Crimea ag­o­nistes

Why the ques­tion of Rus­sia's oc­cu­pa­tion of the Ukrainian penin­sula re­mains, and will re­main, open

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ihor Losiev

In the con­text of le­gal and ide­o­log­i­cal dis­putes around the ces­sa­tion of the Rus­sian war on Ukraine sup­pos­edly us­ing diplo­macy, there ap­pear to be con­stant, stub­born ef­forts to re­move Crimea from the frame­work of the dis­cus­sion. More­over, this is be­ing done, not just in the West, but even among Ukraine’s top politi­cians, some of whom say, “First Don­bas and the Minsk ac­cords, and then, at some point later, Crimea...”

At his meet­ing with US Pres­i­dent Trump in Helsinki, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin de­cided to “shut up” the US by an­nounc­ing that the is­sue of Crimea was closed once and for all. His­tory has seen many such pro­nounce­ments. In soviet times, it was con­sid­ered an un­ques­tion­able truth that the USSR would sur­vive un­til world­wide com­mu­nism was es­tab­lished, but in fact it lasted less than 70 years. The Third Re­ich was called “mil­len­nial,” but its mil­len­nium lasted all of 13 years. Take Vik­tor Miro­nenko, a one-time Kom­so­mol leader in the Ukrainian SSR and the USSR, now an as­sis­tant to Mikhail Gor­bachev: in an in­ter­view with a Kyiv pa­per, he de­clared that Rus­sia would never fall apart, that no one should count on it, be­cause its col­lapse was im­pos­si­ble. Given ac­tual out­comes in his­tory, such pro­nounce­ments need to be taken with a grain of salt, es­pe­cially where they use words like “for­ever,” “never,” “ev­ery­one,” “no one,” “noth­ing,” and so on. And there is no rush to con­sider an is­sue “closed once and for all.”

Un­for­tu­nately, there are those among Ukraine’s me­dia, politi­cians, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts, poll­sters, and jour­nal­ists who are try­ing very hard to “close the Crimea ques­tion.” All too of­ten, crocodile tears are shed about aw­ful Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda — and it truly is aw­ful — has com­pletely brain­washed Crimeans and be­cause of that just about ev­ery­one in Crimea vi­o­lently hates Ukraine and wor­ships Rus­sia. As proof of this, they re­fer to polls taken on the penin­sula that are more than a lit­tle sus­pect. For starters, how ob­jec­tive can any num­bers be in a poll that’s taken un­der a harsh oc­cu­py­ing regime? Why don’t these same poll­sters try sur­vey­ing peo­ple in North Korea? When I was a stu­dent in the phi­los­o­phy depart­ment of Kyiv Univer­sity, what could I have re­sponded back in 1977 if some­one had walked up to me on Khreshchatyk and asked me what I thought of the poli­cies of the Com­mu­nist Party? Per­haps these sociologists would have been in­ter­ested in hear­ing from the pris­on­ers in Buchen­wald what they thought of the ac­tions of the com­man­dant of their camp and would af­ter­wards have pat­ted them­selves on the back about the “ob­jec­tive” in­for­ma­tion they had gath­ered.

Some poll­sters and jour­nal­ists are un­em­bar­rassed to talk about the opin­ion of res­i­dents of Yalta, Sev­astopol, Sim­fer­opol, Yev­pa­to­ria... Of course for those who are within the sys­tem of of­fi­cial Rus­sian po­si­tions, there is com­plete free­dom of speech, as it was at one time for soviet ci­ti­zens who took ex­er­cised it to “strengthen so­cial­ist democ­racy and the soviet sys­tem.” But to speak out on Ukraine’s be­half means to end up be­ing in­ter­ro­gated by the FSB, so only very rare in­di­vid­u­als are brave enough to even whis­per: “It was a lot bet­ter un­der Ukraine.” And what does it say about those who run polls in an­nexed Crimea and in oc­cu­pied Don­bas, ef­fec­tively act­ing as agents provo­ca­teurs by plac­ing their re­spon­dents at risk of the regime’s sharp ax.

Prior to 2014, some west­ern Ukrainian writ­ers did their fair share in alien­at­ing the coun­try’s eastern and south­ern re­gions by con­stantly harp­ing on the idea that “Ukraine did not need Crimea and Don­bas” be­cause sup­pos­edly the peo­ple there were “not Ukraini­ans.” Like-minded in­di­vid­u­als echoed these sen­ti­ments in Kyiv.

How­ever, when their dreams about cut­ting off the “nonUkrainian” ter­ri­to­ries were car­ried out by Rus­sia’s high com­mand, these same writ­ers sud­denly grew silent. Still, their ide­o­log­i­cal fel­low-trav­el­ers oc­ca­sion­ally make them­selves heard in the cap­i­tal. One of them has even pro­posed set­ting up a num­ber of model Ukrainian re­gions and build­ing a “real” Ukrainian state with­out any for­eign el­e­ments. With the rest, things will work them­selves out, one way or an­other. It’s just a shame that all this sounds very much like a reser­va­tion or an ethno­graphic pre­serve. Dystopian writer Yuriy Shcherbak is very crit­i­cal of this kind of idea as a huge af­flic­tion for Ukraine and calls it the “zone of eth­nic con­sol­i­da­tion” or ZEK — “zek” be­ing a slang term for con­vict. Such a place would have only lit­tle kozaks with cos­tumed girls, pic­turesque cot­tages with straw roofs, aqua vita made of the best sorts of do­mes­tic beets, only the Ukrainian lan­guage, and every­thing to­tally ideal, pretty and col­or­ful — more-or-less sim­i­lar to the lovely im­age that early Ukrainian em­i­grants kept alive far across the sea and handed down to their heirs.

