A rally took place in the Ukrainian coastal city of Odessa on Sunday, with activists demanding the dismantling of a statue to former Russian Empress Catherine II (1729-96).
Local news reports suggest that the nationalist group called Decolonization of Ukraine was behind the protest in the predominantly Russian-speaking city. People demanded to dismantling of the monument to Catherine and her associates.
A spokesperson for protesters told the Ukrainian newspaper ‘Public’ that “our initiative has the goal of getting rid of all the manifestations of Russian influence that remained after the colonial period in our history. In order to look to the future, we need to break all these ties and move our own way.”
The statue is a major tourist attraction in the Black Sea city. One local hotel tells guests on its website that “Odesseans love to say that towering over the square the monument to Odessa’s Founders symbolizes our gratitude to Catherine the Great” as it was her who “signed the decree in 1794 to found a new city and port for commercial and military vessels.”
The boulevard on which the bust sits is also named in her honor. One of the city’s most famous destinations, Ekaterininskaya Square references the Russian name for Catherine the Great. It is unclear whether there are any proposals to rename it.
The monument to the empress, installed in 1900 by Odessa-born artist Yuri Meletyevich Dmitrenko, has previously attracted controversy at times when tensions between Ukraine and Russia have grown. In 1920 it was dismantled and partially destroyed after the revolution that brought down Russia’s Tsarist regime. It was restored and returned to the empty plinth in 2007 after a decades-long campaign, funded by local residents and the Odessa business community.
Odessa was the site of fierce clashes between pro- and anti-Russian groups in 2014, as the country’s Euromaidan coup gained pace. 46 supporters of closer ties to Moscow were killed in one night after petrol bombs were thrown into the Trade Union Building, where they had been taking refuge after fighting with protesters.
Similar debates around memorials and cultural heritage have played out elsewhere in Europe and in the US. In June, the UK city of Bristol made headlines as hundreds of protesters toppled a statue of 17th-century merchant Edward Colston. Colston had come under fire for his involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and his monument was torn down without authorisation by Black Lives Matter activists and dumped into Bristol Harbour.
Catherine II ruled the Russian Empire, which included much of Ukraine, as well as Belarus, Lithuania and modern-day Latvia, between 1762 and 1796. Her reign was characterized by a cultural resurgence in the country, and the establishment of Russia as a great power on the world stage.
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