Ukraine bans Soviet-era symbols
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday enacted laws banning Soviet symbols and communist-era propaganda, his office said, after the measures drew strong Russian criticism when they were approved by parliament last month.
The laws "prohibit Soviet symbols, condemn the communist regime, open the Soviet special services archives" and officially recognise the role of a nationalist group that fought for Ukraine's independence in the mid-20th century.
Besides angering Russia, which has called the move "totalitarian," the measures rushed through parliament in April also exacerbated tensions with pro-Moscow rebels after lawmakers approved them.
The package of laws bans Soviet flags and means Soviet-era Lenin statues will have to be knocked down and town squares renamed across the country of 45 million people. The laws also ban Nazi propaganda in the ex-Soviet republic.
Penalties for violating the ban range from five to 10 years.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army recognised by the laws leaned towards German Nazis for a time before fighting them as well as the Soviet Union. They are often decried in Russia as "fascist" hardline nationalists.
The fate of the Communist leader Lenin's many statues became the focus of debate during late 2013 protests that led to the ouster of then pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and sparked events that led to the war in the east.
As pro-Western protesters toppled Lenin effigies in rage, pro-Russian separatists in the east gathered at their feet.
Since April 2014, Ukrainian forces have been battling the separatists in a bid to prevent the secession of the Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The West and Kiev have accused the Kremlin of instigating the insurgency and supporting militants with weapons, funds and troops. Moscow has denied the claims.
The intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine has declined since a February ceasefire deal but deadly clashes remain frequent.
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