He is considered the main “deсommunizer” of the country and a fighter with “the Russian world”. Despite the constant criticism of opponents, he continues his work and seeks to increase awareness of the Ukrainians of their own history. After all, this is the easiest way to protect Ukraine. About his own mistakes, new and ex-presidents, OUN, decommunization, and nationalism the way historian and the head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance Volodymyr Vyatrovych himself sees it.
About his own mistakes in the last 5 years
Reflecting on his own mistakes, Vyatrovych does not deny professional mistakes and flaws but assures that there were no global errors for which he should be really ashamed.
“There were small mistakes in our products, for which I was a little ashamed. We did a lot, and when we did a lot, we found out that the historical workshop is not ready for such industrial scales. Our goal was to package a scientific product into a popular wrapping. But the scientific product was not enough, so we had to improve and produce it. But these are minor mistakes. There were no global mistakes that I am ashamed of.
There was a certain lack of attention to my employees. I kept them busy. Perhaps it was necessary to form a corporate culture. I understand that I am quite demanding as a manager.”
About his position
Despite the constant barrage of criticism (mainly from the Pro-Russian side), the historian admits: he does not hold on to his chair, the main thing for him is efficiency.
“I don’t care about the chair I’m in. As long as the chair of the head of the Institute of National Remembrance is an effective tool for implementing the national memory policy as we see it, I am ready to use it. As soon as I see that there are no opportunities, I will quietly leave for the public sphere.”
About the failures of the previous president
Vyatrovych is often blamed for excessive commitment to the fifth president of Ukraine. In fact, the historian is fully aware that failures and mistakes happen to anyone, including Poroshenko.
“As a citizen and a participant of the Maidan, I cannot understand the lack of systemic changes in the judicial reform. This is the most scandalous lack of changes since 2014. If we talk about humanitarian policy, of course, I wanted even more attention to it. But there are specific things Poroshenko did not give enough focus. I mean the history of the Maidan. Poroshenko played a big role in the launch of the Museum of the Maidan and in the fact that it received a certain place in Kyiv. However, there was not enough attention to the memory of the Maidan. The events of November 21 and February 20 were not held at the proper level. The best event was held on February 20, 2015. It was a truly majestic event, with rays of dignity. In subsequent years, everything was reduced.
My personal resentment to Poroshenko is because of the non-implementation of his own decree, which was initiated by us, about the 100th anniversary of the Ukrainian revolution of 1917-21. Such significant events as the 100th anniversary of independence were held in a very reduced format. On the one hand, I understand that this is not in his powers. On the other hand, we are talking about the president as one of the symbols of the state.”
About Zelensky and ideological emptiness
According to the historian, the new president has certain gaps in the issues of ideology, and this emptiness can be filled by Russia and the Pro-Russian forces.
“And it is indisputable that both the Ukrainian Pro-Russian forces and Russia will use the lack of values of Zelensky himself. They will try to shape him, they will try to persuade him to put up with the format of the “Russian world”. This means that we should proceed to work as actively as possible. We must inform Mr. Zelensky that he can only be the Ukrainian president of Ukraine, otherwise, there is simply no future in Ukraine for the politician of such a scale.”
What the history of the OUN teaches us
According to Volodymyr Vyatrovych, the OUN has become the most successful political project of the Ukrainians in the last century. That is why its history still causes a lot of discussions in Ukraine and around the world.
“That is why several public and political initiatives are still fighting for the right to use the abbreviation OUN. The defenders of Ukraine now raise the symbols produced by the OUN (trident sword, red and black flag) in the war with Russia. Their anthem “We Were Born in the Great Hour” became a march of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the organization’s greeting “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!” is an official greeting of the new Ukrainian army since last year.
How did the OUN manage to do it? What should we learn from the members of the OUN? The main lesson is that the struggle for freedom must be uncompromising. Even in a seemingly hopeless situation. The history of the OUN contains a powerful mobilization potential and an important experience of the Ukrainians who were able to unite and to resist the forces that were many times superior to them. Another lesson is that, despite contradictions, one should not allow internal confrontations. Because it will always be used by the enemy. And these lessons, unfortunately, are very relevant today.”
