Ukraine Recognizes Nazi Collaborators; Poland And Russia Condemn This

Maybe it's just me, but that red and black flag is a bit too similar to a certain modern political party's flag for comfort... Source
Maybe it’s just me, but that red and black flag is a bit too similar to a certain modern political party’s flag for comfort… Source

For what is probably the first time ever, Poland and Russia are on agreement about something. And what did it take for this unprecedented event to take place? Nothing less than an attempt by Ukraine to recognize the legitimacy of certain neo-Nazi groups in WWII-era Ukraine. From the International Business Times:

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko was greeted by a group of pro-Russian Ukrainians chanting “Murderer!” and “No to fascism!” in Odessa Friday, a day after his bloc in parliament passed a bill recognizing controversial World War II-era partisan groups as so-called freedom fighters, according to the TASS Russia News Agency. The groups are revered by some in Ukraine because they defended ethnic Ukrainians in the chaos of World War II, but many pro-Russian Ukrainians consider them terrorists who willingly collaborated with Nazi Germany to fight the Soviet Union.

[…]

The bill would recognize groups such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Stepan Bandera’s so-called Banderite as legitimate combatants in World War II and as freedom fighters who fought for Ukrainian independence. Some of those partisan groups are believed to have participated in the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Ukraine, as well as the carrying out of bombings and kidnappings against the country’s postwar Soviet government. If the bill were to become law, it would grant veterans of these groups social benefits and make them eligible for state awards. It would also make it illegal to deny the legitimacy of their actions, according to UAPosition, a Ukraine-centered media site.

Ukraine’s current nationalist elements such as the Right Sector strongly identify with Bandera and his fellow partisans, who they say laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism. While most far-right Ukrainain groups are fragmented and remain largely on the fringe of Ukrainian politics, the Right Sector was visible in the Euromaidan movement, and it participated in a handful of volunteer paramilitary brigades that played decisive roles in Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine during the past year. Critics of the Euromaidan movement alleged the nationalist presence was indicative of the fascist, anti-Russian principles of the movement and the pro-European government that came into power as a result of it.

What the article doesn’t say—disingenuously, in my opinion—is that Russian politicians aren’t the only ones up in arms about this: some Polish members of parliament are, too. This article from Rossiskaya Gazeta (that literally means “Russian Newspaper”). Politicians from the opposition group “Union of democratic leftist forces” have called for the Polish foreign ministry to officially say something about this law.

And thus, for perhaps the first time ever, Russian politicians, Polish politicians, and I, your humble correspondent, are all in agreement.

Honestly, I think it’s kind of scary that this stuff is debatable here in the West. I’ve read some articles that actually defend the groups that the Ukrainian parties are trying to rehabilitate. Bandera’s forces and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, were, in my opinion, a bunch of nasty collaborators that don’t deserve any of this recognition.

Here’s another interesting idea: ever since this “revolution” took place in Ukraine, people have been telling me, both online and offline, that the far-right elements don’t actually hold sway over many people and aren’t a major player on the political field. I don’t mind considering this idea—I’m open-minded. But when I see stuff like this, I can’t help but think that it looks a lot more like my original thoughts were accurate. Just saying.

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Watch Russia’s Latest Crimea Documentary

Remember that Crimea documentary I talked about last week? Well, it aired on Sunday night in Russia and is now online! You can watch it here on YouTube, or watch the embedded version below. Unfortunately, it’s only in Russian. I don’t know if it exists with English subtitles yet, or if it ever will.

I’ve watched the first hour of it and it’s really interesting.

The Crimea Annexation Documentary

If you’re a Russia watcher, you’ve probably heard of the upcoming pro-Russian documentary film called Crimea: The Way Home [Крым: путь на родину]. The Russian TV station set to air it (as of now, there’s no air date) posted a short trailer on the internet this past weekend and the Russia-watching internet blew up (here’s one of many articles about this now-infamous documentary). You see, the trailer is basically just an excerpt from an interview with Putin in which he says that he planned to annex Crimea on February 22, 2014, after Viktor Yanukovych was deposed as president.

You can see the trailer (with English subtitles, hooray!) here. I’ve embedded it below, too, because it’s so important.

