War-torn Ukrainian town considering changing name to New York

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This hard-up town hopes it will have better luck by naming itself after New York City.

Novhorodske is defined by its aging phenol factory, communist-era apartment blocks and an entire quadrant demarcated by the trenches dug through its deserted streets. The just-over-10,000-person settlement is woefully located on the front line of Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists — but local authorities hope to summon better times by renaming the town New York. 

“We hope that we will establish contacts with Jork in Germany and New York in the United States,” local council head Mykola Lenko told Reuters of a campaign to change the name.

Novhorodske’s Parliament is set to vote on the decision as soon as this week, and a banner has been hung over the town hall’s entrance with the name, which a local bakery has also adopted. 

Some residents believe authorities should be focusing not on renaming but getting citizens jobs and aid at a time of increasing violence. However, those campaigning for the change hope that rebranding will bring “some economic success and that the town will develop,” Lenko said. 

But there is historic precedent for the change: The town was originally named New York.

Russian Empress Catherine the Great invited German Mennonite Church followers to settle the area at the turn of the 19th century. During this time, for reasons that have been lost to the ages, the settlement became known as New York, and developed into an industrial town.

That New York fared far worse than America’s during both World Wars, falling into decline after the first and, during the second, losing many residents to deportation during Nazi Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. 

In 1951, during the Cold War, the name was changed from New York to Novhorodske as “the Soviet Union’s citizens believed that the name of New York was a sign of capitalism,” Novhorodske’s town council secretary Tetyana Krasko said, according to Reuters. 

Up until 2014, some families continued visiting relatives in Novhorodske, but few have continued coming to the unprotected town since the fighting began in 2014. Five area residents have been killed in recent years and over 100 houses damaged by shelling as a result. 

Recently, Novhorodske has been impacted by a surge in cease-fire violations, soldiers patrol trenches in the town and man checkpoints barely a mile from its outskirts as Kyiv and Moscow point fingers over who is responsible. 

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