Russian footprints in Mukacheve



Analysis & Opinion, Featured

Article by: Petro Kraliuk, Vice-Rector, National University of Ostroh Academy

During the writing of this article, the conflict between representatives of the Right Sector and law enforcement in Zakarpattia was still ongoing. But no matter how it ends, the conflict itself raises many questions.

Blurred identities, Russian agents, criminal clans

About five years ago, I visited Zakarpattia and talked with ordinary people. I wanted to know how they identify themselves. Most of my conversations were in the area where the so-called Rusyns are especially strong. Here they do not speak Ukrainian but use the local dialects almost exclusively. One can even see “Rusyn”  inscriptions on the stores in the towns. When I asked these local residents what they thought of  Kyivites, they said “Moscovites.” As for Galicians, they called them Poles. When it came to their own identity, these people could not say anything specific. When I asked them “what about Ukraine?” I heard an interesting response: “Ukraine is on TV.”

Certainly, it is necessary to know some of the history of Zakarpattia (incidentally, this is a purely Soviet term that emerged when this land became part of the USSR) in order to understand the blurred identities of its local residents. Yes, the majority of the population in Zakarpattia is Ukrainian. But 60 years ago, few of the locals identified themselves that way. In most cases, they used the traditional ethnonym Rusyns. In general, this term predominated on our lands up to the XIXth century. It was simply “retained” longest in Zakarpattia. Currently, the term “Rusyns” is used (primarily by Russian propagandists) in order to disorient the people of Zakarpattia. A separate “Rusyn identity” is being created, there is talk about a separate Rusyn nation, about its language and, of course, the close relationships between Rusyns and Russians. The Rusyn organization that have been created are well funded by our “Northern brothers.” It is no wonder that in Zakarpattia a variety of Rusyn litterature can be found. And even though local people are not particularly concerned with the Rusyn issue, the propaganda is doing its job.

Zakarpattia is viewed as a multi-ethnic region. In addition to Ukrainians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Germans and others live on its territory. These minorities to a greater or lesser extent retain their identities. They are in no hurry to assimilate or to become patriots of Ukraine, considering, no doubt, that Ukraine is not something very serious. They also do not exhibit any desire to learn Ukrainian. In international communications, they tend to use  Russian.

The Hungarian minority in particular is aggressively predisposed against “Ukrainization.” Its representatives, who are concentrated in the southwestern part of Zakarpattia, demand full autonomy rights for themselves. They receive considerable benefits from Hungary, and this allows them to behave relatively independently. As a rule, these people have supported anti-Ukrainian political forces, especially the Party of the Regions.

Add to this the intensive work of Russian intelligence in the Zakarpattia. Even during the time of the USSR, the KGB paid special attention to this region. After all, Zakarpattia was one of the main “windows” of the USSR into Central-Eastern Europe. It was from here that tank raids were carried out against the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and against Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring. After the collapse of the USSR, the KGB, of course, had to be transformed. But its traditions have not disappeared. The FSB has successfully picked up the baton. For Russia, Zakarpattia remains a critical region. And considering the blurred identities and ethnic diversity of the local population, the agents have a fertile field for their activities.

These factors have played an important role in shaping the criminal clans in Zakarpattia. Generally, during the years following independence, these clans were formed in different regions — especially where there was considerable wealth. And here Zakarpattia was no laggard. Significant recreational resources and the resulting high prices for land, considerable forest reserves, which became targets of predatory exploitation, and finally significant opportunities for smuggling across the border — all this led to the formation of criminal clans that skillfully took advantage of the diversity of the local population and the relations with Russian agents. It is no wonder that Viktor Medvedchuk (pro-Russian politician and close buddy of Vladimir Putin — Ed.), one of the former leaders of the notorious SDPU (Social Democratic Party of Ukraine), has long been considered “chief” of Zakarpattia and who continues to hold on to certain positions in this region while openly demonstrating his ties to the Kremlin. It is no wonder that the Zakarpattia Oblast has turned out to be one of the most “Soviet” of the Western Ukrainian oblasts.

Unfortunately, the central government in Ukraine has paid almost no attention to these problems. No one has seriously concentrated on the formation of Ukrainian identity in Zakarpattia (on the contrary, it was being destroyed during this time). As for the criminal clans of Zakarpattia, they have been able to gain quite a foothold in the hills of Kyiv.

