Portnikov: We are all Ukrainians

Ukrainians on the Maidan protesting the criminal and oppressive regime of Yanukovich, 2014

Ukrainians on the Maidan protesting the criminal and oppressive regime of Yanukovich, 2014 


This story took place in a sleepy seaside town when I found myself having a casual dinner at a table with friends of friends, people unfamiliar to me, who seemed to spend all their free time not on the seashore but in front of the TV, Russian of course, what else, other television does not exist. These acquaintances told me about the horrors of Ukrainian fascism, “the Right Sector” that was hunting the Jews, that Ukraine will soon crumble, and that it is Russia anyways, while the Americans had invented the Ukrainians to vex Putin. I did not feel like arguing, I just wanted to finish dinner as soon as possible. I languidly noted to my fellow diners that I myself lived in Kyiv, that I had not run into any fascists, that the “Right sector” was not hunting me, though I was a Jew, and that I had seen the famous Yarosh once in a lifetime, even though I do not spend my time in needlework but rather political journalism.

The head of the family, an elderly, flabby man, who was watching the fading sunset with the tired gaze of a man who understands everything in this life–everything which is permitted to be understood by the authorities–was also not set on conflict. He held a glass out to me,

“Stop telling stories, Khokhol! Let’s have a drink!”

I was dumbfounded. For the first time in the nearly half century that I have lived, I was perceived as an ethnic Ukrainian–and this despite the fact that I had just explained to this smug individual, unwilling to know anything in life besides the amount of money stolen, that I was a Jew. A Jew. A Zhyd, not a Khokhol. Actually, he would not call me a Zhyd just like that at the common table–yes, half of them here could have been anti-Semites, but in a decent society, it is not quite acceptable, now they will only talk about Jews with the usual expressions once they have left the table. But [to call someone] a Khokhol is easy. And no one even raised an eyebrow.

Thus, for the first time, I felt what a Ukrainian really feels when a random–or not-so-random–acquaintance casually insults him, because he is unable to understand that he is treating both the individual and the whole nation with contempt. This contempt, like poison, is poured over Russia–and almost all of them are sick because of it, from Putin, who publicly calls his buddy [Gennadiy] Timchenko a “Khokhol” at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, to my seaside interlocutor. And this poison is more dangerous than any anti-Semitism or hatred towards people from the Caucasus or xenophobia towardsGastarbeiters from Central Asia–a hatred and xenophobia, which have become the essence of existence for the Russian people in the past decade. Because when a Russian calls a Jew a “Zhyd” or a person from the Caucasus a “Black,” he knows that he is deliberately insulting that person. But when he calls a Ukrainian a “Khokhol,” for him it is just an affectionate nickname, akin to calling your dog Dimon [diminutive of Dmitry]. And really, there is no point in calling your dog Dmitry Ivanovich, that’s why it’s a dog, and it needs a nickname.

By Vitaliy Portnikov, Kyiv journalist, columnist for Radio Liberty
Original published on Radio Liberty
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine

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  1. Walter Salmaniw says:

    What a poignant article! Thanks, Vitaliy. Things seem a lot clearer to me now in the west.

  2. Drohomir says:

    I’ve noticed that elsewhere on this website Matthew Babiak has deleted Tom’s post showing photographs of the massacres carried out by Ukrainians on the Polish people during World War II. I therefore strongly encourage everyone to do a Google search for:

    Volyn massacre

    Massacres of Poles in Volhynia

    Ukrainian ethnic cleansing

    … so that they can see for themselves how sadistic and disturbing those genocidal campaigns carried out by the Bandera people really were.

    Deleting readers’ posts won’t solve the problem. Think of the shame and the anger young Ukrainians are going to feel when they finally discover that — from the relative safety of Canada — the children of those Ukrainians who gladly collaborated with Hitler in his plans to exterminate whole nations have deceived them into thinking that the Bandera people were heroes!

    Can’t you see that this kind of propaganda is no different from that of Putin’s Russia?

