Making Ukraine mono-ethnic – Putin’s greatest achievement and most fateful failure

Singing the national anthem of Ukraine at the Vyshyvanka March in Kyiv, May 2016 (Image: UNN.com.ua)

Singing the national anthem of Ukraine at the Vyshyvanka March in Kyiv, May 2016 (Image: UNN.com.ua) 

2017/04/15 - 12:22 • Analysis & Opinion, Ukraine

Ninety-two percent of Ukrainian citizens now consider themselves ethnic Ukrainians, an unprecedented figure that is the product of Vladimir Putin’s aggression against their country and one that highlights the fundamental weakness of ethnic Russian national identities not only there but elsewhere — including in the Russian Federation.

According to a new poll by Kyiv’s Razumkov Center, 92 percent of Ukrainian citizens now consider themselves ethnic Ukrainians, six percent say they are ethnic Russians, and 1.5 percent identify as members of other ethnic groups.

Among young people in Ukraine, the share identifying as ethnic Ukrainians approaches 100 percent, the pollsters said, while among those over the age of 60, the figure was less than 90 percent but still far higher than at any point in the past.

The Razumkov Center also asked how many people feel themselves part of only one ethnic nation or instead as members of several. Among ethnic Ukrainians, it said, “77 percent feel themselves part of one nationality, 12 percent to two or more, six percent not as members of any nationality, and eight percent couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.”

But among those who identify as ethnic Russians in Ukraine, “only 39 percent” identify only with that ethnicity, an indication that many of them are less attached to the nationality of their birth and are in the process of shifting from one nation to another, in this case from the ethnic Russian nation to the Ukrainian ethnic one.

Not surprisingly, Moscow commentators are outraged by these figures and these implications, and one has called this poll a new form of “aggression by sociological poll” conducted by the United States against Russia on behalf of Ukraine.

And pro-Moscow Ukrainians, many of them now in Russia, see this poll as part of an effort to create a Ukrainian ethnic nation, something they argue resembles what the Soviets did and that does not exist independently of a broader “Russian world” reflecting history and language patterns.

One of their number, Bohdan Bezpalko, a Ukrainian who is a member of Putin’s Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations, however, in his argument against the new poll lets the cat out of the bag by acknowledging that “in fact, the very term ‘ethnic Ukrainian’ or ‘ethnic Russian is extremely ephemeral.”

That gets to the heart of the matter. Ethnic communities like all other human groups have histories, that is, they emerge, the flourish, and then they die. Often they do so because of the support they enjoy from states; and often those that do are thought to be eternal. But when conditions change – as when new states emerge – so too can new identities.

Ukrainian ethno-national identity is now strengthening not only in response to Kyiv’s policies but also to Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine; and it is doing so at the expense of Russian identity which was strong when Moscow dominated Ukraine but which is much less so now that Ukraine is independent.

And that means in turn that the real story here is not the strengthening of ethnic Ukrainian identity but the weakening of ethnic Russian ones, especially beyond the borders of the Russian Federation or even in the non-Russian portions of that country given that far more than Ukrainian identity, Russian identity is dependent on the state.

Indeed, it is difficult not to conclude that Kyiv commentator Oleg Polishchuk gets it right when he argues that Putin’s “conversion of Ukraine into a mono-ethnic state” represents an unusual form of “ethnocide in reverse,” a development with serious consequences not only for Ukraine but for Russia as well.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Ihor Dawydiak

    Long before this newest sociological poll was conducted, Putin himself became acquainted with the fact that people’s loyalties to Ukraine and Ukrainian ethnicity were not based solely on their every day use of a particular language. That in turn and in all probability forced him to abandon any thoughts of trying to recreate a “Novorossiya” in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. He simply could not fight a winning war against a hostile population nor could he garner any significant support from the ethnic Russian population living in Ukraine. Almost all Ukrainian citizens have detested him equally.

    • veth

      Sounds the biggest ‘backfire’ of all times………………

      • Quartermaster

        May there be many more such “backlashes.”

  • veth

    Activists rally against using animals in the circus

    By Anna Yakutenko , Anastasia Vlasova . April 15 at 8:45 pm

    Prev01 24 Next
    A woman holds a poster that reads “I stand for a circus without animals” as she protests against using animals in the circus in Shevchenko Park in Kyiv on April 15.
    Photo by Anastasia Vlasova
    More than 100 people rallied in Taras Shevchenko Park on April 15 against using animals in the circus shows.