The shooting in Mukacheve is an attack on Ukraine

Mukacheve is a particular kind of  city. For some reason, in the past it became the main center of uprisings in Hungary. And conflicts in this city during mayoral elections supposedly became the “forerunner” of the Orange revolution. Will Mukacheve play the role of revolutionary catalyst yet again?

We will not analyze the shooting itself, which took place in this city between members of the Right Sector and police officers. There has already been much commentary and confusion regarding this incident. But I think there is no doubt that one of the important aspects of this shootout is a showdown between local clans for the contraband cigarette market.

However, similar confrontations are not new in Ukraine. What is new is that a serious conflict has been incited with grenade launchers, the burning of police cars, and other things that create quite an image for mass media — especially the Russian ones. For Russian media, under current circumstances, this is a wonderful gift. They can claim that “fascists” from the “Right Sector” are rioting in Ukraine, using weapons and so on. Now it is possible to explicitly use these “fascists” to frighten people in Russia and in Ukraine.

In my view, the “Russian footprint” is quite evident in the Mukacheve events. The issue is how the Russian intelligence is operating here and how it will be able to use the confrontation in Mukacheve. At the same time, the question arises whether the Ukrainian government will be able to localize this conflict and not allow it to expand and lead to the “third Maidan,” which the Russian leadership is eagerly awaiting.

But no matter how this conflict unfolds, it already has had consequences, and they are all to the benefit of Russia.

First, this conflict has created a very negative image of Ukraine in the eyes of Europe. Moreover, it has occurred near the border with the EU. This, undoubtedly, will slow Ukraine’s progress to the EU. And when it comes to the visa-free regime to the EU for Ukrainian citizens, this can be placed on hold for some time.

Second, the shooting in Mukacheve has created great tension in Ukrainian society, diverting significant resources from the war in the Donbas. Figuratively speaking, Russia has managed to open a “second front” in Zakarpattia, which can spread throughout Ukraine.

Third, this event will damage the reputation of the patriotic forces and will strengthen the influence of the pro-Russian “Opposition bloc.” It is not insignificant that the “bloc” is now lobbying for new elections to the Verkhovna Rada.

In short, events in Mukacheve are a serious challenge for Ukraine. Whether Ukraine meets this challenge will depend on us and on our wisdom


Petro Kraliuk, Vice-Rector for teaching and education, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, member of the National Union of Ukrainian Writers, Honored Scientist of Ukraine. Graduated from Lutsk State Pedagogical Institute in 1979 with a major in history. Deputy Director for scholarly activities in Rivne Slavonic Studies Institute of the Kyiv Slavonic Philology University from 11 September 2000 till 11 February 2002. The author of treatises in philosophy, culture, religious and literary studies, and numerous monographs.

Cartoon caption: Lavrov says “I think that everyone understands that the question of Crimea is closed” as he pushes the bobs in “Putin’s Pendulum”: Zakarpattia/Mukacheve, Kyiv, DNR, Crimea, Russia.


Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Radio Svoboda

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  • Mat

    “A separate “Rusyn identity” is being created, there is talk about a separate Rusyn nation, about its language and, of course, the close relationships between Rusyns and Russians. The Rusyn organization that have been created are well funded by our “Northern brothers.””

    What a load of rubbish.

  • puttypants

    I’m disgusted. What has the Ukrainian government been thinking all this time. They must have known these issues and did nothing?

    • On the Balcony

      Duh…. where have you been? Why do you think there was a Maiden? Why do you think we want to form closer ties with the EU? Why do you think Putin’s mafia is so intent on keeping control of Ukraine? (Hint: follow the money.)
      Ukraine is fighting wars on two fronts –internal and external. Just exposing what is going on is part of both wars.

      • puttypants

        To tell these stuff to the world isn’t good judgement. You’re playing into Putins hands. Who would you replace Poroshenko and Yat’s with? Do you have better leaders? To change horses in mid-stream isn’t wise when Poroshenko and Yat’s already have working relationships with the West and Ukraine badly needs financial help. And by showing the world your dirty laundry you just make them move away from Ukraine more. Duh…use your damn heads for a change!!!!!

        • On the Balcony

          I disagree. Washing your dirty laundry in the light is the best way to get it clean just as leaving the light on is also the best way to keep cockroaches out of the kitchen. There is no need to replace Poroshenko or Yatz -yet. But we probably should encourage them along with Kolomoiski, Pinchuk and a few other notables to “come clean” too -even if it means taking a public bath. Some stains on the fabric of life in Ukraine, like Firtash, are likely beyond cleaning and need to be completely bleached out.

