Ukraini­ans abroad: The ties that mat­ter

How Ukraine might come to an un­der­stand­ing with its com­mu­nity abroad

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ro­man Malko

How Ukraine might come to an un­der­stand­ing with its com­mu­nity abroad

“Bloom­ing all over the world” is how Ukraini­ans like to pride them­selves. And so far it has been like that. How long this bloom will last is not clear, how­ever. Al­though it has one of the largest and most or­ga­nized im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in the world, Ukraine is at risk of los­ing it, in whole or in part. What’s more, this could prove in fa­vor of Russki Mir, the Rus­sian World.

It’s hard to say ex­actly how many Ukraini­ans live out­side the ter­ri­tory of their home­land, but there are mil­lions for sure. As of 2004, the of­fi­cial num­bers ranged from 10 to 15 mil­lion. Some, like Iryna Kli­uchkovska, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, Cul­ture and Ties with the Di­as­pora at the Lviv Polytech­ni­cal Na­tional Univer­sity, even talk about 20 mil­lion. But a 2017 study by Ex­pat In­sider came up with only 8 mil­lion. It’s not clear, though, just how ac­cu­rate this low­ball fig­ure is, ei­ther. It’s pos­si­ble that it does not in­clude ear­lier waves of im­mi­grants as the or­ga­ni­za­tion gen­er­ally tracks cur­rent mi­grants, many of whom are il­le­gals.

If this num­ber is com­pared to those ap­prox­i­ma­tions that are talked about among ex­perts, 8 mil­lion is clearly far short of the real fig­ure. In Rus­sia alone, ap­par­ently 4.4mn Ukraini­ans live to­day, al­though there are no ac­cu­rate fig­ures. 1.2mn live in Canada and Poland, 1.5mn in the US, and roughly about half a mil­lion each in Kaza­khstan, Brazil, Ar­gentina, and Moldova. Ukrainian mi­grants in Italy are var­i­ously re­ported as 300,000700,000. In Ger­many and Is­rael there are about 250,000, and some­what less in Be­larus and Ro­ma­nia. These are only ap­prox­i­mate fig­ures based on var­i­ous cen­suses, of­fi­cial statis­tics and pro­jec­tions, but they al­ready add up to around 12mn. More­over, For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin claimed that in 2017 alone more than 1 mil­lion Ukraini­ans left the coun­try. Ex­perts worry that this num­ber could well in­crease by 35% in 2018.


All im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties suf­fer from as­sim­i­la­tion. Born in the sec­ond, third, and even fourth gen­er­a­tion, their chil­dren feel less and less of a tie to their eth­nic home­land. Still, to­day this process seems to be ac­cel­er­at­ing like never be­fore. Where the first three waves of im­mi­grants tried in ev­ery way pos­si­ble to pre­serve their roots in a for­eign land, the fourth, post-soviet and cur­rent wave ap­pears to be the least re­sis­tant to as­sim­i­la­tion and to very quickly lose their eth­nic ties. This is not so much true of mi­grant work­ers, who gen­er­ally in­tend to re­turn to Ukraine and have very close ties there, but to those who have em­i­grated for good.

For the most part, this new wave doesn’t re­ject its past or break off ties with their home­land but they do ev­ery­thing they can to merge with their new home and to let down deep roots. Their chil­dren are less and less likely to speak Ukrainian in or­der to avoid be­ing treated like sec­ond-class cit­i­zens. They spend less time get­ting to­gether with their coun­try­men and are less in­clined to par­tic­i­pate ac­tively in the ex­ist­ing Ukrainian com­mu­nity. Worse, they of­ten fall in with fel­low for­mer soviet im­mi­grants where they much more eas­ily be­come bounty for those col­lect­ing scalps for Russki Mir.

