3 min read — Ukraine | Policy

Derussification in Ukraine: Communist Holidays and the International Women's Day Controversy

Derussification in Ukraine
Image Credit: Euro Prospects

By Kamelia Mars

March 1, 2023 | 9:30

Ukraine has been actively pursuing a process of derussification for several years, which involves promoting the Ukrainian language and culture and distancing itself from its Soviet legacy. A crucial aspect of this process has been the elimination of communist symbols, including holidays observed during the Soviet era. Consequently, International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8, has become a topic of significant debate.

Although International Women’s Day in Ukraine has a long history dating back to the early 1900s, in Ukraine it is strongly affiliated with the communist era.During the Soviet days, March 8 was elevated to a national holiday, becoming a significant event in the communist calendar. The holiday was used to celebrate the role of women in the socialist revolution and promote gender equality within the communist system.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine gained its independence and transitioned into a democratic state. Ukraine’s society was still heavily influenced by its communist legacy, and as a result, March 8 continued to be observed as an important holiday. In recent years, however, there has been a growing movement in Ukraine to distance the holiday from its communist ties and redefine it as a day to celebrate women’s achievements and struggles.

The controversy surrounding March 8 in Ukraine reflects the country’s ongoing struggle to define its national identity. Some people associate the holiday with the legacy of communism and Ukraine’s subjugation under the Soviet regime, which they perceive as oppressive and detrimental to Ukrainian identity .For others, March 8 is an important celebration of women’s rights and a reminder of the progress that has been made in achieving gender equality.

While the removal of communist holidays in Ukraine is aimed at promoting Ukrainian culture and distancing the country from its Soviet past, it has not been without controversy. Some Ukrainians view the removal of the holiday as an attempt to erase history and culture, while others see it as a crucial step towards building a modern and democratic nation that is not tied to the legacy of Soviet communism.

The reason why many Ukrainians find March 8 oppressive is not only because it reminds them of the communist era but also because they deem it offensive to women. Despite its origins as a celebration of women’s rights, the holiday has been associated with a Soviet legacy of social and gender injustice. The February Revolution of 1917, which toppled the tsarist regime and paved the way for the Bolsheviks’ rise to power was sparked in part by working-class women who took to the streets to demand bread and better working conditions. However, the Bolsheviks’ promise of equality for women was largely unfulfilled, and women continued to face discrimination and inequality under Soviet rule. In many former Soviet bloc countries, including Ukraine, women continue to face gender inequality and other social challenges, including domestic violence and economic marginalization. As a result, many Ukrainians view March 8 as a relic of a bygone era and a reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and social justice.

The Bolsheviks saw the potential of March 8 as a propaganda tool, promptly adopting it as an official holiday to showcase the Soviet Union’s commitment to women’s rights and gender equality, and to highlight their achievements. However, the Soviet version of March 8 was often criticized for being overly politicized and lacking in genuine feminist content.

The Bolsheviks were notorious for their attempts to eliminate religious celebrations like Christmas, but they also found ways to modify and use traditional holidays to serve their own agenda. Ded Moroz, the Russian version of Santa Claus, was introduced in the Soviet era as a secular alternative to the religious figure of Father Christmas. The celebration of New Year’s Eve in the former Soviet bloc countries has taken on a similar significance to Christmas in the West, with decorations, presents, and family gatherings, but bearing no religious significance.

Today, Ukraine is trying to rid itself of everything Soviet and celebrate its own unique culture and traditions. Soviet holidays like March 8 do not reflect Ukraine’s own history, but instead serve as a reminder of the Soviet Union’s oppressive era. Instead, Ukrainians are working to establish their own holidays and traditions rooted in Ukrainian history and culture. Ukrainians have proposed celebrating February 25th as a holiday that celebrates women. This date marks the birthday of Lesya Ukrainka, a renowned Ukrainian poet, writer, and feminist who played a significant role in Ukrainian literature and culture. By creating their own holidays that reflect their unique history and culture, Ukrainians are taking an important step towards shedding the vestiges of the Soviet past and asserting their own identity.

Derussification in Ukraine has been a complex and ongoing process that involves promoting Ukrainian language and culture and removing symbols of Soviet communism. The removal of communist holidays, including International Women’s Day, has been a significant element of this process, and has sparked controversy among Ukrainians. While there are differing opinions on the issue, the Ukrainian government’s efforts to redefine March 8 as a non-communist holiday reflect its broader goal of building a modern, democratic nation that is proud of its Ukrainian heritage and not beholden to its communist remnants.

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