Derussification of Ukraine as cities remove symbols and culture from Soviet era

Few cities in Ukraine are making as much effort as Kharkiv, a city with a Russian-speaking tradition, to erase its past.

Hundreds of streets with Soviet names have been renamed, dozens of monuments demolished and countless books written in Ukrainian have replaced Russian ones on bookshelves.

"These books have a therapeutic effect on people," explained historian and book publisher, Oleksandr Savchuk. "That is, a person seems to get some protection by reading that in fact, Ukrainian culture exists, Ukrainian art exists, the state of Ukraine exists, and there are outstanding artists, painters, architects, sculptors, and public figures among Ukrainians. All of this is about us. This is to acquire identity. That's why people buy these books."

Russia's full-scale invasion prompted many citizens to turn to the Ukrainian language.

"When I said something in Russian (at the beginning of the invasion), it felt like an unpleasant taste in my mouth, as if I had eaten something rotten," said Mykola Kolomiets, an artist and teacher.

Natalya Denisova is the artistic director and puppet creator at the Kharkiv State Academic Puppet Theatre. She admits that after 18 months of war, it is difficult to hold a calm debate on the use of the invader's language, but she's not in favour of wiping it out:

"People have lived with this language. Sometimes it was strongly imposed. It so happened that, willingly or unwillingly, people mostly spoke Russian. And if we say that it happened by force, that the Russian language was forced here, I doubt we should force it out. Then we are no different from each other."

Fuelled by Russian bombs and by the Ukrainian authorities, the war accelerated the derussification process that began after the fall of the Soviet Union.