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Eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine, ruled by Russia for more than three hundred years and by the Soviet Union for another seventy, has been heavily Russified. There, in the mid-nineteenth century, the tsarist government banned the teaching of Ukrainian in schools, the printing of popular books in Ukrainian, and even the use of a Ukrainian translation of the Bible. The Ukrainian language, however, has been preserved in the villages though Russian is spoken in most of the cities. The predominant religion is Orthodox but, as in western Ukraine, is divided between two churches. In 1991, the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed independence, a move fiercely opposed by the Russian Church, which sees Kyiv as the birthplace of Slavic Orthodoxy.

Most of Ukraine's twelve million ethnic Russians live in the heavily industrial east and south where pro-Russian sentiment is strongest and the political emphasis is on renewed ties to Russia and local autonomy within a loose Ukrainian federation. But intermarriage between Russians and Ukrainians has been high in the east, and language and nationalism are not the big issues that they are in the west.

Ukrainians have viewed their country as the underdog, and this was naturally reinforced through the years of suppressing Ukrainian culture; in 1876 the Ukrainian language was banned in schools and in all publications. In more recent history, Stalin clearly targeted Ukrainians, but he didn't necessarily spare other Soviet peoples.

A nationalist Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church did exist and was intermittently active in East Ukraine from 1921 until its final suppression during World War II, but it never commanded asmuch popular support as the Uniates in West Ukraine. The officially sanctioned Russian Orthodox Church was subservient to the state, which relied on it in the struggle with the “national" churches in the East as well as the West.

In the East Ukraine, Ukrainian national feelings had traditionally been stronger in the north, particularly in the northwestern regions (Khmelnitsky, Vinnitsa, Zhitomir, Kiev, Cherkassy, Poltava). Part of this northwestern territory was acquired by Russia only in the late eighteenth century. The south, which contains most of the large cities, was settlled much later, and historically had a less Ukrainian character.

Yet as a whole the East Ukraine shared much of its long history with the Great Russians. Because of its closer physical proximity and closer cultural ties to Europe, however, even while under Russian rule the East Ukraine played a distinctive role in the development of the Russian state — as a conveyor of Western influences. Peter the Great, for example, relied heavily on Ukrainian advisors and ideas in his effort to Westernize Russiain the eighteenth century.

Ukraine is importantin Russian history for another related reason. To some nineteenth century liberals — both Russian and Ukrainian — the early history of Ukraine represented the quest for freedom and the defiance of the centralized autocratic state. This conception of Ukraine's historical role can be seen in the interpretation of two events, both of which sparked fierce disputes between contemporary Soviet and Ukrainian historians. At issue was not merely a dry, acailemic matter, but the identity of a people.

The first event concerns the destruction of the first “Russian" state, centered on Kiev in the Dnepr River Valley in the early middle ages. Western in outlook and in its political system, the Kievan state prospered until the Tatar invasion of the thirteenth century. For the next 200 years much of the old Kievan territories were subjected to the Tatar yoke, but parts of Ukraine (Calicia and Volynia) were absorbed by Poland and Lithuania. When a new state to the north, Muscovy, rose to drive out the Tatar intruders and "gather the Russian lands," it differed from its Kievan predecessor substantially in its territorial base, in its political system, even in its ethnic make-up.

Russian historians have stressed the continuity between the Kievan and Muscovite periods, and view much of Russian foreign policy in the centuries to come as a continuing effort to reclaim the Ukrainian territories as a legitimate part of the Russian state. Ukrainian historians, on the contrary, have seen the Tatar invasion as marking a sharp break and are inclined to regard Moscow’s eventual annexation of East Ukraine as a conquest of one separate people by another, rather thana family reunion.

Another cherished Ukrainian memory is of the period of Cossack freedom. The Cossacks were bnds of free-wheeling trappers and mercenaries who lived in several areas not yet brought under the sway of the expanding Muscovite state. Those in the no-man’s land along the lower reaches of the Dnepr formed a eommunity — the Zaporozhian Sich — governed by a rough democracy and serving as a sanctuary for runaway serfs and others who wanted to escape governmental oppression. While the Ukrainians idealize the Zaporozhian Cossacks as free spirits who defied the Tsars, Soviet historians attempted to uncover evidence of class conflict in the egalitarian Cossack society, and regard the “unification" (or subjugation) of the Cossack lands with the Tsarist state as a blessing for Ukraine.

The Ukrainian representation in the Ukrainian Communist Party rose from 60 percent in 1958 to 75 percent in 1972, as high as the Ukrainian share ofthe population of Ukraine. During this period the Russian element in the Party fell from 28 percent to 19 percent, although the Russian share of the population of Ukraine was growing. There was, however, a general tendency to appoint East Ukrainians, presumably more trust-worthy, to fill important posts in West Ukraine. Party membership was also considerably lower in the western oblasts. None of the seven western oblasts had as many as forty Party members per one thousand people. All but two of the eighteen eastern oblasts had at least forty Party members perone thousand people. The higher percentage of Russians residing in the eastern oblasts was partly responsible for this difference.

Since the 1958 Soviet school lawgiving parents the choice of sending their children either to Russian-language schools or to Ukrainian-language schools, matriculation at Russian-language schools had increased substantially. Moreover, while Ukrainian was an elective subject in Russian schools, Russian was required in all Ukrainian schools and much of the instruction was, in fact, conducted in Russian. In general, the higher the level of education, and the more urban the area, the greater the use of Russian as a medium of instruction. Unofficial reports indicated that in a few Russian strongholds of the East Ukraine, notably Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk, by the 1970s Ukrainian schools had virtually disappeared.

During the Cold War, at least in the major cities of East Ukraine, Russian was replacing Ukrainian in public communication. Party and military activities, business administration and civic affairs were conducted in Russian. Travelers to Ukraine reported that in some East Ukrainian cities Ukrainian was simply not spoken in public, and that people regarded its use as a markof social inferiority.

After independence, some pro-Russian organizations in eastern Ukraine complain about the increased use of Ukrainian in schools and in the media. They claim that their children are disadvantaged when taking academic entrance examinations, since all applicants are required to take a Ukrainian language test. Regional councils in Kharkiv and Donetsk again decided in 1997 to give the Russian language official status alongside Ukrainian. The local prosecutors suspended these decisions as violating the law on the Ukrainian state language.

By 2009 fraud trends in Ukraine had shifted in a qualitative manner. Traditionally, the economically-depressed regions in western Ukraine have been the epicenter of consular fraud in the country. Recent FPU investigations indicate that visa fixers have expanded their market and territorial reach beyond western Ukraine, extending into southern and eastern Ukraine, as well as Belarus. This dynamic was consistent with the fact that these industrial regions had born the brunt of the global financial crisis in Ukraine.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2014 19:04:00 ZULU