The Hardest Soft Power: How Moscow Forces The Russian Language On Occupied Ukraine
Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine goes well beyond the battlefield. Russia is trying to destroy Ukrainian identity by imposing the Russian language in occupied areas, as a prime weapon in Moscow's policy of "Russification."
KYIV — In all spheres of public life, where the enemy's boots have trodden, we will have to fight back against Kremlin myths, while dealing with the tragic consequences and the physical ruins of the attacks that have caused irreparable damage to the people of Ukraine.
In Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, a new generation of forcibly Russianized Ukrainian youth has emerged over the past nine years. At the same time, cities and villages that were under temporary occupation suffered similar catastrophic losses.
For these and other reasons, which have damaged national interests, it is crucial to pay increased attention to the spheres of education, culture, and media in the de-occupied territories.
Experts point out that this process could be tragic for Ukraine, as the Kremlin has been doing everything it can to break the mental ties between the occupied territories and Kyiv since the first days of the occupation.
It all started with linguistic discrimination, bans, threats, and then the actual genocide of the Ukrainian people. A linguistic ban is one of the most significant humanitarian risks associated with Russian aggression.
Moscow has tried to strengthen its position culturally and demographically with the deportation and re-education of Ukrainian children, filtration camps for educators, and the relocation of Russians to the occupied territories for further assimilation.
Destruction of identity
The goal of these alleged war crimes appears to be the destruction of Ukrainian identity in the territories occupied by Russia. As a result of these abuses, Kyiv will need more than just battlefield success to regain control.
In Crimea, after the 2014 occupation, the Kremlin relocated many Russians, while the most active Ukrainian citizens were imprisoned or forced to leave the peninsula. As for the indigenous Crimean Tatar population, they have faced restrictions on the use of their language, and their political institutions have been banned. In schools, children have all along been taught a version of history distorted by the Kremlin, aimed at leveling any national identity.
Therefore, it is already clear that reintegrating Ukrainian youth from the de-occupied territories into the Ukrainian educational system will require significant effort. This includes creating an extensive network of Ukrainian language courses, replenishing library collections with quality Ukrainian textbooks, and developing creative Ukrainian-language media content.
February 15, 2023: Ukrainian refugee children learning Czech language in Primary School in Litomerice, Czech Republic.
Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed two essential laws prohibiting the use of Russian place names and requiring a compulsory language exam to obtain Ukrainian citizenship.
The process of de-Russification is happening at a frantic pace.
Since Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, many more citizens have begun to use Ukrainian in everyday communication. Before the full-scale war, most respondents to this study ("Degree of Society in Time of War") said they used to speak Russian on a daily basis (56%), while only 43% used Ukrainian. The picture is now the opposite: most respondents (61%) speak Ukrainian in everyday life. Young people (18-24 years old) and the older age group (55-60) are the most active in resorting to Ukrainian daily.
Indeed, in the territories controlled by Kyiv, the process of de-Russification is happening at a frantic pace. However, in the temporarily occupied territories, everything is moving in the opposite direction.
*Taras Kremin is Ukraine's Commissioner for the protection of the state language and a member of parliament.
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