Weekly pro-Russian rallies (some expressly aggressive) under separatist slogans are rocking the boat in the east of Ukraine. The protesters insist that the reason is “oppression of the Russian-speaking populace,” that they refuse to recognize the new administration, etc. The Day interviewed people representing various ethnic groups in Donetsk oblast. They were asked whether their life in that area was comfortable and how they felt about such rallies.
Valentyna STARUSHKO, chairperson, Polish Cultural Society of Donbas:
“Before these pro-Russian rallies started the situation in Donetsk oblast was perfectly normal. Our organization has functioned for 15 years, we teach ethnic Poles their mother tongue. We publish the monthly newspaper The Poles of the Donbas, there is a monthly radio program entitled “The Donbas Polish Wave” and we screen Polish movies every quarter of the year. Local television channels take an interest in various ethnic communities, including the Polish one.
“We have never felt being oppressed. On the contrary, the local authorities are quite helpful. Over the past several years communal cultural competitions have been organized on a regular basis and the participating communities have been provided additional funds to hold ethnic festivals, publish books, and arrange for other interesting projects. I think authorities in other oblasts ought to emulate our example, especially in terms of mutual tolerance.”
Askar ISPULAYEV, chairman, Donetsk Regional NGO Kazakh Cultural Society of Donbas:
“Our community has a membership of about 30, considering that the latest census recorded over 550 ethnic Kazakhs in this oblast. We feel quite comfortable in the Donbas, there are no problems, as I have repeatedly emphasized. Recently we decided to celebrate our national holiday, Nowruz, but then postponed it because of what was happening in Ukraine. The source of destabilization is in Kyiv, so we tell them to leave us well alone. Our people live in unity and I think meddling in politics is bad for everyone. Stop it and everything will be fine. Ukraine is in a bad way, so much so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that penguins in Antarctica are laying claim to some Ukrainian territory. Yanukovych isn’t the only one to blame, considering that others have been robbing Ukraine for more than 20 years. Media people are also to blame for what’s going on; almost all of them are biased and being paid for it. This bias is clearly apparent in almost every feature, every report. Not so long ago the very existence of our state was at stake. Fortunately, the situation is gradually improving.”
Galina ASTAPCHIK, chairperson, Donetsk City NGO Belarusian Cultural and Education Society Neman:
“Our ethnic community has never been oppressed. To make life more comfortable, it is necessary to communicate with each other more often. That was practiced before, through festivals, conferences, days of national cuisine. I don’t know who is adding fuel to the fire of [interethnic] animosity because we have never experienced it. Personally I have never been insulted because of my ethnic origin, except that a bureaucrat once told me, ‘Since yours is a Belarusian community, let Lukashenka help you.’ It would be better if all local authorities helped such NGOs.
“2014 is the Year of Belarusian Culture in Ukraine, so we carried out the project ‘For Belarus with Love.’ It was attended by many local residents and they said they loved what they watched and heard. At present, the ethnic communities in Donetsk oblast are trying to get closer together so no one can rip Ukraine apart. We are seriously worried about the domestic situation. We discuss it and our relatives in Russia and Belarus call to warn us against taking part in big rallies because we could get hurt.”
The following comment belongs to a Russian born in Smolensk oblast, who preferred to remain unidentified:
“I am a civil servant and cannot make any political statements under the law. I think I’ll voice the opinion of many when I say that, as a Russian, I feel quite comfortable in Ukraine and I have never felt being persecuted. All I want is peace and quiet in this country. The domestic situation should be resolved peacefully, not by hostile takeovers of administrative buildings or by proclaiming referendums. In fact, we need an all-Ukrainian referendum. We could establish a federal system. Of course, I condemn Russia’s policy and I believe that it should hold its imperial ambitions in check. My relatives in Sochi and Smolensk cry over the phone, they think that people keep killing each other here. The general attitude to Russia remains normal in Donetsk oblast. All those young pro-Russian characters did wrong by demonstrating their extremism. If they tried something like that in Putin’s Russia, they would be pacified right there and then.”