Kyiv’s Mayor Quashes City’s Strange Attempt To Rename Street After a Ukrainian Nazi Collaborator

It took top-level intervention to cancel an impending decision that is symptomatic of Ukraine’s uneven record on reconciling with the Holocaust.

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight champion. AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Kyiv’s unflappable mayor, Vitali Klitschko, has canceled a vote by his city council that could have seen a prominent street in the Ukrainian capital renamed for a notorious Nazi collaborator and SS official. The last-ditch intervention apparently came after an unscheduled meeting between Mr. Klitschko and Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky. 

The abrupt reversal of a decision that risked causing substantial international embarrassment to both Ukraine and President Zelensky, who is Jewish, came as both Ukraine and Russia marked the International Day of Liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, which is commemorated on April 11 in Russia as well as Ukraine. The Third U.S. Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany on April 11, 1945. 

Until Mr. Klitschko’s last-minute override, the renaming of Przhevalsky Street for a Ukrainian nationalist politician, Volodymyr Kubiyovych, who in 1941 called for the creation of a self-ruling state inside Ukraine where Poles and Jews would be forbidden, was seen as a lock. 

The director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, told the Jerusalem Post that following a motion passed by the council, Kyiv’s historical commission was to close a public vote on the final choice of a new name on April 16. To date the name of Kubiyovych had garnered a clear majority of the votes, with nearly a third of the total counted.

In 1943 Kubiyovych assisted in the formation of the Waffen-SS Galizien, a German Nazi military division made up mainly of Ukrainian volunteers. Przhevalsky Street is in the heart of Kyiv and lies in close proximity to Mariyinsky Palace — the official residence of the president of Ukraine. 

Prior to Mr. Klitschko quashing the motion, the Sun reached out to the office of the president for comment  but did not receive a response by the end of the business day in Europe. 

In a statement, B’nai B’rith International told the Sun, “We welcome the decision by Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko to cancel the initiative to name a street after Volodymyr Kubiyovych. Mayor Klitschko has done the right thing. There should never be a place for venerating individuals who collaborated with and supported Nazis.”

Ukrainian press reported that Mr. Brodsky had made it clear to Mr. Klitschko that the initiative to name the street in honor of the Nazi official Kubiyovich, who many in Ukraine still regard as a hero, was inappropriate. Kyiv’s relations with Israel since Russia invaded Ukraine last year have been testy at times. 

It was not immediately clear why the city council had decided to rename a street for an infamous historical figure, or to embark on any effort at all to rename streets at a time when Ukraine is fighting a war for its survival as a nation.

Mr. Zelensky’s office did report that on this International Day of Liberation of Nazi concentration camps, “a basket of flowers from President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky was placed at the Babyn Yar Memorial Complex in the city of Kyiv.” The same statement read in part that “Ukraine remembers everyone who was killed and maimed by the Nazi regime during World War II.”

Babyn Yar, also known as Babi Yar, is the ravine in an area of Kyiv where more than 33,770 Jews were massacred by Nazi forces on September 29 and 30, 1941. By the end of the German occupation as many as 150,000 people may have been murdered at the infamous site. 

Like many European countries, the geographical contours of Ukraine have shifted over the centuries. Well before World War II and the Holocaust, anti-semitism found fertile ground in what is present-day Ukraine. By most reliable historical accounts, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Hetman of the Zaporizhian Host — the Ukrainian Cossack state that from 1648 made up central Ukraine for more than a hundred years — authored the massacre of more than 100,000 Jews.

Today there is a prominent equestrian statue of Khmelnytsky at Kyiv’s central Sophia Square.

A plaque that honors Kubiyovych, who died at Paris in 1985, also stands at Lviv, a large Ukrainian city near the Polish border.

Ukraine, of course, is not the only country that has yet to fully reconcile with its role in the Holocaust. On that chessboard of accountability, Germany is ironically at the top of the game, but Poland, notably, still has some work to do in this regard.

A new memorial center is slated to open at Babyn Yar by 2026. Today’s decision by Mr. Klitschko is a rapid step in the right direction for his city and indeed for all of contemporary Ukraine.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use