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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Moscow’s Attempt to Discredit Khabarovsk Protesters by Pointing to Their Ukrainian Background Backfiring, Sidorov Suggests

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Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – Russian propagandists always try to find a “foreign trace” behind any protest, usually linking demonstrations to foreign intelligence services. But sometimes, they seek to link popular actions to nations that are now independent of Russia but once were part of it.

            That is what has happened with regard to the continuing anti-Moscow protests in Khabarovsk, according to Vadim Sidorov, a Russian journalist. The current powers that be have sought to explain the rise and tenacity of protests in that Far Eastern city by pointing to the fact that it was once largely Ukrainian rather than Russian (

            In that way, the Russian propagandists hoped to discredit the actions of the people of Khabarovsk by suggesting that they are not “real Russians.” But their attempts have backfired as they have called the attention of people in that region to their genuinely Ukrainian past and ensured that people in Ukraine have paid more attention to what is going on in Khabarovsk. 

            “The Far East, which today is considered an inalienable part of Russia was joined to it only in the middle of the 19thcentury, Sidorov says; and the population of this kray was formed by migration from the European portion of the Russian Empire,” mostly Ukrainians but also Belarusians and some Russians.

Russian commentators have not ignored these other flows in their discussions of the demography of Khabarovsk, but they have not used this in the same way as Moscow has used the Ukrainian dimension. (On this, see

Most of the Ukrainians who came to the Far East settled in Yuzhno-Ussuriysk kray and “unofficially,” Sidorov says, the region began to be called “the Green Wedge,” “wedge” because that is what land subdivisions were called and “green” because of the extraordinarily fertile land in that region.

Ukrainians resettled in many parts of what is now Russia and those places too came to be known as “wedges,” although of different colors. Because of concerns about their reliability, Moscow has sought to suppress these memories (,, as well as the sources cited therein.)

The Ukrainian arrivals settled overwhelmingly in rural areas, recapitulating the demographic situation of their homeland, in which they overwhelmingly dominated the rural peasantry three to one over Russians and others but typically formed fewer than three percent of the residents of urban areas, Sidorov continues.

By 1923, he says, the ethnic Ukrainians outnumbered the ethnic Russians 39 percent to 31 percent, a pattern that helped explain the outcome of the Russian Civil War there and why initially Moscow deferred to the Ukrainians as allies against anti-Bolshevik Great Russian chauvinists.

Until 1905, the tsarist regime prohibited Ukrainians from forming public organizations or publishing newspapers and journals. But after that time, the Ukrainians of the Zeleny klin, often with assistance from Ukrainians in Harbin founded some 400 publications and organizations which existed until the early Soviet years.

The Ukrainians in the Far East welcomed the February 1917 revolution, organized a series of congresses, and sought to interest Kyiv in 1918 to recognize them as “a Ukrainian colony” in the Far East. They sent a delegation to General Skoropadsky but because he had more immediate concerns, he took no action.

The establishment of Soviet power in the region “became a turning point” for the Ukrainians. The Bolsheviks turned on their former allies and began to repress them, leading to a show trial in Chita in 1924. (On that remarkable event, see Ivan Svit’s The Trial of Ukrainians in Chita (in Ukrainian, London, 1964, 38 pp., a bibliographic rarity.)

After that, the life of Ukranians in the Far East became far more difficult. Their national districts and schools were closed, their publications suspended, and they were forcibly reidentified as Russians. Between 1931 and 1989, Sidorov relates, the share of Ukrainians in the population there fell from 27 percent to eight percent. Since 1991, it has fallen to three percent.

On the one hand, as Sidorov says, the Ukrainians “have no more relationship to the protests in Khabarovsk than do the indigenous peoples of the Primorye region. But many of the Russians in the region have Ukrainian roots and share Ukrainian values (

That helps to explain why Khabarovsk residents have proved so steadfast. It is also why Moscow is making a serious mistake by calling attention to it.

Window on Eurasia — New Series