Given the real Ukraine, the ideal ver­sion will con­tinue to shrink un­der pres­sure from un­ruly facts. Mean­while, large num­bers of bear­ers of “true Ukrainianness" flee abroad to work in Poland, Slo­vakia, Czechia, Ro­ma­nia and even Rus­sia — any­thing to avoid risk­ing their lives at the front. It turned out that it’s a lot eas­ier to speak Ukrainian, wear em­broi­dered shirts, wave the blue and yel­low flag and the red and black ban­ner, and shout “Slava Ukraini!” than it is to stand at the coun­try’s bor­ders, a weapon in hand. As one well-known in­tel­lec­tual with roots in Ha­ly­chyna wrote: “In 2009, I was sur­prised how rus­si­fied and ori­ented to­wards our neigh­bor this city was. But to­day, peo­ple should look at where the most men re­spond to the draft. In Lviv, they have to round draftees up, whereas in Za­por­izhzia the sit­u­a­tion is very dif­fer­ent.”

The war has shown that no re­gion has a monopoly on real Ukrainian pa­tri­o­tism — not the the­atri­cal, rhetor­i­cal kind! At the front, Ukraini­ans pay the high­est price for their con­vic­tions, their blood and their lives, they give their home­land their arms, their legs, their eyes, their health, sac­ri­fic­ing every­thing. That’s why sep­a­rat­ing any parts of Ukraine, dis­cred­it­ing them,



call­ing them “alien,” is a my­opic po­si­tion at best. What’s more, ethno-cul­tural purists are un­able to of­fer any cri­te­ria for the Ukrainianness of a ter­ri­tory, re­ly­ing on purely sub­jec­tive “feel­ings.” At one time, ex-Polit­buro mem­ber Alek­sandr Yakovlev used this kind of ar­gu­ment to re­ject the idea of Ukraine’s sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence: “When I come to Ukraine, I don’t feel like I’ve crossed a bor­der.” In other words, there’s no such coun­try, no such state, and no such na­tion be­cause they “don’t feel like...” A cer­tain place doesn’t give the Ukrainian writer the im­pres­sion that it’s Ukrainian? It’s clearly not Ukraine, so who cares if we give that land to our his­tor­i­cal en­emy.

What’s par­tic­u­larly strik­ing is non­sense about some nigh­pre­his­toric “anti-Ukrainianness” in Crimea, a po­si­tion that mirac­u­lously brings cer­tain of our writ­ers in line with Rus­sia’s neo-im­pe­rial dis­course. How­ever, his­tory says some­thing dif­fer­ent. At the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, when the words Ukraine, Ukraini­ans and Ukrainian were still fairly ex­otic-sound­ing to the gen­eral pub­lic, the cam­paign of the Crimean Army Group of the Ukrainian Na­tional Re­pub­lic led by Petro Bol­bochan left re­ports about the way that Crimeans met the Ukrainian sol­diers. One mem­ber of the ex­pe­di­tion, Bo­rys Monkevych, later wrote:

“Nowhere in all of Ukraine were Ukrainian armed forces greeted with such en­thu­si­asm, with such ova­tions, with such ex­cite­ment as the peo­ple of Sim­fer­opol. All the streets were dec­o­rated with flow­ers and filled with peo­ple who wel­comed Bol­bochan with joy. Along the en­tire road be­hind the car ran a crowd of thou­sands that es­corted the cap­tain and their lib­er­a­tor with a fire and en­thu­si­asm that had no equal, some­thing that will never be forgotten.”

OK, so Monkevych was a Ukrainian of­fi­cer, a not-un­bi­ased wit­ness. So let’s take a well-known his­to­rian, Crimean Ser­hiy Hromenko, who men­tion the mem­oirs of a Rus­sian of­fi­cer by the name of Niko­lai Kr­i­shevskiy about how a de­tach­ment was set up to main­tain or­der af­ter the com­mu­nists fled from Kerch, which led to a very hu­mor­ous but also typ­i­cal and demon­stra­tive in­ci­dent:

“The de­tach­ment looked like some­thing no one in Kerch had ever seen: the peo­ple were beau­ti­fully dressed, they were sit­ting on well-ap­pointed, hand­some horses, and they were ex­cel­lently armed… The minute the brigade en­tered the main street, a huge crowd gath­ered and re­ceived them as Ukraini­ans. Peo­ple were shout­ing ‘Hur­rah!’, kiss­ing the sol­diers, and gen­er­ally ex­press­ing in­cred­i­ble de­light…”

The Rus­sian of­fi­cer and writer Nestor Monastyriov de­scribed events in Feo­dosia thus:

“The only thing we no­ticed was that rel­a­tive or­der had un­ex­pect­edly been es­tab­lished in the town. The bands of red ma­raud­ers had sud­denly dis­ap­peared some­where. There was a ru­mor that Ukrainian armed forces had en­tered Crimea. No one said any­thing about the Ger­mans and ev­ery­one was wait­ing from day to day for the Ukrainian units to show up, pre­par­ing to meet them with flow­ers like lib­er­a­tors from the bloody bol­she­vik night­mare. No one hid their hap­pi­ness.” And the minute a mil­i­tary col­umn ap­peared on the hori­zon, Feo­dosia was over­joyed: “All the res­i­dents came out into the streets. Peo­ple were laugh­ing and cry­ing, em­brac­ing and cross­ing them­selves. ‘The Ukraini­ans are com­ing! Thank the Lord!’”

That could be how the Ukrainian army is wel­comed in Crimea one day. Pro­vided that it shows up there.

Be­fore the an­nex­a­tion. The nu­mer­ous pro-Ukrainian ral­lies were usual events for the streets of the Crimean cities be­fore Rus­sia's armed "lit­tle green men" did not ap­pear there

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