Why is it such a big deal that Putin planned the annexation from February 22? Because the actual referendum in which the Crimean people voted to join the Russian Federation took place weeks later.

The documentary looks really good. I’ll certainly watch it when it comes out. I’m probably one of the few people out there whose hobby is watching Russian propaganda films—but that’s why you read this blog, right?

Yuriy Sergeyev’s UN Speech

Remember waaaay back in March, when I asked if anyone had a video of the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN’s speech? Well, I actually found said speech on YouTube last week! No, I haven’t been looking for it ever since then. I forgot about it, then somehow followed a link and stumbled upon it. Here it is, if you’re wondering. It’s in English and Russian.

Or click here to see on YouTube.

Honestly, I’m weirdly thrilled that I found it. Also, Mr. Sergeyev speaks excellent Russian.

Does NATO Have Troops In Ukraine?

So. You may have heard that the war in Ukraine heated up yesterday and today with an attack on Mariupol, a Ukrainian city near Crimea. The pro-Ukrainian people are blaming the Russians, the pro-Russian people are blaming the Ukrainians, and the whole thing is a mess because civilians are getting hurt and dying.

This video is making the rounds in the Ukraine-watching blogosphere. It was shot in Mariupol after the attack. It’s only 40 seconds long, so I’d really appreciate it if you could watch it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. In it, a woman tries to interview a man wearing combat fatigues and carrying an assault rifle. He replies brusquely, “Out of my face, out of my face, please.” And yes, he says that in English. Natively-accented English, I might add. Don’t believe me? Watch the video:

Now, there could be several explanations for this:

  • The video wasn’t actually shot in Ukraine. (How does one explain the Russian spoken in the background then?)
  • The video has been edited and spliced, as in it was shot in Ukraine but a man speaking English was added in. (Possible… but unlikely, in my opinion.)
  • The video was shot in Ukraine and the soldier is Ukrainian and happens to be a brilliant linguist who has eliminated every single trace of a foreign accent from his speech, enabling his pronunciation, cadence, and colloquial vocabulary to fool multiple educated native English speakers. Is this possible? Of course. Is it likely? Absolutely not. Take me for example: I am good at Russian. But even I have a foreign accent in Russian. No matter how much I work on my pronunciation, my cadence and intonation give me away. My point here is not to brag, but simply to say that accents are made up of more than pronunciation of words. A ton of stuff goes into an accent and it is very hard to “fix” all of this to match native speakers of a language you’ve learned later in life.
  • There’s some other logical explanation that I’m not seeing. Always a possibility, of course.
  • Or, finally, the video was indeed shot in Ukraine and there are foreign troops from NATO countries currently there. Since this hasn’t been on the news, one must assume that these troops are clandestinely there, unbeknownst to the public in their native countries, and may have been in Ukraine for some time. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have been noticed at all, had this man not slipped up.

What do you think? Is that soldier a native English speaker? Is he a foreigner from Ukraine? And just where is his accent from? A ton of people on Twitter are saying he’s American. This American writing this has her doubts, though! You see, I hear a trace of a Commonwealth accent there. I’m not sure I’d say British, though there seems to be a British influence, which is why I have talked about NATO troops, not American troops.

Ukrainian Fascist Oleg Tyagnibok Has A Twitter Account

Oleg Tyagnibok in 2013. Source
Oleg Tyagnibok in 2013. Source

And he has a website. (The Twitter account is here and has 162,000 followers. It’s scary that even after all these years, during which a plethora of scholarship has shown how evil the Nazis were, that many people still believe in this stuff.)

Anyway, the biography page on his website reads like some sort of satire. I don’t advertise this fact often, but I can actually read Ukrainian. (Not as well as I read Russian, mind you, but well enough to do actual research in this language.)

Олег Тягнибок народився у Львові в сім’ї медиків. Найбільшими цінностями родини споконвіку були патріотизм і вміння відстоювати переконання. З дитинства Олег запам’ятав обшуки кагебістів у своїй квартирі. Його дід, український священик Артемій Цегельський, відмовився перейти на Московське православ’я, за що відбув з сім’єю сім років сибірського заслання. Уся родина постійно була під наглядом. Через роки Олег скаже, що підсвідомо свій вибір зробив ще тоді – коли під час обшуків зникали безцінні родинні реліквії – старі фотографії, листи.

