[Marxism] Ukrainian language suppressed in Crimea
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 28 09:34:07 MST 2014
Washington Post, Nov. 28 2014
In Crimea, old ways fade as Russia takes hold
by Michael Birnbaum
SIMFEROPOL, Crimea - Eight months into the Russian annexation of the
Black Sea resort region of Crimea, traces of Ukraine's 60-year rule here
are rapidly being wiped away. Now Ukrainians themselves worry that they
The Ukrainian language has vanished from school curriculums, Russia's
two-headed eagle has been bolted onto government buildings, and Russian
laws are slowly taking hold. And as the peninsula Russifies, Ukrainians
and other minority groups are finding that an area once renowned for its
easygoing cosmopolitanism is now stifling. Some are fleeing their native
Many complain that they have been written off both by the world and by
Ukraine itself, which is focused on the bloody conflict in its
southeast. The turmoil is a harsh consequence of the first major land
grab in Europe since World War II - and it comes despite Kremlin
assurances that life would be better in Crimea for Russians and
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has quickly become a haven for Ukrainian
speakers in Crimea, who can gather on Sunday mornings to gossip and to
send up prayers in sanctuaries whose authorities sit in Kiev, not
Moscow. But Archbishop Kliment, the leader of the church here, fears for
"I get up worried, and I go to bed worried," he said, speaking in the
converted school building in Simferopol that houses the church
headquarters on this peninsula of 2.4 million. "They are closing down
Ukrainian schools, Ukrainian newspapers. It's all closed, and the
Ukrainian church is the only thing left." One poll taken when Crimea was
still part of Ukraine found that about 12 percent of Crimean residents,
or 280,000 people, identified as Ukrainian Orthodox.
Since the Russian takeover, the church leader says, pressure has forced
him to close almost a third of his congregations. Several of his priests
Archbishop Kliment finds himself a world away from the heady days he
spent in Kiev in February, when he announced onstage to a crowd of
battle-scarred protesters that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which
broke away from Russian Orthodoxy after the fall of the Soviet Union,
had withdrawn its support for then-President Viktor Yanukovych. That
provoked cheers from the crowd. Within days, Yanukovych was toppled -
and Russia was moving in on Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was acting to defend the rights
of ethnic Russians, although the risks they purportedly faced appeared
to be almost exclusively voiced within broadcasts by state-run Russian
media. President Obama called the Russian annexation "illegitimate."
Many ethnic Russians were excited to join a richer nation that promised
them a higher standard of living. In a March referendum, 97.6 percent
were said to have voted to join Russia. Critics questioned the validity
of the results, and opponents largely boycotted the voting. Now they say
that an entire constellation of life is swiftly fading away.
Some say they have no future in Crimea. Darya Karpenko emptied her
Simferopol apartment and sold her Nissan this month, setting out last
week with her 2-year-old daughter to join her husband in the Polish city
of Krakow. Even though she is ethnically Russian, she said there is no
future for her family in the city where she was born.
"I feel almost like I'm jumping on the last train car that's leaving,"
Karpenko said, shortly before she left for Poland. "We never planned our
lives to leave. We bought a very nice apartment. We renovated it. We
filled it with expensive furniture. We lost everything here. My husband
works in IT. There were 50 small companies in the city, and they're all
Before the Russian annexation, Karpenko ran a popular blog and was a
business consultant in Ukraine. Since the takeover, she said, she posts
cautiously on her Facebook page, worrying constantly about Russian
"I'm expecting security services to come for me any time there is a
spirited conversation" in the comments section of her Facebook profile,
she said. "Because security services do visit people. It's not an old
wives' tale." Some of her friends were questioned when they criticized
the annexation, she said.
At least 25 of her friends and acquaintances have left, Karpenko said,
leaving no one to talk to who sympathizes with her position in her final
days in Crimea.
"People are leaving every day," she said. "These are very intelligent
people, the middle class, very well educated."
Many Crimean residents, even those supportive of the Russian takeover,
have found themselves stuck in a strange hinterland between nations.
Ukrainian cellphone networks have pulled out, and suddenly friends and
family in Ukraine are an expensive international phone call away.
Businesses must follow new laws. Crimea's new Moscow-backed authorities
shut down the branches of several Ukrainian banks, and the others
departed, leaving many people's life savings in limbo.
Ukrainian authorities have been reluctant to unlock money for new
Russian banks that they say are part of an illegal occupation. Tourism,
once a mainstay of the economy, has lagged as international tourists
kept away this year. And agriculture suffered when Ukraine cut back the
amount of water it sends to Crimea via a canal.
Life could become even more complicated in the coming months. Russia
will require that residents have Russian passports to qualify for health
care, which will force some of the last holdouts either to give up their
Ukrainian passports or to leave the peninsula. Ukraine, meanwhile, is
imposing restrictions on the amount of cash that Crimean residents can
carry across the border.
But many Crimeans are happy to be part of Russia, even if the initial
euphoria has dissipated. Some welcome once again being part of a Russian
nation to which they always felt connected. Others hold out hope for new
economic opportunities. Many say that if it weren't for Russia's
intervention, they would have had the same bloody experience as eastern
Ukraine - although that conflict was sparked by pro-Russian separatists
seizing local government buildings, not by the central government in Kiev.
"We felt we had been in internal immigration. I am a Russian person,"
said Alexander Burtsev, the director of a children's art school in
Sevastopol, the port city that is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "Our
lives have become better," he said. "Financially better and morally
better. Especially morally."
Local authorities have promised him a new building for his art school,
whose students learn painting and sculpture on rickety Soviet-era wooden
Those who complain about the transition period, Burtsev said, are simply
being impatient. "Times aren't easy, because we're switching from
Ukraine to Russian legislation," he said. "But it's a temporary problem."
Authorities say they will smooth out the bumps that have accompanied the
peninsula's switch to Russian rule. They say that there is room for
minorities to live in Crimea so long as they live within Russian laws.
"Ukraine has been an angry stepmother for Crimea," Crimean Prime
Minister Sergei Aksyonov, the top Russian official in Crimea, said in
written replies to questions. "To make Crimea self-sufficient is our
strategic aim. We plan to reach this goal in five years," and Moscow has
pledged $15.5 billion to that end, he said.
As for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, he said that no other churches
recognize it. Its future appears to rest on whether it is allowed to
register in Russia, an unclear prospect.
Archbishop Kliment says he will fight as long as he can. "Until the last
Ukrainian leaves Crimea," he said, "we need to be here with them."
michael.birnbaum at washpost.com
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