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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

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."

Image of a woman teaching a language to children in a classroom.

March 21, 2022: Volunteer Tereza Svandova helps a teacher in the class school for Ukrainian refugee children to learn Czech language in Brno, Czech Republic,

Vaclav Salek/ZUMA
Taras Kremin


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.

Image of a kid holding a text book.

February 15, 2023: Ukrainian refugee children learning Czech language in Primary School in Litomerice, Czech Republic.

Ondrej Hajek/ZUMA

Opposite direction

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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Libya To Lampedusa, The Toll Of Climate Migration That Spans The Mediterranean

The death toll for Libya's catastrophic flood this week continues to rise, at the same time that the Italian island of Lampedusa raises alarms over unprecedented number of migrant arrivals. What look at first like two distinct stories are part of the same mounting crisis that the world is simply not prepared to face: climate migration.

Photograph of migrants covering themselves from the sun as they wait to be transferred away from the Lampedusa island. An officer stands above them and the ocean speeds in the background.

September 15, 2023, Lampedusa: Migrants wait in Cala Pisana to be transferred to other places from the island

Ciro Fusco/ZUMA
Valeria Berghinz


It’s a difficult number for the brain to comprehend: 20,000. That is the current estimate of how many people were killed — the majority, likely, instantly drowned and washed away — after two dams burst during a massive storm in eastern Libya on Sunday.

As the search continues for victims (the official death count currently stands at over 11,000) in and around the city of Derna, across the Mediterranean Sea, a different number tells another troubling story: in the span of just two days, 7,000 migrants have arrived on the island of Lampedusa.

Midway between Sicily and the North African coast, the tiny Italian island has long been a destination for those hailing from all points south and east to arrive on European soil. Still, the staggering number of arrivals this week of people ready to risk their lives on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean should again set off alarms that reach far beyond the island.

Yet these two numbers — one of the thousands of dead, the other of thousands of survivors — are in some way really one story.

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