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Russian Americans and Ukraine

There are more than 300,000 Russian speaking immigrants in New York City. Most of them are very concerned about recent crisis in Ukraine. They have close friends and relatives there. Many were born in Ukraine. Others view this conflict as confrontation between Russia and the West.

But then it is getting much more complicated. Ethnic Russians who came to America for better economic opportunities are almost universally support Putin actions and his annexation of Crimea. They talk about the historical role of Sevastopol and injustice created by Soviet Communist leader Nikita Khrushev who transferred Crimea from Russian Federation to Ukraine in 1954. They believe Russian propaganda about Ukrainian Nazis and fascists that are ready to attack Russian speaking population in Eastern Ukraine.

New York loves Ukraine!

Ethnic Ukrainians who came to the United States for jobs and freedom, really despise Kremlin and Putin, condemn Russian aggression in Crimea and incitement by the Russian government TV channels. They are the strongest supporters of independent Ukraine and the fiercest critics of Russian military intervention in Crimea.

And finally the largest group of Russian speaking New Yorkers – Russian Jewish community – is divided. Most of them came to the United States as Jewish refugees who escaped anti-Semitism and persecution by Soviet authorities. They remember anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine and other Soviet republics. They know about many Nazi collaborators among local population in Ukraine during the WWII. They have reasonable mistrust to the current interim Ukrainian government that includes representatives of ultranationalist Svoboda Party lead by Oleg Tyagnybok.

At the same time majority of Russian speaking Jews have very negative views of former KGB colonel and current Russian President Vladimir Putin. They strongly oppose his authoritarian regime and attacks on freedoms, like freedom of press and assembly. They are alarmed by the virulent anti-American propaganda of Russian TV channels.

When Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitry Kiselev stated that “Russia can turn America into radioactive aches”, many people in our community realized it is no longer about Ukraine. It is about recreating the Russian Empire – geographically, psychologically and militarily.

So, according to my own informal poll among Russian speaking New Yorkers, about 60% condemn Putin’s aggression against Crimea and support Ukraine. They think former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich was very corrupt and ineffective. But about 40% of our community support Russian actions, political and military. These 40% believe Russian TV propaganda and regularly blast “Banderovtzi” and “Ukrainian fascists”, Maidan and current government in Kiev.

Personally, I am definitely a part of a first group. I love freedom and reject Russian chauvinism. While I disagree with some decisions by the interim Ukrainian government, I believe that people of the independent Ukraine should decide their fate by themselves.

Ari Kagan
Photos by Stepan Slutsky

Watch RTN show about the reaction by the Russian speaking community to the events in Ukraine.


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