(Rostyslav Khotin’s article appeared on Radio Free Europe, 3 /4.)
Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky had Ukrainian roots and was influenced by Ukrainian motifs.
Should he stay or should he go?
That’s the question sparking heated debate in Ukraine about the man whose name adorns a renowned conservatory in the heart of Kyiv: Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky was certainly not a Ukrainophobe. He was connected to Ukraine in many ways through his work. Though Tchaikovsky was not a great Ukrainophile, either.”
— Ukrainian cultural critic Maksym Strikha
In the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, students at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine, previously known as the Kyiv Conservatory, have pushed for the removal of the Russian composer’s name from their university.
And while they’ve received backing in their effort from the Ukrainian government, which views the composer as a tool in the Kremlin’s imperial designs, the academy’s faculty in late December opted to keep the composer’s name.
The debate comes amid measures to “de-Russify” Ukraine across the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine a year ago last month. Multiple Ukrainian cities have removed statues of the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin, while streets honoring the 19th century writer have been renamed.
In June 2022, the conservatory’s academic council voted to leave Tchaikovsky’s name in place, emphasizing the Ukrainian roots of the composer, whose great-grandfather was born in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, which has been struck with heavy Russian aerial bombardment.
In November, an online petition filed with the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for the conservatory to drop Tchaikovsky’s name, saying it “spits” on “the independence of Ukrainian culture,” though the petition fell short of the 25,000-signature threshold for the president’s consideration.
The following month, the conservatory’s academic council again voted to keep Tchaikovsky’s name in place until further review, a decision that Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko called “disappointing.”
“We hope that the team will return soon to at last make the final decision,” Tkachenko wrote.
Founded in 1863, the Kyiv Conservatory was renamed in honor of Tchaikovsky by the Soviet government in 1940, just in time for the composer’s 100th birthday.
Tchaikovsky considered himself a Russian composer, despite his Ukrainian roots and Ukrainian influences in his music, but the debate about removing his name from the academy only emerged following Russia’s invasion last year.
In an e-mail to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, student activists wrote that the decision to rename the conservatory is hampered in part by considerations of its branch in China.