    The protest, which was organized by UaAnimals initiative founder Oleksandr Todorchuk, brought together animal rights activists, celebrities, families with children, and animal lovers who called on the government to ban performing animals from Ukraine’s circuses.

    Most of the activists brought self-made posters with slogans demanding that the circus animals be freed, along with paintings depicting animals sadly sitting in small cages. Some of protesters even brought artificial bars, referencing the small cages that house circus animals.

    UaAnimals recently posted photos and videos of the conditions in which animals are being held at the National Circus of Ukraine, showing that most of the animals live in cages that are slightly bigger than the size of their bodies. See the Kyiv Post’s photo gallery from a rehearsal of the National Circus of Ukraine here.

    Anna Smagina came to the protest with her 9-year-old son Maksym the day after watching a performance of the National Circus of Ukraine. They said they liked the gymnastic performances by children and enjoyed most of the show, but Maksym was very disappointed after the circus trainers tried to make the seal perform, and it refused.

    The boy also said that he felt pity for the bear and dogs performing in the circus.

    “The dogs pounced on the food so aggressively! Like nobody had ever fed them,” he said, almost shouting.

    The same evening, they saw a post about the protest on Facebook and decided to come.

    Apart from activists, some Ukrainian celebrities and politicians including the vocalist of Onuka electronic band Nata Zhyzhchenko and her husband, music producer Eugene Filatov, who also performs in the band The Maneken, Ukrainian singer and actress Dasha Astafieva and mayor of Hlukhiv city in Sumy Oblast Michel Terestchenko, attended the protest.

    Zhyzhchenko told the Kyiv Post that she has supported the activists since UaAnimals was founded and that she was happy to see so many people coming out for the rally. Zhyzhchenko and her husband came to the protest with their dog, Pif, who they consider to be more a member of their family than a pet.

    Less than 300 meters away from the animal rights supporters, the Kobzov circus held its performances to mark World Circus Day, the day the protest was held. Dozens of people, most of whom wer families with children, came to see shows by the circus’s clowns and acrobats.

    No animal performances were presented during the event.

    Oleksiy Kuhlych, who went to the circus show with his wife and toddler daughter, believes that some of the animals were taken to the circus because they couldn’t survive in the wild and that they are been taken care of there. He and his family enjoy attending shows at least once a year at the circus.

    “Both kinds of circuses, with and without animals, have the right to exist,” he said.

    Georgy Kyrychenko, who has worked as a clown for more than 15 years, agrees with Kuhlych, saying that not all the circuses keep animals in small cages and torture them. He said that most of the trainers use non-violent methods based on giving animals tasty treats to incentivize them to do tricks.

    He said that there might be some trainers who punish the animals, but in general, that’s an outdated method that he believes is not widely used among trainers.

    However, Yaroslavna Gudym, who spent a month working in National Circus of Ukraine, said that during the trainings there “animals would scream for several hours without a break.”

    She said that some animals in the circus “lost their minds” and could neither perform nor live in the wild. She kept asking the staff about the animals’ future, but never got an answer.

    She also called the state circus “a very reserved business structure,” adding that management obstructs any changes.

    Gudym said that it’s much more comfortable for circuses to exploit animals than to develop new shows, and that the management of the National Circus of Ukraine, who have kept their positions there for a long time, do not want to lose a source of stable profit.

    “But as an artist, I think that we should not only give the audience what it wants, but also educate it,” she said.

  • zorbatheturk

    Putin is losing the battle, and the war. Down with RuSSian imperialism! Pickle the Soviet Onion – and bury it.

    • Igor Volovik

      Dogs can barck but caravan continue moving

      • zorbatheturk

        Woof woof!

        • Quartermaster

          Putin taste bad. Very, very bad!

      • Alex George

        Yes the Russian caravan continues moving to destruction, led by incompetent guides…

  • Igor Volovik

    I herd anything more stupid in my life.

    • Alex George

      I have always said that Putin has done more than any single living person to strengthen Ukrainian identity.

      His foolish aggression against Ukraine is leading to a greatly strengthened and fully independent Ukrainian state.

  • Roman Serbyn

    A rather confusing poll. What is the difference between “nation”, “nationality”, “ethnicity”? Did the respondents have a clear idea what they were asked and a clear idea what the categories meant?

    • Alex George

      The categories “Russian” and “Ukrainian” you mean?

      Yes, they seem to have had a very good idea of the difference.