Ukraine’s Growing National Backbone

By Walter Derzko


Political scientist and Ukraine-watcher Anne Applebaum recently expressed her view of what’s wrong with Ukraine and Ukrainians. “Nationalism is exactly what Ukraine needs” she proclaims. But reluctantly she concludes that this is what Ukraine sadly lacks: “The result can be seen right now in Eastern Ukraine” says Applebaum. She states: “For this—Donetsk, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk—is what a land without nationalism actually looks like: corrupt, anarchic, full of rent-a-mobs and mercenaries. For the most part, the men in balaclavas who have assaulted Ukrainian state institutions under the leadership of Russian commandos are not nationalists; they are people who will do the bidding of whichever political force pays the best or promises the most. And although they are a small minority, the majority does not oppose them. On the contrary, the majority is watching the battle passively and seems prepared to take whichever government they get. These are people who live where they do by accident, whose parents or grandparents arrived by the whim of a Soviet bureaucrat, who have no attachment to any nation or any state at all.”

Here is where we part company. In part, I disagree with her blanket conclusion that Ukrainians even in the east feel “stateless”, based on what I saw and heard in Kyiv, Lviv and Kharkiv in December 2013. I contend that a  new nationalism or patriotism is now sprouting, not just in the traditional Western cradle of Ukrainian loyalty –in Lviv and Ternopil but in Kyiv and slowly spreading into the east, thanks largely to Putin’s aggression in the past six months.

The Heavenly Hundred or “Nebesna Sotnyja” who gave their lives for Ukraine and the thousands that were injured or who disappeared off Maidan are no doubt true patriots, who made the ultimate sacrifice and will never be forgotten by this and future generations.

I even had to change some of my own convictions and stereotypes about Eastern Ukraine based on my trip from Kyiv to Kharkiv on the Sunday afternoon express train on Dec 1, 2013, two days after Berkut riot police viciously beat scores of students on Maidan. Most of the young people in our train car–I’d say about 80% spoke Ukrainian and not Russian to each other. I was pleasantly surprised.

A sign of a growing national backbone was expressed by His Beatitude, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, when he spoke at a press conference in Toronto recently with community leaders and the media. He recounted a story that many people in Canada may not be aware of. The newly constructed Sobor or Cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on the Left bank of Kyiv, right from the first week opened its doors and became a daily sanctuary to hundreds of Ukrainians from Maidan, who needed a meal, shelter from the cold and a place to sleep. “Tytushky” or hired thugs financed by Yanukovych were ready to attack the church to disrupt this holy Maidan sanctuary and damage the church possibly killing the occupants. But church neighbours got wind of this and decided to voluntarily surround the church and protect this building and the people inside from these hired bandits. These good neighbors, many of whom were not even parishioners, claims Patriarch Sviatoslav, felt that this church was part of their local community and needed protection. Is this simply an example of an ordinary neighborhood watch, God’s protective hand or a sign of growing patriotism and a national backbone?

When it comes to the east and south the situation becomes more complex. First we must tackle a persistent myth proposed by Vladimir Putin and Serhij Lavrov that Ukraine needs federalization and more autonomy from Kyiv for the East. More autonomy for Donetsk is totally unfounded say two former Ukrainian presidents –Kravchuk and Kuchma: Kyiv never ruled Donetsk. It was always controlled and ruled by Ukraine’s richest oligarch Renat Akhmetov, the “hospodar” or the host, master or ruler of Donetsk, as he is called.

In his televised speech last week, Akhmetov said: “People are tired of living in fear and terror. They are tired of going out to streets and coming under gunfire. There are people walking around with guns and grenade launchers. Cities are witnessing banditry and looting. Is this a peaceful life? Is this a strong economy? No! I will not let Donbas be destroyed. I was born and I am living here. That is why I am calling on everyone to unite in our fight: for Donbas without weapons! for Donbas without masks! for Donbas with a peaceful sky above! Today representatives of the so-called DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic-now officially a terrorist organization) seized the railway. They didn’t just stop the railway, they stopped the heart of Donbas because the industry of Donbas will die without the railway. It means that Donbas, our region of hard-working people, will die!”

Whether this is simply selfish, business self-preservation from the Donbas “hospodar” or signs of growing Ukrainian nationalism in the East, it’s hard to tell so far. Historians will have to make this call, but I feel we are at a turning point. Thankfully, the situation before the presidential elections is moving in the right direction.

