December 19, 2014
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Welcome to Wednesday, where the first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine gets underway in Kyiv, Kim Jong-un slams North Korean officials’ response to the coronavirus outbreak and Mexico’s National Registry of Missing People reaches a grim milestone. Meanwhile, Ukrainian news outlet Livy Bereg looks at the rise of ethnic separatism across Russia’s federal regions.
[*Choctaw, Native American]
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• Man pleads guilty in first Russia war crimes trial: The first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier begins in Kyiv today. The 21-year-old has pleaded guilty of shooting an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian while he spoke on the phone.
• Mariupol defenders fate in limbo: At least 694 Ukrainian fighters who were holed up at the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol have surrendered in the past 24 hours. It is unclear what will befall the fighters, 1,000 in total, who were sent to a prisoner camp in Russian-controlled territory in Donbas.
— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 84 —
• India top court frees ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi's killer: The Indian Supreme Court has released AG Perarivalan, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1991 for taking part in the suicide bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others. Perarivalan has always claimed his innocence.
• China Eastern plane crash likely intentional: U.S. investigators suggest that the crash of the China Eastern plane in March was caused by someone in the cockpit who put the plane into a nosedive. The Boeing 737-800 plunged inexplicably into a mountainside in southern China, killing all 132 people onboard. Chinese authorities deny that the crash was deliberate.
• Kim Jong-un blames COVID outbreak on “lazy” officials: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has condemned the negligence and laziness of state officials who did not do enough to contain the spread of the pandemic. The country reported its first ever COVID-19 case last week, which rose to 1.72 million cases and 62 deaths.
• Netflix job cuts: Netflix has decided to let go 150 (2%) of its employees, most of them in the U.S., as the company suffers from a drastic decline in subscribers since the start of the year. The streaming giant has been looking for ways to cope with its slowing revenue growth, including cracking down on password sharing.
• Spain approves menstrual leave bill: The Spanish government cabinet has approved a bill allowing workers with severe period pain to take medical paid leave financed by the state. If the bill is approved by the Spanish parliament, it would become the first country in Europe to grant such leave.
“Wheat, a luxury good,” titles Austrian daily Kleine Zeitung, reporting on prices of wheat that hit a new record high in Europe, jumping to 435 euros ($453) per ton, up from the previous record of 422 euros last week. Prices have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which previously accounted for 12% of global exports.
Mexico has recorded more than 100,000 people as missing or disappeared since 1964, according to new data from the Interior Ministry's National Registry of Missing People — with the figure rising by 20,000 in the past two years alone. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said only 35 of disappearances registered have led to a conviction.
Far from being a unified state, Russia is full of federal subjects — many of which have spawned separatist movements. Moscow, far from Siberia or the Caucasus and focused on Ukraine, is finding it harder to contain them, writes Pavel Lysyansky in Ukrainian news outlet Livy Bereg.
🇷🇺➗ The Russian Federation consists of 85 federal subjects. Each one has its own head, a Parliament and Constitutional Court. The system is an attempt made in Soviet times to solve the problem of the country's ethnic and economic diversity by forming national republics. So, the population of the Russian Federation does not consider a federal center or federation as a core value. For that reason, in some territories people may perceive their separation from Russia as quite possible.
🤝 In the Russian regions, traditionally inhabited by Muslim ethnic groups, Islamic radicalism and ethno-national separatism are closely related. For example, in the Russian Altai in southern Siberia, the idea of creating a common ethnic state of all Turkic peoples is widespread. Siberian regional separatism is also actively developing near Russia. It is based on Siberian Russians as a distinct nation suppressed by the federal center and the European part of the Russian Federation.
💥 Since the Kremlin launched the large-scale military aggression against Ukraine, socio-economic and political tensions have been growing in Russia, increasing the probability of a revolutionary situation. Russian political and business elites in the regions are not consolidated in solving general national problems because some of them have long been waiting for the possibility of confederalism or separatism processes with the subsequent secession of some territories.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
We are in total political isolation and the whole world is against us.
— Former Russian colonel and military analyst Mikhail Khodarenov publicly criticized Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Russian state TV and conceded that the country is losing in Ukraine, adding “An armed conflict with Ukraine is not in Russia’s national interest.”
✍️ Newsletter by Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger
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Up to 1,000 Ukrainian troops have reportedly surrendered from the Azovstal steel plant in the port of Mariupol, with all sent to a prisoner camp in Russian-controlled territory in Donbas. Ukrainians are hoping for a prisoner exchange, though Moscow may try some for war crimes.
Far from being a unified state, Russia is full of federal subjects — many of which have spawned separatist movements. Moscow, far from Siberia or the Caucasus and focused on Ukraine, is finding it harder to contain them.
Not only strict rules of freedom of movement as part of Zero-COVID policy but also an increase in censorship has raised many questions for the expat population in the megacity of 26 million that had long enjoyed a kind of special status in China as a place of freedom and openness. A recent survey of foreigners in the Chinese megacity found that 48% of respondents said they would leave Shanghai within the next year.
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.