In their ‘Russian world,’ there is no room for Ukrainians

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May 6, 2011, 1:37 p.m. | Op-ed — by Mykhailo Ratushniy
“In their ‘Russian world’ there is neither place for a Ukrainian school nor for Ukrainians themselves.” I heard this bitter remark at the end of last year from a Ukrainian resident of the Voronezh region of Russia, during my visit as part of a delegation from the Ukrainian World Coordination Council.

In Voronezh, according to official Russian statistics, a third of the population are ethnic Ukrainians – we, the members of the delegation, were unable to find a single Ukrainian Sunday school, even though the Azeri, the Armenian and the Jewish communities all have their schools there.

A very similar situation exists in Saint-Petersburg, where since 2003there is no longer a Ukrainian school.

Throughout the Russian Federation, with minor exceptions for a distant Bashkitorstan village and Krasnodar region, where, in one of the secondary schools, Ukrainian is taught as an elective “Kubanski dialect” – you will neither find a Ukrainian school, church, TV channel, radio station nor even a Ukrainian newspaper. Local sporadic leaflets cannot be deemed as newspapers.

The largest Ukrainian diaspora

One should note that the largest Ukrainian diaspora lives not in Canada, the United States, Brazil or the European Union – but in the Russian Federation.

Throughout the centuries, sometimes by force or in need of money, Ukrainians resettled in the boundless territory of the Russian andSoviet empires. To be objective, one has to concede that much from what the current day Russia has, and had in the past, for the most part of it was achieved by efforts from ethnic Ukrainians, not only territory wise, but intellectually, militarily, culturally and spiritually, etc.

Theofan Prokopovich, Mykola Hohol, Ivan Hudovych, Serhiy Korolyov … to name a few from a list of millions of ethnic Ukrainians, known and unknown.

Today Ukrainians residing in Russia form a significant, highly educated ethnic group, dispersed along the vast territories of Russian Federation. However, this group is deprived of the opportunity to satisfy its linguistic, cultural and religious needs.

What does international law says?

In 1995, the Russian Federation along with Ukraine,ratified the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, of which the first part of article 5 of clearly states:

“The parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.”

Article 7 of the convention, among other rights, provides for the right of national minorities to “freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought”.

Russia’s relationship with national minorities and in particular Ukrainians is one of double standards.

On March 5, 2010, during the first meeting in Moscow with Viktor Yanukovich as president of Ukraine, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, stated that shortly Ukrainian TV channels would start broadcasting, “which would allow for wide use by Ukrainian diaspora and all, who in Russia are interested to receive information in Ukrainian.”

What has actually happened?

The truth of the matter is that all grassroots of Ukrainian public and cultural life formed in Russia in the early 1990s have been uprooted. Under threat are reputable and longstanding public organizations developed and run by respectable and honorable people, citizens of the Russian Federation, who still recognize that they are ethnic Ukrainians.

The Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians of Russia has been banned pursuant to a court ruling that is based on a fabricated accusation. The Union of Ukrainians in Russia has been de facto forbidden by another court decision.

The cleansing of the Ukrainian national minority’s space in Russia is not a new phenomenon and continues to be carried out methodically and systematically.

According to the last census that took place in the Russian Federation in 2010, there has been a decrease in the past 10 years of the number of Russian citizens, who identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainians from millions to hundreds of thousands. Ukrainians in Russia are uncomfortably awaiting the announcement of the census results, where such decreased figures must be officially “blessed”. However, despite the migration and the assimilation of Ukrainians in Russia, this decrease looks artificial.

It is dangerous to be a Ukrainian in Russia

On Nov. 19, 2002 in the city of Teikovo of Ivanivsky region, Volodymyr Poburinny, the deputy chairman of the Ukrainian cultural organization “Mriya,” a businessman, philanthropist and the director of the company “Zapovit,” was murdered in front of his own apartment.

In November 2003, a religious community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate was registered in the city of Vladivostok. On April 1, 2004, Anatoliy Kryl, one of the co-founders of the religious community and the conductor of the Ukrainian choir, was severely beaten on his way home from a rehearsal.Two days layter, Kryl died from his injuries.

On the July 19, 2006, Natalya Kovaliova (Medvediuk), a deputy chairman of the Tula city branch of the Ukrainian organization in Russia, was severely beaten. By a miracle and with the help of her husband, Volodymyr Senishyn, Natalya was saved. After the incident with his wife, Senishyn continued with her activities in the Ukrainian community of Tula. He demanded that the appropriate Russian authorities commence a proper criminal investigation into the attack on his wife and updated the Ukrainian communities around the world of the outcome of his efforts. On Dec. 26, Senishyn was brutally murdered in front of numerous eyewitnesses by two unknown assailants near the offices of Kobza company.

These are only the few of the many hideous incidents that have occurred recently to activists of the Ukrainian community in the Russian Federation. To date not one has been solved.

Currently in the Russian Federation, public Ukrainian regional organizations are being inhibited from carrying their day-to-day activities. However, new organizations that support the idea of the “United and Inseparable Russia” are being created. While traditional Ukrainian public organizations are being hindered, these newly created organisations receive large donations and operate unimpeded. One begs to question whether the ideology of the “Great Russia” is fueling this.

And what does the government of Ukraine think?

Unfortunately, the situation of Ukrainians in Russia does not create an adequate reaction of the powers that be in Kyiv. On the contrary, if one listens to Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, the Ukrainian foreign minister, one would probably think that the Ukrainian minister is more concerned with the interests of the Russian Federation, rather than protecting the interests andneeds of Ukrainians diaspora in Russia.

We see no desire by Kyiv to address these issues.

On the contrary, the Russian government, when negotiating with Ukraine, either about gas or lard, does not forget to remind its Ukrainian counterpart about the necessity to provide necessary protection of not only ethnic Russians, but also tend to the needs of the Russian- speaking citizens of Ukraine.

So what is there left to do?

So what can one do, when the Ukrainian government is so indifferent and passive in defending the legal rights of Ukrainian diaspora in the Russian Federation?

We, with an active approach and powerful solidarity, have to persuade the government of Ukraine to protect the legal rights of Ukrainians abroad. Foremost – in Russia.

It is not acceptable that in the 21st century, there is an uncovered linguistic, cultural, educational and religious ethnocide is taking place against Ukrainians in Russia.

Mykhailo Ratushniy is a former member of Ukraine’s parliament and current vice chairman of the Ukrainian World Coordination Council based in Kyiv. It serves as a liaison between non-governmental organizations in Ukraine and Ukrainian NGOs abroad.
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