In Western Ukraine, even ethnic Russians vote for pro-Ukrainian parties – OpEd


And that is just one of the indications of the declining role of an ethnic community that came into existence in the years after World War II and that played a large role there until the 1990s, Dmitry Korolyev says in a detailed essay on the Russians in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

The first Russian who settled in Lviv, he writes, was Ivan Fedorov, the printer who arrived in 1572, but until 1939, there were very few ethnic Russians there. They consisted mostly of anti-Bolshevik White Army soldiers and their families, and they numbered at most in “the hundreds.”

According to the 1931 Polish census, approximately half of the population of Lviv was Polish, nearly a third Jewish, and roughly a sixth Ukrainian. Other groups, including the ethnic Russians, formed fewer than two percent. But when Stalin annexed Western Ukraine during World War II, the ethnic Russian community there took shape.

As Korolyev points out, “most of the Poles were deported to Poland, and the Jews had been destroyed by the fascists.” Initially, their places were taken “above all by local Ukrainians who resettled in the city from the surrounding rural areas.” But soon, Moscow began to organize an influx of ethnic Russians.

Between 1944 and 1959, “approximately half” of the Russians arriving there came from the Russian Federation; the remainder from the eastern oblasts of Ukraine and from other republics of the USSR.” They were attracted by the “high quality housing of Austrian-Polish construction” despite the threat from the anti-Soviet Banderite underground.

(Many ethnic Ukrainians in Lviv continue to identify with that group. According to a recent poll conducted by the Ukrainian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (UVTsIOM), “every third Lviv resident considers himself a Banderite” even 65 years after World War II.)

Although many Ukrainians would disagree with him, Korolyev says that the Russians in Lviv “were in no way ‘occupiers’” and did not promote the russification of that city. Instead, he says, “in large measure thanks to their efforts, knowledge and work, “Lviv became a major industrial, scientific and cultural center.”

Ethnic Russians formed “the nucleus of the teaching staff” of many educational institutions there, with 56-57 percent of their community occupied in “intellectual” work. Only 13.3 percent of ethnic Ukrainians there were involved in such work in 1959, and only 29.9 percent were in 1989.

By 1951, ethnic Russians formed 30.1 percent of the population of Lviv, a share that dropped only slowly to 27.1 percent in 1959. Indeed, Korolyev continues, the ethnic Russian share of the population of Lviv was higher in those years “than in such cities as Kyiv, Vinnitsa, Kirovograd,” and many others.

Moreover, he adds, “if you add to the Russians the Russian speaking Ukrainians (who came from Eastern Ukraine) and the Jews, then almost for half of the residents of the city at that time Russian was their native language.”

“However, starting already in 1960,” the Russian analyst says, “the demographic situation in the city began to change radically. On the one hand, the influx of ethnic Ukrainians from the villages intensified. And on the other, the natural growth of the ethnic Russian population sharply slowed as a result of low birthrates and a high level of divorces.”

Those trends in turn were exacerbated by three others: a Russian preference for later marriages and smaller families, a large number of ethnically mixed marriages. By 1970, 56 percent of Russians married someone of a different nationality, and the outflow of ethnic Russians from the region to other parts of the Soviet Union.

And with the disintegration of the USSR, the decline in the ethnic Russian population accelerated, with 40 percent moving to the Russian Federation and another 40 percent to other parts of Ukraine. Between 1989 and 2001, the number of ethnic Russians in Lviv fell by 50 percent and as a result formed only 8.7 percent of the city’s population.

There was never the kind of “discrimination and pressure” against the ethnic Russians that Korolyev says they experienced in the Baltic countries, but after the Ukrainian nationalists came to power in the city in 1990, ethnic Russians gradually lost their positions in the city government, law enforcement organs, and educational institutions.

That decline in status and numbers was reflected in the fall off in the number of Russian language schools. In 1988/89, 24 of the Lviv’s 100 schools were Russian-language ones, with another seven using Russian and Ukrainian. At present, there are only five Russian-language schools remaining.

One result of this, Korolyev says, is that “more than half of ethnic Russian children” were studying in Ukrainian-language schools, and an increasing share of all ethnic Russians were declaring a language other than Russian to be their native one – from 1.5 percent in 1959 to 12.2 percent in 2001.

If these trends continue, the Russian analyst concludes, the ethnic Russian community which came into existence after 1945 faces a bleak future, one in which ever fewer of its members speaking Russian as their primary language or ultimately perhaps even identifying themselves as ethnic Russians.

Korolyev points to only two positive trends, although he admits theses are defensive. The ethnic Russian community is organizing to promote its position, and ever fewer ethnic Russians are marrying non-Russians, a trend that he suggests points to the desire of those remaining to retain their identity.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *