In April, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed a Law forbidding the use of Nazi and Soviet propaganda, and tasking local authorities with taking down monuments to Soviet leaders and renaming streets hankering back to the Soviet past. In Kharkiv, this means thinking up new names for five districts and around 200 streets, lanes, squares and more.
Since then, Kharkiv’s toponymy committee has been on the job, conducting surveys in the street to gauge suggestions from the public, and working independently to come up with names that would ring bells without being communist – which, with the whole of 20th century history in mind, is going to be tough. Some new streets that may appear on the map will be Arkhitektora Aleshyna for 3rd International Street, Arkhitektora Serafimova for 17th Party Meeting Street, Novokharkivskyi for Ordzhonikidze Prospekt, and Chornohlazivska for Bazhanova Street.
No doubt, the decision to get rid of communist-themed toponymy resonates strongly with a large section of the Ukrainian population. Soviet leaders and party functionaries who were once worshipped as demi-gods have become the objects of scorn and ridicule. And, aside from the striking personalities of Lenin, Stalin and a few others, they are unlikely to evoke any associations whatsoever from under-20s.
However, the renaming process may involve a number of hidden catches. For a large section of society, patriotic sentiment starts flagging quickly when upholding an idea means paying. And an article run by the national daily Segodnya in April 2015 highlights some of the costs. Toponymic committee Secretary Aleksey Horoshkovatyi was quoted as saying that a name change means respective changes in the population and business register. That comes with a price tag and time investment for the people involved. The city, too, will have to update its paperwork, and replace plaques on buildings. With one plaque costing around UAH 1000, it’s easy to see how costs may run into hundreds of millions for Kharkiv alone. This is precisely why a decision to go through with the renaming at this moment may be questioned.