Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.09.2017
Russian aggression is total war. In the information age, that means falsifying representations of reality. Russia – fighting total war against the West – is changing the maps. In the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, names glorifying people and events from the 1917-1991 era of Bolshevik/Soviet terror are reappearing.
The village of Pikuzy lies in the “grey zone” between the Russian army and the Ukrainian army in the Mariupol sector of Russia’s invasion battlefront. It is a mere 11 kilometres to the M14 Tahanrozke highway and the outskirts of Mariupol city. Pisky is supposed to be demilitarized as a consequence of the Minsk Agreements, but in late December 2015 a motorized rifle regiment of the Russian armed forces seized the village and then fired on an OSCE Special Monitoring Mission team that went to observe. The Russians have been there ever since. From Pikuzy, the Russians regularly bombard the Ukrainian-controlled villages of Shyrokyne, Lebedynske, Vodyane, Talakivka, and Hnutove.
At the time the Russians grabbed Pikuzy the village had another name: Kominternove. This name is a legacy of when this part of Ukraine was under occupation by Bolshevik Russians, and it is named after the Communist International. This name celebrates the ideology which led to the Holodomor, the genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by Stalin and the Bolshevik Russians in the early 1930s. Such a hateful name should have been changed in 1991 when Ukraine regained independence, but much-needed decommunization of Ukraine did not occur until after the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014. In April 2015, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed the law “On the condemnation of the communist and national socialist (Nazi) regimes, and prohibition of propaganda of their symbols.” Truth and memory guides necessary changes, such as removing Lenin statues and renaming places. Ukraine has made a choice to be the opposite of a ‘successor state’ by recognizing and saying that the Soviet Union was a criminal regime from beginning to end. “Communist totalitarian regime of 1917-1991 in Ukraine is found criminal and the one that exercised the policy of state terror characterized by numerous violations of human rights,” reads the law. The village of Kominternove was renamed the village of Pikuzy on 14 July 2016.
About three percent of the names of places were changed in Ukraine as a result of the decommunization law. The map makers went along. Kominternove became Pikuzy. But then the Russians struck back. Concentrating on areas of Russian conquest and occupation (Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions), information warriors working for the Kremlin targeted Google and open source map initiatives to change names back. Pikuzy changed back to Kominternove. Nearby, Azov went back to Dzerzhynske, Uzhivka went back to Leninske, and Oleksandrivske went back to the ridiculously named Rozy Lyuksemburh. With open source map initiatives like OpenStreetMap, Ukrainian activists try to correct the deliberate errors, but it is a losing battle against the well-funded Kremlin information warriors. Google is opaque, and gives no reason why it does not show the official Ukrainian toponyms of Ukrainian places that are inside Ukraine.
This is war. The Russian side lies and gives false names to things. On the grand scale, Russia calls its invasion of Europe in Crimea and Donbas the “Ukraine crisis.” Down at the small level of a Donetsk region village, Russia calls Pikuzy “Kominternove.” The criminal regime of Muscovy is back with a vengeance in Pikuzy – it’s back with an invasion army on the territory of the place and it’s back with an infowar attack on the maps of the place.