Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Russian-Ukrainian ‘Scandal’ on the Moscow Metro

Paul Goble
            Staunton, February 3 – A mini-scandal this week concerning how the Russian authorities have changed the ethnic identity of one figure in a fresco from an obviously Ukrainian one to a possibly Russian one in the Kyiv Station of the Moscow metro highlights just how sensitive both Russians and Ukrainians now are to how the other portrays them.

            Earlier this week, Oleg Kashin pointed to this change in the headgear of a girl in the picture from an obviously Ukrainian crown of flowers to a more typically Russian scarf as an example of what he called “’the de-Ukrainianization’” of a Moscow landmark long  associated with Kyiv (

            Kashin’s report sparked outrage in Ukraine where people were quite prepared to believe that the Russians who have invaded their country and continue to occupy portions of it were quite capable of doing this lesser but still extremely insulting kind of action (

            Yevgeniya Korobkova, who covers cultural issues for Moscow’s Komsomolskaya pravda, decided to investigate to see just what has happened in the Kyiv metro station and why.  What she found suggests that Kashin’s earlier report was at the very least one-sided and quite possibly entirely wrong (

            According to Korobkova, there were 24 girls in Ukrainian national headgear before restoration of the station began.  Now, there are 23. Only one has been changed to a scarf. The question is why because this pattern hardly suggests a consistent policy of “de-Ukrainianization” as Kashin would have it.

            The reason for the change, it turns out, is that when the fresco was executed in 1953, 23 girls were in Ukrainian headgear and one was in a scarf as now. But the one with a scarf had it changed to a Ukrainian crown in the intervening period.  No one now knows why the change was made, but conservators now have photographs from 1953 and all they’ve done is go back to that.

            The people who should be angry – and they are, Korobkova says -- are the descendants of the artist, Viktor Konovalov, who executed the original and whose work has now been in part lost.  And there have been some apparently reasonable suggestions that the restoration may have been done on the cheap. But as to “de-Ukrainianization,” she says, that hasn’t happened.

            And despite suggestions from Kyiv, no one, the journalist says, is planning to rename the Kyiv station for Russia.

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