Diaspora Ukrainians: Ukraine’s Cancer

So The Guardian’s Shaun Walker, a founder of the Facebook group DILLWATCH, finally came out with a public statement on his personal crusade against dill. I have personally witnessed his struggle against the weed and render honor to him for his heroism.

Now for people who aren’t morons, this was obviously a lighthearted, humorous article attempting to deal with a non-political aspect of Russia. I actually miss this- there was a time when you could write articles about life in Russia and it wasn’t inherently political. Of course that time is long gone, because you’re going to get flak from Team Russia or Team…uh…West if you write about absolutely anything that happens or exists in Russia. Think I’m exaggerating? Look at the response Walker’s article got:

Of course they’d do that, Shaun. Of course they would. If you’re ever dealing with the vatniest of vatniks and wonder if anything could possibly rival them, look no further than a diaspora “Ukrainian,” more accurately known as a Canadian or American whose great grandfather was born in Ukraine(or Poland, or Russia). And when you look at Ukraine and see radical nationalists and asshole revisionists like V’yatrovych and his ilk, just remember that this whole movement owes its existence to the diaspora. They brought their poison into Ukraine. But give them credit for one thing- at least those diaspora Ukrainians actually went to Ukraine and speak Ukrainian.

One might ask if it’s fair to tar all diaspora Ukrainians with that brush. My answer is no, probably not, but the truth is that having Ukrainian heritage and being a diaspora Ukrainian isn’t necessarily the same thing. A diaspora Ukrainian is a believer in myths and fairy tales, which must be imposed on all Ukrainians lest they cease to be Ukrainian. They turn Ukrainian heritage into a political ideology or even a religion. We’re all supposed to bow down to “heroes” whose movements never garnered more than a tiny fraction of Ukrainians, while we are to ignore their atrocities against Jews, Poles, and other Ukrainians.

My Slavic heritage is either Ukrainian or Polish, or even both. I know this can never be proved 100%, so I claim both and say I’m Ukrainian by choice, something which ought to be a bit admirable. On the other hand, I’m American, which is why I was never raised in any religion native to Ukraine, and I follow no religion at all. It’s why as a young man I was able to get interested in Russian culture as opposed to automatically taking a side in a historic but unproductive rivalry. People say America has no national identity, but when you learn enough about history and see more of the world you understand why this is actually an advantage. It’s only Americans that obsess and lament over this because they don’t know how much being raised under a national identity or strict religious system sucks. In short, my heritage is mixed and varied, but I’m glad my worldview doesn’t have to be bound to any of it. This is especially true considering that I definitely have both English and Irish heritage on the other side.

Regardless of my true heritage, I would venture to say that linguistically, culturally, and practically, I’m far more Ukrainian in a concrete sense than hundreds if not thousands of diaspora “Ukrainians.” The fact that I’ve actually set foot in Ukraine (five times, soon to be six) already knocks plenty of them out of the running. That I can communicate in Ukrainian or Russian, which is commonly used by much of Ukraine and understood by nearly all its population, is another point in my favor.

I’m not gloating over those poor diaspora Ukrainians who live Ukraine vicariously. I’m pleading with them to be Canadian or American. Take a more objective view of Ukraine and a more realistic view toward your own heritage. When you seriously claim that the OUN didn’t kill Poles or have anything to do with mass killing and torture of Jews, you sound like a vatnik claiming that not a single German woman was raped during the push towards Berlin, or that everybody who was ever arrested or shot in the 30’s totally had it coming.

When you attack journalists for being balanced and criticizing the Ukrainian government or doubting some of the wilder claims of the SBU or Ukrainian press, don’t accuse them of being Kremlin agents. You don’t sound any different from a vatnik shouting “GOSDEP! FIFTH COLUMNIST!” You’re an embarrassment to Ukraine.

Also, acknowledge the fact that dill is the Hitler of herbs.


15 thoughts on “Diaspora Ukrainians: Ukraine’s Cancer

  1. Asehpe

    I couldn’t agree more. At least in principle.

