Nation-building in post-Maidan Ukraine: historical and Balkan parallels

14:04 17.06.2024 • Eduard Popov , Doctor of Philosophy, Director of Center for Public and Information Cooperation "Europe" (ANO), Russia

On 21-22 February 2014, the so-called Euromaidan[1] won in the capital of Ukraine, in the city of Kiev. The leaders that came to power as a result of the coup‑d'état organized by Western countries represented the alliance of two factions: the pro-Western oligarchic and the so‑called Ukrainian nationalists. The first one represented the gala‑elite portion, the establishment of the winning revolution, while the second one – the lower street army. Representatives of the first faction took the lead in the government afterwards. Those of the second faction made part of the volunteers' squads and created a number of noisy but insignificant parties. Besides, those who were called the Ukrainian nationalists co‑opted up the ladder a number of their representatives and, what is more important – their ideology, symbols and slogans that became nationwide. For example, the Bandera slogan "Glory to Ukraine" became the official salute in the Ukrainian army.

The coup-d'état of 21-22 February 2014 meant more than a change of political regime in Ukraine. It was the end of symbolic history of the Soviet Ukraine and the beginning of something fundamentally different, to which we are not going to give a definition so far.

The Soviet Ukraine, a continuation of which was Ukraine before 21‑22 February 2014, was built on a tacit social contract. Its basic principle was as follows: the territorial borders of the state artificially created from different cultural and historic regions were recognized against guarantees of a certain minimum of cultural and language rights of the so-called national minorities and Ukrainian Russians which made up a huge part of the population and territory of Ukraine.

Euromaidan, as shown below, meant full rejection of the principles of social contract. The first legislative act of the new power was the refusal from the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko language law that guaranteed the minimum rights of Russian and national minorities. After this, the total and radical offensive on everything Russian and non-Ukrainian started. What for? The coup-d'état in Ukraine was required to turn Ukraine into anti-Russia. To achieve this, the population of the country was to be transformed into anti‑Russian. New authorities had the state in their hands but they did not have a nation yet. Therefore, the paramount task of the "revolutionary hold" was the nation-building. Notably, it did not imply the rising of the level of consciousness among ignorant citizens but the creation of a fundamentally new, ideal nation according to the carefully traced designs.

The Ukrainian state has a very short history of existence. In post‑Maidan Ukraine (i.e., after the coup d'état on 21-22 February 2014), the origin of the Ukrainian state rests with the Ukrainian People's Republic. This was officially announced by Andrey Parubiy, Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. He called for recognizing and legislating the succession and continuity of the present Ukrainian state from the Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR), and for the period between the UPR and independent Ukraine to be considered a "Soviet occupation".[2]

However, the Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR) did not exist for long: formally from November 1917 to November 1920. The territory of Galician Rus became part of the West Ukrainian People's Republic (WUPR), which was proclaimed on 11 November 1918 without prior arrangement (with the mutiny of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen battle groups). The capital of the WUPR kept changing: first Lvov, then Ternopol and Stanislavov (now Ivano-Frankovsk). Vast territories of the historical Severshchina, Slobozhanshchina, parts of the Don Host Oblast and the eastern part of the huge historical region of Novorossiya (the North Pontic Region and the Cis‑Azov region) became part of the so‑called Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic (with its capital in Kharkov). Moreover, the head of the newly established Ukrainian Soviet Republic Grigory Skrypnyk (Soviet Ukraine at that time existed only on paper) announced that "the Donetsk basin and the Krivoy Rog district constitute an autonomous region of the South Russian Ukrainian Republic as part of the All‑Russian Federation of Soviet Republics".[3] That is, Ukrainian Bolsheviks offered the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic to be part of Soviet Ukraine with the broadest form of autonomy and on conditions that Ukraine itself became part of the All‑Russian Federation and that the cultural and linguistic rights of the Russian population of the region were guaranteed.

In fact, however, the UPR ceased to control the most part of Ukraine (including its capital – Kiev) long before the state officially terminated its activities: since August 1919, and Western Ukraine (Galicia) – since June 1919 (conquered by Poland). On 2 December 1919, the UPR and Poland signed the Warsaw Declaration by which the dictator of Ukraine, Simon Petlyura, renounced its right to Galicia in favour of Poland.[4] By doing so, Great or Naddnepryanskaya Ukraine betrayed Galician or Western Ukraine.

