Staunton, October 26 – A group of Siberian nationalists has called on ethnic Ukrainians living in the Far East, a community the Siberians note that currently has fewer opportunities to preserve its national culture than do the indigenous Siberian peoples, to join the Siberian nationalist movement.
In an indication of seriousness, the Siberian Popular Assembly, fresh from its effort to have people east of the Urals declare “Siberian” as their nationality in the just-completed Russian Federation census, has published an appeal to the Siberians of the Russian Far East and done so in the Siberian, Ukrainian and Russian languages (www.verkhoturov.info/content/view/1016/1/).
“Brother Ukrainians!” the appeal begins, “at this historic moment of the awakening of the Siberian nation, we Siberians extend to you the hand of friendship. There are scarcely any other peoples closer than we are by their historical fate,” one of colonization, persecution, and russification.
The appeal continues by saying that “we intend to build our future in peace and cooperation with all peoples, respecting the right of every nation to self-determination,” and that includes respecting the “many-thousand-strong” Ukrainian diaspora in the Far East, known historically as “Gray and Green Ukraine.”
At the present time, the appeal states, Ukrainians there are “deprived of the right even to education in their native language, not to speak of the use of their tongue in business and legal affairs.” That is because, the appeal says, “the Russian powers that be consider any citizen of the Russian Federation ‘a Russian.’” In this respect, Ukrainians and Siberians are in the same boat.
The self-proclaimed Council of the Siberian People, the appeal says, is “a political organization which seeks the establishment of a future flourishing Siberia and the happiness of all Siberian peoples, including the Ukrainians and the Siberians themselves,” and insists on the right of Siberian Ukrainians to have schools in their native language.
And the appeal concludes with an appeal to the Ukrainians of the Far East to disseminate further information about this cause and to join with the Siberian nationalists in this cause. To that end, it calls on the Far Eastern Ukrainians to get in contact with the Siberian nationalists via the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ukrainians of the Far East came into existence as a distinctive community at the end of the nineteenth century when the tsarist authorities provided free transportation and free land to Ukrainians suffering from famine. Several hundred thousand Ukrainians took advantage of that offer and called the land they settled in the “Zeleny klyn” or Green Triangle.
The population grew rapidly and by the time of the first Soviet census in 1926 ethnic Ukrainians formed almost half of the population in the area within the triangle formed by Vladivostok, Nakhodka and Khabarovsk, and in the years of the Russian Civil War, it played a key role.
Indeed, one of the causes of the defeat of the Russian White Movement in the Far East was the opposition of its leaders to any concessions to the non-Russians and especially to the Ukrainians, whom most of the White leaders refused to acknowledge were a separate and distinct nation.
The Bolsheviks exploited that and promised the Ukrainians in the Far East native language schools and broad cultural autonomy, but having defeated the Whites, the Soviet government reneged and promoted the thorough-going russianization and russification of the ethnic Ukrainians.
As a result, by the end of the Soviet period, the percentage of people in the Russian Far East who declared themselves to be Ukrainians as opposed to Russians had declined to the single digits in most places, but the share of the population in that region as a whole with Ukrainian roots is certainly more than half.
The Zeleny klyn Ukrainians, however, even at that time did claim one remarkable distinction. In the mid-1980s for a brief time, the United States broadcast to them in Ukrainian, the only time during the Cold War when the West broadcast to an area not defined by the Soviet system as being of that language community, at least formally.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, some Ukrainians in Kyiv attempted to reach out to the Zeleny klyn and some Ukrainians there organized, but little came of either effort, the victim of more pressing immediate problems and the enormous distance separating Ukraine proper from the Ukrainians in the Far East.
The new Siberian nationalist appeal may not be crowned with immediate success, but this effort to form a supra-national Siberian identity represents a challenge to the way Moscow has been doing business for almost a century. As a result, it is likely that this move by the Siberians will provoke a greater response from the center than anything the Siberians have yet done.
(The most important study of the Ukrainians of the Zeleny klyn is Ivan Svit’s “Zelena Ukraina. Korotkyi istorchnyi narys ukrains’koho politiychnogo i hromads’kogo zhytiia” in Ukrainian, New York, 1949. For an English language introduction, see especially John J. Stephan’s “The Russian Far East,” Stanford, 1994.)