Confessions of an Ethnic Russian


By Ilya Khineyko

It has become commonplace to point out that many Russians in Ukraine, and other post-Soviet republics for that matter, are clinging to the Soviet past. However, despite the lack of loyalty to the respective newly independent countries in which they reside, there is little attachment to the current Russian Federation. A number of scholars have argued that the persistence of Soviet identity is rooted in the historic experience of Russians who suffered a loss of identity following the USSR’s own ‘nationalizing’ project aimed at creating a Soviet people. This factor helps to explain why ethnic Russians in the republics did not rush en masse to save the USSR in 1991. However, it cannot account for the absence of ethnic Russian mobilization in the post-Soviet period. The text below helps to shed light on this issue. As an emotional invective, evidently written by an ethnic Russian, it represents an attempt to explain how ethnic Russians feel about their status and perspectives in Ukraine as well as their relationship with Russia. Whether the opinions of the anonymous author of this internet posting are indicative of a broader societal trend remains an open question. However, it does provide an interesting insight into the psychology of this relationship.

A pessimistic posting

I understand that one cannot choose one’s time and country. If I had been allowed to choose, I would have preferred a somewhat different combination, and so would many of you, I’m sure. “We” are those ‘Russian-speakers’ in southern and eastern Ukraine who have been talked about a lot lately. There are also our brothers-in-misfortune from the Transdniester and Baltic countries. The situation we have wound up in is as miserable as it gets. It goes like this – no one needs us, we have no homeland. It sounds pessimistic and we can be accused of defeatism, but let’s examine the situation.

This country is foreign [chuzhaya] to us. The ‘U’ territory cannot be deemed our homeland because it is hostile to our culture and language. She doesn’t want to consider us her own children, either. At best, we are raw material to be molded into ‘authentic’ [svidomye] Ukrainians who would be – it is true – mother Ukraine’s true native sons, whatever that means. We are deficient, surrogate Ukrainians….

One might argue that in such a situation it would be logical to seek support and assistance in Russia where people speak the same language and belong to the same culture. However, we are not ‘welcomed’ there either, which is the greatest disappointment of all. Whereas in Ukraine we are labeled as stooges of the katsap, in Russia we are known simply as the khokhols. A typical Russian person doesn’t distinguish very well between Vinnitsa and Rovno. He is oblivious to the voting preferences of Lugansk and Kharkov. What he is very well aware of is the fact that there is a territory called Ukraine populated by greedy khokhols, who spend their time devouring pork fat [salo], drinking horilka, who hate Russia and steal her gas. How does he know it? Well, that’s what the TV says….

As a result, how would he perceive an ethnic Russian? — As a Ukrainian who is trying to tell him that he is actually Russian. That’s nonsense?!

“I think I have figured that out!” the Russian would say. This khokhol must have gotten tired of eating his salo, so he decided to come to Russia looking for opportunities to steal. “What has brought you over here from that filthy country of yours?” the Russian would be asking aggressively and with contempt. “You say you’re Russian? No, I’m the one who is Russian. Want to see my passport? Let’s look at yours? See what’s written in there – a citizen of Ukraine. Do you have any questions? Stop trying to fool me.”

There are even some of you who would lecture us patronizingly – why should you want to remain Russians [rossiyane]? Life in Russia is not easy either. You have your own homeland, your own culture and your desire to get rid of all that is plain foolish.

However, there is a third option, to become a little Russian. Little Russians are just like Russians but inferior, even defective [potorochenye] ones. Russians would say: “Well, it doesn’t matter, they are still our own. We will accept you with open arms; we will provide accommodation for you and give you everything that we ourselves no longer need. We will give you jobs too, which will be commensurate to your limited abilities – sweeping streets or something like that….

“If you happen to have an opinion on some matter, we will listen to what you have to say. Although it is obvious to us that you can’t come up with anything intelligent, we will listen to you anyway. Of course, we will go the way we choose regardless, but we promise to sugarcoat our negative response as much as possible – brothers should be polite to each other.”

Why is that? Why such contempt? What makes us so unworthy? Why is the blood of my ancestors spilled at the battles of Kalka and Kulikovo as well as at Stalingrad valued less than the blood of your Great Russian ancestors? What makes the industrial might of Donbass less worthy that that of the Ural factories? According to what criteria are Kharkov’s universities worse than Novosibirsk’s? Mikhail Bulgakov was from Kiev. Yet, you make movies based on his books and flock to see his plays in theaters. That’s because he was Russian, right? What about me then?

I think I know why. It is not about abstract virtues such compassion, talent or valor. The problem is with that damn box with a blue screen and the newspapers that are always right. The problem is with the people who make decisions regarding what content should be in and what should be left out….

It suits them fine to keep bombarding the audience with the same message that [Ukrainian Russians] cannot be their compatriots but are actually greedy, dumb, envious, mendacious khokhols who are not worthy of compassion. You know, media have always been telling the truth in our country….

We are a necessary collateral damage in the Big Game. If I could I would choose a different country and a different time. However, unfortunately, it’s not up to us to decide.

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About DAVID R. MARPLES

Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

3 comments

  1. Acbko

    “Ask not what Ukraine or Russia can do for you but what you can do for….”
    Stop feeling sorry for yourself, make a life either in Ukraine, Russia or wherever-that is what freedom is.
    Your problem is you have not taken the effort to make roots in Ukraine, and are not willing to take a chance for a new life in Russia.
    You will die an unhappy old man being a “deficient, surrogate” unless you get off your behind and love the country where you live. Wherever that may be

  2. Naz

    The message in Ukraine is simple. Either learn our language, become our citizen, and follow our rules and respect it or get out.

    Its a new world now.

  3. Maria

    I do feel sorry for you. I didn’t realize it was that hard. It’s sick that your own ethnicity (Russians) treat you that way. I’m going to be much more polite than the other two posters, but I would like to suggest that what you should consider doing is making roots in Ukraine. If you learned the language and the culture (which wouldn’t be too hard since you already speak Russian and enough Ukrainians do too, you probably understand some Ukrainian already) then most people in Ukraine won’t care if you are “ethnically” Ukrainian or not (except for Ultra-Nationalists but they hate everyone so they don’t count LOL). All most people want is to have their language and culture acknowledged as something other than “Little Russian”; as an identity that while similar in some ways is not the same as Russian. The hostility and feelings of defectiveness you’ve probably experienced comes from people feeling you don’t respect their culture, and that some Russian speakers want the Russian language to be the main one in Ukraine, as well as bitterness over the Russian government’s constant interference in Ukrainian politics and centuries of forced Russianization. Of course you personally are not to blame for any of that-but you know how human nature is.

    But you can keep your culture and embrace the one of your adopted country to-I did it when I went abroad. Being a Ukrainian citizen gives you the right to call yourself a Ukrainian-why not take advantage of that? There are plenty of Ukrainians with Russian and other roots and vice versa who did just that. The frustration you feel at being dismissed by the “great Russians?” We’ve felt it too, for centuries. So join us-you’ll find we’re not so bad. We’re not as chuzhaya as you think. Good luck to you!

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