In English (I actually took this from the English version of his website and slightly modified it for clarity):

Oleg Tiagnybok was born into a family of doctors. The highest values cherished in it were patriotism and dedication to one’s commitments. In his childhood, Oleg was frequent witness to home searches by the Soviet security service, KGB. His grandfather, Ukrainian priest Artemi Tsehelskyi, refused to join the Moscow-affiliated church, a deed for which he and his family spent 7 years in exile in Siberia. The family had constantly been under KGB surveillance. Later, Oleg said that his choice in life had been made in those years when valuable family relics, old photographs and letters, went missing after the searches.

Seriously, this is one of those things you just can’t make up. If I saw this somewhere without knowing the source, I’d assume it was a bad caricature of the rabidly anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist. Except… it’s actually real.

(And by the way, I’m not trying to say the KGB didn’t oppress people—because they did. The KGB didn’t just spy in foreign countries, it also operated within the Soviet Union and treated its own citizens horribly. But there’s a difference between talking about bad stuff that happened in the Soviet Union and acting like every single ill that Ukraine has ever suffered is a direct result of the existence of Russia. One leads to a legitimate discussion; the other to unfair blame being placed on a certain country. I think I’ve made it clear which is which.)

The Monarchists Fighting In Ukraine

The BBC Magazine had a really great article last week about the pro-Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. You can read it here. It’s kind of awesome.

Since nationalism and monarchism in Russia are some of my interests, I liked this paragraph the best.

How do Russia’s rulers regard such volunteers? Certainly, there’s a complex interplay between nationalist groups and the authorities. The nationalists share the Kremlin’s distaste for Western liberal values and its love of strong central authority. But many are ultimately monarchists who dream of turning the clock back to before the 1917 revolution. “God, Tsar, Nation” is their slogan – and a president who was once an agent of the hated Communist secret police is distinctly second-best. Putin has borrowed some of their religious imagery: in his annual address to the Russian parliament, which I see him deliver on a fuzzy TV in Pavel’s barracks, he too uses the Jerusalem comparison. But he’s not talking about Donetsk, only about Crimea, annexed by Russia earlier this year. In this speech, he stresses Ukraine’s right to determine its own path – unlike Pavel, who says simply that there should be no Ukrainian state.

In my experience, a lot of Russian nationalists actually don’t like Putin. They view him as a sell-out who does not have Russia’s best interests at heart.

And apparently, according to the BBC, I must be a monarchist then, as I certainly do “dream of turning the clock back to before the 1917 revolution”! 🙂

On Finding Contentment (Or, Why I’m Not A Russia Blogger)

Last week marked the first week in a long time during which I felt content. Perhaps the two days off had something to do with it—but I don’t think that explains everything. Over the past few months, I have slowly stopped doing some things that were causing me undue anxiety.

First, I stopped reading a ton of news websites. I used to read the news almost obsessively. This past week, I’ve barely read it at all and I actually feel sort of liberated.

Second, and most importantly, I stopped following Russia-related news so closely. I used to be a bit of a Russia blogger on my old blog that I no longer run anymore and I have, at times, ventured into Russia blogging on this blog. I’m sorry to disappoint anyone, but I just can’t do it anymore. There’s one reason and one reason only why I’m not following the news very closely and blogging about it, and it’s this:

The politics are vicious. Politics in general is pretty vicious, but I have seen few things as vicious as the small subset of people engaging in Russia-watching. It’s always an us-versus-them mentality. Observe what I’ve experienced over the years:*

  • Don’t like the ragtag group that comprises the political opposition in Russia? (I don’t.) Then you must be pro-Putin fanatic, foaming at the mouth in your zeal to support the Kremlin!
  • Don’t like the new President of Ukraine, Pyotr Poroshenko? (I don’t.) Then you must be pro-corruption and pro-Yanukovych, the evil mass murderer!
  • Don’t like the recent revolution that happened in Ukraine? (I don’t.) Then you’re obviously pro-Russian and pro-Putin and pro-terrorism.
  • Hate the ongoing war in Ukraine? (I do.) Then you must be just plain evil, because the Ukrainian forces are fighting the good fight against evil!
  • Think that Ukrainian nationalist hero Stepan Bandera just might have been a Nazi sympathizer because he did collaborate with Hitler’s Germany, and think that such a question is definitely worth investigating? (I do.) You’re evil and anti-Ukrainian and anti-freedom and anti… some other stuff, too.

