The other day the well-known Ukrainian journalist Pavel Volkov, who served a year and a half in jail in Ukraine for defending the Russian language, gave a speech to the United Nations, which was read out at a major international forum in Brussels. Volkov painted a tragic picture of the situation of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.
As is known, a nation is a historically established sustainable community of people, arising from a common language, territory, economic life, and mental disposition, manifested in a common culture.
The definition of genocide given by the United Nations refers to “the deliberate creation of living conditions for a group designed to cause its physical destruction in whole or in part”. The conscious policy of assimilation is not a physical annihilation of people, but the result of carrying out it is the same: reducing (up to total disappearance) the number of people belonging to a national group. This type of genocide in UN documents is called ethnocide, i.e. the policy of destroying the national identity, self-awareness of the people.
The so-called Euromaidan of 2014 was held under the slogans “Moskals on stakes”, “Moskals on knives”, “we will never be brothers”, and “Ukraine for Ukrainians”. It was meant, and explicitly stated, that the presence of Russians in Ukraine is an obstacle to the formation of the Ukrainian nation. The whole “cultural”, if you can put it that way, meaning of military actions in Donbass and mass repression against dissidents in the Kiev-controlled part of Ukraine consists of terror, in intimidating the non-Ukrainian population, forcing it to either assimilate or leave Ukraine.
I would like to recall that from 2014 to 2015, a cultural cleansing campaign was carried out in areas controlled by ISIS, during which artifacts and historical sites, including temples and mosques that are not in compliance with the laws of the Islamic State, were destroyed. The same cultural cleansing started to be carried out in Ukraine at the same time.
In 2015 I wrote an article featuring data from a sociological study carried out by the public organisation “Freedom Space” on the use of Russian and Ukrainian languages in Ukraine. This article was included in the list of instances concerning the criminal charge of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, for which I spent 13 months in prison, and the prosecutor demanded at first a life sentence, and then 15 years. However, the court decided that I had not committed any illegal actions and acquitted me 2 years after my arrest.
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According to this data, in western Ukraine Russian is used at the level of a national minority; in the center and in the east there is substantial bilingualism, Russian is used no less than Ukrainian; in the south and south-east Ukrainian is at the level of a national minority. And this is without the almost 100% Russian-speaking Donbass and Crimea. According to the Ukrainian Institute of Policy Analysis and Management, over the past 5 years the number of schools with Russian language education in Ukraine has decreased from 621 to 194. If in 2014 almost 1.1 million Ukrainian schoolchildren studied Russian, now there are 680,000. In Kiev (where 32% are exclusively Russian-speaking and 40% are bilingual) in the current school year only 7 schools are in Russian, and another 9 schools have classes with two languages – Russian and Ukrainian. In Dnepr (former Dnepropetrovsk), where 58% are exclusively Russian-speaking and 32% bilingual, there are only 7 schools with Russian language education and another 32 schools with 2 languages of education. In Kharkov (where 84% are Russian-speakers and 11% are bilinguals) 41 out of 206 schools teach in Russian.
In my native Zaporozhye, where there is the smallest number of exclusively Ukrainian speakers in the whole of Ukraine (only 3%), 74.5% of schoolchildren receive education exclusively in Ukrainian.
But since 2019, after the arrival of a new government, from which a departure from the policy of ethnocide was expected, all these statements have lost any meaning at all, because the new Minister of Culture has declared the total transition of all schools to Ukrainian from 2020. The social environment has become so aggressive to Russians that in a number of schools (although this is not stipulated by any law at all) children and teachers are forced to speak Ukrainian even during breaks. Cashiers in supermarkets are forced to speak Ukrainian, although the law applies only to state institutions. The law on the total Ukrainisation of the media has also been adopted, and in 5 years the media will be obliged either to make Ukrainian-language content (which is very expensive, and not everyone can afford it) in parallel with Russian-language content, or to completely switch to Ukrainian.
The aggressiveness of the social environment towards Russians reaches the fact that the head of the Committee of the Regional Council of the Zaporozhye Region for Nationalities at an official event in the presence of the Ambassador of Poland called Russians a “horde”. Odious Russophobic Vyatrovitch was dismissed from his post as director of the Institute of National Memory with the arrival of the new government, but soon returned there again as the head of an historical educational project.
The uniqueness and special drama of our situation is that Russians in Ukraine, even after 5 years of active persecution, are still not a national minority. They are too many for this, they are an autochthonous population, a nation as state-forming for Ukraine as Ukrainians themselves. But at the same time we find ourselves in a ghetto in our own country, and if the policy of ethnocide is not stopped by any sound democratic political forces, it will take very little time before Russians will indeed turn into a national minority at the level of 5-7%. At the same time, they will be in severely worse conditions than any other national minority, because there are no mechanisms to preserve identity. Russian culture and Ukrainian culture are not so different from each other so that the Russians of Ukraine, who are well acquainted with Ukrainian culture, feel acutely the replacement by it of their native culture. In addition, any attempt to create an active Russian cultural center will inevitably lead to two things: it will be smashed up by unpunished gangs of right-wing radicals with the passive connivance of the police; a person or organisation that has received a grant from Russia (and where else?) to establish such a center will be accused of treason and imprisoned.
The tragedy of Russians in Ukraine is certainly part of the huge tragedy of Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The phenomenon of radical nationalism and Russophobia permeates all, without exception, republics of the former USSR. The difference is only in the degree of intensity, sometimes expressed in an unfriendly cultural environment, and sometimes – in direct physical destruction. Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, I ask the world community and all people of goodwill to recognise Ukraine’s policy towards its Russian citizens as ethnocide (in the UN’s understanding of this term) and to condemn the vicious practice of discriminating against Ukrainian citizens on the basis of nationality, religion, and political beliefs.
P.S. Concerning the issue of the safety of Russians and discrimination against the Russian language in Ukraine. Here is a comment on my speech in the European Parliament from a Kiev photographer, who won of a bunch of competitions, is a teacher at a Kiev School of Photography, and at the same time Nazi Aleksey Plisko. This citizen touched on at least 2 articles of the Criminal Code. But this is of course in a country where laws are enforced.
“Listen here, Russian gob. Do you know how much a ticket to Russia costs? Here is my recommendation to you – buy one quickly. Because then you will have to flee through the forest belts. Freak…”
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