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Posted on Sep 24, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Ukraine’s “Russian” Citizens

By Jerry D. Morelock

September 14, 2008. Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko visit the Dnipropetrovsk region. [UKRAINE OFFICAL PHOTOGRAPH]Although “Russian” Ukrainian cities, such as Kharkov, are better integrated into Ukraine’s economy than tourist-driven Crimea, eastern Ukrainian voters overwhelming supported the Moscow-favored Ukrainian presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 election that sparked the “Orange Revolution.” Many ethnic Russian Ukrainians see close ties with Moscow as a “hedge” against what some fear could be an unhealthy rise of ethnic Ukrainian nationalism. Yushchenko’s granting of veterans benefits to former WWII Ukrainian National Army members (an anti-Soviet — and by default pro-Nazi — paramilitary organization that helped the German occupiers kill Jews and ethnic Russians) didn’t allay any of their fears. My in-laws report that when they went to vote in Ukraine’s last country-wide election, they discovered that all the ballots were printed only in Ukrainian, a language seldom heard in “Russian” cities, like Kharkov (and fueling a totally-predictable “I told you so!” reaction among pathologically-suspicious ethnic Russians). Kiev’s government officials previously had promised to retain both Ukrainian and Russian as the country’s two “official” languages, but have apparently reneged. Ukrainian bureaucrats now are even unilaterally changing the spelling of ethnic Russian citizens’ last names, replacing their Russian spellings with Ukrainian in all official documents (can one still be called paranoid if it’s discovered “they” really are out to get you?). Whether traditional distrust of ethnic Ukrainians by the country’s ethnic Russian population is heightened enough by such actions to make large numbers of them opt for Russian citizenship, if offered, remains to be seen.

Except for independence-minded Crimeans, however, it still seems unlikely that ethnic Russian Ukrainians would opt in great numbers for Russian citizenship – unless Ukraine’s economy (but not Russia’s oil and gas-fueled one) should suddenly go into the toilet. At that point, all bets are off. In fact, any Russian offer of citizenship to Ukraine’s eight million ethnic Russians may just be another example of Moscow “arm twisting,” such as when Moscow cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine in a fit of pique a few years ago. The Kremlin-inspired specter of ethnic Russian Ukrainians becoming Russian citizens may be just more political pressure on Yushchenko to think long and hard about any Ukrainian plans to join NATO. Russia’s recent track record in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however, demonstrate that is no idle threat – undoubtedly exactly what the invasion of Georgia was intended to signal.


Jerry D. Morelock, PhD is ARMCHAIR GENERAL Editor in Chief. He is the former Chief of Russia Branch on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. His wife, the Russian artist Inessa Kazaryan Morelock, is a native of Kharkov, Ukraine.

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  1. 2 mistakes in your article, one of which was/is perpetuated by sovoks, now by the neo-sovoks in the Kremlin.

    1) the Ukrainian National Army was NOT pro-Nazi. It was pro-Ukrainian. Ukrainians were caught between Scylla and Charybdis, between fascist Nazis on the one hand, and between fascist sovoks on the other. The Ukrainian National Army did not help kill Jews and ethnic Russians. It is irresponsible to continue to perpetuate this sovok-generated falsehood.

    2) Russian chauvinism shows up again. Russians quite frequently claim that “there is no difference between Russian and Ukrainian, that it’s all the same thing.” That kind of statement has been and is made quite frequently in order to support the notion that Ukraine ought to “be one” with Russian, which is Russian code for Ukraine ought to be subservient to Russia. The notion of “Russian superiority” was foisted onto Ukraine since tsarist times, and emphasized under Stalin through General Zhdanov.

    The Ukrainian elections demonstrated quite vividly, and in a funny way, just how false the Russian propaganda (“it’s all the same”) is. When it came to the elections, the pro-Moscow Russians in Ukraine did indeed scream like pigs that the names on the ballots would not be recognized by Russians.

    So I guess it’s not “all the same.”

  2. In as much as the Ukrainian National Army was incorporated within the workings of the Waffen SS (first called the 14th SS Rifle Division “Gilizien”), as were all foreign units from Russia, the delicate feelings of the time produced the opinion that all members of the SS were perpetrating war crimes. Even though some of the all-German “fighting SS” units were soldiers, not camp executioners or civilian slayers, it was the SS arm of the German system that most heavily perpetrated the atrocities. Most of the Allied nations freed the Ukrainians from the charges of war crimes after the war had concluded. Given Russian fear of Ukrainian nationalism, I can see why the Russian system would like to mask the national character of Ukrainians within the framework of a pro-Nazi barbarism. The Allies themselves were certainly wary of these “Russians”, dressed in German uniforms of SS nature, and since the unit had spent substantial time in Germany training and equipping the suspicions seem logical, although perhaps premature. Also, given the hatred the Ukrainians harbored for the Russian system as a result of the atrocities Moscow committed against them prior to the outbreak of the war I see no reason why they would hold back the hand of revenge against their former tormentors. I would be interested in hearing more from Mr. Morelock on this topic as he is much more closely connected to the current events and circumstances than I.