As the Ukrainian World Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil Chair Mykhailo Ra­tush­niy ex­plains, Ros­sotrud­nech­estvo, an RF fed­eral agency for co­or­di­nat­ing Rus­sian mi­grants abroad, has be­come much more ac­tive across Europe re­cently in its ef­forts among Ukraini­ans. This im­pe­rial agency does not shrink from work­ing with Ukrainian com­mu­ni­ties abroad by ap­peal­ing to a cer­tain com­mon­al­ity of all for­mer soviet cit­i­zens, play­ing the “fra­ter­nal peo­ples” card, and so on. This kind of ac­tive cam­paign­ing has enor­mous in­flu­ence, given the con­sid­er­able re­sources and op­por­tu­ni­ties it en­joys, and the fact that most of the fourth wave em­i­grants speak Rus­sian. It also re­sorts to some very sneaky tac­tics. For in­stance, many RF em­bassies have set up qual­ity schools for the chil­dren of diplo­mats, to which they make a point of at­tract­ing the chil­dren of Ukrainian mi­grants as well.


Yet an­other im­por­tant rea­son is that com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Ukraine and Ukraini­ans abroad was al­ways fairly bare-bones and this hasn’t changed at all. De­spite the rare ex­cep­tion, the gov­ern­ment has not learned to work with its cit­i­zens de­spite more than a quar­ter-cen­tury of in­de­pen­dence. Some­times it even seems that things are murkier to­day than they were in the gloomy 1990s. Un­der the coun­try’s first pres­i­dent, Leonid Kravchuk, there was talk of a repa­tri­a­tion pro­gram that was never ul­ti­mately launched. Among oth­ers, the pro­posed pro­gram in­cluded in­ter­est-free loans and hous­ing in north­ern Crimea. Had it been launched, the oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea might well have been pre­vented al­to­gether.

In 2004, the Law “On Ukraini­ans abroad” was adopted and amended slightly in 2012. Among oth­ers, it pro­vided a num­ber of places in do­mes­tic post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions for Ukraini­ans abroad to gain a de­gree: ini­tially it was 500, to­day it’s down to 300 per year. Ukraini­ans from, say, Kaza­khstan could come to Ukraine un­der this pro­gram, get cer­ti­fied as teach­ers of Ukrainian, and go back to work in lo­cal schools where they had em­i­grated. To­day, these quo­tas are ef­fec­tively gone. On pa­per they still there, but in fact no­body is go­ing any­where: in or­der to en­ter a post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion in Ukraine, the per­son has to get a cer­tifi­cate stat­ing that they are a Ukrainian abroad, which is not easy to do. Gov­ern­ment red tape some­times drags out the process for years.

The law also pro­vided for a sep­a­rate gov­ern­ment agency that would specif­i­cally work with the Ukrainian com­mu­nity

As of 2004, the of­fi­cial num­bers of Ukraini­ans abroad ranged from

10 to 15 mil­lion. Some, like Iryna Kli­uchkovska, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, Cul­ture and Ties with the Di­as­pora, even talk about 20 mil­lion

abroad and Ukrainian mi­grants. But this also never hap­pened and so to­day no gov­ern­ment agency is es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in these mil­lions of Ukraini­ans. “They are served by the For­eign Min­istry... some­times tan­gen­tially, some­times sub-stan­dardly, but they are ef­fec­tively left in the mar­gins,” says Oles Horodet­skiy, pres­i­dent of the Chris­tian So­ci­ety of Ukraini­ans in Italy. “We need an agency that will fo­cus on the prob­lems of em­i­grants and help co­or­di­nate them, de­pend­ing on the coun­try, the du­ra­tion of the emi­gra­tion and their needs, and re­solve this things in Ukraine. What we face is a sit­u­a­tion where there is no one to even ad­dress a propo­si­tion or a com­plaint to. This kind of agency would work both prac­ti­cally and po­lit­i­cally. The coun­try would demon­strate to its cit­i­zens that it re­ally cares about what hap­pens to them.”


