part with Soviet symbols and demonstrate their pro-democratic and pro-European outlook.
Putin’s imperial ambitions, and the threat of restoring a Soviet-style state, prompted Ukrainian activists to declare a definite “no” to the suggestion of slipping back into Russia’s control.
On Sunday, September 28, the wave of sentiment reached Ukraine’s large – and rather inert –Russian speaking city of Kharkiv and its 1.5 million inhabitants, only twenty-five miles away from the Russian border.
Since the anti-government protests broke out in Kiev in December of last year, the city has largely stayed out of the protest movement and was threatened by separatism due to its controversial mayor Hennadiy Kernes, linked to pro-Russian structures.
But with war in Donbass – only about 100 miles away – patriotism among local residents of all ages grew.
Despite the fact that a majority of the city’s people speak Russian and many residents have close ties with Russia – not to mention feeling little connection to Western Ukraine and Ukrainian nationalism – Kharkiv’s identity has come out as decisively Ukrainian following Russia’s recent incursions.
Russian propaganda painted Kharkiv as a city willing to join Russia in a heartbeat.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a long-standing and eccentric member of the Russian Duma, publically called the educational and industrial center a Russian city.
Kharkiv has even been included in various maps of what the Kremlin calls future “Novorossiya” – a fictional state made up by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s advisors for the South-Eastern parts of Ukraine.
These examples of wishful thinking on the Kremlin’s part were largely contradicted by Sunday’s events, plus the latest poll conducted by Russian oppositionist Alexey Navalny and his anti-corruption center.
The survey of Kharkiv and Odessa showed that 87% of respondents in both regions wanted to be part of Ukraine, 8% were undecided, and 3% and 2% respectively said they would want to join Russia and become part of Novorossiya.
Kharkov’s rally for peace and a united Ukraine brought out around five thousand people on Sunday, by various estimates.
In a time of war, when dozens of people wounded in Donbass continue to arrive in Kharkov’s hospitals, not all the residents lent support to the rally as well as the toppling of the monument.
However, local businesses and individuals developed a steady volunteer and fundraising movement in support of the Ukrainian army and military hospitals.
Earlier, city authorities had signed an official decree to remove the monument but protesters, mostly a younger crowd, couldn’t wait for the city to officially dismantle it and authorities allowed them to take it down.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that he only hopes that provocateurs won’t use this incident as an excuse to create more clashes.