Window on Eurasia: Kyiv Disputes Moscow ’s Claim Fe w Ukrainians in Russia Want Native Language Schools

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon May 4 18:51:40 UTC 2009

Window on Eurasia: Kyiv Disputes Moscow’s Claim Few Ukrainians in
Russia Want Native Language Schools

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 4 – Moscow’s assertion that ethnic Ukrainians in the
Russian Federation, that country’s second largest nationality, do not
have any problems with education in their own national language
because they are not asking for it “does not correspond to reality,”
according to a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry. A week
ago, Andrey Nesterenko, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said, in
responding to an OSCE report, acknowledged that there were few
Ukrainian language schools but said that reflected an absence of
demand by Ukrainians for them rather than a Moscow policy against such
schools (

The lack of such demands, the Russian diplomat continued, reflects
what he described as “the closeness of the Eastern Slavic languages
and cultures, the common history (Kievan Rus, the Moscow State, the
Russian Empire and the USSR) and the common Christian faith” of the
Russians and Ukrainians. Not surprisingly, Ukrainians and Ukrainian
officials were outraged not only because Moscow has always insisted on
the provision of Russian-language schools in Ukraine – and complained
when any of them are closed – but also because Nesterenko’s claim
about the situation in Russia where in fact Ukrainians would like
Ukrainian-language schools “does not correspond to the facts”
Indeed, Ukrainian commentators have pointed out, Ukraine does support
Russian language education in its schools and that last year, the OSCE
commissar on national minorities declared after examining the
situation there that he did not find “any violation of the rights of
the Russian language population in Ukraine”

Vasily Kirilich, a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, said
that Nesterenko’s statement was intended to mislead the OSCE by
creating “the false impression of the supposedly problem-free nature
of Ukrainian national cultural development in Russia,” a particular
travesty because ethnic Ukrainians at 2.5 million are the second
largest national minority there. He pointed out that in Moscow alone,
there are now more than 250,000 ethnic Ukrainians but not a single
middle school with instruction in the Ukrainian language, something
that creates problems both for the indigenous Ukrainian population of
the city and the many other Ukrainians who “work temporarily” there
and plan to return to Ukraine.

Elsewhere in the Russian Federation, throughout which ethnic
Ukrainians are to be found, the situation is even worse, he said. At
present “there is no school” anywhere in the Russian Federation where
the entire academic program is conducted in the Ukrainian language.
There exists only [a few] schools with an ethno-national
(ethno-cultural) component.” The Ukrainian diplomat was clearly
infuriated by the suggestion that Ukrainians living in the Russian
Federation were not interested in preserving their own language
through the schools and that, to use Nesterenko’s words, “citizens of
the Russian Federation of Ukrainian nationality and Russians among
citizens of Ukraine are in a different ethno-cultural situation.”

Russian commentaries in support of Moscow’s point of view, such as
Aleksandr Karavayev today, have suggested that the Ukrainians have
only themselves to blame. Moscow has routinely supported
Russian-language efforts in Ukraine, but Kyiv has been largely
inactive in supporting Ukrainian-programs in Ukraine
( While there is some truth in what
Karavayev says, that claim ignores two longer-standing if unfortunate
realities. On the one hand, in Soviet times, Moscow provided
Russian-language schools in all republics but did not provide any
schools for non-Russians in their language outside their titular

Thus, while Ukrainians living in Ukraine did have schools in
Ukrainian, those Ukrainians living elsewhere did not, unlike Russians
who in almost all cases had Russian-language schools wherever they
lived. The current situation is a survival of that past, one
Ukrainians and many other non-Russians decry.

And on the other, this pattern reflects an even older view, long
propounded by Russians and accepted by many Western specialists.
According to that view, Ukrainians and Belarusians are “byproducts” of
Russian ethno-national development, and thus it is entirely
appropriate that they be integrated linguistically and politically
with the Russian nation and state.

In fact, as the Ukrainians and Belarusians know and, as statements
like that of Kirilich last week show, are increasingly prepared to
defend, those two nations have a separate and distinct ethno-national
and political history, one that deserves equal treatment and respect
not only from the Russians but from all members of the international
community as well.
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