Russia intentionally ignores the fact that Ukrainians, Belarusians, Balts populated the Russian Far East, not Russians

Ukrainians in Russia’s Far East carrying the portrait of national poet Taras Shevchenko. The original caption reads, “Khabarovsk City, 1 May 1917, International Workers’ Day, Demonstration of Ukrainians.” Source: my-krai.ru 

History, Russia

Editor’s Note


Amid the mass protests in the city of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East, a Russian commenter explains how the predominantly Ukrainian past of the entire region is now largely and intentionally ignored by the Russian authorities.
Most Russians and many outsiders believe that when the Russian Empire acquired the Far East, it dispatched Russians to settle the area and that members of that nation are the ancestors of those who live there now, a view actively promoted by cultural institutions in the region.

But this commonly accepted view isn’t true: Most of those who were sent to the Russian Far East were from Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic lands, with the Ukrainians being especially dominant up until the 1920s and 1930s [at the times, this territory was known as Zelenyi Klyn (Green Wedge) or Green Ukraine, – Ed.].

But from that time forward, Soviet and then Russian institutions have sought to Russify these groups and their history, a drive that has only intensified because of Kyiv’s interest in what was once a Ukrainian territory in the Far East.

Map: Wikimedia Commons. Translation: Euromaidan Press

Russian commentator Maksim Goryunov says that at present Vladivostok’s Museum of the History of the Far East largely ignores the non-Russian origin of “the Russians” of the Russian Far East.

The museum mentions in passing that the ancestors of the current population of the region came from Ukraine, Belarus, and Latvia, the Russian writer says; but it doesn’t specify where precisely they came from, what languages they spoke, what institutions they had, and why they came.

In the city itself, he continues, “there is not a single Ukrainian or Belarusian restaurant/cultural center/publishing house/’society of lovers of history.’ If one didn’t read books, it would be difficult to learn that people came” from where they did, although anyone can see that many last names are anything but Russian.

From a European perspective, he says, “this certainly is not very normal.” People have and are encouraged to have a knowledge of their pasts. “But that is in Europe. Within Russia, an individual is only an individual,” and he or she takes on those attributes including identity that the state wants – and gives up those the state doesn’t want people to have.

Comments appended to Goryunov’s post suggest that at least some people in the Russian Far East remain very interested in their non-Russian origins but currently have few sources to turn to for information besides elderly members of their families who remember something of what is becoming an ever more distant past.

It wasn’t always like that. Ukrainians in the Russian emigration in China promoted Ukrainian identity in the Far East as did the Japanese right up to World War II. And for a brief period in the mid-1980s, the United States even broadcast in Ukrainian to the Russian Far East from Japan.

Since 1991, activists and officials in Ukraine have talked about promoting Ukrainian identity in that region, but they have done relatively little not only because Moscow is so sensitive to this issue but because many in the West argue that talking about that is overly provocative.

Read more on Zelenyi Klyn (Green Wedge) and Kuban:

Edited by: Yuri Zoria

Dear readers! We need your help. COVID-19 has hit independent media outlets hard, but even more so in Ukraine, where most outlets are controlled by oligarchs. To make matters worse, several English-language media sources from Ukraine have closed recently. And even worse, this comes at a time of troubling government tendencies and amid a pro-Russian resurgence in Ukraine.  Help keep us online and reporting on the most important of Ukrainian issues for you in these troubling times, bringing the voices of civic society to the forefront of the information war. Our articles are free for everyone to use but we depend on our readers to keep going.  We are a small independent journalist team on a shoestring budget and have no political or state affiliation. If you like what you see, please support us with a donation

Tags: , , , , ,