A monument to Alexander Pushkin was demolished in Kyiv. A local schoolboy, who secretly paints monuments to Russian and Soviet figures, helped in this. We found him and talked

Yuliana Skibitska
Kateryna Kobernyk
A monument to Alexander Pushkin was demolished in Kyiv. A local schoolboy, who secretly paints monuments to Russian and Soviet figures, helped in this. We found him and talked

Getty Images / «Babel'»

On November 15, 2023, a monument to Alexander Pushkin was demolished in Kyiv. It stood on Beresteysky Avenue, next to the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, for 61 years. After the full-scale invasion, the monument was repeatedly covered with paint, the inscriptions "Donʼt stop decolonization" and "The imperial man must go" appeared on the pedestal. There were similar appeals on other monuments, in particular, to Soviet generals Mykola Vatutin and Mykhailo Kyrponos, Red Army commanders Sydor Kovpak and Mykola Shchors. Judging by the comments on social networks, many believe that these inscriptions are left by Kyiv football ultras. Actually no. Kseniya Semenova, a deputy of the Kyiv City Council, who advocates decommunization in Kyiv, wrote that the authorities were pressured by schoolchildren and students who regularly painted monuments. Babel found the author of these inscriptions. He is from Kyiv, heʼs 16 years old, he is in the last grade of the capitalʼs school, his father has been fighting since the first day of the full-scale invasion. At his request, we are not naming the boy — he faces administrative responsibility for "damaging" the monuments. Babelʼs editor Yuliana Skibitska spoke with the boy about his night outings, attitude to Russian culture and plans for the future.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I study in the eleventh grade. I am interested in politics, history, and social activism. Became interested in this after the full-scale invasion. I wanted to fight against injustice, to join something important and right.

How did you come up with this monument initiative?

It was September 2022. At that time, there was no movement with monuments, my friend and I simply decided to raise the issue of Pushkin. We painted his bust at the University metro station. And then, in a couple of days, we saw that someone painted over the monument to Shchors [near the same station] and the monument to Pushkin [near the Shulyavska metro station]. I think it all started with this. Why did I come to this? I just realized that I and many other Kyivites do not like the remnants of Russian imperial policy on the territory of Ukraine. So I decided to fight against it in this way.

Shchors monument.

Олег Слабоспицький / «Бабель»

But why monuments?

Well, this is a marker. In general, the topic of national memory, national heroes, in my opinion, is very important. And monuments are a symbol, Pushkin is a symbol and an ambassador of Russian culture, which is an occupying one.

Do you have a group of people who do these inscriptions?

I did most of them myself. I was supported by various people, but more with words than with actions. Although now, when there are positive developments, more people are joining in, saying, letʼs do it together. These are my peers, classmates or those who are studying now in the first grade of the university. They also donʼt like the dominance of Russian culture, and they want to do something about it.

How many monuments did you paint over?

I need to count. Pushkin, Kyrponos, Kosmodemyanska, Bulgakov. I think about twenty in general.

Memorial plaque at the Bulgakov Museum.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Actions against Russian monuments are also held in other regions of Ukraine. Do you communicate with these people?

Yes, I have seen these, but the problem is that these people are also hiding and cannot be found. But I think they know what we do, we know what they do, and we definitely support each other mentally. If we could unite, it would be cool.

How strongly was Russian culture present in your life? How did you treat it?

I always had a pro-Ukrainian position, although I was probably Russified, like all Ukrainian teenagers. But I tried to speak Ukrainian, although many people from my entourage were Russian-speaking. I have been involved in football for a long time and in this environment I often faced misunderstandings. [Before the full-scale invasion] there were various controversial situations, such as what Ukrainian [football] commentators say about Russia as an aggressor country. In our country, sport has largely remained Soviet-style, coaches and football players mainly spoke Russian. After the invasion, the majority switched to Ukrainian. But in the summer of this year, I was transferred to another team, and things are much worse there. Many people speak Russian, listen to Russian music, because of this I had many conflicts and fights. In particular, thatʼs why I stopped playing football, because it was very uncomfortable for me in such an environment.

Monument to the crew of the Bolshevik armored train "Taraschanets" near the Darnytsia metro station.

Monument to the crew of the Bolshevik armored train "Taraschanets" near the Darnytsia metro station.

Олег Слабоспицький / «Бабель»

At school, like everywhere else, it was different. There, too, were and still are many problems with the Russian language, but I am trying to somehow change it by my own example, to engage in education, if you can say so. Some people at school know what I do, many support me. Teachers may sometimes support the idea, but they definitely do not support the methods.

Why do you think full-scale war changed some people and not others?

This is a global problem, because for many years there was a lot of everything Russian. Perhaps the war has not affected some people much now, they do not have relatives fighting, they have not lost anyone. Thatʼs why they didnʼt realize it, but I donʼt think that this justifies them. My father has been fighting since February 24, my younger sisters do not live in Ukraine because of the war. I myself am constantly in Kyiv, so the war directly affects me.

Do you have a goal? What do you want to achieve with your actions?

Well, now Pushkin has been demolished, this is a great victory. I hope that Kyiv will get rid of the markers of the Russian occupation — these are not only monuments, but also street names, old-style bus stops, and churches. We will continue to fight against Bulgakov, and not only against the memorial board, but also against the museum — this is our next main goal. Probably, the ultimate goal is that the Ukrainian policy of national memory should be focused on Ukrainian heroes, [not Russian ones].

Getty Images / «Babel'»

And what are your plans for the future?

I planned to study political science in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and when I will turn 18, to mobilize. But my dad, who is now fighting, said that it would be more useful to get a degree first, and only then to mobilize. Though itʼs a very long time, so I donʼt know yet what exactly Iʼll do. Now I am developing my skills in the topic of drones, I want to become an UAV operator or get some other specialty related to this. And then Iʼll see.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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