    In principle?

    Yeah, because… I’m afraid of the fact that there is an ongoing clash between the Slavic identities of Russians (some claim never fully formed because of Soviet ideology) and Ukrainians, because of Putin’s invasion, because of all the anti-Ukrainian discourse in the Russian media… so I’m afraid that by being fair and balanced you play into vatnik hands. “Hey, Jim, I agree, those dillheads are really crazy, and their stuff about Bandera, that’s historical revisionism, man, they’re, like, reallyl crazy. Boy, I’m glad we have Putin, he’s really doing a good job against that fascist junta. …”

    I’m sure you are going to tell me that the accusation of “aiding and abetting the enemy” cannot be used to silence a journalist, to prevent him/her from giving criticism when it’s necessary, even to one’s own side. Again I agree in principle. But with the Russians having so much more in their hands in terms of resources and will power and sheer human numbers… couldn’t it be that Walker’s criticisms will end up being exploited by the Russian vatniki (and their institutional supporters)? After all, one can never make sure that one’s criticisms will be understood or used only in the ways one had meant for them to be understood or used. How can we be sure that the bad effects won’t outweight the good effects?

  2. Strykr9

    It’s another example of nationalist idiocy in my opinion. This has happened to several nationalist diasporas whenever something political comes up: Chinese and Japanese American teenagers having some of sort of animosity because of their countries political opposition. Indian and Pakistani school friends who I’ve personally witnessed have nationalist arguments on Facebook because of some political dispute between the countries. Part of the reason I came to develop a deep disdain of nationalism in any form.

  3. Estragon

    Diasporans in America (particularly E. Europeans, but not only) suffer from this. It’s understandable because presumably, you had to leave your country for some reason, often something dire. But the problem is that the moment of grievance becomes frozen in time and passed on to subsequent generations.

    The phenomenon of “Ukie school” and its analogues for other nationalities deserves a lot of the blame. Basically, they tell the kids who to hate, how to dress, and what the glorious achievements were. The next thing you know, these folks are in the old country, trying to tell the locals how to dress, dance, talk, and think the “proper” way, often to the bewilderment of said locals.

  4. ex Bellatores

    You are pathetic ignorant without roots raised in pro-communist family. You never saw real blood,dead eyes of children of your compatriots who are killed just because they belong to one nation,you never was beaten and in prison because they found flag of your country in your house.Patriotism without nationalism doesn’t exist but self-hating pathetic little person can’t understand that because it’s something which only moral,brave and proud children of (any) nation can understand. It’s good that USA population is not comprised of too many creatures like you because whole Europe would be under Soviet booth. Why ignorant cowards like you always think they have right preach what’s right and what’s wrong? PS My English is lousy but it’s impossible not react on your poison and hate.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Actually moron, I was raised in a deeply religious conservative family.

      I find your sob-story highly dubious.

      “It’s good that USA population is not comprised of too many creatures like you because whole Europe would be under Soviet booth. ”

      Actually while the US could certainly use more people like me, we’ve succeeded because we don’t think like primitive, backward fuckheads such as yourself. Millions came to our shores to escape the backward,barbaric kind of “patriotism” you speak of, and if you knew anything about American history you wouldn’t say such idiotic things.

      Just like the Russian vatnik, your identical twin, you cannot comprehend the values America was founded on. You cannot understand concepts like universal rights, equality, or personal freedoms. All you understand is your little tribe.

      The tide of history is against you. Repent or be swept aside.

    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I always love when you people beg for OUR help, talk about how you’re like us, then you proceed to lecture us on OUR values, as though we should listen to your advice.

