6 April 2010


In the 21st century, International Relations are extremely complex because it includes many problematic issues between the states. Among these problems, ethnic conflicts are one of the most significant issues in world politics. From China to Iraq, Europe to Africa ethnic problems cause mass violation of human rights and even result to genocides. Thus, ethnic studies, a relatively new discipline in social sciences, have formed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the scholars of ethnic studies found a great base for their works. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (USSR) community became the citizens of the newly independent states and this situation brought some problems. Before 1991, they were all living in the USSR however, after the collapse, people from different ethnicities left within another states borders. Post-Soviet studies paid great attention to this issue. The scholars examined all situations one by one, and as of 2009 many problems are solved. Nevertheless one of them remains unchanged: The Russian Minorities in Ukraine.
The problem is made up of the Russians living in the southern and eastern part of Ukraine. This issue is vital because after the Orange Revolution took place in 2004, the Government of Ukraine hardened the conditions of the Russians in the country. Thus, they attracted higher Russian interest to the area.
Recently Russian Minorities in Ukraine became a key element of the Russian foreign policy towards Ukraine partly because of the change in the political system of Ukraine, and the Orange Revolution which brought pro-Western politicians to the office.
In this article, we are going to analyze the Russian Minorities in Ukraine and try to find an answer to the question about their future in the country. We are going to state the main actors of the issue and underline the basic documents of the problem. After a brief look to the current situation, we are going to mention about the future predictions and conclude in the final part.

A) Main Actors and Key Documents

As our topic is Russian Minorities in Ukraine, the main actor of the issue is therefore the Russians living in Ukraine. Ukrainian Republic has only one census after the last Soviet Census in 1989. According to 2001 Census of Ukraine, the number of the people who identify themselves as Russians is 8.334.100 with a percentage of 17.58. They speak Russian and they live in the region of Novorossiya. The areas with high Russian population are the city of Sevastopol (%71.6), the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (%58.3), Donetsk Oblast (%50.8), Dnepropetrovsk (%52.9) and Luhansk Oblast (%61.1). The majority of the Russians are Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The second main actor of the issue is the Russian Federation (RF). It is well known that when it comes to the Russians living abroad, the government of Russia takes strict measures. RF has traditional, historic, geographic, cultural, national and religious ties with the Russians in Ukraine. Besides, RF has a naval fleet in the port of Sevastopol, the home of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia. The region is the main indicator of the historical Russian goal to reach the warm seas and the Russians living in the region marks this significance.
Related with the first two actors, third main actor is the pro-Russian sect in the politics of Ukraine. One can hardly find someone else than the former Prime Minister, new President Viktor Yanukovych in this category. Pro-Russian Party of Regions led by Yanukovych is the political choice of the Russians in Ukraine and the only way to make sure that their voice is heard. Also the RF was publicly supporting the party in the Orange Revolution period however, after a while, they changed their strategy and the support is implicit in recent years.
Fourth actor of the issue would be the Ukrainians living in Ukraine. The term “Ukrainian” commonly refers to those who are ethnically “Ukrain”. They are placed mostly in the western part of the country and speak Ukrainian language. They oppose to Russians and the Russian language in Ukraine, and they support European Union (EU) or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) like western organizations. Some of them are die-hard nationalists that they even do not answer the questions which are asked in Russian, claiming that they don’t know Russian.
This brings us to our fifth main actor which is the revolutionary cadres of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (also known as the “Oranges”) such as the former President Viktor Yushchenko, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Anatoliy Hrytsenko etc… In the aftermath of the Revolution, the cadres were working harmoniously, yet in time they torn apart and the cadres have broken into pieces. Unsurprisingly, the situation strengthened the pro-Russian bloc on the political stage as well as the Russians in the everyday life. The leaders of the Orange Revolution have seen the clear picture and started to oppress the Russians more and more. For instance, they banned the Russian language in the universities and took some political rights away from the Russians. Such examples can be augmentable.

There are several documents regarding to the minorities in Ukraine. One of them is the Declaration of the Rights of Nationalities of Ukraine (1991). Article 1 of Ukraine’s Declaration of Nationality Rights guarantees equal rights for the nationalities and forbids discrimination based on nationality. Article 2 says that the state takes on itself the creation of circumstances necessary for development of language and culture of national minorities. Article 4 permits the use of national symbols.
Another key document, The Law of Ukraine about National Minorities (1992) declares that human rights and nationality rights are inseparable notions. Article 1 of the Law admits citizens to be equal irrespective of their nationality, and status that the rights of people belonging to national minorities are part of generally accepted human rights. Article 3 says: “Those citizens of Ukraine who are not of Ukrainian nationality and declare their national identity, belong to national minorities”. Article 11 makes it possible for the citizens to freely choose their nationality or its re-establishment. The Law forbids discrimination on a nationality basis (Article 18), provides the right of nominating candidates for Parliament and for national organizations (Article 14), and states that separate sums of money are allocated in the state budget for developing the national minorities.
A third document would be the Constitution of Ukraine (1996). Articles 11, 24 and 92 of the Ukrainian Constitution touch upon the question of legal status of national minorities. Article 11 proclaims that the state guarantees “ethnic, cultural, language and religious development of Ukraine’s indigenous peoples and national minorities” . Article 24 prohibits race, ethnic, nationality, language etc. discrimination. According to the wording of the text, the idea of positive discrimination cannot be implied, either. “There shall be no privileges or restrictions based on race, colour of skin, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, linguistic or other characteristics” . Article 92 proclaims that the human and citizens’ rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples and national minorities are defined exclusively by the laws of Ukraine.
In addition, there are several international documents regarding the rights of the minorities in general. Although the documents mentioned above do not include the term of “Russian Minorities”, it is obvious that the laws cover Russians too, as they are the largest ethnic group in Ukraine.

