In a turnaround from Ukraine’s policy of rehabilitating Nazi collaborators, an educator involved with Holocaust commemoration has become head of the country’s controversial Institute for National Memory.
Anton Drobovych, a 33-year old director of educational programming at the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre, will replace the far-right Volodoymyr Viatrovych.
Mr Viatrovych’s tenure saw Ukraine engage in a sustained campaign to whitewash the records of ultranationalist militias whose members killed tens of thousands of Poles and Jews during the Second World War.
Under his leadership, the institute took charge of efforts to “decommunise” Ukraine and renamed streets across the country after violent antisemites, provoking the ire of the local Jewish community.
Mr Drobovych’s professional focus, on the other hand, has largely been on cultural and pedagogic issues rather than historic ones.
In an interview with Ukrainian newspaper Istorychna Pravda (Historical Truth), he said he wanted to “make the official memory policy in Ukraine more balanced and liberal” and “prevent the institution from being perceived as a mouthpiece for agitation, ideological struggle or propaganda, and to make it a tool for citizens to foster public dialogue and promote a healthy identity.”
“Historical honesty [and] critical thinking in memory policy matters,” he said, adding that he wanted “to preserve the memory of the common history of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Poles, Jews, Armenians, Tatars, Greeks, Bulgarians and others.”
His appointment was greeted with optimism among Ukrainian Jews.
“I hope for positive changes in terms of the glorification of Nazi collaborators and perpetrators of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, I believe that Ukraine doesn’t need such an institution,” said Eduard Dolinsky, the head of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, a local advocacy group that has been intensely critical of Mr Viatrovych.
Inna Ioffe, the Executive Director of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, was likewise hopeful.
“I’ve known Anton for several years. He is not Nazi and radical as Viatrovych is,” she told the JC, calling it a “great success” that he was “appointed to such important position.”
But Mr Viatrovych had a different take, writing on Facebook that Mr Drobovych’s appointment was “no longer a mistake, but a reversal” and that he “may not leave room for Ukraine and Ukrainians” in their country’s national history.
This appears to be a rejection of Ukraine’s revisionist history policies under Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s first Jewish president who was elected earlier this year, but Kyiv still has great strides to make in repudiating contemporary radicals.
Mr Zelensky himself has sat with members of extremist groups such as Azov, a movement with significant neo-Nazi ties, while Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk recently was on stage at a veterans benefit concert headlined by a neo-Nazi band.