November 6, 2015

Russia’s aggression against Ukrainians


As a representative of a newspaper accredited at the United Nations in New York, I wrote to the press representative of the Russian Permanent Mission to the U.N. to request its statement on the recent raid by Russian armed and masked police on the Ukrainian Library of Literature in Moscow. The raid was followed by a search of the private residences of at least two individuals connected with that facility and their detention or arrest. I then communicated with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, requesting a statement as to this matter. Finally, I submitted the same inquiry to the Council of Europe’s Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.

I await a response. I do not expect one from the Russian Mission. A response from the United Nations and the Council of Europe, I can only assume, should be forthcoming.

This was not the first time over the last few years that this particular library had been assailed by the Russian authorities. In fact, over the last decade Russia, under then Prime Minister and now President Vladimir Putin, has not only attacked the territory of neighboring Ukraine but has persecuted its own citizens of Ukrainian ethnicity. Perhaps the most egregious in the latter regard has been the liquidation of the only two national coordinating Ukrainian non-governmental organizations operating in Russia, the Union of Ukrainians in Russia (UUR) formed in 1992 and the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Ukrainians in Russia (FNCAUR) formed in 1998. Both had been established prior to Mr. Putin’s rise to power, initially as President Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister.

Russia’s treatment of its Ukrainian minority throughout history has been significantly less than civilized international norms require. However, over the last decade the mistreatment has been glaring.

What is Russia’s motive in abusing Ukrainians in Russia? I submit that suggesting a term such as “ethnic cleansing” would not be hyperbolic.

Russia’s case against the UUR and the FNCAUR deserves renewed attention and clearly provides motive as to Russia’s most recent activity. Russian authorities acted “pro forma” through Russia’s Justice Ministry and its pliable courts in dissolving the only two Ukrainian national coordinating organizations in 2009-2011. Aside from minor violations, such as holding a convention a few weeks after the term set forth in the by-laws, the allegations against the two institutions were political in nature.

The allegations read that on October 29, 2009, one of the Ukrainian community leaders, in the name of the Ukrainian community, participated in a public event of Radio Liberty; that on November 11-12 2009, the two co-chairs of the FNCAUR organized and hosted an educational methodological conference in Moscow titled “The history, status and future development of Ukrainian studies in Russia”; that on November 26, 2009, one of the leaders representing the FNCAUR, chaired an event commemorating the “victims of the Holodomor and killings of Ukrainians in the 1930s” and that this event was organized to support and honor the victims with an “eternal flame” and an exhibit consisting of documents and art about the “Holodomor 1932-1933 genocide of the Ukrainian nation,” which had opened in Kyiv on November 25, 2009.

Not surprisingly, these allegations were adopted in full by the Russian courts at several levels.

On January 13, 2011, the foreign affairs minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, unabashedly declared that the liquidation of the FNCAUR was the result of its alleged political activity.

In most civilized civil societies such activity by an NGO would not only be deemed harmless, but would be considered laudatory and in furtherance of the institution’s mandate. Yet, there was little outrage or even reaction from the international community, perhaps because there was no serious disapproval by the regime of Ukraine’s then president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko or Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation Volodymyr Yelchenko. Still, I had raised this matter several times at the United Nations as an accredited representative of the Ukrainian World Congress, an NGO at the U.N. Economic and Social Council. There was little reaction, except for a few words of sympathy from the representative of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York.

Emboldened by the international community’s lack of interest or reluctance to take on a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia declared war on Ukraine and Ukrainians. Despite procedural constraints at the U.N., the international community has manifested a measure of opprobrium to the territorial invasion. The issue of “ethnic cleansing” of Ukrainians in Russia, the prevention of which is at the heart of U.N. conventions, is exemplified by an attack upon a facility of books belonging to an ethnic group. Clearly, the international community needs to step up.