B) Current Situation
The current situation in Ukraine is complicated in many ways. First of all the political stability is at stake. The Orange Revolution’s effects have been lessening day by day and the pro-Russian camp has been gaining power. Furthermore, the economic structure is partly deteriorated because of the already weak economy of Ukraine and the world economic crisis. Social conditions are not well for a great majority of the people.
As we mentioned above, Russian Federation’s interest in Ukrainian politics is not overt anymore. Vladimir Putin and his team saw the negative effects of their involvement, thus, they decided to watch the situation from outside. But RF still has the “big brother” title by pulling the wires when necessary. The Ukrainian Gas Crisis right after the Orange Revolution marked this occasion. Russia intends to pill the pressure on Ukraine by changing the energy prices irregularly. Fairly enough, Ukraine has experienced this matter several times before and acting very carefully when negotiating with Russia. Ukraine also thinks twice when it comes to the Russian Minorities because of the same reason, to prevent offending Russia.
Recently the cold atmosphere between Ukraine and Russia seems to be the reason of the stand-off between the two political camps. In the current circumstances Ukrainian nationalists become more anti-Russian and behavior violently towards Russians who are growing. The country seems to be on the verge of an ethnic separation: The western-northern part of Ukraine versus the eastern-southern tier. Central Ukraine is the only region that holds the country together, serving as glue. The country’s centre is a mixture of all socio-political fractions. The area also plays an important role in the elections. One can admit that whoever gains the support of the Central Ukraine wins the elections since the competing sides already have the support of either eastern or western parts of the country.
Finally in this part, we can state that recent trends in Ukraine concerning the Russian population are not so bright. Their numbers have reducing irrepressibly. In between the years 1959 and 1989 the number of the Russians living in Ukraine raised from 7 million to 11 million but in between 1989-2001 the number decreased to 8 million and is still decreasing. It is believed that the current number is below 8 million.

C) Future Predictions

Ukraine became a country of elections in recent years thus 2010 Presidential Elections is a significant indicator for the country’s future. In the six-year period after the Orange Revolution, Russian minorities faced with some difficulties but the 2010 Presidential Elections has a chance to change the whole situation.
Opinion polls before the elections were highlighting two major candidates; Viktor Yanukovich and Yulia Tymoshenko. Yet the presidency competition held between these two candidates and the rest of the candidates were not assertive. If Tymoshenko would be the new president, she could have followed a balanced policy both inside and outside the country. But as Yanukovych won the elections and gained power, there are many reasons for him to behave pro-Russian since his electoral base consists of Russian dominantly. In this current scenario, minorities may come into prominence and their political, social, economic rights may be returned. Russian language may once again be used as the education language and Russian Federation may feel relieved with a president who tends to oversee the rights of the Russians in Ukraine.

As a matter of fact, Russians in Ukraine have very respectable social conditions in terms of economic welfare. The main point of our research lies behind this truth. The pro-Western, nationalist, Ukrainian speaking, western part of Ukraine has relatively bad living conditions, thus, they support the European Union membership and strengthening ties with the Western countries. But the Russian Minorities possess the industrial, agricultural complexes and do not care if they are minorities or not. The only thing that the Russians in Ukraine care about is to use their own language and express themselves freely. They do not seek the economic aid of Russia but the social help of the motherland. Therefore, the Russian Minorities’ future in Ukraine is related with their socio-cultural rights more than their economic rights.

The historical divide of Ukraine is becoming more prominent. The country is walking on a thin line between the collapse and the rebirth. Nevertheless with the current inner and outer problems, Ukraine does not seem to overcome the danger of separation. New president Viktor Yanukovych has a lot to achieve in order to keep the country together. This may be probably the hardest task ever, yet in order to become a stable and prosper country Ukraine has to solve these problems one by one. Only then the minorities will not be an issue anymore.


BONDARUK, Halyna; “Yushchenko Appeals to Crimean Authority Not to Speculate on Language”, Ukrayinska Pravda, 3 March 2007.
KAMALOV, İlyas; “Putin Dönemi Rus Dış Politikası: Moskova’nın Rövanşı”, Yeditepe Yayınevi, January 2008.
MALHYNA, Katerina; “В борговій ямі: економічні виклики для України в 2010 р.”, Available at http://ukraineanalysis.wordpress.com/category/presidential-elections/, 26 December 2009.
Minorities at Risk (MAR) Project, University of Maryland, 2004, http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/mar/assessment.asp?groupId=36902.
TUYLUOGLU, Mazhar Yasin; “Sovyet Sonrası Dönemde Ukrayna’daki Azınlıklar”, unpublished article, 2007.

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