People who have visited Ukraine know that throughout the country there are many streets and plazas named after famous individuals known for their endeavors in a variety of fields, whether that be politics, the arts, science, or other fields. In addition, there are countless buildings that bear plaques commemorating someone of historical note, a statesman, a public figure, a writer, etc., who lived or worked there. In Kyiv, there are streets named in honor of poets, war heroes, hetmans, architects, pianists, educators, design engineers, philosophers. The list is long, and it contains Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians.
Recently, the city of Kyiv voted to honor two foreigners whose work was significant to Ukraine: Gareth Jones (1905-1935) and John McCain (1936-2018). These are two men, from very different eras and from very different backgrounds, both truth-tellers and principled men who will long be remembered for their deeds.
Back on April 4, 2019, the Kyiv City Council voted to rename a street in the Ukrainian capital to pay tribute to U.S. Sen. McCain. The Republican from Arizona was known for his fierce opposition to Vladimir Putin and his staunch support of Ukraine, including the provision of lethal defensive weapons to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression. He will perhaps be best remembered by Ukrainians, both in Ukraine and around the globe, for his dramatic appearance on the Maidan on December 13, 2013, during the Revolution of Dignity, when he assured the 200,000 people gathered: “The free world is with you, America is with you, I am with you.”
On July 31 of this year, the Kyiv City Council approved the naming of a street in honor of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who revealed to the world what was happening in Ukraine in the 1930s under the murderous regime of Joseph Stalin. In 1933, the young Jones stealthily traveled to Ukraine, where he saw first hand the suffering of the populace, wrote down what he saw in his notebooks and then reported it in his dispatches, while being attacked by Walter Duranty, the Moscow correspondent of The New York Times, who famously denied there was any famine in Ukraine. As noted by Peter Dickinson, writing on the UkraineAlert blog of the Atlantic Council (https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/kyiv-names-street-in-honor-of-journalist-who-exposed-stalins-ukrainian-genocide/), “The appearance of a Kyiv street honoring Gareth Jones is arguably long overdue. In that sense, it is very much in keeping with the delays and denials that have marked the wider struggle for greater public awareness of the famine, both in Ukraine itself and internationally. Despite a staggering death toll, the Holodomor has never achieved the kind of international infamy associated with the most notorious atrocities of the totalitarian 20th century. Instead, almost 100 years on, it is still the subject of heated political debate and remains partially shrouded in Soviet disinformation.”
Mr. Dickinson went on to rightly note: “There is much more at stake here than belated justice for the victims of the famine. Indeed, the story of Gareth Jones and the Holodomor has a contemporary resonance that extends far beyond Ukraine. At a time when accusations of fake news often overshadow the news cycle and distort our understanding of reality, it has never been more important to study the great deceits of the past and recognize the deadly consequences of disinformation.”
The naming of a street is so much more than simply changing a nameplate. The significance of a street name is not merely in bestowing public recognition to a person deserving of that honor, it is also important in educating the public and underscoring certain values and narratives that are deemed to be consequential to the citizenry and worthy of sharing with society at large. Therefore, Kyiv’s decision to unveil John McCain and Gareth Jones streets is a commendable move in honor of two foreign heroes of Ukraine.