  5. Siddharta

    I agree basically with everything you wrote here but in the current situation, in which Russia is invading Ukraine and basically trying to destroy any kind of Ukrainian identity , I somewhat understand why some Ukrainians overreact. They are in a very very difficult situation and it is hard to stay rational. This idiocy of some Vishivatniks is often just a panic reaction to the BS coming from Vatniks and of fears. Ukrainians need help and as long as the West is not dramatically increasing their help for Ukraine this idiots will get louder and more among diaspora and non-diaspora Ukrainians.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      It’s one thing if Ukrainians in Ukraine overreact. That’s understandable. Even I’ve gone off on some people thanks to the old heuristics. But what gets me is the rabid fanatics who don’t live in Ukraine, and in many cases have never been there and can’t speak or understand the language.

  6. Josh Cohen

    Excellent piece, and Jim makes a very good point how much of the nationalist myth-making was implanted back into Ukraine from the diaspora. Per Anders Rudling has written a fantastic overview on this whole subject, tracing how this myth-making travelled from the Old World to the New and then back again:


    In general, I think Ukraine is evolving into a genuine democracy and trying to do the right thing in terms of reforms (not that everything changes overnight mind you), but this Ukrainian obsession with glorifying their WWII “heroes” is both morally wrong on its face and just downright stupid from a PR perspective.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The saddest thing is that the OUN and UPA represent such a tiny minority of Ukrainians. If you ran the numbers, you’d find far more Russian collaborators, particularly if you counted cossacks. Counting the ROA is a bit tricky because many people joined that out of sheer desperation, just like Ukrainians in the UVV(Ukrainian Liberation Army). ROA and UVV units were sent to the Western front, often with Soviet weapons and limited stocks of ammunition, where they typically surrendered as soon as their ammo ran out.

      Sadly the kind of logic I see from Ukrainians who defends these laws or tolerate UPA symbols is laughably simplistic- “Russia hates UPA symbols and Russians used to call people Banderites just for wanting to speak their own language- so I guess Bandera and all that must be good!”

      You’d never see American liberals or leftists protesting the Iraq or Afghanistan War with Taliban or Al Qaeda flags, just because it would enrage Republicans and because conservatives were already calling them terrorist lovers and traitors. In the West politics are, or at least were, more nuanced.

      Ironically the “politics of opposites” is also the reason for the increasingly popularity of Stalin in Russia. It goes something like this: Under Gorbachev, anyone who questioned Perestroika and his policies was labeled a Stalinist. Gorbachev had his man in charge of the state media reinforcing this, so essentially he was just taking the authoritarian mechanism of the state and using it to push his narrative, but I digress.

      Russia’s early liberals were all about the “horrors of Stalinism.”

      It sort of boils down to this:

      Russian liberals: “Hey everyone! Let’s talk about how horrible Stalin was to us, but only in a way that totally ignores our own complicity in all of these terrible crimes, a way in which it seems as if Stalin and the NKVD arrived in spaceships from Mars!”

      The people: “Well yes, I’m sure someone in my family must have suffered during those times, back in the 1930’s. But now it’s decades after the fact, I can’t afford food, there are criminal gangs running everything, I haven’t been paid in months, our women and girls are being bought and sold by sexual predators, and the whole place is going to shit. Do you have a solution to ANY OF THIS?”

      Russian liberals: “Uh…Let’s talk about the horrors we suffered under Stalin!”

      So constantly talking about Stalin and using Stalin as the benchmark for all criticism of the current government has a strong association with Russian liberals, and let’s face it- Russian liberals were and in some cases still are major fuck ups. I only started to have sympathy for them when the government started to persecute them harder and harder. It’s kind of like seeing a bunch of jocks picking on a 90lb kid with Aspergers- The strong should defend the weak from persecution. That, incidentally, is very different from the modern Russian principle, which is pick on people and persecute them when you can, when it’s easy because they cannot retaliate.

      Anyway, getting back to the point(sorry for the digressions but I just woke up), as Russia accelerates its march toward the 19th century, the core ideology of the state is not Communist or socialist but right wing, almost Tsarist. However, they have transformed Stalin into a sort of Tsar, and have totally smoothed over the contradictions between the empire and the USSR. More than this, Stalin, once stripped of the Marxism, socialism, etc. is useful for perpetuating the “Strong leader myth,” the idea that Russians are too stupid to manage their own affairs without falling into chaos. The state takes all the worst aspects of the USSR and glorifies them.

