A leader of the Ukrainian Svoboda Party Irina Farion declared that Russian-speakers in Ukraine are mentally retarded, and the biggest problem for Ukraine. The monumental stupidy of her claim, is that it insults not only roughly half of Ukrainians who speak Russian, but it also insults her fellow Ukrainian nationalists, including President Petro Poroshenko himself.
Her speech is not worth anyone’s attention for any purpose other than to document the insanity plaguing Ukraine, but I would like to demonstrate how her words are not only racist, but demonstrate a profound ignorance of the Ukrainian reality, bordering on a desire to genocidally change it. Four years ago to this day, fascists of a similar mindset as her, killed hundreds of people in Odessa. Some were burned alive, some were strangled including a pregnant woman, as documented in this article – be warned, the photos are very graphic. Make no mistake, this is indicative of a fascist crisis in the heart of Europe.
As a result, I will briefly summarize her statement, however, a full translation into English can be found here at this website documenting the tragic events in Ukraine. I will be relying on the Ukrainian version of her ridiculous speech, rather than the Russian version. This is not so much to capture her original words most accurately, as Russian and Ukrainian are close enough languages that there is almost no such thing as lost in translation, between these two eastern Slavic languages. Rather, it would be amusing to make the point that speaking a certain language – in this case, Ukrainian – does not dictate political views.
Her speech begins by asking why Ukrainians live in Ukraine but speak the “occupiers language”, and she begins to blame the war in Ukraine on Russian-speaking citizens. It is very telling that she is NOT speaking exclusively about Ethnic Russians in Ukraine, but any Ukrainians who speak Russian. As we will later explain, this is a large percentage of the country.
She says the War in Ukraine is happening where there is the Russian Church, which is factually untrue. The “Russian Church”, officially called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is the only canonical (internationally recognized) Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It is located everywhere – not just in East Ukraine but even in the West, and controls the most important religious sites, even if the churches are often seized by radicals.
The leader of the Ukrainian Church, His Beatitude Onufry of Kiev is a strong Ukrainian speaker from Western Ukraine, yet he is the Primate of the “Russian Church”. Metropolitan Onufry is one of the strongest voices advocating for an end to violence in Ukraine, and is born in one of the most Ukrainianized regions of the country. This alone demonstrates her idea of Russian Church, Russian speakers – enemies of Ukraine – is false.
She also blames Russian culture (of which Ukrainian can be considered a part of), and most telling, she says the war in Ukraine is wherever there are “російськомовні громадяни” meaning Russian-speaking citizens.
Some may infer she means citizens of the Russian Federation, but she then clearly states in her warped view: Російськомовні українці – найбільша проблема України “Russian-speaking Ukrainians – the greatest problem of Ukraine” – the word українці can only properly refer to “Ethnic Ukrainians”.
As a result, it is clear that she considers any Ukrainian who speaks Russian to be in her words, mental retards, and traitors. This is not surprising, considering that her party, Svoboda, is basically the Neo-Nazi light party.
The purpose of this article, however, is to explain how she is essentially targetting half the country.
How much of Ukraine is Russian or Russian-speaking?
I began this article by saying half of Ukraine speaks Russian, and at this point, in order to prove that, we have to deal with a major problem facing Ukraine – reliable statistics. Someone could easily produce a map of Ukraine with statistics showing 30% are Russian speakers, and I could likewise produce one saying at least 80% (like this Gallup poll). Why the difference? Well aside from the fact that some people have been known to openly lie, as this article reveals, the lines between Russians and Ukrainians have never exactly been clear.
Languages of Ukraine
The reality is – any Ukrainian can switch languages, and sadly, some can even switch identities, as easily as other people change their clothes. Switching back and forth between Ukrainian and Russian, even midsentence, is effortless, common, and very fun if you speak both…and to some friends and family who don’t…annoying. It’s called Surzhik, and we will later explore this. Generally speaking, there are four languages/dialects spoken in Ukraine, and a language is essentially a dialect with an army and navy. They are listed as spoken from West to East
- Western Ukrainian: while not technically different than literary Ukrainian, the accent and terminology are heavily Polish. Here are two examples of Western Ukrainian style speech, the latter being what some consider a separate language – Carpatho-Russian. Foreign western tourists have noted that Western Ukraine is the only part of Ukraine where Ukrainian language is by far dominant, but found the people still speak Russian if asked by a non-Ukrainian speaker.
- Standard Literary Ukrainian: common, especially in central and northern Ukraine, used most prevalently in print, and by politicians and universities. For an example of the differences between Literary Ukrainian and the Western dialect in song, here are two versions of the classic Polish song Hej Sokoly in Ukrainian. The first is in literary standard Ukrainian, and the second is in Western Ukrainian dialect – note the use of the word Hen’ to mean “there” in place of Tam, the word used in both standard Ukrainian and Russian.