From the very beginning of Ukrainian statehood, the united UPR and WUPR were an artificial entity populated by two Ukrainian peoples: the Galicians (Galicia as Western Ukraine) and the Malorussians of Central or Naddnipryanskaya Ukraine. The third nation was Russians, who constituted ethnic and cultural majority of Slobozhanshchina and Novorossiya: the eastern and southern half of the territory of the future Ukrainian SSR, from which modern Ukraine inherited its territorial borders. In other words, Russians are not a national minority, but one of the state-constituting peoples of Ukraine, along with Malorussians-Ukrainians.

And yet, it is such a failed state as was the UPR, which carries Cain's mark of fratricide and betrayal of its sister republic, the WUPR, that the creators of modern Ukrainian statehood are appealing to. Ideological blinders prevent them from building on the much more successful Soviet experience, where the territorial borders of Ukraine were established and the creation of the Ukrainian civil nation began. The historical myth of modern Ukraine is built on the absolute non-recognition of the Soviet historical inheritance. This results in a chimera, to use the terminology of Russian historian Lev Gumilev, i.e. a combination of incompatible things. The Ukrainian chimera is based on the use of achievements of the tsarist, imperial and Soviet periods (first of all, territorial gains) with a total negation of everything Russian and Soviet. Furthermore, Russian and Soviet is declared the existential enemy of Ukrainianism.

The Ukrainian state that emerged after the collapse of the USSR on 26 December 1991, inherited from the Ukrainian SSR an impressive territory, military, demographic, scientific, technical and economic resources. The Ukrainian SSR was the third of the 15 republics of the USSR in terms of territory and the second in terms of population. As of 1991, almost 52 million people (51,944,000 people) lived on the territory of Soviet Ukraine[5].

What was the population of the new Ukrainian state? The methodological approach of "three fraternal East Slavic peoples – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians" (which, by the way, continues to dominate in modern Russian historiography and in educational and methodological literature) dominated the social and humanitarian scientific disciplines in the USSR. According to the official data of the last population census in the USSR in 1989, Russians made up 22.07% of the population of the Ukrainian SSR[6]. According to the results of the 2001 census of the population of Ukraine, the national composition of the country was as follows: 77.8% Ukrainians, 17.28% Russians[7]. The numbers of the other peoples did not exceed a percent.

From the given data it is clear that the number of Russians of Ukraine, even by formal indicators constituting the second (along with Ukrainians) state-forming people of Ukraine, decreased over 12 years (from 1989 to 2001) by 4.79%. The above figures allow us to raise questions about the national policy pursued by the Ukrainian authorities (long before the Euromaidan victory), which was aimed at a significant reduction in the number of Russians in Ukraine. This reduction occurred at the expense of an increase in the share of the Ukrainian ethnic majority.

At the same time, the above statistics on the size of the Russian population in Ukraine are far from fully reflecting the ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic realities. In cultural and linguistic terms, Russians and Ukrainians of the Ukrainian SSR and post-Soviet Ukraine were a single people, contrary to the prevailing concept of "three fraternal East Slavic peoples – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians". The only exception was the inhabitants of the western (Galician) regions of Ukraine, who were culturally, linguistically and confessionally a separate people not only from Russians (Velykorussians), but also from Malorussians-Ukrainians[8]. Even after the Euromaidan victory, Russian remained the language of the vast majority of the Ukrainian population, second only to Ukrainian in the western regions of the country. Independent expert evaluations corroborate this assertion. Experts of Gallup Institute (Gallup Inc., US), one of the most influential research institutes, conducted a survey aimed at finding out language preferences of the Ukrainian population. Its findings were published in an official journal of Gallup Institute. According to them 83% of those, who live in Ukraine, prefer to fill out questionnaires in Russian[9]. A research carried out by Google, a US technology company, has similar findings. Google experts analysed history of search queries coming from territories of some post-Soviet states, including Ukraine. As a popularity measure of one or another language served the language used by users while searching on Google. It turned out that 76% of users from Ukraine use Russian. Ukrainian took the third place, by the way. 10,1% of users only prefer to use Ukrainian – fewer than the number of those who use English (13,5%)[10]. In what language inhabitants of Ukraine think, the measures chosen by established Gallup Institute (US) or internet giant Google (US) show more accurately, than regular sociological surveys, questions in which exert more or less political influence on respondents’ answers. But even the latter show approximately equal popularity of the two languages – Ukrainian (official) and Russian. Besides the majority of the country’s inhabitants advocate return teaching of Russian at schools in Ukraine or at least in its Russian regions[11].

