9 березня 2014 рік, м. Сімферополь. Фото з фейсбук сторінки учасника акції Андрія Іванця.

Ukrainians of Crimea are ethnic and political. Formation of the Ukrainian culture of the region in the period preceding the Russian occupation


The Ukrainians of Crimea are still a phenomenon that is not understood in either the academic or the political sense. However, it was they – the Crimean Ukrainians – who were the basis of both the anti-oligarchic protests of the late 2000s and the Crimean groups during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. After the occupation of Crimea by Russia, Crimean Ukrainians, like Crimean Tatars, became a persecuted and repressed community of Crimea.

In this article, we will try to outline a common historical canvas – how the community of Ukrainians in Crimea was formed, as well as describe its situation, resources and problems at the beginning of the 2010s.

Let’s give some definitions and statements, which, of course, are debatable and, so to speak, working. But without them, further thinking about the problem and its interpretation will not be completely clear.

At the beginning of the 2010s, Ukrainians in Crimea were a discriminated national minority. What’s more, in many regions of Ukraine they were just like that – albeit in less vivid forms. At the same time, it is precisely at this time that the development of the political nation “Ukrainians” is experiencing active development and consolidation and is entering a pronounced contradiction with political practices and the state system.

Ethnicity at this stage noticeably recedes from the actively forming political nation of Ukrainians. For the latter, ethnicity and origin have an important, but not exclusive, quality. Yes, the Crimean Tatars quite justifiably occupy a place in the community of “Ukrainians” (in the political sense), but they are not ethnically Ukrainian at all. In the same way, ethnic Jews, and Russians, and Armenians, and many others became “citizens of Ukraine”, patriots of Ukraine – at the moment when they declared and began to practice Ukraine’s independence from Russia, and its European choice, and rejection of corruption and surrender national interests.

The post-war emigrants from Ukraine in Crimea were slowly but surely Russified, or rather Sovietized, becoming “Soviet people”. In fact, this meant the rejection of national memory and language, the displacement of the traumatic past, in particular the Holodomor, recognition of the dominant role of the Russian nation and language, loyalty and transmission of the value of the Soviet and wider Russian Empire, the psychological impossibility of living outside its geographical and psychological borders. The children of such Ukrainians were like that no more than by the type of their surnames – Danylenko, Petrenko, Tkach, etc., but they did not have any elements of national self-awareness or recognition of the value of the Ukrainian state. To a small extent, they were more loyal to the Ukrainian state than the “ethnic Russians” of Crimea, but so insignificant that it had no practical significance.

Generally speaking, the Crimean society of the late 80s – the beginning of 90s of the last century was a product of the Soviet resettlement and deportation policy. These were people separated from all their roots, from ethnic and regional identity, economically and psychologically dependent on the state or its specific manifestation (factory, collective farm, police department, etc.), who did not understand or rather were not ready to recognize the values ​​of Ukraine as an independent state The last thesis – “the uselessness of Ukraine” – most often embodied the assertion of Ukraine’s economic inability “after breaking ties with Russia.” A sharp and catastrophic decline in the standard of living in the early 1990s explained the “economic failure” and undermined faith in the “Ukraine project” as such.

The ethnicity of the Sovietized Crimean, who experienced these evolutions, was of secondary and even tertiary importance.

At the time of Ukraine’s independence, the Crimean society was neither culturally nor politically connected, let alone integrated into Ukraine, the inertia of the previous years, when the inclusion of the Crimean region in the Ukrainian SSR concerned only economic issues, was evident. Even the local leaders of the CPSU communicated with the central structures of the party “through the head” of the Kyiv bosses. In a cultural sense, there was something similar – Crimeans considered Crimea to be only formally present in Ukraine. Education – both secondary and higher – was in Russian, the Ukrainian language was actually studied as a foreign language.

The value of the Ukrainian state for the Crimeans of the 1990s was evident only to the families of immigrants from the mainland of Ukraine who preserved their culture, as well as to the Crimean Tatars. Russia dominated in the cultural and worldview fields – the fact is also that in those years the Russian Federation was perceived as a country that was developing much more dynamically, and the vector of its development was western. Ukraine was perceived as backward and unsuccessful in both its economic and political potentials. Even for the Crimean pro-Russian irredentist, the desire to merge with Russia most often meant the desire to live more “civilized”, abundant, “in a Western way”. Until the appearance of Ukrainian television, modernized in form and presentation (late 90s), Russian media dominated Crimea unconditionally.

