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The destruction of Ukrainian identity in Crimea is an important topic that appeared on the agenda of Ukrainian society in connection with the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation (hereinafter – the Russian Federation).
On February 20, 2014, the Russian Federation launched an armed aggression against Ukraine, occupying the territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (hereinafter the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and the city of Sevastopol. February 27, 2014 was determined by the European Court of Human Rights as the date of the beginning of Russia’s actual control over the Crimean Peninsula. In fact, 2014 was the year of the beginning of the mass destruction of Ukrainian identity in Crimea by the Russian Federation.
How Russians are changing their attitude to Ukrainian identity
During the period of the Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, the authorities of the occupying state and its illegal structures in the region, using all available means, pursue a purposeful policy of destroying the Ukrainian national identity of the population of the occupied territory with the aim of assimilating and rooting the Russian civil identity. The armed aggression of the Russian Federation, which began in Crimea, became the main challenge not only to Ukrainian statehood in general, but also to Ukrainian identity in the specified territory. At the same time, neither at the national nor at the international level has a general understanding of the need to protect the rights of Ukrainian identity holders in the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol been developed. Representatives of Ukrainian politics, the media community and society do not have sufficient information about the actions of the aggressor state, aimed at destroying the Ukrainian identity in the occupied regions of Ukraine, and their consequences.
Currently, Ukrainian studies are talking about a broad synthetic understanding of Ukrainianness, which combines various natural, socio-cultural and other dimensions. With this in mind, Ukrainian identity is determined by the presence of at least one of four features:
- ethnic origin and self-identification;
- awareness of the historical fate and time perspective shared with other representatives of the Ukrainian ethnic group;
- involvement in the Ukrainian cultural and information space;
- conscious activity to spread Ukrainian culture.
In the conditions of the Russian occupation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the violent violation of the identity of the Ukrainians of Crimea by the aggressor state for more than 7 years deserves separate consideration. In this case, we are dealing with such negative factors of the identity crisis as a change in the social order, the dominance of another ideology, language, religion, etc.
During the period of existence of the independent state of Ukraine, purposeful pro-Ukrainian ethnopolitics aimed at the formation of Ukrainian identity was absent as such: last but not least, this led to the fact that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol became “enclaves” of citizens, mostly distant from Ukrainian identity and remained “Soviet” for many years after the restoration of Ukraine’s independence.
Therefore, during the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula in February-March 2014, the Russian Federation, in order to create a picture of “massive support for the return of the originally Russian Crimea to its historical homeland”, made the main bet not only on specially imported groups of its citizens (Kuban Cossacks, pensioners of the Russian security forces, who were representatives of the Russian special services), but also on several groups of the local population – bearers of Russian, “Soviet” and combined, so-called “Soviet-Russian” identities. Representatives of these communities either identified themselves as Russians and in every way opposed themselves to the state, whose citizens they were de jure and de facto, showing hatred for everything related to Ukraine and Ukrainians, or as “Soviet people” who were nostalgic for the USSR and cherished hope for its revival and “reunification of fraternal peoples/republics in a single state”.
In 2014, the Russian Federation faced the “problem” of the inhabitants of the peninsula, who are carriers of the Ukrainian identity, and at the same time, by analogy with previous situations, they are not always ethnic Ukrainians.
Conditionally, this group can include several subgroups whose representatives identify themselves as ethnic or political Ukrainians:
1) persons who have been Crimeans for several generations;
2) persons who arrived in Crimea during the time of the USSR (in particular, after the transfer of the Crimean region to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954) or the sovereignty of Ukraine on the peninsula;
3) persons who were born in Crimea during the late USSR (mainly 1980s – early 1990s) or Ukraine’s sovereignty on the peninsula (1991–2014).
The Ukrainian identity of these persons was formed under the influence of many factors: family history and upbringing, cultural and media influences, formation of personal beliefs, etc. In this case, self-identification with the “mainland” Ukrainian community and awareness of historical, traditional and civic involvement with it also play an important role.
Separately, it is worth mentioning school-age children, who, since 2014, the occupying state has deprived not only of the right to self-identification, different from the Russian one, but also to obtain and preserve the citizenship of the state of Ukraine.
It is also worth noting the phenomenon of adopting a “titular” identity, when some residents of Crimea, who identified themselves as Ukrainians, began to position themselves as Russians after the Russian occupation of the peninsula. However, the events that accompanied the Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula also enriched the mentioned group with other persons who had previously declared a different ethnic or social self-identification and began to identify themselves as “political” Ukrainians as a sign of protest against the Russian occupation of Crimea. At the same time, the term “Crimean Ukrainians”, which has more than a hundred years of historical tradition, began to acquire special significance and new relevance.
What research are Russians conducting in Crimea and how are they promoting the idea of the “absence” of Ukrainians on the peninsula
During July–June 2016, the independent community of sociologists “Open Opinion” (Moscow) conducted the “Open Opinion – Krym” survey in Crimea with the aim of “studying the public opinion of the population of the peninsula in a difficult geopolitical situation”. 1100 respondents participated in the sample. The survey was conducted both through personal communication and in the mode of telephone conversations. The authors noted that in Crimea “two identities are gaining primacy: socio-political and regional – Crimeans primarily consider themselves “citizens of Russia” (43%) and “inhabitants of Crimea” (35%).” At the same time, about 1% of the respondents called themselves citizens of Ukraine.
