Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2010 national census, there are 521,443 Belarusians, 647,732 Kazakhs and 1,927,988 Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.
The collapse of the Soviet Union presented a number of groups in the Russian Federation with a particular dilemma. The large Ukrainian, Belarusian and Kazakh communities now had independent ‘homelands’ outside Russia. The Russian government has given little support to the revival of minority language and cultures among these diaspora populations. Instead, each community is expected to fund its own development. This situation is reflected in the significant fall in numbers for Ukrainians and Belarusians due to out-migration to newly independent ethnic homelands. Ukrainians accounted for 4.4 million people in 1989, but now account for less than 2 million. Only Kazakhs have increased their population since 1989.
A Congress of Russian Ukrainians has been formed, which meets annually.
For both Ukrainians and Kazakhs in Russia, their relationship to the Russian state is mediated by the reciprocal relationship of their respective ethnic homelands with their own sizeable Russian minorities. In 1995 Russia proposed a dual citizenship model for ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan, a proposal rejected by the Kazakhstani government. Instead the two governments signed a ‘Simple Exchange Agreement’, allowing Russians in Kazakhstan and Kazakhs in Russia to switch citizenship through a simplified three-month procedure. In 1998 Russia and Kazakhstan concluded a bilateral treaty on the protection of Russians in Kazakhstan and Kazakhs in Russia.
Diaspora groups in Russia voiced concerns in 2005 that the lack of a legal basis for their organizations impedes the successful promotion of their national cultures. Ukrainian diaspora groups also criticized the government of Ukraine for failing to adequately support diaspora activities in Russia. At the time, there were reportedly only a handful of secondary schools offering comprehensive Ukrainian language instruction.
Ukrainians in Russia make up the largest largest ethnic group in the country after ethnic Russians and Tatars. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in Ukraine in 2014 has had a profound impact on Russian society. Among its consequences has been the acute politicization of issues concerning Ukraine, and at times direct harassment of Ukrainians residing in Russia. For example, in April 2014, shortly after its invasion, a swastika was painted on the door of the flat belonging to a Ukrainian residing in Vologda, while flyers were stuffed in the mailboxes of other residents in the same building ‘informing’ them, through the use of derogatory terms, that a Ukrainian lived there. While such direct harassment has been uncommon, Ukrainians have reportedly been affected by a general atmosphere of intimidation, particularly in light of the state media’s biased coverage of events, routinely linking Ukrainian nationalists to fascism.
From January 2015, migrants wishing to secure a work permit have been required to pass an extensive test on Russian language, history and civic rights (including questions on Crimea’s ‘unification’ with Russia), as well as pay higher fees for permits and other documents. The bureaucratic and complex procedures of migration and refugee law have also contributed to the precarious living conditions of the numerous Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Updated December 2020
Minorities and indigenous peoples in
- Kabards and Balkars
- Karachay and Cherkess
- Khants and Mansi
- Meskhetians or Meskhetian Turks
- Russian or Volga Germans
- Ukrainians, Belarusians and Kazakhs