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Ukrainian parliamentarian wants a statue of Ronald Reagan in Kyiv square


Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is speaking tomorrow in Washington at the Ronald Reagan Institute. The speech comes as world leaders gather in the U.S. capital for the 75th NATO Summit. But it also reflects how Reagan is venerated in Ukraine, where a lawmaker has gathered thousands of signatures to erect a statue of the late American president in Kyiv. NPR's Ashley Westerman reports.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: This is actually the second time Ukrainian parliamentarian Maryan Zablotshkyy has launched such a petition.

MARYAN ZABLOTSHKYY: The first one was back in 2016. I actually did manage to get a permit to put a Ronald Reagan monument.

WESTERMAN: He says the city of Kyiv ended up reappropriating those funds for another project. This time around...

ZABLOTSHKYY: I'm quite confident that this time, we'll get the necessary signatures.

WESTERMAN: The petition is only about three weeks old and has racked up a third of the 6,000 signatures it needs. Zablotshkyy says it should be approved in the coming weeks because Ukrainians across all walks of life love Ronald Reagan.

ZABLOTSHKYY: He's widely credited among Ukrainians for being the one who actually made Soviet Union to collapse because of his policies, and we got our freedoms.

WESTERMAN: President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. He often railed against the Kremlin in speeches, including in his 1985 State of the Union address.


RONALD REAGAN: We must stand by all our democratic allies, and we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives on every continent - from Afghanistan to Nicaragua - to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.


WESTERMAN: And even though Ukraine was not yet independent, in 1982, Reagan praised Ukrainians directly, noting the struggle of Ukrainian human rights defenders in particular - all things many people here have never forgotten. Today, many in the party of Reagan, the Republican Party, have turned against supporting Ukraine's fight against Russia's full-scale invasion. I asked John Hardie what happened. He's with the Foundation of Defense of Democracies (ph).

JOHN HARDIE: I think there's a troubling trend, really on both sides of the aisle, but these days, perhaps more so on the right, toward isolationism and a desire to sort of retrench and let the problems, you know, stay in Ukraine or elsewhere - you know, let those people kind of deal with it themselves.

WESTERMAN: Maryan Zablotshkyy is not fazed by the current U.S. political divide on aid to his country. And if the Reagan statute is commissioned, it would be part of a larger initiative Zablotshkyy is spearheading to replace monuments honoring Soviet leaders.

ZABLOTSHKYY: Not to send message just to Americans, but also to Russians - so where you installed your symbols of tyranny, we will now install the strongest symbol of freedom that we know.

WESTERMAN: The plan is to erect the statue in the capital, Kyiv, on the famous Maidan Square, the site of two people power revolutions against Kremlin rule. Ashley Westerman, NPR News, Lviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZUPA FITZ'S "MELTED SIDEWALK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.