The Types of Ukrainians You Meet

Photo from the protests. The text says, "We'll lie down souls and bodies for our freedom!"
Photo from the protests. The text says, “We’ll lie down souls and bodies for our freedom! Kiev, 19 January 2014”

In honor of the recent events in Ukraine (I’m thinking of the anti-government protests that I still haven’t written a post about), I thought I’d write a funny post about the types of Ukrainian people you meet in the world. It’s meant to be semi-satirical, so don’t write me enraged emails saying how “offended” you are, because I won’t read them. It’s a post meant in good fun and if enough people read it, I’ll write one about Americans, Russians, and other nationalities suggested by readers. Basically, I’m saying I’ll poke fun at anyone, even my own people. In the interest of stylistic elegance, I’ve kept to one single pronoun use when describing a certain type. For example, I used “she” for the proud diaspora member to avoid writing the awkward and clunky “he/she”. I don’t mean to imply that all diaspora members are women, or that everyone who supported the Orange Revolution was a man. I’m simply trying to make the writing flow better.

The proud diaspora member

This person has lived outside of Ukraine her entire life (most likely in Canada), yet her whole identity is based on one very important fact: she’s Ukrainian. She never misses an opportunity to bring up the fact that her ancestors, probably great-grandparents, came over from Ukraine, or that she speaks Ukrainian at home. If she isn’t already married, she’s going to marry a fellow Ukrainian diaspora member and they’ll raise their kids speaking Ukrainian and live happily ever after. The great irony of this situation is she actually speaks an old-fashioned version of Ukrainian that isn’t quite what they speak over in Ukraine today. But no matter: she’s either blissfully ignorant or just doesn’t care.

Political views: if she’s young, some young, inexperienced politician like Arseniy Yatsyenyuk. If she’s the older generation, anyone who’s pro-Western and isn’t Viktor Yanukovych.

The Russified Ukrainian

Almost everyone in eastern Ukraine loves Viktor.
Almost everyone in eastern Ukraine loves Viktor.

She’s definitely from Ukraine’s industrial east, like the city of Kharkov or the Donetsk region (from which the current president hails). She speaks Russian as her native language, and often she speaks it well enough that most Russians mistake her for a native (and if she’s doesn’t, she tries to minimize her Ukrainian accent as much as possible). If she’s old enough, she may not even speak Ukrainian, since Soviet-era schooling was in Russian. She has ties to Russia, whether they are purely sentimental and emotional, or actual familial ties. She thinks Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych are the greatest things ever and really would not be distraught if Russia annexed Ukraine tomorrow.

Political views: Viktor Yanukovych and Party of Regions all the way!

The washed-up Orange Revolutionary

Camping in these tents was the greatest thing ever!
Camping in these tents was the greatest thing ever!

He was a big supporter of the Orange Revolution in 2004. And by big, I mean he wore orange every day to show his support for Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Even though he had a job when the revolution began, he went to the protests every day and maybe even camped out in the snow. (And when he got fired for not showing up to work, he was indignant. You mean people don’t get off work when a bunch of thugs in the disguise of revolutionaries try to steal an election? How appalling!) He still has fond memories of the Orange Revolution, even though the Ukrainian economy went to hell in a handbasket after his precious Yushchenko took power. If this person is a man, he’s not-so-secretly in love with Tymoshenko. If it’s a woman, she thinks Yushchenko is handsome even after his dioxin poisoning. One thing is certain, though: you can bet your bottom dollar he’s out in the streets, protesting against Yanukovych right now.

Political views: Yushchenko! And Tymoshenko too. Never mind they fell out—he supports them both, okay?!?

The hardcore nationalist

Oleg Tyagnibok. It frightens me this man has supporters.
Oleg Tyagnibok. It frightens me this man has supporters.

He’s from Western Ukraine, where all the best people are from, duh. He grew up under the yoke of Russian oppression, and thus it is his life’s mission to bring the Ukrainian language to the unenlightened masses. If he were just a language policy fanatic, that would be okay—but the hardcore nationalist is so much more. As a nationalist, he just hates a lot of people, none more so than the Russians and the Jews. He hates Jews because they’re the reason he was forced to live under Soviet rule. In his mind, the Jews colluded with the tsars to oppress Ukraine, then they colluded with the Soviet authorities. He hates the Russians because they’re, well, just too Russian. They’re a bunch of uneducated peasants (never mind the fact that his ancestors were probably peasants, too). The hardcore nationalist will stop at nothing to achieve his goals: election rigging, bullying, violence—it’s all on the table for him. Because when the end is an ethnically pure Slavic Ukrainian-speaking state, any means are justified, right?

Political views: Oleg Tyagnibok and Stepan Bandera. Never mind that Bandera has been dead since 1959—Bandera’s ideals are eternal!

The oligarch

He (and in this case, he is the only appropriate pronoun to use, as the vast majority of oligarchs are men) cares about one thing only: making money. Ain’t no shame in that, except that means he’s really corrupt and isn’t above paying for a few contract killings to advance his business interests. He also thinks he’s better than you because he can afford to vacation in the expensive parts of Europe, like Monaco or the French Riviera.

Political views: he really doesn’t care, so basically whoever lets him keep his money.


2 thoughts on “The Types of Ukrainians You Meet

  1. In the US Northeast, there’s a small Ukrainian presence, mainly in New York and Pennsylvania. There’s a slowly vanishing Ukrainian village in Manhattan which used to be a genuine ethnic Ukrainian neighborhood. Ukrainians were also a big part of the steel industry in Pittsburgh.

    I don’t know about the situation in Canada but Ukrainians tended to assimilate into the larger mass of American blue collar culture. I suspect this is because they weren’t particularly assertive about their culture in the US and didn’t have a very strong influence on cities, compared to say, Italians. Growing up in the suburbs of NYC, I’d occasionally meet people with unmistakably Ukrainian names who were only dimly aware of their heritage.


    1. I definitely agree with your second paragraph. Many Ukrainians in the US don’t know much about their heritage, unless they’re first generation (as in, parents came over from Ukraine and speak it at home). In Canada, there is a lot more encouragement to keep the culture alive, from what I hear. What’s funny is the original Ukrainian immigrants to Canada spoke a specific dialect of Ukrainian that was passed down over the generations in emigration. So the Canadian-Ukrainians don’t even speak the “proper” Ukrainian spoken over in Western Ukraine today. 🙂


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