Why Kyiv has a street named after John McCain

John McCain was an fervent supporter of the Ukrainian people and an ardent critic of Russia.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Service)

John S. McCain III served as a representative and senator from Arizona for over 35 years. He also served 23 years in the Navy, spending nearly six of those years as a prisoner of war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” McCain was the Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election, losing to Barack Obama. Following his death in 2018, the late senator was honored with a new terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport named after him as well as the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), which also honors his father and grandfather. Surprisingly, a street in central Kyiv, Ukraine, is also named for McCain.

McCain addresses the crowd of protesters in Kyiv’s Independence Square (twitter.com/ChrisMurphyCT)

As a Cold War veteran, it’s doubtful that McCain could conceive having a street in Ukraine bear his name. After all, the country was a Soviet state for most of his life. However, in November 2013, Sen. McCain took an interest in Ukraine with the Euromaidan protests against then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his decision to align the country’s economy with Russia over the EU. In December, McCain braved the civil unrest and made an appearance in Kyiv’s Independence Square, saying,” People of Ukraine, this is your moment.” Yanukovych was removed from office and the uprisings ended in February 2014.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, McCain became a vocal supporter of supplying weapons to Ukraine’s military. He routinely called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “thug” and “murderer” and criticized Russia’s support to separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine. On the Phoenix radio station KFYI, McCain called for the United States to “treat Vladimir Putin for what he is: a KGB colonel who wants to restore the Russian empire.” As a result, the Russian government officially sanctioned McCain for his opposition in March 2014.

McCain and a bipartisan delegation with Ukrainian Marines at a forward combat outpost, Dec. 31, 2016 (twitter.com/SenJohnMcCain)

In December 2016, McCain returned to Ukraine and met with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as well as Ukrainian troops holding the line against pro-Russian forces. “I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together,” McCain told Ukrainian reporters during his visit. “To Vladimir Putin – you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom.” This sentiment was echoed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who joined McCain in Ukraine and called for a stronger stance against Putin.

In December 2017, President Donald Trump made the decision to send FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine; weapons that proved invaluable to the country’s defense in the opening stages of Russia’s 2022 invasion. On Twitter, McCain called this “a strong signal that the United States will stand by its allies and partners as they fight to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

McCain meets with Poroshenko (twitter.com/SenJohnMcCain)

Despite being a voice of war coming, McCain passed away on August 25, 2018, before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On April 4, 2019, Kyiv City Council voted to rename Ivan Kudrya Street to John McCain Street. Previously honoring a Soviet intelligence agent who served Ukraine against the Nazis during WWII, the street now honors one of the nation’s most vocal American supporters. Today, the street hosts a market that helps to maintain the economy and a sense of normalcy for a country at war.