About the protection of our own history
Russia is trying to take over and privatize the history of Ukraine over and over again: Kyivan Rus, Volodymyr the Great and the like. And, according to the historian, these attempts are not even decades old.
“Hundreds of years. Russia began as an empire from this. It built its identity through the stolen part of Ukrainian history instead of looking for its own historical roots. Russia wanted to legalize itself through the appropriation of the past of Rus, which was considered more ancient, more glorious. What is happening now in Russia under Putin’s leadership is only a continuation of what the Russian emperors have been doing since Peter the Great.
I am sure that we must protect our history, and the best protection is increasing the awareness of citizens. We need to know our history and tell it to the world in order to prevent such oddities, as, for example, Anne of Kyiv being called the Russian Princess.”
About the Ukrainian nationalism
As for the nationalist movements, given the Russian aggression, their popularity is quite natural, according to the historian. This is a normal reaction of any state, any society.
“It can be called a reflex of self-defense. But it’s a shame that in some environments nationalism is seen caricaturally to some extent, perceived through the prism of the Soviet propaganda. People repeat some signs of nationalism attributed to it by the Soviet propaganda — for example, xenophobia, anti-Semitism. This is how it is reproduced by some of those who call themselves nationalists. The only difference is that Soviet propaganda attributed these signs to nationalism with a minus sign, but they interpreted them as normal or even positive features.
Again, often this is due to a lack of understanding of what was the Ukrainian nationalism, its features, due to the lack of knowledge of history. Our task is to explain the peculiarities of the Ukrainian nationalism, to explain how it got on its feet, to explain that the Ukrainian nationalism is, first of all, its key slogan: “Freedom to peoples – freedom to a man”. That is, it is a clear combination of national liberation and personal freedoms.”
About the perception of national memory by society
The issue of national memory is certainly important and necessary. And, as one of the journalists noted in the talk with Vyatrovych, a part of society is much more concerned about the war and high tariffs, so switching attention to other problems is extremely difficult. The historian explained that his task is not to try to force someone to look into his past, but to create opportunities for those who have such a desire.
“To interest a wider range of people, to explain why we need to know our past. For example, what is happening now in the relations of the Ukrainians with the Hungarians, the Poles, the Russians – to understand the consequences, the scales, the reasons for this without understanding the history is virtually impossible.
We perfectly understand that this ignorance of history was used and will be used against the Ukrainians. Obviously, there is a certain amount of knowledge that you should have in order to protect yourself. Also, history and national memory is a collective experience of the community which helps us to avoid mistakes. The better we learn it, the more confidently we will look into the future.”
About the arrogance of the Russians towards the Ukrainians
This, as well as the attempts to steal our history, is quite classic for Moscow. According to the head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, the superiority of the Russians towards the Ukrainians was constantly there, because they considered us a kind of wild people or even aborigines.
This was manifested at the political, cultural and domestic levels. Now, this superiority began to grow into hostility precisely because the Ukrainians rejected the claims of the Russians to be called “the big brother”. The Ukrainians began to feel independent and more confident. And for many Russians, this is the reason of irritation: how is it possible that someone who was yesterday an obedient “younger brother” declares today some kind of independence and claims that we are not a family at all? Actually, this irritation is one of the aspects that allows Putin to pursue a fairly active anti-Ukrainian policy and implement his plan to restore the empire, and the restoration of the empire without the conquest of Ukraine is impossible.
When will this be over? Obviously, when Russia understands its impasse in the development of its state in the format of the empire; when Russia understands that Ukraine is an independent state, and it is necessary to establish relations with it as an independent state, a separate partner and a subject of international life; and when Russia abandons paternalism and supremacy towards Ukraine. I don’t think it will happen soon.”
By Dmytro Zhuravel
The publication was collected from numerous interviews, speeches, and appeals of the material’s protagonist.