In the future, Russia’s evolution caused the concepts of “Russia” and “the West” to be opposed, which led Crimeans to be in a situation of constant choice – both Ukraine and Russia offered him two lists of their own advantages and disadvantages. European prospects for Ukraine during the “zero” years were shaky and unreliable. At the same time, the rise in the standard of living of Russians was striking and obvious to the Crimeans, who annually saw more and more numerous and wealthy tourists from Russia.

In parallel, during the 2000s, Crimeans continued to develop more and more involvement in all-Ukrainian life – political (the most important event here was the Orange Revolution), cultural (the increasingly quantitative and qualitative application of Ukraine for its cultural subjectivity), economic. The latter was reflected in the life of Crimeans, for example, in the fact that the rules of conducting business in Ukraine increasingly differed from Russian ones, which formed a new business culture. Thus, the defense of their interests in courts and the formation of horizontal networks – in the form, for example, of various kinds of NGOs – became more and more important for Crimean entrepreneurs. The conference of Ukrainian and Russian publishers held in Simferopol in 2009 can be illustrative, at which the development of this business in the eyes of Russians consisted in massive state purchases of books, while their Crimean colleagues insisted on the expansion of consumer demand.

The formation of the Crimean Ukrainian community in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s took place as several interconnected, but largely isolated processes. A certain background transformation – common to the entire Crimean society – in those years was the growing understanding that the state of Ukraine is a viable, developing project, separate from Russia, which lives more and more with its own problems, which has an increasingly distinct historical memory. For example, in the early 2000s, the norm for advertising producers that all advertising texts must be in Ukrainian played a significant role for Crimeans – before the introduction of this rule, the urban landscape of, say, Simferopol differed little from the landscape of, for example, Krasnodar. The development of national television, its increasingly high quality, created competition for Russian channels. At the same time, Ukrainian show business was developing, and it was more and more confidently competing with Russian, which had completely dominated before. Thus, a situation arose in which being loyal to Ukraine became more and more “fashionable”, more and more “modern”. A new generation of Crimeans was growing up, for whom being Ukrainian no longer meant being “second-rate”, as it had always been in Crimea before.

The Ukrainization of Crimea – the increasing spread of the Ukrainian language and culture, the increasing involvement in the all-Ukrainian political process – took place under the influence of the general national development of Ukrainian culture. Thus, according to the apt observation of one observer, the Ukrainization of Crimea began with the band “Vopli Vidoplyasova” and the distribution of advertisements in the Ukrainian language. They were the first to demonstrate that pop culture in the Ukrainian language and with a folk flavor can be fashionable, modern and competitive. The powerful artistic messages of the advertising industry, its deliberate “modernity”, in their turn, worked on the understanding that being Ukrainian “is not at all shameful” in the business sphere as well.

In a broader context, the Ukrainization of Crimea, which took place most actively among young people, took place against the background of “Crimean” arrogance towards “weak” culture from the position of the bearer of “strong”, “universal” Russian culture. Crimeans of the older generation mostly did not know Ukrainian culture and history, and did not want to know. Even in the case of sympathy for the anti-corruption and anti-oligarchic sentiments of the broad masses of Ukrainians, they denied them the value of their language. With some amendments, this position was also held by many representatives of academic circles – despite the fact that they were included in the all-Ukrainian and European scientific infrastructure. Liberals among them could say: “Yes, Russia is sick, it is experiencing the disease of Putinism, but it is a great country and, having recovered, it will be capable of great things.” For such educated Crimeans, Ukrainian history most often consisted of a series of defeats, and they considered such a constant state of crisis to be the only possible and “natural” one for Ukraine. And they considered the dominance of Russian culture and language in Crimea to be just as natural, and therefore the development of the Ukrainian language – the follies and whims of the national minority.

