Early last year I started to explore the subject of conversation clubs that appeared in big cities of Southern-Eastern Ukraine. Party of regions that had almost full control still was not capable to kill the desire of a large part of city youth to communicate in Ukrainian. Conversation clubs were opened in Donetsk, Odessa, Nikopol, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk…
Back in those days I wrote an article saying:”Will Crimea join?”. A bit later I was happy to learn that pro-Ukrainian Crimeans joined this movement as well.
Lubov Kalmakova (Russian by ethnicity) was one of them. I was planning a fruitful trip to Crimea in spring of 2014, but had to cancel my plans due to well-known political events there. However, I was not the only one who had to change plans. Luba Kalmakova (an active participant of Euromaidan in Crimea) had to leave the territory of Crimea. Later I learned that she is residing in Lviv now. This allowed me to start exploring the phenomenon of ХХІ century, i.e. even ethnical Russian who were born in Crimea may be true patriots of Ukraine.
PEOPLE ARE AFRAID
This was our first meeting in Lviv. I was wondering about present-day situation in Crimea. Was there any change of atmosphere? Luba answered with a touch of sadness in her voice: “You can feel the changes. I can give you one example. One linguist from local university was planning to leave Crimea and move to the continental Ukraine. He decided to give his books to friends in Crimea, but the problem was that nobody wanted to take Ukrainian books! People are afraid because based on current Russian legislation almost every book may be considered as an anti-Russian or an extremist one. Atmosphere of fear is everywhere. I know the case of two people speaking on the phone – one was in Crimea, and the other one in the continental part of Ukraine. After the conversation Russian security officers came to the person in Crimea and were asking what was discussed during that phone-call. Atmosphere of fear is supported on a state level.”
I WOULD LIKE TO BE A UKRAINIAN NOT IN LVIV, BUT IN CRIMEA…
“There is no other motherland besides our favorite Crimea not only for Crimean Tatars, but for me as well, – a 27-year old lady from Crimea goes on. Despite the fact that my mother was born in Vladimir region of Russia. My father is Russian by origin too, but I am Crimean in the third generation. My parents are Russians, but I was growing up in an independent Ukraine! So you can understand that this land is so dear to my heart. I feel myself Ukrainian, and I had to leave Crimea not because I wanted to, but because I was forced. I can’t imagine my life without Crimea. I love Lviv. However, I would like to be a Ukrainian not in Lviv, but in Crimea. The land where you were born is always the dearest. Picturesque mountains, the vast blue sea and sea-gulls – I really miss all of these things. When we liberate Crimea, and this will happen sooner or later, I will definitely return to the land of my parents, the land of my childhood and the land where I can feel myself Ukrainian again.
We can’t disregard the topic of media and unbelievable zombifying of modern Russian electorate. However, Luba does not think that people are totally zombified: “Many people support Putin, but we should not forget about those Russians who are on our side. My friend wrote to me: “I was planning a biking tour in the mountainous part of Crimea, but most likely I will not go. I was planning to visit Ukrainian Crimea. And now it’s not interesting for me. Because I have many friends in Crimea and they say that they were occupied by force and the life they were used to was disrupted. So I think it’s my duty to express my support to Ukraine and Ukrainians.” By the way, this girl from Siberia visited Lviv, and she has absolutely enjoyed the city! I really want her to come again and stay here for a couple of months; it would be a good idea to organize some kind of special program for her. I would like to emphasize that foreigners and people from former USSR countries like Bielorussians, Georgians and Armenians don’t feel themselves as strangers here. People in Lviv are hospitable, tolerant and very polite. So, all visitors feel like at home here.
POLICE WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE FROM THE VERY BEGINNING
When I asked about the reasons of high support of Crimean annexation among local population and relative weakness of pro-Ukrainian forces, Luba responded:”People had different opinions. Nobody tried to bring together pro-Ukrainian citizens during 23 years. Crimean Tatars got more attention. So, it was easier to neutralize or “squeeze” out pro-Ukrainian activists out of the peninsula. Pro-Russian activists had freedom even before the annexation. For example, in April of 2012 my Political Science teacher was making offensive remarks about Ukrainian anthem, state symbol and language. It was possible because there were no pro-Ukrainian authorities in Crimea. And this was because authorities in Kyiv were not very pro-Ukrainian either. Therefore, during 23 years of independence it was possible to impose ideas of “russian world” on the citizens of Crimea including students. And everything Ukrainian was subjugated. So, it is not surprising that Crimean police was not on the Ukrainian side from the very beginning because they have intuitively realized who would win and become their authorities…The atmosphere in Crimea encouraged people to join police forces not because of love for the country, but for the sake of money. The same goes for Prosecutor’s office. Everybody hoped to get their bonus. Crimean Tatars have been mobilized quite well, but they have not always supported meetings of pro-Ukrainian Slavs. They could easily bring together 5-6 thousands of protestors, but for some reasons they did not do it often. Retired people were attracted by the promises to get higher retirement compensations. They have been brainwashed even before the annexation took place. They can go back to the Ukrainian side, but at first they need to be disappointed by Russia. I think this will definitely happen.
LIES ARE ALL AROUND
Of course, Russia does not want to give Crimea back. That is why it tries to attract more population on its side. Therefore, Russian media lie a lot and distort information. I have seen a program about Stepan Bandera (leader of Ukrainian freedom-fighting movement) on Russian TV. I have learned that he was beating up his pregnant wife and also had many lovers. It also said that Ukrainians since early childhood are taught to kill Russians. I heard this with my own ears! Media plays an important role. If you shut off TV-channels that are zombifiying, then restoring justice will be much easier.
