(JTA) – The city of Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine named a street after Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last and most prominent Lubavitcher rebbe, who fled the city in 1927.
Communist agents arrested the rebbe’s father there in 1939.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson Street was unveiled in Dnepropetrovsk on Friday morning by its chief rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki, who is one of the Chabad movement’s most senior envoys to Ukraine. The change came amid a larger national policy to replace the names of Soviet-era figures with Ukrainian national heroes.
“This is a very important event for the city and for the country in general,” Kaminezki said at the renaming ceremony for the street, along which a Jewish school is located.
“I want to note that it is not the Jewish community that initiated this name change: The proposal to name a street after the Rebbe was received from the Ukrainians, who know the history of their city and its country and are proud of it,” he said in a statement published on the community’s website.
Dnepropetrovsk, which is one Ukraine’s most important Jewish hubs and has a Jewish community of 50,000, already has a Sholem Aleichem Street named for the Yiddish writer. The community owns a menorah-shaped complex 22 stories high that was opened in 2012 at a cost of $100 million to build.
The Jewish community of Ukraine has been less appreciative of other name changes.
Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, last month condemned a plan to name streets for Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, nationalists who are widely believed to be responsible for lethal violence against Jews during the Holocaust.
“My countrymen should know that Bandera and Shukhevych considered me and all of the Ukrainian Jews — children, women, the elderly — enemies of Ukrainians,” he wrote on Facebook.
The director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, Vladimir Vyatrovich, said in a statement that Kiev will soon name a street for the nationalists, while another street is to be named for Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a Polish Jewish teacher who was murdered in Auschwitz.
Bandera and Shukhevych collaborated with Nazi forces that occupied what is now Ukraine and are believed to have commanded troops that killed thousands of Jews. Once regarded by Ukrainian authorities as illegitimate to serve as national role models because of their war crimes against Jews and Poles, Bandera and Shukhevych are now openly honored in Ukraine following a revolution spearheaded by nationalists in 2014. The revolution was against a government whose critics said was under Russian control.
Many in Ukraine view Bandera and Shukhevych and other suspected war criminals as heroes for their opposition to Soviet domination.