This is just a brief sketch of the sit­u­a­tion but it’s enough to make it clear that the obliv­i­ous­ness of their home­land fol­lows Ukrainian em­i­grants ev­ery­where and slowly but in­ex­orably eats away at the links be­tween the two. Af­ter the Revo­lu­tion of Dig­nity, the sit­u­a­tion im­proved some­what. While Ukraini­ans at home were busy mak­ing a revo­lu­tion, the di­as­pora or­ga­nized sim­i­lar rev­o­lu­tions around the planet. They trav­elled home, do­nated money, and of­fered po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

The war Rus­sia then em­barked on against Ukraine fur­ther mo­bi­lized Ukraini­ans abroad and they be­gan to be more in­ter­ested in what was hap­pen­ing at home and to help in ev­ery way pos­si­ble. Sto­ries about lost sheep re­turn­ing to their folds. Peo­ple who had been used to call them­selves khakhol, the Rus­sian pe­jo­ra­tive for Ukrainian, sud­denly be­came real Ukraini­ans. The dream emerged that the state of Ukraine and em­i­grant Ukraini­ans would fi­nally find a com­mon lan­guage. Af­ter the Sixth World Congress of Ukraini­ans in 2016, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko even promised that a proper pro­gram would be launched. And some steps were ac­tu­ally taken in that di­rec­tion. A con­cept was drawn up, and on May 10, 2018, the “Pro­gram for Co­op­er­a­tion with Ukraini­ans Abroad through 2020” was ap­proved and over UAH 105mn in fund­ing al­lo­cated. Ini­tially, Ukrainian ac­tivists were thrilled that the gov­ern­ment was fi­nally do­ing some­thing sig­nif­i­cant to sup­port its em­i­grant com­mu­ni­ties by fund­ing projects and ac­tiv­i­ties.

How­ever, it turned out to be, like so many ini­tia­tives, just an­other nice piece of pa­per. For in­stance, if you want to in­vite a Ukrainian artist, go ahead. But you can’t pay their travel, ho­tels, per diems or fees out of pro­gram money — only pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als and rent for an ex­hibit or per­for­mance venue. The rest of the costs are up to you. There’s money for Ukrainian lan­guage books and schools in Ger­many re­ally need them. But Ger­many can’t buy them di­rectly in Ukraine, only through a dis­trib­u­tor — at many times the orig­i­nal cost. Sup­pos­edly the money is sup­posed to be spent abroad be­cause Ukraine is fight­ing cor­rup­tion, so it seems. It’s not sur­pris­ing that there are such co­nun­drums, ei­ther. In the past, such ini­tia­tives were pre­pared with some sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity: in­for­ma­tion was gath­ered from as­so­ci­a­tions, so­ci­eties and com­mu­nity groups, and the Ukrainian World Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil was con­sulted about fund­ing needs. This time noth­ing like that hap­pened.

Un­for­tu­nately, Ukraine’s ef­forts to­wards its em­i­grant com­mu­ni­ties look par­tic­u­larly in­ad­e­quate when com­pared to the at­ti­tude of other coun­tries to­wards their di­as­po­ras. Hun­gar­i­ans started an in­ter­na­tional ker­fuf­fle just over mi­nor changes to Ukraine’s law on ed­u­ca­tion that they claimed were op­pres­sive to­wards their eth­nic mi­nor­ity in Ukraine. Poland also sup­ports its own: the Pol­ish com­mu­nity in Kaza­khstan is many times smaller than the Ukrainian one, but War­saw sends en­tire shifts of teach­ers, equip­ment and text­books there. Of course, both Hun­gary and Poland have greater re­sources avail­able, with their grow­ing economies, but the crit­i­cal fac­tor is not money but mo­ti­va­tion. This kind of work does not, in fact, re­quire big bud­gets. More­over, the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment’s pro­gram could work ef­fec­tively even if its bud­get were one third of what was al­lo­cated: just UAH 5-7mn for school pur­poses would al­ready yield re­sults.

To be fair, the pro­gram also funds sup­port for the Ukrainian school in Riga. Not so long ago Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lilia Hrynevych an­nounced that the Gov­ern­ment had al­lo­cated money to de­velop ma­te­ri­als for Ukrainian Satur­day and Sun­day schools abroad and that they would soon make an ap­pear­ance. This is ex­cel­lent, but a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach would be even bet­ter.