- Surzhik: A mix of Russian and Ukrainian, ranging from throwing Russian words into Ukrainian sentences, to completely ignoring the norms of grammar for both languages. Arguably the most common language spoken in the typical Ukrainian countryside, especially East-Central, and South, associated with rural villagers and industrial workers. This letter from the great Russian-speaking Ukrainian writer Gogol is written in what some could consider 19th-century Surzhik. Surzhik can also be heard in Cossack songs, a good example being “Yihav Kozak za Dunai” where the Russian style word Lusche (better) is used in place of standard Ukrainian Krasche. Several versions of Halya Molodaya (Young Halya) interchange the word Lusche with Krasche. The glorious Cossack song Harni Kozak Harni also says “Nasha Slava Kozatskaya ne na paperi pisana” (Our Cossack Glory is Not Written in Paper) – the feminine ending of the adjective Kozatskaya is Russian. Ukrainian would have ended without the “ya” at the end i.e. Nasha Slava Kozatska. Another modern example of Surzhik is this video by a Ukrainian youtuber, though she is slightly exaggerating her expressions for humorous effect.
- Standard Russian: Russian as spoken in Russia, possibly with a Ukrainian accent, stereotypically on the G (which become like an English H). Mostly spoken in East Ukraine, and also in major cities such as Kiev and Odessa.
Those are the four types of speech you will hear in Ukraine. The areas where these languages are spoken correspond logically with the historical evolution of Ukraine. That being said, as a general rule, all Ukrainians can speak Russian as well as Ukrainian.
While Ukrainian controversially dominates as the only official language, government papers, university work, and signs are written in Ukrainian, some form of Russian remains the lingua franka, as well as the native language of many Ukrainians. Russian particularly dominates in television and media, where the government is actively taking steps to promote Ukrainian, due to Russian being far more common on TV – the main source of Ukrainian news.
Russian is so dominant in Ukrainian TV, that the comedy show Varyaty advertises as being “the first Ukrainian-language humor show”. If one takes a look at their website, they can see their city schedule is all western Ukrainian. This is why Ukrainian attempts to prevent Russian from becoming an “official language” is ridiculous and unpopular – as it’s still a main language of everyday life.
This is why the Ukrainian politician who called Russian-speakers mentally retarded, is simply out of touch with reality. She herself is almost certainly a Russian-speaker, if defined as someone who understands fluent Russian, even if she chooses to speak exclusively Ukrainian. Most of Ukraine is Russian speaking.
This includes even Russian-hating Nazis, one of whom sings anti-Russian songs…in Russian. By calling Russian speakers retards, she is calling a good chunk of the country, including her President Poroshenko retarted. Despite his anti-Russian nationalism, he famously forgot how to say “wallet” in Ukrainian (he remembered in Russian), and had to ask for help.
Poroshenko’s language mix up is a hilarious microcosm of the Ukrainian language situation, and perhaps the only thing he ever did that made him remotely relatable. Although he always tries to speak in very proper literary Ukrainian, it is obvious that he is perhaps stronger in Russian. When his own children congratulate him on his birthday, his son speaks Russian, unlike his Ukrainian speaking sister. This mix of languages even within one family is totally normal for Ukrainians. That is not even considered mixing languages within the same sentence.
Surzhik – Russian-Ukrainian mix
Due to its non-standardized colloquial nature, there are no statistics as to what population of the country speaks in Surzhik, but anyone who knows Ukraine can say it’s not a small minority. Surzhik can take many forms, but most commonly, it involves throwing Russian or Russified words into mostly Ukrainian sentences.
The prevalence of Surzhik, as well as the influence on Ukrainian speech, essentially means that Ukraine is a state of organic diglossia – a place where two languages are spoken side by side. There are often two possible words or phrases for the same thing in Ukrainian, one more Russian influenced, and one pure Ukrainian, and as a result, Ukrainian speech can appear closer or more distant to Russian depending on the speaker. Here are some examples:
To say in Ukrainian “I speak Ukrainian” one can say: Я розмовляю українською мовою (Ya rozmovlyayu Ukrayiins’kuyu movoyu)
In Russian, the same phrase is: Я говорю по-украински (Ya gavaryu po Ukrainsky)
As a result, on the surface, they seem very different.
But one can just as easily say in Ukrainian: Я говорю по-українськи (Ya hovoryu po po Ukrayinssky).
The latter sounds very close to Russian, and is perfectly understandable, and it can be mixed up in several varieties. This video is made by anti-Kremlin Ukrainians, advocating for speaking Ukrainian, and while they used the instrumental case українською мовою, the word говорю is more Russian compared to розмовляю. That still makes it Ukrainian, and does not make the speakers Pro-Russian. There are plenty more examples of Surzhik in Ukraine:
Yak Dela (similar to Russian Kak Dela) as opposed to Ukrainian Yak Spravi. Do tsih pir (close to Russian Do tsikh por) instead of Dosi. Teper, like the Russian form instead of Zaraz.