The consensus that existed in the Ukrainian political and state elite regarding Crimea and Crimean politics was the a priori conviction that it is a “territory with its own culture” – at the level of rhetoric, and a zone of heightened Russian interest – at the level of practice. Briefly, the situation can be described as follows: in Kyiv, Crimean politicians were given “free rein”, they subsidized the constantly deficient republican budget (which was a form of participation of the Crimean political elite in the distribution of all-Ukrainian corruption rent) – in exchange for a declaration of loyalty. At the national level, the image of Crimea as “un-Ukraine”, and in the worst case – as a “nest of traitors”, consisting of pro-Russian elites and the pro-Russian masses who support them, was consolidated. Communication with representatives of the Crimean population, as well as the statements of Crimean politicians, could confirm these theses for a Ukrainian who visited Crimea, and in some cases, for many, reduce them to the rank of dogma.

As a result, the development of Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainization of Crimea took place sluggishly, inconsistently, and – in the organizational part – unqualified. The Ukrainization of Crimea took place as a result of natural processes in society, and not as a result of state policy.

It is very important that, starting from 2005, the Russian special services in Crimea regarded the development of Ukrainian culture as an extremely negative process and a threat to Russia. Given the fact that the Crimean bureaucratic apparatus and the sphere of public policy were oversaturated with formally recruited or actually controlled agents of the FSB, intelligence, etc., any state programs in this direction were either sabotaged, or their content was changed to the opposite in the process of implementation. Moreover, the Ukrainian special services regarded the Crimean groups of Ukrainian nationalists as a threat to public peace, but the intelligence work and various secret special operations concerned not only potentially dangerous figures, but also extended to all “patriots of Ukraine” in general. Crimean Ukrainians constantly felt the threatening attention of employees of the Crimean SBU administration.

Against this background, the consolidation of Crimean Ukrainians (both ethnic and political) took place in several directions:

– the descendants of repressed Ukrainian nationalists were increasingly included in nationalist all-Ukrainian networks, united, and set common tasks for themselves;

– the Crimean Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate developed, uniting not political, but ethnic Ukrainians. They were able to realize their religiosity outside the Moscow Patriarchate ruling in Crimea;

– there was an introduction, establishment of ties and mutual support of various kinds of compatriots from the mainland of Ukraine. In this case, Crimean Ukrainians behaved as representatives of diasporas – in a hostile or simply foreign environment.

The Orange Revolution and Victor Yushchenko’s victory became an episode of consolidation for Crimean ethnic and political Ukrainians. That autumn, it became clear that the revenge of the “pro-Soviet”, “pro-Russian”, “anti-Ukrainian”, generally reactionary forces (as the participants of the process understood them) was quite possible. For the Ukrainians of Crimea, Yanukovych’s victory meant the end of all hopes of getting out of the discriminated state. For the political Ukrainians of Crimea, liberal, democratically minded Crimeans, this would mean the destruction of their hopes for the desired development of both Crimea and Ukraine in general.

During the 2000s, the communities of Crimean Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and increasingly numerous and well-organized groups of “political Ukrainians” became increasingly aware of their goals and common problems – the corrupt nature of the Crimean government, its inability to sustain development, the imposition of “Russian” , pro-Russian, discriminatory practices. However, these communities and groups did not have a common front – immaturity of political thinking, narrow ethnic loyalty, party and group competition, and the ambitions of the leaders prevented them. Among politically active Ukrainians, the listed factors were particularly prominent.

Crimeans in educated circles began to talk about the “Ukraine” project, about Ukraine as one of the European countries, about the prospects of gaining membership in the EU. In less educated circles, they did not formulate it, but they felt that the country was moving in a western direction. This feeling of “movement to the West” among many Crimeans, however, caused rejection, and this split was finally formed by the end of the 2000s. About a third of Crimeans were pro-European, pro-Ukrainian, another third were pro-Russian, the rest could not clearly define themselves.

At the same time, it became increasingly clear that the “European Ukraine” project is not a state project. Yushchenko showed himself to be a weak leader and rather discredited European aspirations, Yanukovych was a radically anti-Western character – at least in that he planted corruption on a national scale, which is incompatible with “movement to the West”, with “civilized life”. This gave a trump card in the hands of the “rational wing” among the Crimean supporters of Russia – Ukraine is hopeless, they said, and tangible and concrete benefits from cooperation with the Russian Federation are better than empty dreams.