“Too of­ten when I’m abroad and meet with Ukraini­ans, I have to ad­mit that even very solid com­mu­ni­ties are com­pletely as­sim­i­lat­ing, slowly but surely,” says Ra­tush­niy. “Peo­ple can see

that there’s no liv­ing link with the coun­try and feel that Ukraine is ig­nor­ing them. In some places the Church is still do­ing its job, but that’s about all. Peo­ple have no in­flu­ence over their po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, al­though they love their coun­try and are its cit­i­zens. They can’t even get in­volved in gov­ern­ing through elec­tions, so they slowly be­gin to lose in­ter­est, to dis­tance them­selves, and to take out cit­i­zen­ship in other coun­tries. This has re­ally af­fected the new­est wave of Ukrainian em­i­grants, most of whom are still cit­i­zens of Ukraine and hold Ukrainian pass­ports.”

“We all still live in Ukraine, we’re con­sid­ered res­i­dents and we pay util­i­ties,” notes Horodet­skiy. “Le­gally, we are res­i­dents of Ukraine. Only a very small per­cent­age has left for good and changed its per­ma­nent res­i­dence to Italy or the US. But the gov­ern­ment treats this op­por­tunis­ti­cally. If it’s con­ve­nient, you’re a res­i­dent of Ukraine. If it’s not, then you’re a res­i­dent of Italy.”

That’s why it’s crit­i­cal to set­tle the is­sue of ex­er­cis­ing the cit­i­zen’s right to vote. The Ukrainian Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees that all cit­i­zens of Ukraine are equal in their vot­ing rights, re­gard­less of re­li­gion, race or res­i­dency. But in prac­tice, those who have moved abroad to work can­not prop­erly ex­er­cise their con­sti­tu­tional rights. Part of the prob­lem is that, out­side the coun­try, Ukraini­ans can only vote ac­cord­ing to party lists, as they don’t have a rid­ing. In many cases they can’t get to the polling sta­tion and vote at all. In Spain, for in­stance, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ukraini­ans live, there are only three polling sta­tions: one at the em­bassy and two at the two con­sulates. The polling sta­tions in Madrid and Barcelona can han­dle at most 3,000 vot­ers. There were cases where peo­ple stood in line to vote the en­tire day only to have the sta­tion closed in their faces.

In this con­text, it also makes sense to dis­tin­guish be­tween Ukraine’s eastern and west­ern com­mu­ni­ties abroad. They have much in com­mon, but there are even more dif­fer­ences. For one thing, the eastern di­as­pora is far larger and is ef­fec­tively ded­i­cated to the preser­va­tion of Russki Mir, which dom­i­nates where they are. “At one time we were proud of our schools in Tbil­isi, Baku and As­tana,” says Ra­tush­niy. “They’re all closed now. In Rus­sia, where there are mil­lions of Ukraini­ans, our or­ga­ni­za­tions are now banned and our li­braries have been shut down. Our lead­ers have lost the right to their pro­fes­sions. In Be­larus, we did not man­age to ap­point an am­bas­sador for many years. In Kaza­khstan, there was no am­bas­sador for three years. Sim­i­lar things hap­pened in Moldova and the Cau­ca­sus. With this kind of neg­li­gent at­ti­tude to­wards Ukraini­ans abroad, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that we are los­ing them.”


“There’s no need to in­vent the bi­cy­cle,” says Horodet­skiy. “We just need to look how things are done in Italy or Poland. For starters, all we need to do is im­ple­ment the law: set up an agency to work with Ukraini­ans abroad and get it to work. Once the laws are in place, the pro­grams and so on, Ukraine has to start tak­ing their in­ter­ests into ac­count, more than just good wishes from of­fi­cials on Mykhailivska Ploshcha. The new elec­tion law needs to be passed and give mi­grants the op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence the gov­ern­ment through the bal­lot box, to elect and be elected as the Con­sti­tu­tion states. For in­stance, the Ital­ian leg­is­la­ture has a broad rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Ital­ians abroad, both in the lower house and in the Se­nate. Ear­lier, they had an en­tire min­istry.”

