New York on Ukraine's frontline: parliament backs town's name change

·2-min read
A view shows a petrol station named New York in Novhorodske

By Sergiy Karazy and Margaryta Chornokondratenko

NEW YORK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukraine has regained its own New York after parliament this week voted to give the name back to a small town in the east, close to the front line in the country's conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

A huge banner reading "New York" hangs over the town hall entrance and a bakery with the same name sells coffee and croissants.

But instead of a dramatic Manhattan skyline, this town is dominated by an old phenol factory and Communist-era apartment blocks, and scarred by defensive trenches dug through deserted streets.

Originally called New York, the town was renamed Novhorodske in 1951 during the Cold War because New York was seen as a symbol of capitalism. Now it has to deal with Ukraine's war with Russian-backed separatists.

"The town's territory is not protected," said local council head Mykola Lenko, adding that five residents had been killed since the start of the conflict.

Restoring its historic name would hopefully mean "some economic success and that the town will develop," he said.

"We hope that we will establish contacts with Jork in Germany and New York in the United States."

The precise origin of the town's name is unclear. German immigrants, followers of the Mennonite Church, settled in what is now Ukraine around the turn of 19th century at the invitation of Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

Their descendants were deported following Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Some of their families used to visit Novhorodske but this stopped when fighting broke out in 2014.

Once an industrial town, it fell into decline after the First World War.

Now soldiers manning checkpoints just one kilometre (half a mile) from separatist lines patrol the trenches on its outskirts, where more than 100 houses have been damaged by shelling.

Some residents, however, think the town council should concentrate more on generating employment and helping those in need.

"Everyone leaves, there are no jobs here. I would like to leave too," said Svitlana, a fishmonger.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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