    150 000 isn’t quite on the scale of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but genocide it most certainly was. In German-occupied Poland Ukrainian forces carried out a mass slaughter of Polish villagers who posed no military threat and whose only crime was that they were not ethnic Ukrainians.

    The slaughter was as horrifying as it was methodical. No one was spared. Ukrainian men with Polish wives were ordered to kill them or face execution themselves. Worse still, many of the Polish villagers were brutally tortured and mutilated before they died. When the killing was over, it was time for the wives and children of the killers to come and help with the looting.

    Men, women, children, old people and babies all shared the same fate. Pregnant women’s babies were often ripped out of their bodies before they themselves were finished off by Ukrainian militants. Any Ukrainians who dared to defend their Polish neighbours were also killed as traitors to the Ukrainian nationalist cause.

    It’s no use trying to deny it, Matthew, as there’s only too much evidence in the archives, including photographs of young children’s bodies strung up together on village fences as some sort of macabre trophy.

    The massacres were so appalling that even some members of the German army were moved to secretly provide Poles with arms so that they could defend themselves!

    Another disturbing aspect of this genocide was the fact that it was condoned by many members of the Uniate or “Greek Catholic” clergy, who held services to bless the militants beforehand. Perhaps that explains why they are still in denial about Bandera, who later in his life never expressed any sorrow for what happened.

    Fortunately the impartial Ukrainian historian Viktor Polishchuk / Poliszczuk — who steadfastly refused to support the Ukrainian Canadian UPA propaganda machine — has also left us an account of what really happened. The fact that in his article Matthew Babiak makes no reference to the work of Polishchuk speaks volumes about his academic credibility.

    Deleting readers’ posts will not solve the problem. By clumsily attempting to doctor the historical truth Ukrainian “historians” are doing a great disservice to the Ukrainian nation. How do you think Ukrainian teenagers are going to feel when they eventually discover what the Bandera people really did?

    Glorifying Bandera is a road to nowhere. If you want to put up statues, then put them up to Petlura and the heroes of the Maidan. Can’t you see that it’s time to ditch “heroes” like Khmelnytsky and Bandera, who were stupid enough to sell Ukrainians into slavery and ignominy?

    The sad truth is that between the two world wars some Ukrainian nationalists (and no, I have nothing against nationalism!) succumbed to the temptation to side with Germany in return for German support. That explains why they assassinated any Pole or Ukrainian who actively worked for Polish-Ukrainian understanding.

    When Poland was divided up between Germany and Russia they continued to play the German card. And play the German card they did! Many Ukrainian nationalists became guards at Nazi death camps, going down in history as unparalleled sadists, while others took part in massacres of Poles and Jews, whose presence spoilt their dream of an ethnically pure Ukraine.

    1. Reformedviking says:

      Ask a Polish person what was worst in 1939; when Hitler occupied western Poland or when Stalin occupied eastern Poland? To Europe and the world Hitler was the worst person, but Russia don’t have clean hands historically or even today when it comes to Europe…until Russia cleans up it’s hybrid petroleum kleptocracy it should stay out of it’s neighbours affairs. When it comes to WW2, every country had it’s collaborators. For example why where the finnish aligned with the germans? …could it happen to be because they where invaded by the Soviets? Russia has a rare talent for supporting autocrats in Europe. When it comes to WW2 there is a reason why “bandera” is not an international known entity, even if he did much evil, the field is probably very much crowded in front of him. For example Stalin outshines most historical figures lokking at what he did to his own population, through his policies and actions he probly killed more “soviets” than he killed germans. Bandera should be debated, but in the current climate, he is used by Putinists as a red herring to paint Ukrainians with and keep his own willingly ignorant population in the dark.

      1. The whole Bandera-thing is ridiculous. Nazis arrested him in 1941 and he wasn’t even around for what happened to the Poles much less the Soviets. He’s a scapegoat, and being a scapegoat he’s been ‘reclaimed’ as the antithesis of Ukrainophobia, much like Mazepa was/has as well.

        1. Reformedviking says:

          I probably agree with you, just wrote the long version while trying to seem balanced 😉