May 1, 2014
Why are Russia’s nearly 2 million Ukrainians silent? That is the question of Ukrainian educator Iryna Kluchkovska  asks in the mainstream daily broadsheet Den (The Day). Russia’s annexation of Crimea and sponsorship of violent uprisings in Ukraine’s east have mobilized Ukrainian communities to protest in New York, Sydney, Munich and elsewhere, she writes. But the expatriates of Ukraine's single biggest diaspora – the nearly 2 million (or 1.35 percent of the total population) living in Russia – have been silenced by fear, writes Kluchkovska. She recounts the stories of four Ukrainian community leaders killed or attacked in cities across Russia during the past decade – cases in which Russian officials have made no arrests and no convictions. This violence has delivered a message to Russia’s Ukrainians that they are vulnerable and have no recourse to law. As Vladimir Putin’s government declares itself the protector of rights for ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it systematically represses Ukrainians in Russia, terrorizing them into a deafening silence, Kluchkovska concludes.

Thank you for the reality check, writes Denys Kazansky, 30, a Russian-speaking journalist from Donetsk, at the center of the Russian-backed uprising by masked gunmen demanding secession. On the news website Livyj Bereg (Left Bank), Kazansky says the Russia-Ukraine crisis has led him to some personal historic re-assessment, beginning with the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine, which Ukrainians and prominent historians say emerged from the deliberate policies of Stalin’s Soviet government in Moscow. “I never thought the Holodomor (the famine) was a genocide against Ukrainians, I was always very open minded towards Russia, I never thought Russia wanted to wipe us off the face of the earth,” he writes.

Kazansky changed his mind after seeing the violence in his hometown April 28, when pro-Russian gangs attacked a peaceful march by demonstrators urging a united Ukraine. His article, “Thanks for the lesson,” is Kazansky’s light-bulb moment. “Can a Russian beat a Ukrainian for his language, his flag, because he loves his country? Yes he can and he has,” Kazansky writes. “Now I see Ukrainian-Russian historic relations in a completely new light. After what I have seen in Donetsk over the last few days, I have no doubt that Russia has always wanted to destroy us physically.”

Even the editors of the Volyn Post, a western Ukrainian newspaper and web site, are uncertain just what to make of a series of dispatches sent by their correspondent, Serhiy Shapoval, from Slaviansk, the city at the center of the uprising in eastern Ukraine. On April 26, the newspaper lost contact with Shapoval when he stopped answering calls to his cellphone. Two days later his family reported that Shapoval called his sister, told her he was with the separatist militants in control of Slaviansk and was well but could not leave. A day later, with Shapoval still in the militants’ custody, the newspaper received several articles from him via e-mail.  The editors published the stories with a caveat that they are not sure whether the dispatches were written under duress or not.

One article describes the provincial capital of Donetsk, which seems a normal city until he gets to the provincial government building, Shapoval writes. Among the masked militants behind the barricades there, he meets a separatist field commander nicknamed Vedmid (Bear). They speak for a long time, and Vedmid suspects that Shapoval is an agent of the Ukrainian Security Service. “They don’t trust Ukrainian media here,” he writes. “They think we are all propagandists. They only trust Russian media.” Shapoval shows Vedmid his articles in the Volyn Post and finally Vedmid is convinced that he is dealing with a real journalist, and not a secret agent. “What you write is interesting,” says Vedmid, “but it’s not completely true.” After a short discussion about journalistic ethics, Vedmid proposes that Shapoval write a series of stories about the separatist militias.

Shapoval is driven north to Slaviansk in the company of five militants. His stories from there vary in several respects from those filed by journalists operating more independently. Shapoval specifies that he saw no weapons at the road checkpoints into Slaviansk, and he mentions nothing of the masked militants being armed or aggressive. “I did not feel any hostility from them,” he writes. “Quite the contrary, they were interested in me being from western Ukraine, and asked me questions, asked for my opinion.” He writes of their extremely high regard for the Russian military, and says that, that after long discussions, the Slaviansk militia has given him journalistic accreditation.

“The people must have a monopoly right to influence government” Ukraine’s official newspaper Uriadovyi Kurier (The Government Courier) proclaims in its headline on the parliamentary debate over proposed changes to the Ukrainian constitution. For the third time in a decade, Ukrainians are rewriting their constitution in an attempt to devolve power from the presidency and create a system of greater accountability and balance. An independent judiciary is a key objective, says interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, The constitution must ensure that the president no longer can appoint judges by executive order, he says; this must done through the country’s Judicial Council.

It is important that the role of the presidency be clearly understood by all on May 25, when Ukrainians are to elect a president. “The people must know what kind of powers the person they are voting for will have,” says Yatsenyuk.

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