Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Ukrainians and Belarusians constitute the second and third largest ethnic minorities in Estonia. The 2000 census registered 29,012 Ukrainians (2.1 per cent of the total population) and 17,241 Belarusians (1.3% of the total population). Estonian Statistical Office estimates for 2006 (Ukrainians 28,321, Belarusians 16,316) suggest slight declines for both populations since 2000. Both populations have dropped dramatically since the 1989 census, when Ukrainians and Belarusians accounted for 3.1 per cent and 1.8 per cent of the total population respectively.
Ukrainians and Belarusians in Estonia are primarily Russian-speakers. This is reflected in the fact that in the 2000 census only 12,299 Ukrainians and 5,197 Belarusians reported their respective national languages as their mother tongue. These figures are in themselves likely to be an exaggeration of actual adherence to the mother tongue in practice.
The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians and Belarusians arrived in Estonia after 1940. Along with a number of other smaller nationalities, Ukrainians and Belarusians in Estonia assimilated into a primarily Russian-speaking identity already in the Soviet period. As Russian-speakers, post-Soviet Estonian language and citizenship policies have affected Ukrainians and Belarusians in ways similar to ethnic Russians. More cordial relations between the governments of Estonia and Ukraine and to a lesser extent Belarus mean that Ukrainians and Belarusians in Estonia are seen as potentially more loyal than ethnic Russians, and majority stereotyping of these groups is less inclined to be negative. In practice, Ukrainians and Belarusians have much in common with ethnic Russians.
Ukrainians and Belarusians have been similarly affected by Estonian language proficiency requirements in the workplace and elsewhere. Along with Russians, they are disproportionately under-represented in the higher levels of public sector employment and young women in particular suffer from disproportionate unemployment.
Updated June 2015