  • On the Balcony

    One can see Russian fingerprints or footprints anywhere and everywhere in Ukraine but focusing on them in situations like this is an unnecessary distraction. This is an instance of Ukrainian criminal activity which means it a Ukrainian problem, period. It provides an excellent opportunity for Ukraine to use transparency and full coverage as a weapon against the cancer of corruption. Assuming this incident was s a battle between rival gangs for control over an illegal enterprise then both must be fully exposed, starting with the most dangerous of the two: the gang that is most clearly allied with Ukrainian government structures. (Part of me is tempted to suggest retraining and forming special crime and corruption battalions from Right Sector members under an indpendent judicial department and rewarding them with bonuses based on whatever they can recover from exposing and destroying on-going criminal enterprises…. Then some people would be afraid of right sector but for the right reasons)

  • Jimma

    I see a need to clean out a hog pen. Ukraine needs to put these dogs in a pen.

  • Being

    The Clever ones know, trust the Right Sector for fighting for Ukraine at Doneck Airport etc.the most dangerous things Right Sector was involeved and help. And the others who do not care where the true is, they will believe in anything …no matter what. How easy it is to blame all on Right Sector and How difficult is to prove it was Russia hand+mind to shot down MH17. How difficult to free Savchenko and Oleg the Film maker inprisoned for anything. How difficult even with OSCE that it was RUS terrorists who shell Ukraine hospitals, schools etc. Good luck for Right Sector I am on your side.

  • miguel

    Black market enterprises are active in many cities all over the world. The thing that makes a country successful is how it battles these and how persistently.
    A black market is a festering wound and virus. It only makes those active in it successful.
    A well working government makes all the citizens, the hole body, of that society successful.
    This is a goal Ukraine has to pursue. She is multinational and has many opportunities for those with enterprising minds.
    Those minds found the most successful and easiest to work were inside Ukraine in the past.
    I am glad Ukraine is battling this festering organized crime element but it is a difficult road when you let it go on so long and the ones organizing it are called your ‘brethren’ in Moscow.
    Everyone is not going to be happy with all the organized crime element being gone, they relied on it for their livelihood.
    And another thing to realize is that there are a lot of people involved in it.
    What do you do with those marginally involved? What work do you provide for them to live or reeducation, or tell them that they have to make due with 5000 hyvrnia instead of 20000?
    You cannot put all of them in jail, can you? But you must do something to battle Moscow’s organized crime element.
    When a body is this damaged by a virus, you must kill the virus and you will end up killing some of the surrounding tissue in that battle.
    But the body will survive and not die of this cancer, the same one that has been eating Russia from within.
    I am not suggesting that all people involved in the black market are eliminated, but something must be done.
    The best solution I can see is a police state with other governments nearby assisting in the detainment and judging of this element and future imprisonment because Ukraine cannot do it alone and fight a war.
    Ukraine has a tough battle, and it will not be over once Moscow’s occupation of Donbas or Crimea is ended.
    It has a lot of cancer cells it needs to send to jail, it has a lot of cancer cells it needs to send back to Moscow, it has a lot of cancer cells it needs to change back to red blood cells.
    The best way I see are those patriots that believe in Ukraine and want better for their future generations and do not want a black market to be the ones that are leading Ukraine.
    It is a difficult balance beam, and a few good cells will get destroyed when you battle a cancer.
    Europeans all need to help their own way and refuse the black market, that is the only way to end this cancer for once and for all.
    Will it happen, I am divided on the will of the human spirit, many enjoy their Mary Jane, many are hooked in the harder drugs that are supplied by Moscow. Many love the easy money.
    But what do you do when fifty percent are buying from or making profit from black market items? EVEN majority of the judicial system. Put them all in jail? or make examples and slowly push them out.
    Ukraine has a tough battle, and when a body is this full of cancer, the solution is not pretty, but there is a solution.
    For Russia, it is fifty fifty whether or not it survives a cancer treatment.

    Europe needs to combat corruption itself and the black market, they are the demand.
    Russia is the supplier and coordinator with some European politicians or governments involved also.
    A good thing while Ukraine is cleaning house is for Europe to do their own introspection.
    Will they?
    One important place to look BEFORE the EU gives Greece money is there.
    Another obviously is UK.
    Another are USA cities like NYC, Miami, and other Moscow elite hot spots.
    Time to shine a light on the world and send the cockroaches and rats back in to as small a corner as possible.
    It will make the body of the world a lot healthier.