Russians & Ukrainians not brothers, Ukrainian president claims

 Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko. © Mikhail Markiv
President Petro Poroshenko dismissed the notion that Russians and Ukrainians share a brotherly tie. However, ethnic Russians are the largest minority in Ukraine, comprising at least 17 percent of its population.

Talking to a senior retired Ukrainian diplomat, Yury Shcherbak, who acted as Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Canada and Israel during his career, Poroshenko agreed that the brotherhood of Ukrainians and Russians is “a mythology of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s.”

“You’ve hit nail on the head. We don’t have any brotherly peoples in this current war. There are united Ukrainian peoples on their way to Europe and then there the Russian people, who are in a deep crisis,” the Ukrainian leader claimed on Thursday, as cited on the presidential website.

Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are three closely related Slavic peoples sharing centuries of common history and life in a common country. In Russia, Ukrainians are considered brothers – often with the implication that Russians are the “elder brother” in the family.

The notion, however, is rejected by many nationalist Ukrainians, who believe that Russians have historically subjugated and oppressed Ukrainians, denying them statehood. After the nationalist-driven armed coup in Kiev last year, the secession of predominantly-Russian Crimea and the uprising of rebel forces in the East, many of whom are ethnic Russians, the nationalist agenda was pushed to the top of political discourse in Ukraine.

Poroshenko’s scathing remark came after a recent comment by Putin that Ukraine was currently under foreign governance and that it was humiliating to the Ukrainian people. The Russian leader was referring to a significant number of foreign nationals holding key position in the Ukrainian government.

A Soviet poster depicting liberation of Ukraine during World War II. © plakaty.ru

According to the latest 2001 census, more than 8.3 million people in Ukraine, or over 17 percent, identified themselves as Russians. Some demography experts believe the actual figure may be higher, citing an unexpectedly sizeable 3-million decrease in the figure since the 1989 census and the fact that roughly a third of Ukrainian citizens considered Russian as their native language.

Among the figures who promulgated the “we are not brothers” idea in Ukraine after the Maidan protests was the young poet Anastasia Dmitruk. A video of her reading her poem “We will never be brothers” praising Ukrainians and scorning Russians, has scored over 2.7 million views on YouTube since its publication in March last year, while a music video to the lyrics has surpassed 5.8 million.

The sense of threat from Ukrainian nationalists felt by ethnic Russians was a key factor in prompting people in eastern Ukraine to defy Kiev and take up arms. The civil war that followed has claimed more than 6,000 lives, according to a UN count in March, and is likely higher, considering that both parties downplay casualties.