That’s just a small sampling of what you have to deal with in the Russia-watching blogosphere. There’s no middle ground and it’s annoying. What if I don’t like corruption, period? That means Yulia Tymoshenko and Pyotr Poroshenko are just as bad as Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin. (Ask yourself this: how did Tymoshenko and Poroshenko get their money? It was through just as illegal means as Yanukovych and Putin did it, only everyone talks about the latter two and not about the former two.)

What if I’m equally sad to hear about Russian soldiers and Ukrainian soldiers dying in the war in Ukraine? I hate the war in Ukraine and I wish it were over for good. All the deaths from the war, on both sides, are tragic.

What if I like both the Russian language and the Ukrainian language? I speak Russian fluently. I obviously like the language if I spent all that time and effort to learn it. For goodness sakes, I majored in it! I also like Ukrainian. I’ve studied it off and on for fun. I like how I can understand so much of it due to knowing Russian. But somehow when I point that out, I’m a Russian imperialist. I have yet to figure out what is imperialist about pointing out that the two languages are closely related, a fact that any competent Slavic linguist would readily acknowledge.

(As an aside, my warm feelings for both Ukrainians and Russians may be shared by people actually over there: this Wall Street Journal article quotes a Ukrainian man who says Ukrainian people from the west and east don’t hate each other: “This is a war between politicians. It isn’t a war between peoples.”)

Basically, there’s no winning if you refuse to blindly follow one side. After arguing with people about this, I’m done. It’s just too frustrating to continue. Ever since I stopped following Russian news and politics last week, I have felt liberated. It is an amazing feeling. I have had more time and mental energy to think about my fiction writing, something I take very seriously and want to talk about on this blog more. I want to talk about language learning more, too, so I can live up to the “Fluent” in this blog’s name.

*I’ve been following Russian politics closely since 2008, so yes, I literally have been exposed to the Russia-watching blogosphere for that long.

The Ukrainian Dictation Contest

Украина // Україна // Ukraine
Украина // Україна // Ukraine

I really wish I’d known about this, everyone. I definitely would have entered. From RFE/RL:

Ukraine’s annual dictation contest has always carried political undertones.

The competition, officially titled Ukrainian Dictation of National Unity, was launched in 2000 to promote the Ukrainian language in a country where almost one-third of citizens consider Russian their mother tongue.

[…]

The contest, held annually on the eve of Ukrainian Writing and Language Day, is popular in the country. Last year, more than 13,000 participants sent in their copies.

This year’s dictation was broadcast live on radio as part of a two-hour show featuring politicians and cultural luminaries.

The presenter, respected linguist Oleksandr Avramenko, read a 180-word text packed with grammatical traps and complex spellings.

“The dictation is difficult,” Avramenko, the author of schoolbooks on Ukrainian language and literature, told RFE/RL. “If 700 people were able to write it flawlessly, this would not be a competition.”

I loved dictations in Russian class, so I think this one sounds like so much fun. If I had known about it, I would have entered.

Thank You! Спасибо! Дякую!

While browsing my site stats for today (I had a ton of visits today—not sure how that happened, but I’m not complaining!), I saw a link to a page on this blog, 8 Months In Ukraine. Since someone clicked over to my blog from there, I knew there must be a link. Scrolling through, I saw the blogger had this to say about me:

Natalie speaks Russian and Ukrainian (and more) as foreign languages. Great insights into politics and current events written up in short and entertaining posts- this woman knows her subject matter!

All I have to say is: thanks so much! That is such a nice thing to say. Also, you flatter me, as I really do not speak Ukrainian well at all. I’d be laughed out of Ukraine if I tried to speak it! 🙂