The researchers stated that “on the way from Ukraine to Russia, there was an identification “flow” from the group of “citizens of Ukraine” to the group of “citizens of Russia”, but suggested that the explanation of this phenomenon should be linked to the factor of trust in political institutions, political conformism and pragmatics of life, as well as with a change in value priorities.
A “quite unexpected” result for the authors of the survey was a relatively high share of respondents who chose the answer option “Citizen of the world, inhabitant of planet Earth” – 9%: in their opinion, such a choice could be facilitated by the depression of national identity.
In particular, it was noted that among Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and representatives of other nationalities, the share of respondents with a cosmopolitan self-identification was 11–15%. At the same time, the authors of the survey added that there is a noticeable differentiation among the ethnic groups of Crimea: different identities are manifested with different intensity and relate to each other in different ways. For example, among those who identified themselves as Russian, 52% consider themselves to be “primarily citizens of Russia”, while among Ukrainians this figure is almost twice as low – 28%. Breaking ties with Ukraine was chosen by every third respondent (31%), among Ukrainians this figure was 52%. The authors of the study cited the results of the “population census” for October 2014, according to which 16% of Crimeans called themselves Ukrainians: according to the survey, this figure was even lower – 12%.
This difference in indicators was explained both by the departure of a part of the Ukrainian population and by a change in the national identification of some Crimeans after the forced granting of Russian citizenship.
Andrii Ivanets, a representative of the Ukrainian National Council of Crimea, expresses the opinion that the Russian Federation in Crimea implements the same assimilation strategy for Ukrainians as it does in its territory. In his opinion, the messages of the Russian authorities about “one nation” and the impossibility of the existence of Ukrainians as a separate people are aimed at an assimilation strategy and a basis for expansion. In Crimea, this has been manifested since 2014 in the systematic destruction of cultural infrastructure, which was created before the Russian occupation and was clearly insufficient for Crimean Ukrainians: after the occupation, access to this infrastructure was completely blocked. Back in the days of Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea, Ukrainians were convinced that they belonged to the titular nation, and on this basis they were denied the satisfaction of their cultural needs. Mr. Ivanets also noted that Ukrainian-oriented Crimeans in the Russian “information aquarium” are deprived of the opportunity to receive objective information from the mainland, being influenced by mass Russian propaganda.
Research by the Crimean branch of the “Information Resistance” group indicates that the Russian Federation in Crimea creates a false impression of the alleged “absence” of Ukrainians on the occupied peninsula, claiming that its residents who are not ethnic Russians are almost no different from them and are satisfied absolutely everyone. The results of the illegal census of the Crimean population in October 2014 were given as a vivid example of the assimilation course, according to which hundreds of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians “disappeared” in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol at the same time. According to the All-Ukrainian Census of 2001, 576,700 ethnic Ukrainians lived in Crimea and Sevastopol, accounting for 24.1% of the population. In 2014, the occupiers “counted” only 344,500 Ukrainians (15.7% of the population) in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea – a decrease of 232,200 people. Out of 393,304 residents of Sevastopol, 52,912 people called themselves Ukrainians, while in 2001 this figure was 84,420.
The total number of residents of the Crimean peninsula who identify themselves as Ukrainians has reportedly decreased by 40%.
How Ukrainian identity is destroyed in Crimea: we analyze the methods
Consistently and comprehensively implementing measures aimed at suppressing and erasing Ukrainian identity in the occupied territories of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the occupying state is guided by the commandment of its leader “Ukrainians and Russians are one people”. Accordingly, the main goal of these measures is the assimilation of Ukrainians, the deprivation of their own national and cultural self-identification and the establishment of a Russian identity instead.
This goal is achieved thanks to the following main methods:
- forced granting of citizenship of the occupying state to residents of the occupied territory;
- creation of the “Ukrainian information vacuum”;
- anti-Ukrainian propaganda and incitement of hate speech against the bearers of Ukrainian identity in the mass media of the occupying state and mass media controlled by it in the occupied territories;
- liquidation of Ukrainian national memory;
- depriving the bearers of Ukrainian identity of the opportunity to receive education in the Ukrainian language and to acquire knowledge of Ukrainian studies disciplines;
- attack on religious communities of Ukrainian churches (OCU, UGCC, other denominations, whose ministers and parishioners are carriers of Ukrainian identity);
- persecution of independent pro-Ukrainian activists and members of Ukrainian organizations and associations and persons who disagree with the occupation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, creating their image as “extremists” and “terrorists”.
On the territory of the occupied peninsula, the Russian Federation is aggressively implementing the policy of destroying Ukrainian identity and uniting local residents. The most tragic consequence of such a policy is the impact on Crimean children – citizens of Ukraine, whose perception of the world is formed under the conditions of massive pressure from the occupying power of the aggressor state.
In the following publications, we will publish the results of a study of individual instruments of the state policy of the Russian Federation aimed at destroying the Ukrainian identity in Crimea.
member of the Council of National Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
at the Kherson Regional State Administration (ethnic Karaim)
Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.