“Deukrainianization” is a term that has appeared in Russian state media to describe the end goal of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. While the war was launched as a supposedly “special military operation” under the slogans of “denazification” and “demilitarisation”, these terms were used increasingly less frequently after the Russian military failed in its initial goal to swiftly capture Kyiv and assume control over Ukraine.
In a column for Russian state news portal RIA Novosti, political consultant Timorese Sergeitsev scrambled to explain the goal of the war and made an admission of genocide that “denazification will unavoidably be deukrainianization”.
The internationally-agreed definition of genocide is the attempt to erase the identity of a national people, including through acts such as killing and harming members of the group, deporting their children, and inflicting conditions of life to bring about their destruction in whole or in part. All of this is reflected in the war crimes being committed against Ukraine as part of Russia’s war of aggression.
Increasingly, opponents of supporting Ukraine have started to use the term in reverse by warning about “Ukrainization“.
The word has a long history to describe the policy or practise of increasing the use of the Ukrainian language or culture within public life inside Ukraine. However, in countries like Estonia that support Ukraine, it has now been adopted by the small minority of supporters of Russia’s war to characterise support for Ukrainians as some kind of subservient relationship. It is most notably used to amplify the perception that Ukrainian war refugees are a burden on their host country.
While the term and its connotations may be slightly obscure in Western Europe and other parts of the world, “Ukrainization” deliberately draw parallels with the Russification policies of the Soviet Union and its Tsarist predecessor, in an attempt to evoke strong negative emotions in readers arising from the traumas of the past.
In social media, the word has started to be used as a threat against Estonia, Estonians and Estonian Russians. In some cases, its implication is subtle. In others, however, pro-Kremlin media and influencers are more blatant.
Propastop previously wrote about a meeting between six of the most prominent Kremlin propagandists claiming to represent the Baltic countries in which they derided Ukrainian refugees as “forced guests” who are now the entitled “masters” of the Baltic states, while Russians are second class citizens, and the “needy indigenous” are left in poverty and have to flee abroad for opportunities.
In Estonia, the narrative of “Ukrainization” first appeared in our local Russian-language social media when the first war refugees started arriving in Estonia and many Ukrainian flags began appearing on buildings in solidarity with Ukraine’s struggle, which has widespread popular support.
Currently, a video titled «К чему ведёт УКРАИНИЗАЦИЯ Естонии» is circulating on social media (Facebook, Twitter, VK), which is an hour and a half long discussion between Aivo Peterson (KOOS/ВМЕСТЕ), Oleg Ivanov (KOOS/ВМЕСТЕ), Andres Raidi (Nõmme Radio), Dmitri Chekhanovski (Prosvet.ee) and Vsevolog Jürgenson (a politician who was recently expelled from the Conservative Party of Estonia). The video criticizes the adaptation of war refugees, the material support for the war in Ukraine, and the supposed great discrimination against Russian-speaking people.
The comment attached to the discussion says: “During the conversation, many topics were discussed, including those that do not seem to be directly related to the Ukrainianization of Estonia. Nevertheless, they all point to the existence of this process.” To illustrate this, the example of former Estonian Foreign Minister’s Urmas Reinsalu’s desire to expel more diplomats was given, which was called an exact example of the Ukrainization of Estonia. No causal reason or justification was given.
A closer look reveals that there are many posts on this topic on social media. Several posts use the word “Ukrainization” in the same way that pro-Kremlin media use the word “Nazification,” creating a potential threat to the wider use of the word in pro-war propaganda. For example, the article “Ukrainian Lives Matter: украинизация Естонии грозит еепревращением в Ливан” was written in the blog of Rodina.ee.
The author of the article, Allan Hantsom, is no stranger to either Prostopop or KAPO (Estonian Internal Security Service) – and was one of the six taking part in that meeting previously mentioned. Last year, Propastop wrote how former Sputnik journalist Hantsom founded a new media platform together with other Kremlin propagandists. In addition, it is known that he is a person of interest to the Estonian Internal Security Service. In their yearbook, they point out that Hanstom has been prosecuted under section 72(1), which deals with incitement to ethnic, racial, religious or political hatred, violence or discrimination.
“Deukrainianization” and “Ukrainization” are used in very different ways by Kremlin propagandists, but can only be properly understood together. Both are deliberately pushed in support of Russia’s war against Ukraine. One is used by them to openly advocate for genocidal aggression. The other aims to distort an existing word to distract and deflect blame onto the victims, as if they were the aggressors.