      Lastly, the West, especially in recent years, has taken to anti-Communist hysteria that in many cases exceeds the Cold War era. This has far more to do with unrest at home I believe, but it has resulted in a lot of anti-USSR/Stalin stuff, such as equating him with Hitler. Russians find out about this and get the message- “The West hates Stalin!”

      So you factor all these things together and you end up with the same idiotic opposite politics that explain why many non-nationalist Ukrainians tolerate legal protection for the UPA and OUN and their symbols. Today’s vatnik thinks: “The West hates Stalin. The liberals hate Stalin…That’s it! Stalin must be our Russian national hero! I will defend every single thing that ever happened on the soil of the USSR under Stalin!”

      This is really annoying and I wish more than anything that the Russian state would just drop all their bullshit about the Soviet Union, socialism, or Stalin. I wish they’d just go full Tsarist and be done with it, and then we could sit back and watch another “Russian empire” collapse due to its own backwardness in a few years.

  7. Chukuriuk

    Although like you I am ideologically opposed to the Ukrainian “diaspora” right, this evaluation is terribly over-simplified and not very helpful (not to mention rhetorically unpleasant).

    First, in Canada over practically the entire 20th century there existed a very strong, labor and farmer oriented, pro-Soviet Ukrainian emigre left, the ULFTA/AUUC. For a period in mid-century it was the dominant force in the Canadian “diaspora.” It allied itself far too closely with the Soviet Union and in 1991 lost its reason for being (as well as the lion’s share of its funding). You can read about it in books by its Brezhnev-ish leader of later years, Peter Krawchuk; by the archivist John Kolasky, a true believer who became a fierce critic after working in the Ukrainian SSR; and in a superb oral history volume edited by Jim Mochoruk and Rhonda Hinther (which also treats the emigre right):

    Second, for various reasons (the emigration’s success at funding research institutes at North American universities and thus integrating into broader intellectual life in particular — precisely the point of your critique, Jim), for all their distortions, Ukrainian “diaspora” institutions in North America are probably less chauvinist than, say, their Serbian and Croatian counterparts (I make this claim on the unscientific basis of my own experiences and those of friends and colleagues). And its research institutes (CIUS, HURI) are very open-minded, as can be seen in the subjects of their publications and the membership of their boards.

    Third, the “diaspora” institutions were responsible, through publication and discussion, for the continued viability of cultural figures and movements (including many progressive, socialist and dissident-communist writers) banned in the USSR. The shameful acceptance of CIA money to fund this work in some periods does not lessen its value.

    And, related to the third point, you as a Marxist should understand how a dialectical process works, Jim. There would have been no Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia (Українська радянська енциклопедія) without its emigre forerunner (Енциклопедія українознавство) — the one was explicitly designed as a counterweight to the other — and whatever viability the Academy of Sciences of Soviet Ukraine maintained was probably a response to the continuing work of its “diaspora” counterparts. Same with editions of important authors, etc. Indeed, the USSR was always (at times literally) “selling” its image of Ukraine to the “diaspora” in the form of books, films, tours, etc. This meant that literature and culture in Ukraine didn’t decline more than it otherwise might have, on the one hand, and the emigre right had to work harder to push its message, on the other.

    To sum up, the internet loudmouths don’t determine the intellectual and cultural scope of the Ukrainian “diaspora” in North America, any more than any other community.

    Although I agree with you to the degree that, in the absence of a political alternative in the “diaspora,” and the presence of the internet, the loudmouths have become more obnoxious than ever. Ukraine and Ukrainians themselves will have to become this alternative. Likewise Ukraine-friendly westerners like you who actually know something about the place: but they could learn a little more about the “diaspora” to play this role. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of shouting at each other, which is I suppose what the internet is for.


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