The international community has devoted significant attention to the actions of Russian authorities in occupied Crimea to repress, marginalize and force out Crimean Tatars, a crime against humanity that involves harassment, arrests, and other kinds of mistreatment that are all too visible (Krymr.com, May 29). And the world has also paid some attention to Moscow’s efforts to relocate more ethnic Russians to the Ukrainian peninsula, sending in Russian officials to take over positions previously held by others (Idelreal.org, July 2, 2018). But there has been far less coverage of Moscow’s efforts to change the ethnic composition of its new possession by pushing out ethnic Ukrainians living there to re-identify as ethnic Russians.
Some of the decline in the number and share of ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea has been the result of fear. According to Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemilev, tens of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians have declared they are ethnic Russians in order to avoid problems with the occupiers. That was especially the case in the first months after occupation, when the share of ethnic Ukrainians in the population reportedly dropped from 24.5 percent before Russian forces arrived to only 15.5 percent after less than six months (Sprotyv.info, July 11, 2018). As Russian repression has increased, many more ethnic Ukrainians have decided on this course of action. Moscow has encouraged assimilation not only to weaken Kyiv’s influence on the peninsula but also to boost the number of ethnic Russians, thus covering or at least obscuring the overall demographic decline of the Russian nation (Deutsche Welle—Russian service, May 28).
Since such identity shifts are based almost exclusively on fear or short-term calculations, they could be expected to reverse themselves when the fear passes or when being ethnically Ukrainian in Crimea once again becomes something positive. However, the Russian authorities are engaged in something far more insidious than simply fabricating demographic shifts. Indeed, Moscow intends to entirely wean the rising generation of ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea away from their ethnic roots. Not only have Russian officials closed all Ukrainian-language schools on the peninsula, shut down almost all Ukrainian-language media outlets there (Unian, August 28, 2018), and blocked broadcasts in Ukrainian from reaching this community (Dsnews.ua, December 16, 2017), they have also been working overtime to expunge anything positive about Ukraine from the public record. Instead, the authorities have been playing up Russia and the Russian nation in its place.
In a new article entitled “The Strategy of the Kremlin in Occupied Crimea Is to Completely Assimilate Ukrainians and Isolate Crimean Tatars,” Dmitry Tymchuk shines a light on this often neglected trend. Tymchuk is a member of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and a leader of the “Information Resistance” program that tracks developments in Russian-occupied areas (Censoru.net, May 20).
According to Tymchuk, his group believes that “humanitarian security in the broadest sense is an important component of national security.” Consequently, humanitarian security focuses on threats that many overlook because they seem abstract and far removed from the battlefield. But what is happening in occupied Crimea with regard to ethnic Ukrainians shows that is a mistaken view. Based on an examination of textbooks and books for general use that Moscow has introduced there since 2014, he continues, one is forced to conclude that the Kremlin is “not even attempting to hide” its goal to “totally assimilate ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea” even as it more openly works to “isolate the Crimean Tatars.”
Wherever possible, the Ukrainian parliamentarian adds, Moscow publications targeting Crimea either ignore Ukraine and Ukrainians altogether or, when that is not possible, blame them for everything negative happening on the peninsula. Russia and Russians, in contrast, are described in the Russian media as responsible for everything positive that has happened in the region. One book published last year, for example, characterizes Ukraine as “destabilized” even during the period when the Viktor Yanukovych regime was cooperating most closely with Moscow. Tymchuk suggests that such a rewriting of history is intended to prompt young people in occupied Crimea not only to accept Russian citizenship willingly but to give up their Ukrainian identity.
Tymchuk’s report further asserts that for school-age pupils, “the history of Russia, with all its specific features, has replaced Ukrainian history. Now, Crimean children live in one mental space not with their neighbors from the Northern Chernozem zone or even with residents of the Kuban and Caucasus,” but with Russian areas further away. That is “because, having expunged Ukraine, it is difficult to describe the Kuban and the conquest of the North Caucasus.” And “now, Crimeans seek their common past with the Volga, Siberia, Karelia and Kamchatka” instead.
Kyiv has few tools to influence this situation, Tymchuk admits, but it is not doing even the little it could. At the very least, Ukraine and the world should be keeping track of this Russian-orchestrated process. While it is not as dramatic as what the Russian occupiers are doing to the Crimean Tatars, it is just as wrong morally and, under international law, equally a crime against humanity, he concludes (Censoru.net, May 20).