“This is a kind of con­trol­ling share that can very of­ten de­ter­mine who comes to power, the right or the left,” says Horodet­skiy. “When there is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the di­as­pora, it gains the in­ter­est of both those in power and the op­po­si­tion. Then the chances that the com­mu­nity will pay at­ten­tion and do some­thing mean­ing­ful be­come far higher. If there were some rep­re­sen­ta­tion, then there would be com­pe­ti­tion to ap­peal to the em­i­grants and that would spill over into real deeds.”

Af­ter all, em­bassies and con­sulates shouldn’t be the only place where peo­ple can vote. There are hon­orary con­sulates and many com­mu­ni­ties have homes. If three rep­re­sen­ta­tives from var­i­ous par­ties are sent from Ukraine, the com­mu­nity can or­ga­nize the rest. Yet an­other op­tion is e-vot­ing. All that is needed is po­lit­i­cal will.

Last but not least, notes Horodet­skiy, there’s the im­por­tant mat­ter of re­view­ing, im­prov­ing and adapt­ing con­sular leg­is­la­tion and hav­ing con­suls carry out their nor­mal func­tions in terms of de­fend­ing the in­ter­ests of their cit­i­zens. “Many rules are ei­ther out­dated or are too open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion,” he says. “The re­sult is that too many de­ci­sions are up to the con­sul’s dis­cre­tion, which means that in the same coun­try dif­fer­ent con­sulates might in­ter­pret the same is­sue in op­po­site ways. We’ve seen in­stances, where the for­eign coun­try does more to ac­com­mo­date our cit­i­zens than their own con­sulates. This in­cludes is­su­ing per­mits and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pa­pers, and other mat­ters that make life a lit­tle eas­ier in a for­eign coun­try. Diplo­matic mis­sions also need to work to­gether more with their mi­grants. This has be­come par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able since the Maidan. There is no co­or­di­na­tion. The em­bassy lives its own life, em­i­grants live their own.” Clearly, Ukrainian mis­sions need their staffing to be beefed up es­pe­cially in Europe since the visa free regime was in­sti­tuted.

Times are not easy for the Ukrainian com­mu­nity all over the world. The older im­mi­gra­tion is fad­ing away while the new one is just get­ting its feet, al­though in some cases, such as in Europe, it’s al­ready start­ing to es­tab­lish its own pol­i­tics. Ukraini­ans will con­tinue to mi­grate be­cause Ukrainian spe­cial­ists and stu­dents are in de­mand abroad. But they need to know that they can go home any time and feel wel­come. That means Ukraine has to be giv­ing an un­am­bigu­ous sig­nal that it awaits them and will wel­come them back.

“In Ger­many, we have an in­ter­est­ing sit­u­a­tion with those peo­ple whose par­ents took them away when they were lit­tle chil­dren,” says Natalia Kos­tiak, a Ukrainian ac­tivist in Ham­burg. “Not all of them adapted well and it wasn’t their choice. Now, many of them would gladly re­turn to Ukraine or even live in both coun­tries, which has be­come fash­ion­able. Of course, there’s the prob­lem of dual cit­i­zen­ship, which Ukraine may have to re­solve, one way or an­other.”

In fact, the em­i­grant com­mu­nity doesn’t need that much from its home­land, just a lit­tle at­ten­tion and re­spect. But Ukraine does need them, and not just be­cause they are the coun­try’s main in­vestor: in 2018 alone, NBU data shows that em­i­grants trans­ferred more than US $9bn. And that does not in­clude money that is handed over in per­son. Ukraine’s com­mu­nity abroad is a pow­er­ful force that a coun­try that is fac­ing so many chal­lenges — a war, oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, a de­mo­graphic cri­sis — can­not al­low it­self to lose. Even if there are only 15mn Ukraini­ans abroad and not 20, they can serve the coun­try’s in­ter­ests and Ukraine needs to learn to do so: other coun­tries can only dream of such a pow­er­ful ally, lob­by­ist and friend.


The right to vote. Ukrainian cit­i­zens abroad have to reg­is­ter with their lo­cal con­sulate, which costs US $20. Then they have to travel across what­ever coun­try they are in, stand in line, and, in the end, not be able to vote. This is the cost of ful­fill­ing their du­ties as cit­i­zens of Ukraine who have mi­grated abroad

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