Written by Matthew Wickham
After Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukrainians are determined to break centuries’ worth of forced bonds with all that is Russian. Having survived an enduring list of historical oppression—the Russian Empire’s subjugation and serfdom, the Soviet Union’s forced russification, and now modern-day Russia’s full-scale invasion, to name a few, Ukraine knows how to fight back.
Ukraine’s decolonization solutions, as well as the war of symbols, are proving critical for a future unchained from Russian influence. This is an attempt to restore historical fairness by no longer considering Ukraine to be a Soviet (Russian) colony.
A recent development in Ukraine’s decolonization process is the replacement of the Soviet coat of arms for the Ukrainian Trident on the former named “Mother Motherland” (ukr.Батьківщина-мати/рос. Родина–Мать) now “Mother Ukraine” monument (ukr.Україна-мати).
This change has sparked resentment, anger, and retaliatory threats from Russia’s top propagandists. In this article, we will examine their reactions and techniques they used to shape the audience’s opinions, such as disinformation, emotional appeal, and historical distortion.
The Motherland monument’s construction concluded in 1981 and was unveiled to the public by the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev. It was built by the Soviet authorities for national personification, symbolizing the Soviet victory in WW2.
The process of reclaiming Ukraine’s national identity and removing Soviet symbols first commenced after the 2015 legislation, focused on decommunization, came into effect. As part of this effort, the Soviet coat of arms fused into the monument’s shield was removed on August 5th, 2023, and was replaced by the Ukrainian Trident, a symbol for those who fought for Ukraine’s independence 100 years ago and those who protect it now.
The cult of ‘the Rodina’ (Russian for motherland) has persisted since the Soviet era to unite colonized peoples. Russia’s narrative is that during WWII, “grandfathers” fought not for Ukraine, Russia, or any of the other soviet states but for a conditional “motherland.” Russian propaganda, to this day, uses this narrative to deny Ukraine’s existence and instead propagate a common history.
The Sordid Topic of the Coin
Kremlin propaganda claims that the deconstruction deprives the Ukrainian people of their historical heritage, thereby being perceived as an effort to erase the country’s past.
One narrative aimed at international audiences, employed to downplay this feat for Ukraine, is centered around the financial aspect of the remodeling.
Kremlin propaganda manipulates that Western taxpayers’ money is not just going to support Ukraine’s military efforts but is being redirected to its pointless remodeling.
Let’s examine a few…
“They keep turning to the west, saying they don’t have enough money, complaining about a lack of funds, but they are willing to “throw away millions” to change the monument.” – Armen Gasparyan, Russian Propagandist.
Or better yet, portrayed by a classic display of theater by Maria Zakharova, head of the press department of Russia’s MoFA…
“Ukraine does not produce high-quality steel, so they had to use steel from elsewhere, resulting in the project’s price increasing three times. They can’t do anything by themselves; they can only steal.”
Background of funding the project:
For clarity, since the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainians have raised over $1.4 billion in charitable donations, with Ukrainian companies and banks contributing to a total $2.7 billion. The shield’s remodeling cost $758,000, funded by donations from several prominent Ukrainian businesses, including NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine, Monobank, and Oschadbank..
Any Kremlin “mouthpiece” who claims that Kyiv and the Ukrainian people rely on money from Western taxpayers to rebuild the monument is manipulation employed to shift focus and sow discord among Ukraine’s partners, confusing and portraying Kyiv as the corrupted enemy – a tactic aimed at obstructing military and financial aid.
This narrative is built to elicit a sense of distrust, forcing the West to ask, “Why is our money going on this?” But the answer… it isn’t. That’s Russian propaganda, targeting emotions to confuse the audience.
Wishes of Revenge
Upon realizing that the remodeling was proceeding and Kremlin disinformation was unable to stop it, Kremlin propagandists resorted to their usual emotional tactics, issuing threats and making genocidal appeals for the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
Yulia Bityazevia wrote on her telegram,
“I hope that the Motherland will exact its vengeance on these ‘decommunizers’ and kill them all with its shield. They deserve it.”
Another threat came from RF TV anchor Olesya Loseva, who referred to the Kyiv authorities as psychopaths but not insane, stating,
“They know exactly what they are doing, the consequences, and the reward they will receive [from such a decision].”
Given the public statements made by Russian State Duma deputies, including Andrey Gurulov, Member of the State Duma, advocating for the use of missiles to strike the monument, one can infer what consequences Loseva was referring to… A Russian missile strike targeting the monument.
Marina Akhmedova, a member of the human rights council to RF, took a different approach, stating,
“I think it turned out great. The trident seals the bars – the entrance to the prison, which for many has become Ukraine.”
She ironically portrays Ukraine as a nation imprisoned by the will of the authorities, even though such a decision was made by the Ukrainian people themselves. Ahkmedova employs objectivization as part of the dehumanization of the enemy. By doing so, Kremlin propagandists can rile up the internal audience and spread hatred against Ukraine, which only increases the Kremlin’s capacity to conduct war. She does this by employing the common information tactic of ‘portrait and reflection’ here.
And the most dumbfounding of all narratives, this one from Boris Korchevnikov, was particularly colorful…
“What is happening in Ukraine right now is defamation and rape. What we are witnessing right before our eyes is the rape of a Russian woman. This once powerful motherland monument was standing there strong, but now she is surrendering.”
This narrative of the monument surrendering is an attempt to distort history and portray Ukrainians as lesser than Russians. This is evident from the numerous times these propagandists referred to Ukrainians as ‘farm bastards,’ (frustrated by Ukraine’s successful reconstruction) demeaning them as peasants and inferior.
Moreover, Gasparyan told how the monument will always be seen as Russian, regardless of what sits on the shield, and Ukrainians will consider it a symbol of the occupier, so what’s the point, he asks.
“Better not change to the trident, but to blow it up instead, preferably on the same day as the Dnipro dam. The monument, designed by Soviet architecture and people, will always hint at the fact that it is an occupation.”
Erasing a “Victorious History”
Anatoly Wasserman claims that the “Ukrainian terrorist organization” now aims to erase the memory of a “victorious country.”
Next, Skabeeva, a TV propagandist, offers her take, suggesting that Ukraine should go even further. Her rhetoric is an attempt to undermine this feat for Ukraine and its current political trajectory (a move towards a more liberal, European way of living). Her rhetoric is aimed at the Russian audience, known for their refutation of anything LGBTQIA+.
“They still need to replace the sword with a LGBT flag and to legalize same-sex marriage,” she mocks.
Sergei Mikheev, Propagandist hosts on Solovyevlive, claims that the Ukrainian government aims to erase Soviet history from the minds of all Ukrainians, oddly suggesting that removing these symbols would make Ukrainians forget their past and the suffering endured over centuries due to Russian imperialistic policies.
He goes on to assert that Ukraine’s concept of borders is attributed to Lenin…
“All of these monuments are being taken away to stop them from asking, ‘What about Lenin?’ Because as soon as someone answers that question, it’s clear who created the Ukrainian SSR and their borders.”
Why is this Important?
The significance of Ukraine removing the Soviet coat of arms cannot be overstated, sending yet again a clear message
The monument’s decolonization represents a victorious struggle by Ukrainians and exposes cracks in Putin’s regime, demonstrating his waning influence through Ukraine’s cultural liberation of its oppressed (by Russia) past rather than the monument’s destruction. This, coupled with the hysteria created by Kremlin propagandists around this event, is a clear sign of their failure in being able to sway Ukrainian and international opinion. As a result, they focus on the tactics that are most effective in manipulating the internal audience; historical distorting, emotional appeal and victimization.