It was this sad fact that the new Ukrainian authorities faced after the Euromaidan victory. The Constitution of Ukraine of 28 June 1996 guaranteed equality of all citizens of Ukraine regardless of ethnic origin ("There shall be no privileges or restrictions based on race, skin colour, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, ethnic and social origin...", Art. 24, Section II). The Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine (ratified by Ukraine on 31 May 1997) "guarantees the right of persons belonging to national minorities, individually or in community with other persons belonging to national minorities, to freely express, preserve and develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity and to maintain and develop their culture without being subjected to any attempts of assimilation against their will", including ensuring conditions for the teaching of Russian language (art. 12). The cited document guaranteed the Russian Federation's recognition of the territorial borders of post‑Soviet Ukraine, an issue that sparked a wave of criticism from patriotic forces in Russia.

Thus, Ukrainian legislation and Ukraine's inter-State agreements with the Russian Federation recognized ensuring the rights to the development of the Russian language and culture, and named the Russians of Ukraine as one of Ukraine's national minorities.

However, immediately after the victory of Euromaidan, Ukraine launched an attack on the Russian language and the Russian national minority as a whole. "...The abolition of the language law (the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, ratified back in 2003 by the Verkhovna Rada) which brought the Russian language beyond the scope of Ukraine's education, cultural and information space," as we noted in our 2017 work, "was the first legislative step of the new authorities"[12]. We discussed the language policy of authorities of the post‑Maidan Ukraine in more detail in a series of articles published in Russia and Serbia[13].

Depriving Ukrainian Russians of a national minority status was the next step. Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk articulated the goals of the Ukrainian state policy towards the Russians of Ukraine: "Its (Russian people's – author) rights must be infringed".[14] In other words, the Russians, who (along with the Malorussians-Ukrainians properly) constitute the state‑forming people of Ukraine, are brought outside the legal framework that guarantees basic civil rights.

Books in Russian are removed from Ukrainian libraries and demonstratively thrown into landfills; streets in Ukrainian cities named after Russian writers (monument to Alexander S. Pushkin in Odessa, etc.) and historical figures are renamed. Amid this Third Reich-style policy, the silence of Western leaders, who actually brought the guardians of ethnic Ukrainian purity to power, looks especially outrageous. No protest voices are heard from EU member states whose compatriots live on the territory of Ukraine. The only exception is Hungary, who firmly and consistently defends the ethnocultural and educational rights of the Magyar (Hungarian) community of the Transcarpathian region.

The language policy of the post-Maidan Ukraine is directed primarily against Russians. However, "national minorities of Ukraine" are also targeted and victimized. The language policy, in turn, represents a part of a more global process of constructing a new Ukrainian nation, the one that speaks the "right" language and believes in the "right" Nazi "heroes." The expulsion of Russian and other non-Ukrainian languages from the post-Maidan Ukraine's educational, cultural and information space goes in parallel with the policy in the field of historical memory and symbolic policy. This process is formally referred to as "Ukrainization". On 2 May 2024, the Language Ombudsman of Ukraine Taras Kremin announced the need to move over to "offensive Ukrainization". The very nascence of such a government post testifies to the precarious situation of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine, which has lost its position to the Russian language a long time ago, despite all kinds of government preferences. "According to the State Language Protection Commissioner of Ukraine, a transition is needed from soft (defensive) to offensive Ukrainization of the country, which will provide additional opportunities and control to ensure the functioning of the Ukrainian language," says a message published on the website of the Office of Ukraine's Language Ombudsman[15]. Kremin said on 17 April that the Russian language should disappear from Ukrainian TV channels in three months.

It is no coincidence, we are sure, that the state (!) Language Ombudsman makes a statement about offensive Ukrainization on the 10th anniversary of the burning of the Odessa Trade Unions House, when, according to official data alone, 48 people – supporters of the Russian World and random persons – were killed; whereas according to unofficial data – about 300 people. The words of Ukraine's Language Ombudsman, spoken on the anniversary of Odessa Khatyn, sound like an undisguised threat to the opponents of Ukrainization – Russians, Russian-cultured Ukrainians and national minorities.

