Staunton, August 19 – At a time when Moscow is pressing to have Ukraine make Russian a second state language and to expand the use of Russian in Ukrainian higher education, Ukraine’s newly appointed ambassador to Moscow has complained that “there is not a single government school in Russia with instruction in Ukrainian.”
In an interview published on Tuesday, Vladimir Yelchenko says that one of his goals as Kyiv’s representative in the Russian capital is to change that situation in order that Russia’s millions of ethnic Ukrainians will be better able to maintain their ethnicity and links to Ukraine (www.izvestia.com.ua/?/articles/2010/08/17/211157-9).
At the present time, Yelchenko continues, “Ukrainians living on the territory of Russia are integrated into the social-political life of this country.” Moreover, “citizens of the Russian Federation of Ukrainian origin form a significant percent of those in the cultural-artistic, political and administrative elite of Russia.”
But at the same time, the Ukrainian ambassador says, “many of them remember their roots and preserve Ukrainian culture and traditions.” And to that end, they make use of such institutions as the National Cultural Center of Ukraine in Moscow, the Ukrainian Culture Center in Surgut, and the Laboratory of Ukrainian Culture in Sochi.”
In Moscow alone, he continues, there is a Library of Ukrainian Literature, which currently has 50,000 volumes and which is “constantly being renewed with the support of Ukraine.” And for many Ukrainians in the Russian Federation, Ukrainian websites play a major role in sharing information and helping to maintain Ukrainian culture.
Many Ukrainian organizations are turning to the embassy for support, Yelchenko notes, and the Ukrainian government “tries in every possible way to support” initiatives like festivals of Ukrainian culture, the distribution of journals and newspapers, and the erection and maintenance of memorials to well-known Ukrainians who have lived in Russia.
Schools play a key role in helping to maintain Ukrainian identity abroad, the ambassador suggests. In various parts of Russia, there are currently nine private schools and one private college “where Ukrainian is being studied.” But “the majority of children of Ukrainians who want to know their native language, study it in [privately organized] circles and Sunday schools.”
This reflects a real problem in the Russian Federation, the ambassador goes on to say. “At present, unfortunately, there is not a single government school with programs of instruction in general educational subjects in the Ukrainian language.”
“I will be open,” Yelchenko says, “I consider it absolutely abnormal that in Moscow where live a large number of ethnic Ukrainians – more than a quarter of a million – there is not a single Ukrainian middle school. The correction of this situation,” he continues, is something he considers “one of [his] first order tasks.”
At the same time, the ambassador indicates, he is helping to create a Ukrainian-language channel on Russian television” so that the Ukrainians of Russia will be kept informed about what is taking place in their native land. And he suggests that talks about organizing such a channel are near completion.
Among Yelchenko’s other comments in his wide-ranging interview, one stands out. The Ukrainian ambassador said that it is his “deep conviction” that ever more Russians understand that “Ukraine is a normal European state with serious potential,” one “with its own interests which may not always and in everything correspond to Russian interests.”
The question of education is clearly a place where Moscow and Kyiv diverge. Since 1991, Moscow has pressed Kyiv hard to maintain all Russian-language institutions in Ukraine and complained loudly when any of them are closed or shifted to the national language of that country, complaints that many Western governments have echoed.
But at the same time, Moscow has failed to open Ukrainian-language schools for the ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, arguing that the Ukrainians there supposedly do not want them. As Yelchenko’s interview shows, that is clearly not the case, even though Western governments have seldom pressed Moscow on that account.