Friday, June 6, 2014

Window on Eurasia: A Second Ukraine Being Reborn in Russian Far East

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 6 – Moscow officials say that an increasing number of Ukrainians are seeking refuge from the turmoil in their country by moving to the Russian Federation, and experts note that unexpectedly for the central Russian government, many of them are seeking to settle in the Russian Far East.

            But as Ulyana Ivanova points out on, no one should be surprised by this because “a century ago, Ukrainians formed two-thirds of the population” of the Russian Far East. They remain the second largest nationality there, and there are few of any nationality, including Russian, who do not have Ukrainian roots (

            And while it may be too soon to speak of the rebirth of the “Zelenyi kiln” or “Green Wedge,” as Ukrainians have called this region, because the flow of Ukrainians from Ukraine proper is still small, it is clearly the case that their arrival is sparking renewed interest in what was once “the second Ukraine.”

            The origins of Zelnyi klin go back to 1883 when the tsarist government organized the first move of Ukrainian peasants from Chernihov and Kyiv guberniyas to Vladivostok. They were followed by tens of thousands of others from elsewhere in Ukraine, and by 1914, “there were more Ukrainians in that region than Russians.”

            The villages they built in the region resembled Ukrainian farms and had Ukrainian names, and at the time of the Russian revolution, “the leaders of the Ukrainian division in Zelenyi kiln adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state on the Pacific and began to form an army,” Ivanova writes.

            Ukrainian military units were formed in “practically all major cities” there, and residents flocked to obtain Ukrainian passports. There were Ukrainian schools and Ukrainian newspapers.  But when the Bolsheviks seized the area in the fall of 1922, they “liquidated all the Ukrainian organizations and arrested the leaders.”

            Today in the Far East live the second, third, and fourth generation of descendants of these Ukrainians, and “in Primorsky kray it is difficult to find an indigenous resident who does not have Ukrainian ancestors,” even though most of them, as a result of Soviet policy, now identify themselves as ethnic Russians.

            But despite that, “Ukrainian culture in the Far East is on the rise and actively developing itself,” Ivanova says.

            One of the activists in this is Mariya Zbarych, a Ukrainian who came there after the Chernobyl accident contaminated where she and her family had lived in Ukraine.  Using her own resources, she has recreated a Ukrainian farm in Primorsky kray to show Ukrainians and those with Ukrainian roots what their land was like before the Bolsheviks.

                Ivanova also spoke with Vyacheslav Chernomaz, who teaches at Vladivostok’s Far Eastern Law Institute of the MVD and who has become one of the leading historians of the Zelenyi kiln past and present. (For his biography and a list of some of his articles in Ukrainian as well as Russian, see

            Chernomaz, an ethnic Ukrainian who was born and grew up in the Far East – his grandfather came to the region 70 years ago-- says that when he visited Ukraine for the first time in the early 1990s, he felt entirely at home but when he was in central Russia, he “felt that he had landed in a different country. 

            He says that when he was growing up in the 1970s, “our Primorsky population was already not Ukrainian speaking but it was still Ukrainian singing.” And he pointed to the large number of restaurants and cafes there that feature “traditional Ukrainian foods” rather than more generic Russian or Soviet ones.

            As Ivanova observes, “the national-cultural life of Ukrainians of the Far East is extremely diverse. They hold music festivals and Ukrainian poetry competitions, and they publish books and newspaper.” But most of them – and there are nearly 100, she says – operate as amateur artistic collectives rather than being state-supported ones.

            One should have no doubt, the writer concludes, “that those who resettle from Ukraine will be completely comfortable in all regards in their new motherland on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.”

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