  3. Thanks to both “elmer” and Mr. Illies for their comments.

    Regarding “elmer’s” comments about the Ukrainian National Army, I point out that what I wrote was that it was “an anti-Soviet — and by default pro-Nazi” paramilitary organization. Obviously, it was pro-Ukrainian, but adopted the Nazis as allies of convenience in their, at that time, common cause against the Soviets. As only one counter to “elmer’s” claim that the Ukrainian National Army “did not help kill Jews and ethnic Russians,” I offer the example of the village of Yefremovka in 1943. When I visited my wife’s relatives there on my last trip to Ukraine, her aunt related the story of how SS troops, led and assisted by members of the Ukrainian National Army, rounded up over 900 villagers from Yefremovka and surrounding areas, herded them into the local church, and set fire to it, killing all inside. There is a memorial on the site with the names of each of the victims. My wife’s grandmother (and her mother, who was then a child) escaped, ironcially, by the efforts of a German truck driver (not an SS soldier) who warned them to take shelter in an underground cellar, then parked his truck over the entrance to conceal it. But arguing about whether or not the Ukrainian National Army was pro-Nazi and committed atrocities against ethnic Russians totally misses the point — the fact that ethnic Russians living in Ukraine today believe they did is what matters. These lingering suspicions that fuel fears among ethnic Russian Ukrainians about resurgent Ukrainian nationalism is the point of that paragraph in the analysis.

    Thanks again to both of you for your comments.

  4. I am delighted that you have taken the time to respond Mr. Morelock. Having been raised with my world maps depicting a massive portion of Eastern Europe and northern Asia as one large mass called the USSR it can be hard for me to grasp the details of the separate nature of the former Russian domains. I met a fellow from Russia some time ago and because of his accent I mentioned that it sounded Russian, to which he asked me how I knew it was Russian and not Ukrainian, Latvian, etc. The question surprised me a bit since in my naivety I had assumed that all “Russians” were Russian. After some study I found the complexity of Europe, as pertains to language and ethnic background, to be quite amazing.

    How do you see these events in Ukraine and Crimea unfolding?

  5. Mr. Illies, thanks very much.

    I hate to take the ‘cop out’ route regarding future events concerning Ukraine and Russia (and the Crimea as a sub-set of those relations) by saying “wait and see,” but at this point it’s too early to tell how this will eventually play out. Certainly, Russia has no intention of giving up its Black Sea port at Sevastopol and, in my opinion, Yushchenko’s recent posturing in that regard in the wake of Russian ships based there being used on the Georgian coast seem like empty threats given the economic importance of the Russian navy to the port’s economy.

    I have tried to provide in my analysis what I see as the major factors and issues related to any Russian offer of citizenship to Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population so that readers might have a better grasp of the scope and complexity of the problem and their implications for the leadership in Kiev and Moscow; but I hesitate to try to predict exactly how this will play out, as much will depend on the resolve of the leadership on both sides and the decisions each side will make. At this point, it seems that Yushchenko likely has the rockier path to follow, given the differing “world views” of Ukraine’s population’s major ethnic divisions.

    Thanks again for your interest and comments.

  6. I can see how Yushchenko would be in the more hazardous position having the independence of a nation upon has hands. Perhaps this would cause him to be more aggressive, if he doesn’t bend to the will of Russian incorporation. Independence seems to be built on a footing of war, or the capacity to effectively wear down the occupier without becoming worn-out yourself. If Russia keeps putting such pressure upon the Ukrainians it would seem that war responses would be resorted to and if Russia did not back away (perhaps because Ukraine was unable to foster help from other parts of the world) the Ukrainians would be forced to fight for their independence or be added back into the Russian domain (Naturally it would have the appearance of Russian “protector”, given the worlds current political arena).
    Revolts in the formerly Russian occupied territories were certainly not uncommon, Berlin in ’53, Budapest in ’56, Prague in ’68, and then the chain of revolutions in 1989 and onward. We also have the example of the Ukrainian desire to unite with German occupiers during WWII in the hopes of defeating Moscow’s control. How much more would they be willing to suffer in the face of losing independence that they had already tasted?

    One more question and then I will stop pestering you (Where else can I talk with a man so connected? I can’t help but bother you :0). Would you say that the Crimean War (1853-1856) has something to do with that regions dislike for western powers or is it based upon Crimea’s preference for Russian association? Perhaps neither. I am just curious if the Crimean conflict, which included Britain and France, is affecting the opinions of the peninsula.

  7. Although one of the first sights I saw when visiting the Crimean War museum & cyclorama in Sevastopol (created in the decades after the 1854-56 war, it was completely restored after WWII) were local “Crimean War re-enactors” wearing 1850’s Russian uniforms, I don’t think any possible lingering resentment towards Britain and France affects the average Crimean very much today.

  8. Indeed, on June 8, 2008 they staged a full reenactment event: “” displays a photo.

    I am pleased to hear that the latest Crimean war was enacted as an appreciation for history rather than a recalling of old vendettas. Thank you Mr. Morelock for the discussion. I wish you well.