06.12.2010 | Yevhen Solonyna

Ukrainians allege that their rights are infringed in Russia


International Ukrainian associations are up in arms over the closure of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia. They are sounding the alarm over the lack of national schools and cultural centres for the Ukrainian Diaspora in the Russian Federation, and say that the rights of its members are being impinged.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine, however, thinks that one of the organizations of the Ukrainian Diaspora was closed because it infringed Russian laws, and says that the Diaspora in Russia needs effective leaders.

The largest Ukrainian Diaspora is in Russia, with the last census finding that three million Ukrainians lived there, with the number in reality exceeding 10 million.  These figures are provided by the Ukrainian World Coordination Council.

According to the Head of this organization, writer Dmytro Pavlychko, at present the Russian authorities are putting pressure on Ukrainians there. The latest step, in his view, was the decision of the Russian Supreme Court from 24 November dissolving the National-Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia

“Until Ukrainians’ interests in Russia are protected the same as Russians’ in Ukraine, we can’t speak of any friendship or normal relations between countries. The Ukrainian State was created to meet the needs of Ukrainians, not only within the country. We, like any other country, have a world system which encompasses the Diaspora in all countries. If their own country does not take care of there, this living system perishes.”

The World Congress of Ukrainians has also come out in defence of the Ukrainian Diaspora

Political motives or trivial infringements?

The Federal Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia which encompassed Ukrainian organizations in all regions of the country had come under pressure for several years, its former Head, Valery Semenenko, asserts. He mentions that the only Ukrainian school in Moscow had been closed and parents who wrote applications for their children to be taught in Ukrainian had been called to talks with the FSB [Federal Security Service]. Teachers at the school had also expressed pressure. The Ukrainian community of Russia had turned for help to the Ukrainian government and President, but to no avail, Valery Semenenko says.

We approached the embassy, Yanukovych, but it was useless. At first they said vaguely that we wouldn’t be closed, that the Ukrainian Ambassador would speak with Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, and all would be sorted. As we can see, our efforts were fruitless.”

Ukrainian diplomats, however, reject accusations of inaction and say that the Russian authorities have legitimate complaints about the Federal Autonomy of Ukrainians. Oleh Voloshin, Head of the Department of Information for Ukraine’s MIFA, who until recently worked in the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, told Radio Svoboda:

“The heads of the organization (unchanged, although there should have been a congress and re-election a long time ago) were slack in their attitude to their duties, including reporting. The embassy tried consistently to defend the organization, turning to the Russian government. Each time we were given a list of infringements, and checks confirmed them. Believe me, if civic organizations of ethnic Russians in Ukraine infringed our laws like that, we would be no less strict”.

Mr Voloshin agrees that Ukrainians in Russia do not have sufficient opportunity to study Ukrainian and be involved in their native culture. However he asserts that the situation will only improve when the Diaspora’s interests are represented by a powerful and effective civic organization.

The former Head of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia says that they intend to appeal against the decision of the Russian authorities at the European  Court of Human Rights.

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