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How to turn an ordinary person into a Banderivets*

April 24, 2014

Boris Bitner, Live Journal

banderivets3Take a tolerant Russian-speaking Ukrainian and subject him to the following manipulations:

Break agreements signed with his country and support a criminal regime; give refuge to the leader of this regime who is guilty of embezzlement; turn TV channels that are being watched by half of Ukraine into a platform for slander, hate speech and deception; call Ukraine a quasi-state and its government a junta; spread lies that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are being abused because of their language; seize a piece of Ukraine’s territory; embark on a dirty propaganda war against his country; support the separatists who wish to split the state; unleash a gang of lying Internet trolls and propagandists; snub the international community and collective security…

Thus, the negative connotation of the notion ‘banderivets’ which used to mean a thug, a killer and an enemy of the Soviet regime, the connotation that was systematically inculcated throughout the postwar period, now easily transforms into a positive one – a partisan, a fighter for independence, a freedom-loving person struggling against the Soviet authorities. Interestingly, the concept of the ‘Soviet power’ has undergone no change. It has not gone down the drain, it is still etched in minds of the people.

Dear Comrade Putin! Dear Soviet citizens of Russia who turned out to be a great many!

Thank you for inducing me and others like me to learn the [Ukrainian] anthem, to install the flag on my car, to start respecting the language, to reevaluate certain historical facts! There is no greater motivation to love our Motherland than the external threat, the disrespect for the people of the country of 46 million and the uncontrollable megalomania of the inadequate neighbor.

Thank you for helping us make up our minds about the direction of our country’s development and understand who is our friend and who is our enemy.

Better late than never.

Do not worry, we are going to be fine. The only thing that matters is that you do not go saving anybody here or, God forbid, come to defend us.

We wish you well. We promise not to interfere in your affairs, not to claim back Krasnodar and Stavropol regions.)))

We will live peacefully and happily, but let us do it separately from each other.

We will move towards the EU and USA, we will cooperate with NATO, all in all, we are going to integrate into a society that overcame fascism and tolerates gays. And you will ravel in your own spiritual convulsions, intolerance and nazi-saluting homophobes.

You have managed the impossible: until now we were a population, now we grew to be a nation.

Thank you for your help.


*Designation ‘Banderivets’ refers to a follower or sympathizer of Stepan Bandera, the leader of WWII anti-Soviet nationalistic insurgency in Western Ukraine (ed.)

Translation by Tatiana Kononenko, edited by Mariana Budjeryn

Kharkiv citizens appeal to the International Community – English VIDEO

Kharkiv citizens’ appeal to the International Community:

We speak on behalf of nearly two million Kharkiv people. Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine, a hub of culture, education and technology.As well as the rest of Ukraine our city is a multiethnic and multiconfessional community. Here you can meet people speaking Russian (the most common language in any Eastern Ukrainian city), Ukrainian (it is Ukraine after all), Vietnamese (Kharkiv has its own little Vietnam), Dari (there are a lot of people from Afghanistan as well), Hebrew and Yiddish (a large Jewish community has lived in Kharkiv for a long time), Armenian, Georgian, Uzbek, Tajik, Mandarin, Cantonese, and many other languages. Our city has Orthodox churches and a Catholic church, a synagogue, a mosque and a pagoda. And we are proud to have here all this diversity.

Continue reading


Robert van Voren, Feb. 3, 2014

Russia: Foreign Agent Law, adopted in July 2012.

Russia: Foreign Agent Law, adopted in July 2012.

Lately I wake up in the middle of the night with a complexity of thoughts about the situation in Ukraine, the effect it has on the former Soviet Union and on relations between Russia and the West. In particular the posts by Russian nationalists, pro-Putin facebook users and facebooks glorifying the deeds of Berkut leave a bad taste and a considerable impression. Some are downright stupid, others are racist or anti-Semitic, some are really abhorrent – but many show a total lack of information on what is actually going on outside Russia. The information block that the Putinshchina imposed really works, and we haven’t seen the end of it: now even livejournals that provide balanced information on Maidan are banned because of ‘extremism’. Continue reading

Right Sector assures Israeli Ambassador that they reject antisemitism

Image“Right sector” leaders have assured Reuven Din El, Israeli Ambassador, that they reject any signs of chauvinism and xenophobia in their ideology. This was discussed during the meeting in the embassy, according to the information on the official website on Thursday.

“The Israeli Ambassador in Ukraine, Reuven Din El, met with the heads of the “Right Sector” as well as with their leader, Dmytro Yarosh on February 26th 2014″, – states the announcement. The movement leaders informed the ambassador of their views on Ukraine’s future and emphasized that their movement adheres to tolerant positions in questions of nationalism. Yarosh also stressed that all negative phenomena, especially anti-semitism, will not only lack support from “Right Sector”, but will also be persecuted by all lawful means. He ensured that the movement aims to build a democratic Ukraine with transparency in governmental structures, mechanisms to counteract corruption, and equal opportunities for people of all nationalities, the union of which will make possible to build a national state governed by the people. The sides have agreed to create a “hot line” in order to avoid provocations and to find solutions for any further issues that may arise.  Continue reading

The day when Lviv spoke Russian and Donetsk – Ukrainian

The new Ukrainian government that took the scene after Yanukovych fled repealed the controversial language law adopted on July 3, 2012 (adopted with multiple violations of the voting procedure). The law granted the Russian language the de-facto status of a second state language on a backdrop of withering opportunities for the Ukrainian language, oppressed througout the long history of Ukraine’s russification in the times of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. This was a cause for unrest in the predominantly Russian-speaking Eastern and Southern regions, where calls for separatism have not been uncommon recently, not without the help of Russian propaganda and specific politicians. Speculating on the issue of language is an old trick that the Ukrainian authorities have learned to raise around the time of elections. It seems Ukrainians have finally recognised the true reasons for “language games”. The more the different regions hate one another and the more they are afraid of each other, the less unified they are against their common enemy – corrupt officials and oligarchs that steal money.  On February 26, the Ukrainian-speaking Western city of Lviv declared that its residents would be speaking Russian in solidarity with the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine’s Eastern and Southern regions.

 Now, language should not be the issue of the day! Lviv wants reelections to the Parliament, and not speculating on language and nationality! On February 26, I will speak Russian at home, at work, with my friends - everywhere, in solidarity with the residents of Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine.

Now, language should not be the issue of the day!
Lviv wants reelections to the Parliament, and not speculating on language and nationality!
On February 26, I will speak Russian at home, at work, with my friends – everywhere, in solidarity with the residents of Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine.

Continue reading

Son of Ukrainian Insurgent Army Commander defends Russian language

ukraine-linguistic-divisionLviv intellectuals appealed to the Verkhovna Rada to develop a balanced policy, especially a balanced language policy. Among those who signed the appeal was Yuriy Shukhevych, son of the Commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

The following is their statement.

We call on the Parliament of Ukraine, the newly appointed Cabinet of Ministers, and the acting President of Ukraine to develop and execute a balanced culture and language policy. Continue reading

The Right Sector’s Appeal to the Richest and the Most Influential People in Ukraine

Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector

During the years of independency the word “oligarch” has obtained a negative meaning in the minds of Ukrainians. The only associations we have with oligarchs in Ukraine are corruption schemes, theft and criminal dealings.

Today, you have an opportunity to change people’s attitude and stand by their side to avoid further bloodshed in Ukraine. We all understand that you have the decisive economic leverage on Yanukovych, we understand that if he loses your support he will be forced to stop the bloodshed as financing is the only thing that today lets Yanukovych to fight the Ukrainian people. Continue reading

Response to Washington Post article by Keith Darden and Lucan Way

15 February 2014 – “Who are the protesters in Ukraine?” – a response from someone who has actually been (t)here. 1493124_10201820894938248_2076788717_n

Just as I was beginning to believe that the western press may have finally understood that Ukraine’s current street protests have little to do with so-called “radical-right-nationalism”, on 12 Feb. 2014, the Washington Post published an “authoritative” answer to the question “Who are the protesters in Ukraine” by two North American academics, Keith Darden and Lucan Way. Not surprisingly, given that their standpoint is 5000 miles away from Kyiv, the answer Darden and Way give to their own question is (mostly) wrong. The authors are careful to veil their skepticism of the real democratic substance of Ukraine’s protest movement with academically appropriate genuflections towards those who present evidence that contradicts their conclusions, but they nevertheless advance the following highly controversial points: Continue reading