Ukrainian minister says Donbass residents genetically unfit for national culture

Anti-government protesters light torches and mobile devices during a rally in central Independence Square in Kiev February 21, 2014. © David Mdzinarishvili
Residents of Ukraine's east lack the genetics necessary to be part of Ukrainian culture, according to the country's Minister of Culture. The comment was quickly picked up by the opposition, who are now urging the minister to resign.

"Speaking about genetics, Zaporozhye and the Donbass [region]... they are imported cities. There is no genetics there," Evgeny Nishchuk said on Monday in an interview with local local TV channel ICTV when asked why Ukrainian culture is spreading so slowly.

The comment was quickly noticed both inside and outside Ukraine.

The Opposition Bloc party forwarded a plea to the Ukrainian parliament to make Nishchuk give up his office, saying that “societies based on ethnical segregation have long been outdated” and “he would be punished for this kind of comments in a civilized society.”

“The minister points to ethnically unclean people who are, however, still providing for Ukraine’s economics and national budget,” the party’s statement said.

The leader of Ukraine’s Radical Party, Oleg Lyashko, harshly condemned Nishchuk on his Facebook page and didn’t hesitate to call him “an idiot,” who should be fired as a “genetically impaired” person.

Ukraine’s energy minister, Igor Nasalik, was less emotional, but still disapproving.

“He was talking history, that I understand … but I don’t share his viewpoint,” Nasalik said, according to local news outlet Strana.

Nishchuk apologized at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, explaining that he “didn’t want to offend anybody” and he was talking about “the importance of culture dialogue and exchange”.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, made statements about rebels living in the Donbass region, which has been in an armed conflict with the Ukrainian government ever since it came to power in the 2014 Kiev coup.

“I doubt that any of our western partners would take these words as an offense,” Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday. “Most probably they won’t see them at all. They pay so much attention to human rights. And they pay so little when it comes to politically troublesome regions,” Zakharova noted.

It's no surprise it's so hard to stick to the Minsk roadmap to peace in Ukraine, given that “Ukraininan governments see Donbass residents as culturally different people whose identity should be corrected,” Zakharova wrote.

Earlier this month the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forced said that people in Donbass harbor extreme hatred for Ukraine’s security officials, adding that they passed information about their locations over to rebel fighters.

In August, Viktoria Syumar, deputy secretary of Ukraine's Security Council, suggested holding a nationwide referendum on whether it was worth fighting for control over Donbass, saying it that would take too much in terms of resources to restore the infrastructure there and besides, and that the local population "hates Ukraine."

Before that, in June, Vadim Chernysh, Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories (the official description of the Donbass area, which Kiev says was invaded by Russia), said that even if Donbass is brought back under Ukraine's control, its residents still won’t acknowledge the official Ukrainian government.

Since August, 2016, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 9,500 people over two years of warfare, according to UN data.