Graphic by The Multimedia Desk/The Gazelle

The propaganda surrounding Crimea

Born and raised in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, when it was still part of Ukraine, I always identified as Russian because of my ethnic and cultural roots, ...

Dec 5, 2015

Graphic by The Multimedia Desk/The Gazelle
Born and raised in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, when it was still part of Ukraine, I always identified as Russian because of my ethnic and cultural roots, language and the Russophile environment I lived in. Ironically, being a Ukrainian citizen, I knew almost nothing about the culture of my country, partly because nobody in my family is an ethnic Ukrainian or speaks Ukrainian, and partly because all of my classes at school were taught in Russian, except for a weekly three-hour course in the Ukrainian language, which I can no longer speak fluently.
There was a significant emphasis on teaching Russian literature in my high school, which may explain why I can still easily recite Pushkin’s Ruslan and Ludmila or Lermontov’s Borodino, but struggle to recall the first three lines of the Ukrainian anthem. My knowledge of Ukrainian culture was based on common Russian stereotypes and jokes about Ukrainians being impulsive people who speak a funny version of the Russian language and eat a lot of salo.
This very Russian environment in Crimea always infuriated leaders of Ukrainian ultra-nationalist parties such as Svoboda, as well as many ordinary Western Ukrainians who are historically unsympathetic towards Russia. However, their efforts to Ukrainianize Crimea always failed and have proven counterproductive.
Many Crimean residents, including most of my former schoolteachers, viewed attempts by the Ukrainian government to promote the anti-Russian version of Ukraine’s history and to require education exclusively in Ukrainian as colonization and cultural imperialism. There has always been a fear among my fellow countrymen that extremists from Ukrainian radical parties would come to Crimea and impose their values by destroying Lenin statues, banning Russian culture and forcing everyone to speak Ukrainian.
Fortunately, this has never happened. However, the possibility of Ukrainian activists entering Crimea with the purpose of destroying Lenin statues was growing in February 2014 as Euromaidan forces took control over the government in Kiev. Yet it is highly unlikely that these forces would be able to ban the Russian language and persecute ethnic Russians in Crimea because of potential internal resistance and E.U. pressure.
Nevertheless, this fear of persecution by the new Ukrainian government intensified in Crimea, partly due to documented provocative and aggressive acts of Ukrainian extremists all over Ukraine, and partly due to a massive propaganda campaign launched by the Russian media portraying all Euromaidan activists as fascists — a blatant lie. In my mind, this artificial and over-inflated fear was the main motivation that pushed an overwhelming majority of Crimeans to vote for reunification with Russia in the March 2014 referendum orchestrated by the Kremlin. Many Crimeans got tired of perpetual chaos in the Ukrainian government and thought that joining Russia was the only way to bring stability and security to the peninsula.
Certainly, there was a significant minority of pro-Ukrainian Crimeans who ardently opposed the referendum. Most of them, however, have either already moved to mainland Ukraine, been arrested or involuntarily stopped expressing their views and now constitute a very small chunk of the Crimean population.
Today, more than one year after the annexation, many things have changed in Crimea. Despite the myths disseminated by Ukrainian propaganda describing masses of people dying of hunger here, there seem to be no catastrophic shortages of food. The number of tourists, while smaller than usual, is more or less sufficient for local businesses to make some profit.
It is true, however, that there are some disruptions in transportation of goods, and most firms make less money now as a result of bureaucratic challenges, the geographic isolation of Crimea and international sanctions.
The Russian government repaired several roads in my hometown and surrounding villages, renovated a few factories abandoned after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and invested heavily in agriculture. These are things we never received from the Ukrainian government over the past 24 years. A vast majority of my compatriots, many of whom are either pensioners or public sector workers, seem to be happy with these improvements and are thanking Vladimir Putin for increasing their salaries.
Yet nobody here bothers to think about how long the Kremlin is going to support the Crimean economy. How long are we going to be a disputed territory? How long is this fragile peace going to last? These are the questions pivotal for the future of the peninsula, but almost everyone avoids talking about these issues. Instead, people believe that Russia will never leave us alone like Ukraine did and will continue to invest billions of dollars, regardless of sanctions and international pressure. In fact, most people don’t even care whether the West recognizes Crimea since we don’t depend on the U.S. or the E.U. economically.
What frustrates me most is that people don’t think about the future of their kids and grandchildren. Is the younger generation going to be able to benefit from exchange programs and full-ride university scholarships in the E.U. and the U.S.? How are they going to survive in a new, increasingly interconnected world? The answer is always the following: we live in Russia and there are enough opportunities here for everyone. Why would my kids want to travel the world and receive education elsewhere, especially in the West, which people claim propagates gay lifestyles and other so-called perversions?
What’s even more preposterous is that a small number of Crimeans, like myself, who challenge the mentality of ordinary residents are often labeled as foreign agents, traitors or even fascists. Ironically, when talking to my relatives and friends, I am accused of supporting the Ukrainian government even though I vehemently criticize Arseniy Yatsenuk and Petro Poroshenko and express concerns about the U.S. supporting the current oligarchic regime in Kiev.
The absurdity of propaganda in Russia and Crimea knows no bounds: people live in an imaginary world created by the media, where Ukrainian fascists crucify innocent kids in eastern Ukraine, where militarist gays persecute Christians in France and where NATO plans to conquer Russia. Similarly, Ukrainians are brainwashed by their own insane propaganda, which proliferates such provocative phrases as Putler, Russian terrorism and weak Obama.
Moreover, many Ukrainian TV channels deliberately degrade Russian culture and consistently use derogatory ethnic slurs when referring to ordinary Russians.
This propaganda on both sides only diverts public attention from real problems in our countries – rampant corruption and criminals in power, which pose a much greater threat to the prosperity of Russia and Ukraine. It also creates more tensions and hatred between ordinary Russians and Ukrainians who are historically and culturally very close people.
This article was previously published in the Features section.
Sergei Rokachov is a contributing writer. Email him at 
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