It is not too difficult to see in this policy adherence by the Ukrainian post‑Maidan authorities to the tradition of Ukrainian integral nationalism – a variety of Nazism. They act according to the principle: "One country – one people – one language." And probably one Führer.



[1]      Euromaidan (named after Maidan (square) of Independence in the centre of Kiev) – a descriptive denomination of a series of protests arranged in September 2013 – February 2014 in the capital of Ukraine. Disagreement of the opposition with the policy line of the President and government of Ukraine aimed at joining the Customs Union with the Russian Federation and other post-Soviet countries was an immediate trigger for Euromaidan. The genuine goal was the displacement of legal President of the country Viktor Yanukovich who was regarded as too pro-Russian in the West. In such a way, the West was the real paymaster and funder of Euromaidan. A very insignificant movement at the beginning, it then took on impressive proportions and arrived at upwards of 100 thousand people. Euromaidan took the form of the permanent tent town with extras (ordinary civilian participants), its own army and security service. The role of the latter was played by militants of paramilitarist Ukrainian neo-Nazi organisations united on Maidan into the so-called Right Sector. The countries of the West and, primarily, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and Poland undertook the funding as well as political and informational support of Euromaidan. The protests from below, with money of Western countries, were supported by pressure from above, which was carried out by the governments of the said countries on the leadership of Ukraine. Euromaidan ended with the signing of a treaty (on 21 February 2014) between President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition, which was endorsed by the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Poland, as well as a representative of the French Foreign Ministry. The next day, on 22 February 2014, the treaty was practically broken by the opposition: militants of the neo-Nazi Right Sector and Maidan Self-Defence began seizing government buildings. The legal rule in Ukraine was, therefore, overthrown by street armies of Ukrainian neo‑Nazis with the political and diplomatic as well as financial support of Western countries. A puppet government was established in the country, under the control of Western countries, primarily the United States.

[2]      Parubiy: Rada should legally recognize Ukraine as the successor to the UPR and the Soviet occupation // TASS. 24.08.2016. URL: Date of access: 18.03.2024.

[3]      Kornilov, V. Donetsko-Krivorozhskaya respublika: Rasstrelyannaya mechta ["The Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic: Dream shot"]. Piter Publishing House, 2017. P. 237.

[4]      Monograph on the History of Ukraine. 2nd edition, expanded. M.S. Grigoriev et al. M.: International Relations, 2003. P. 288 (of the original text).

[5]      Demographic Yearbook. 1991. M., Statistical Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States, 1991. P. 9.

[6]      National Composition of the Population of the USSR (according to the All-Union Population Census of 1989), M., Finance and Statistics, 1991.

[7]      All-Ukrainian Population Census 2001. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. Date of access: 21.08.2020.

[8]      Personal observations: fluent in Ukrainian literary language, the author did not understand a word of the conversation in the Galician dialect in the family of his friend, a native of the Lvov region.

[9]      Quote: URL: Copy: Russian Language Enjoying a Boost in Post-Soviet States. Date of access: 01.08.2008.

[10]    Google exposes Ukrainians’ liking for Russian. NEWS.Ru. 28 January 2020. URL: Date of access: 21.05.2024.

[11] STRANA: 73% of Ukrainians stand for return teaching of Russian at schools. Quote from: Ino TV. 28.02.2020. URL:

[12]    Popov E.A. Republics of Donbass: features of political life (based on expert and sociological surveys in the DPR and LPR) // Post-Soviet states: 25 years of independent development. M., IMEMO RAS. 2017. Volume one. P. 96.

[13]    See, for example: Popov E.A. Russian language and post-Soviet Ukraine: history and current state of the problem // Language and identity. Language, literature and Slavic identities in the 18th - 21st centuries. Beograd, Aspects, 2020; Popov E.A.: Russian language in post-Soviet Ukraine: an inconvenient reality // Russian world and Russian compatriots: theoretical and legal problems at the beginning of the 21st century. Rostov-on-Don, Southern Federal University Publishing House, 2022.

[14]    Rada Speaker Stefanchuk called for the rights of Russians in Ukraine to be infringed // Rossiyskaya Gazeta. 20.11.2023. URL: Reference date: 19.03.2024.

[15]    Kyiv called for a transition to "offensive Ukrainization" of the country. RIA News. 2 May 2024. URL:


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