IT’S UNFORTUNATE THAT THERE IS NO REPRESENTATION OF PRO-UKRAINIAN RUSSIANS IN CRIMEA
We discussed the idea of restoring Crimean Tatar autonomy when Crimea is returned back to Ukraine. How will Slavs live in this autonomy? Luba Kalmakova responds that it is important to maintain the balance of interests. We see that interests of Crimean Tatars are represented by Medzhlis. It protects them and somehow develops the strategy of their survival. But it is unclear as to who represents other nations. Who is the representative of ethnical Ukrainians in Crimea? It would be good to have a person that will deal with problems of Ukrainians. And being ethnical Russian who may I refer to? The rights of Russian speaking population are protected in a certain way – that is true. However, I was born in Ukrainian Crimea, so I would like to know real and not made-up history. Russians in the USA are raised as American patriots. The same goes for Italy and France…And this is natural! When in Rome, do as Romans do. So, it would be good to have a pro-Ukrainian structure and corresponding pro-Ukrainian community. I think that present-day situation is not natural and temporary.
WILL CRIMEAN TATAR REPUBLIC PROTECT SLAVS?
- Perhaps Crimean Tatar autonomy would be beneficial for pro-Ukrainian people in Crimea? Maybe this republic would have a softer approach and would be more democratic than the pro-Russian republic? Let alone present-day situation in Crimea… – In its essence this may turn into the same pseudo democratic republic like Putin’s republic that we have now. So far Crimean Tatars have demonstrated that they do not take into account interests of other nationalities, meaning – we will be dominating because we have a historic right to do so, and other nationalities should figure it out among themselves..This is not a solution. If they want to have more rights, then they should have more obligations too. If they had sticked to this logic during recent years, the attitude to them would be much better. You need to understand that Crimean annexation was easier because a lot of Crimeans had anti-Tatar views. They thought Ukraine’s politics was too much pro-Tatar. And they thought Russians will “put them in their place”. This type of views did not appear out of nowhere. Of course, there was an anti-Tatar propaganda, but there was a basis for it too. Many Tatars are quite adequate and have democratic views, but many consider their nationality to be an exclusive one. This position does not benefit Crimean-Tatar matter and it is not for the good of democracy.
THE LAW ON THREE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES SHOULD BE ENFORCED –
Unfortunately many Ukrainians had to leave Crimea. Our social basis is shrinking…So, if Ukrainians and more importantly Crimean Tatars would subscribe to the Ukrainian newspaper “Krymska svitlytsia” – it would be rather helpful. It is important to keep the newspaper going in any possible way. And we have the right to expect the support of Crimean Tatars, because the newspaper has never distanced itself from their problems. – Most likely they will not subscribe to it. They have been concentrated on their own affairs so far. However, I hope this will change. The ideal tactic would be for them to support free, democratic and tolerant Crimea. Crimean Tatars could be in the forefront of this movement. Then we will have more chances to get Crimea back. You have to understand that we have not had any serious national conflicts during 23 years in Crimea. We learned how to be tolerant. In general, Ukrainians as a nation have a very tolerant mentality. However, Putin’s zombifying programs will be creating rivalry among us. Crimeans already think that you are either with Russia or Ukraine. And due to the active PR-campaign of Crimean Tatars saying that Crimea belongs to them, many Ukrainians get used to the idea they will get Crimea back together with Tatars. Thus, Crimeans have a very difficult choice to make – you either support Crimean Tatar minority that wants to dominate or you support Putin. Due to this limited choice many people will choose to wave Russian flags. I think it is better not to put emphasis on Crimean Tatar autonomy, but to renew the same status-quo of Crimea that was here before annexation. This will make Crimea’s coming back more likely, and that is why Crimean Tatars should be objectively interested in it. The only condition – the law on three official languages should be enforced. This will guarantee the preservation of Crimean Tatar identity.
PAINFUL ENLIGHTMENT WAITS AHEAD
- We should not forget that Crimea is a multinational region that has representatives of over 100 nationalities. Disregarding their peculiarities and interests will spread discord among people who live in Crimea. The problem of Ukrainians should be discussed separately. Crimean Tatars and representatives of other nationalities are in a pretty similar situation. Perhaps, someone is not happy with them, but their national peculiarities are understandable. They are not being reprimanded for that. And as to Ukrainians there is some tragic surrealist picture…They are labeled as “traitors of Crimea” and “fascist” in their own motherland and in their native Ukraine. And for what? For singing the anthem of Ukraine! For national symbols and for organizing events that support the unity of Ukraine…Ethnical Ukrainians are expelled from their native land in a barbaric way in the 21 century! Meanwhile, world community that is very “civilized” and “democratic” has been only expressing deep concern for over six months now. This has been an only reaction to the annexation of Crimea so far. It is clear now that we should not expect anything from others and wait when someone else will restore peace and punish those who are guilty. This is our land, and it is our duty to protect it. – In terms of economy the situation in Crimea will worsen still further. The fact that it is an occupied territory is one of the factors. You can forget about tourism and millions of visitors. There will be a very difficult situation for doing business. Many businessmen had to leave Crimea. There will be a huge job competition. Crimeans will soon learn that they can’t expect much from Moscow. Russia is not interested in investing in the place and in the people that have already given in without a struggle. Crimeans hit a dead end. Maybe, they will try to find a way out, and the ways they will choose to do it are rather important. It is good that they will have to consciously forget the motto “Russia will save us”. Painful enlightment waits ahead, and I think there will be a change of opinions in one year already. This will encourage many people to look in the direction of Kyiv.
by Serhiy Lashchenko | translated by Olya Tymchak