By Paul Goble
“Under the influence of Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Daniyar Moldabekov says, “many Russian speakers there are studying Kazakh” in order to show not only that they are opposed to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine but also that they will stand united with the Kazakhs should the Kremlin leader attack the place where they live now and identify with.
“In our days,” the Almaty journalist says, “many vital decisions are being taken” by people in Kazakhstan and elsewhere because of what is going on in Ukraine. Among the most striking is a dramatic increase in the number of Russians and Russian speakers who are now learning Kazakh (russian.eurasianet.org/казахстан-война-в-украине-подвигает-русскоязычных-учить-казахский-язык).
Many of the ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan oppose the war both on principle and lest a Kremlin victory there lead Putin to attack where they live now. Their feelings in that regard have been strengthened both in reaction to questions by Kazakhs as to where their true loyalties lie and by the arrival of anti-war Russians fleeing from mobilization.
Among those with whom Moldabekov spoke and who are now learning Kazakh for those reasons is Father Yakov Voronstov, 36, a Russian Orthodox priest who serves in a ROC MP church in Almaty. Not only has he been learning the language himself, but he has been promoting it through the organization of free language lessons for others.
These have taken the form of a group called Batyl bol, which translated from the Kazakh mean “Be Bolder” (instagram.com/batylbol_almaty/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y%3D). Father Yakov says that he did not expect the enormous response he and his group have received and believes that the shift to Kazakh will go faster than most expect.
When he began using Kazakh, he continues, some Russians accused him of “’betraying the Russian world’” but that hasn’t slowed him down. Instead, he has found that now that he is using Kazakh more often, he has even more friends on Facebook, including both local Russians and Kazakhs.