Fearing repercussions in Russia, American professor comes to Kyiv to shoot films
One of the most widely used American Russian-language multimedia teaching materials, “Golosa,” will now record its Russian-language video segments in Kyiv.
“Golosa,” first printed in 1992, is a Russian language resource widely used in American universities and schools.
The lead author of the book, Dr. Richard Robin of George Washington University, an expert on Russian-language education and instruction, originally recorded video segments for the textbook in Moscow. But Russia’s current political conditions have made filming the segments there impossible now.
A different Russia
One of the most pressing barriers to filming in Russia is the Kremlin’s views on homosexuality and gay adoption.
“I have colleagues who are lesbians that adopted a child originally born in Russia,” Robin stated. “They used to take their child with them every summer. But then they decided, with the new anti-gay laws, and the anti-adoption procedures, that maybe it would be a good idea not to go to Russia,” Robin said.
Robin also said it used to be easy to ask a store manager in Moscow to film in their store, but now, “with all foreigners being suspect, that kind of conversation would probably not happen.”
Since their adoption would be declared illegitimate in Russia, they decided to seek other places where Russian is spoken.
The senior American lecturer has now started filming in both Kyiv and Odesa, speaking with business owners, members of the public, professionals, and officials.
“In Kyiv everything is very relaxed, and Americans are well received… no one is going to stop me and say: ‘no no don’t do that,’” Robin said.
Russian in Ukraine
While there has been a concerted effort by the government following the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution to promote the use of Ukrainian in the public sphere, Russian still remains widely spoken.
“Russian seems to be spoken pretty freely. There seems to be a lot of pressure in the media to have everything in Ukrainian. I don’t see anything wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make the language that was supposed to be the designated language of the country, the national language,” the professor said.
In Ukraine, most of the population profess Ukrainian to be their native tongue. According to a 2017 Razumkov Center poll, 67.7% of Ukrainians use Ukrainian as their first language, 17.4% mix Russian and Ukrainian, and 13.8% state that Russian is their first language.
According to a 2020 poll conducted by the Center for Social Monitoring, however, 36.3% of Ukrainians speak only Ukrainian, 10.3% speak only Russian, and 26.8% speak both languages equally often. In Kyiv, Russian is widely spoken.
The professor recognized that there were challenges to filming in Ukraine, like sensitive language issues, but pushed back against critics of Russian language education.
“I’m very sensitive to the notion of repressing original languages that people spoke. I understand the nationalistic urge to make one single language. A country should have a lingua franca, and Ukrainian now is that. But to repress people who want to speak their own language at home, I think that’s a bad idea.”
“All of the people I’m interviewing, they’re native Russian speakers. It’s not as if I have to look for Russian speakers here,” Dr. Robin stated.
Filming in Kyiv
The academics are now looking to make the 6th edition of their book more inclusive and diverse. The decision to film in Kyiv will be followed by incorporating audio clips and written passages from Central Asian Russian-users.
For Robin, the move is not a reluctant decision, but rather highlights the dire political situation in Russia.
“I don’t need Russia to change its ways on my behalf so I can start shooting video, I don’t need him to stop oppressing people just for my video, I need to be assured that foreigners won’t be viewed as foreign agents trying to do damage to Russia. And I get that feeling now.”