Monday, May 2, 2022

Putin’s ‘De-Ukrainianization’ Drive in Ukraine has Its Roots in Stalin’s Earlier Effort in Russian Far East, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – When reports surfaced that the Russian military units that carried out the genocide in Bucha and other Ukrainian villages near Kyiv had earlier been based in Khabarovsk Kray, few there were surprised, Vadim Sidorov says, because of the tradition with roots in Stalin’s time of Moscow using force to “de-Ukrainize” the Russian Far East.

            Ukrainians and their supporters have long focused on the existence of large Ukrainian communities in various parts of Russia and especially those in the Far East.(For background, see, and, as well as the sources cited therein.)

            But they have devoted less attention to the groups in these regions, backed by the Soviet and Russian state, to wipe out Ukrainian identity in these places, including like Unit No. 51460 from Khabarovsk which has distinguished itself in notorious fashion by its actions in Bucha and other Ukrainian locations.

            That lack of attention has now been remedied by Vadim Sidorov, a Prague-based specialist on ethnic and religious issues in the former Soviet space, who traces the moves Stalin and his successors took to wipe out the Ukrainian community in the Russian Far East because of its aspirations to become independent (

            As late as 1931, as a result of Ukrainian migration to the Russian Far East, nearly a third of the population there listed itself as ethnically Ukrainian. In 2010, the Russian census found only three percent of the population did so; and the most recent census when its results are published will likely find that percentage to be even lower.

            Most of this forced decline occurred during Soviet times. By 1991, Sidorov says, the share of ethnic Ukrainians in that region had fallen to eight percent. But after the collapse of the USSR, many of those remaining sought to join up with the now independent Ukraine. That effort failed largely because of distance, but Moscow never forgot or forgave, he continues.

            Instead, the center redoubled its efforts to stamp out Ukrainian feelings and mobilized those it drafted into the army and security services to eliminate any aspirations for independence or even autonomy. And during the Khabarovsk protests, it claimed the supporters of Furgal were Ukrainian in origin (

            It is certain that many Ukrainians in the Russian Far East even if they aren’t recorded as such in the Russian census still feel distinct and would like greater autonomy or even independence, but as Sidorov points out, it is also clear after Bucha that Moscow’s efforts to suppress them have had an impact there as well.

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