As a result, seeing as most of Ukraine is truly and natively bilingual, it is clear that language alone is not the basis of what is causing the difference between Russians and Ukrainians. We have even seen examples of Russian-hating Ukrainians speaking Russian – even literary Russian as opposed to Surzhik, which is common in Kiev.
Whether a person is Russian or Ukrainian, or both, is largely based on their political views, region, religion, culture, language choice, and identity, rather than on clear ethnic or genetic grounds. If one changed their political party, for example, they could easily change from Russian to Ukrainian or Ukrainian to Russian.
That being said, the differences between literary Russian and Literary Ukrainian – not the mixed dialects but the pure “languages” are not so severe. Some say that Russian and Ukrainian have 60% of their words in common, so while they aren’t 100% mutually intelligible, they seem closer than Spanish and Italian for example.
The people are too similar to be completely different, sharing a common history, faith, and ethnogenesis (national origin), but of course, if they were 100% the same, we would not be talking about this at all.
In order to understand why this is, and then explain why the світогляд (worldview) of this politician is warped and totally insane with regards to the reality of Ukraine, we must understand from whence the Russian and Ukrainian lands and people had their origin. In order to understand what is happening in Ukraine, and what caused the language divide, understanding the history is a must.
To give a brief history, Russia and Ukraine are the children of the same state, Kievan Rus’ from their birth until 1240 when Rus’ was divided by invasions. Rus’ was the first East Slavic state, from which Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus’ take their origin from, and it existed on the territory of what is now those three countries. Ukrainian nationalists claim they are the true people of Rus’, whereas Russians have no connection to Rus’.
By 1360, all of Belarus, and much (but not all) of the territory of what is now Ukraine (mostly north central, and especially western), was ruled by Poland and Lithuania until Bogan’s Khmelnitsky’s uprising in 1654.
Khmelnitsky succeeded in uniting most of Ukraine with Russia, when they had been apart for around 300 years, however in that time some differences emerged. The Western part of Ukraine, west of the River Dnipro, but especially west of the river Buh would still be ruled by Poland and later Austro-Hungary for longer.
Poles and later Austro-Hungarians would encourage these differences, and push Catholic-Uniate religion on the people, and eventually, they imposed the idea of Ukrainianization upon what is now Ukraine, causing the people to think of themselves as different than Russians. At the same time, Coosccaks, would help Russia capture the south and east of what is now Ukraine from the Turks and Tatars. This land including Odessa and Donbass, was called New Russia because it was not before a core part of Rus’.
The people of new Russia were not subject to Ukrainizaition to the same level as others, and remains more russian speaking.
While other Ukrainians who underwent Ukrainizaition, still considered themselves the children of Rus’, they felt Russia was not Rus. You could say simplistically, Ukrainian nationalists want to be Rusian but not Russian, though it is obvious from a study of history, that Rus’ and Russia are natural evolutions, and the differences in Ukraine were caused by foreign empires occupying and brainwashing the people.
When talking about Ukraine, its imperative to accept the reality that we are essentially talking about (at least) two different countries merged into one. In simplistic terms, you can divide Ukraine into East and West by the River Dnipro, and say the East is (generally speaking) Russified and Orthodox, and the West is (very generally speaking) Catholic-Uniate and Ukrainianized. Almost any map of modern Ukraine will show a major divide in Ukraine based on this simplistic module.
As a result, the difference between a Ukrainian and a Russian can be seen as being more philosophical, political, and religious, than purely ethnic. The differences largely emerged from Modern Ukraine being a conglomeration of various historical territories. The ethnogenesis of Ukrainian people, along with Russians and Belarussians is worthy of its own scholarly and national studies.
It is the political division in modern Ukraine, which has caused hatred to poison the blood between normal Ukrainians and Russians. This hatred exists even towards other Ukrainians, as we witnessed with the example of that deranged politican who hates Russian-language speakers. It is clear from an examination of history that Russians and Ukrainians are a brotherly people with a common origin.
It is clear from the monumental works of legendary authors like Russian-speaking Ukrainian Nikolai Gogol, and the wisdom of Saints like Lavrentry of Chernigov (who by modern standards is a Ukrainian, but who considered himself Russian), that the divide between the peoples is artificial. Saint Lavrenty went as far as to say it was imposed by non-Orthodox foreign powers and Uniates to destroy Orthodox Rus’. It is clear even from a secular point of view, that this violence and division which has killed tens of thousands in Donbass, and brought ruin to Ukraine serves neither the Russian nor Ukrainian people.
The hatred in Ukraine is not the product of native East Slavs, but has been perniciously fostered by foreign powers for centuries, who fear the unity of the old lands of Rus’. The only solution is to lay aside the hatred and remember common roots far more ancient. This reaffirms the ancient words “Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, together we are Holy Rus.”