In such conditions, the involvement and then the inclusion of Crimeans in the all-Ukrainian cultural and political process took place steadily, expanded and deepened. Markers can be, for example, more and more massive acquisition of higher education in Kyiv and Kharkiv, rather than Moscow universities. In the 90s, a “good” education for a Crimean schoolboy was education in Moscow or St. Petersburg, in the 2000s – in Kyiv or Warsaw. At the same time, a good career for a Crimean in the business sphere is a transfer with a promotion to Kyiv. Previously, professional growth in the “Kyiv direction” was desirable, but as a secondary option, the primary option was to go to Moscow.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the ethnic political groups of Crimean Ukrainians were to a large extent the center (one of many) of the consolidation of pro-European forces in Crimea, as they had connections with mainland Ukrainians (often family and “landlords”), were integrated into all-Ukrainian political structures, and often the common ideological platform was the memory of many Ukrainians in Crimea about the Soviet repressions against their families – this was also the memory of many Crimeans. In turn, ethnic Ukrainians were enriched by those academic, professional connections and strategies that non-ethnic Crimean Ukrainians built up. Yes, they were greatly helped by the Crimean journalistic community, especially that part of it for which coverage of human rights was an important editorial topic.

Yanukovych’s establishment of power consolidated Crimean Ukrainians – both ethnically and politically. Yanukovych personified contempt for Ukrainian culture, national memory and language, on the one hand, and on the other, he embodied the type of “bandit in power” for those for whom cultural issues were not relevant. The rejection of Yanukovych united the “cultured”, ethnic Ukrainians of Crimea with the non-ethnic “Crimean Europeans”. Among the latter stood out, let’s say, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs who did not see a particular threat in the oppression of the Ukrainian language, but felt all the risks of the rule of raiders.

The periodization of the consolidation of Crimean Ukrainians and, related to this, the political Ukrainians of Crimea can be better visualized by focusing on the periods of different presidential terms. The personal attitude of one or another president often had a direct impact on the situation of Crimean Ukrainian culture and politics.

Leonid Kuchma: the formation of groups of (very few) ethnic Ukrainians who were aware of and used to the subjectivity of the Ukrainian state. This concerned the state and Ukraine in general, and Crimea was perceived by them as the territory of a kind of extra-Ukrainian space, a place of forced residence in many respects. It can be mentioned that it was during these years that an attempt at an irredentist rebellion took place in Crimea under the leadership of Meshkov, and it was not about the development of Ukrainian culture and self-awareness in Crimea, but in general about keeping Crimea under state administration and state borders. In those years, the ranks of the Crimean militia often detained activists who unfurled the state flag on city streets. The difficult economic situation and the catastrophic, in fact, rampant criminality put not cultural and political issues at the fore, but the issue of survival. By the end of Kuchma’s presidency, however, in general, the situation stabilized and laid the foundations for the further development of the Ukrainian community, near-term goals and distant prospects were visible.

Viktor Yushchenko: consolidation of Crimean Ukrainians, a period of hopes that were mostly unrealized. Like his predecessor, Yushchenko sold the cultural sphere of Crimea to local elites, as a result of which even nationwide programs for the restoration of historical memory were sabotaged by the Crimean bureaucracy. At the same time, the political structures of the Crimean Ukrainians were put on hold in the process of Kyiv’s personnel decisions regarding the Crimean policy.

In those years, nationwide processes – the ever-increasing development of civil society, and the very fact that a weak but pro-European politician came to power – made the period of Yushchenko’s presidency such a time of prosperity and optimism.

Viktor Yanukovych: at the beginning of his presidential term, the Ukrainians of Crimea – both ethnic and political – had already formed as groups, were aware of their goals and objectives, the information infrastructure was built and communications were established. Yanukovych’s cultural policy worked on the Crimean Ukrainian community in two ways – as a factor of depression, but for others – as a factor in mobilizing forces, as a source of motivation to preserve previously won positions. It was during those years that strong ties of all types of Ukrainians in Crimea were established with similar groups, systems and strata of continental Ukrainians, and the threats that Yanukovych personified united everyone. Ukrainians of Crimea began to form a peculiar, but integrated part of the community “Ukrainians of Ukraine”.

On the eve of the Maidan and the Russian occupation, the Ukrainians of Crimea, both ethnic and “political”, were a viable force actively developing in an “upward trend”. It was this that led to actions in support of the Kyiv Maidan, actions of civil disobedience to the forces of occupation, and created the basis for massive, but not always obvious, protests in the later years of Russian rule in Crimea, but this is already the topic of separate studies and descriptions.

Andriy Kyrylov

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