Then and now: Josef Stalin preserved in Kyiv

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April 22, 2011, 12:01 a.m. | About Kyiv — by Olesia Oleshko

The only surviving ‘Josef Stalin’ locomotive stands in Kyiv near the railway station.
© (Joseph Sywenkyj)

Glorifying Josef Stalin always causes controversy. While many Soviet-built statues to one of history’s greatest mass murderers have been struck down in Ukraine, one remains standing in Kyiv. The “Josef Stalin” locamotive, which once connected Kyiv with Russia, is perched on the rails near the southern entrance to the central railway station, behind the Butterfly Ultramarine cinema.

Designed by Soviet engineers in the early 1930s, this train used to be the most powerful locamotive on the tracks. It was able to accelerate up to 115 kilometers per hour, as noted in the technical railway directory in 1941.

Before World War II, more than 600 iron “Stalins” joined Moscow with St. Petersburg, Minsk, Kyiv, and many other towns, including those in Siberia and the Caucasus.

When the war broke out, trains were used in transporting military cargo to and from arms factories in Siberia to the front.

Locomotives named after Joseph Stalin used to be the most powerful trains before World War II. (Courtesy)

Yet, despite their seemingly invincible name, trains couldn’t handle war conditions: Due to their sophisticated design, they required coal of the highest quality and delicate maintenance unavailable during the war.

In the late 1940s, they were turned back into regular passenger trains, but a decade later all but one were decommissioned and dismantled for scrap metal, according to Kyiv historian Vitaliy Kovalynsky.
We can discuss a lot about the positive and negative aspects of Stalin’s rule. But it is a part of our history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

- Olha Fedotova, the researcher in the Museum of Ukraine’s History.
“This train, however, had to undergo some political makeover,” added Kovalynsky. “Joseph Stalin” was renamed as “The U.S.S.R.” when Nikita Khrushchev, the next communist leader, came to power and helped to debunk Stalin’s personality cult.

While history books no longer glorify the man who sent millions of people to die in the gulags or starved them to death during the 1930s famine, some people, mainly the elderly, still praise the leader. They show up with Stalin’s portraits during Victory Day demonstrations and protect a handful of his statues left in Ukraine.

One of these monuments, built in Zaporizhzhya in 2010, lasted only nine months before it was blown up by unidentified people in late December.

Some communists are pushing for the Kyiv train to get its original name back. “When the current capitalist government is gone, we’ll honor comrade Stalin in the way he deserves,” said communist and former lawmaker Yuriy Solomatin.

His political opponent, Stepan Kurpil from ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, said that any promotion of Stalin’s “glorified legacy” should be forbidden by the law.

Some historians, however, say that the train should get its original name back, regardless the political debate.

“We can discuss a lot about the positive and negative aspects of Stalin’s rule,” said Olha Fedotova, the researcher in the Museum of Ukraine’s History. “But it is a part of our history that shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Kovalynsky also backed the idea, saying the train was not a member of the Communist Party and should not be treated as an enemy of the state.

Kyiv Post staff writer Olesya Oleshko can be reached at
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