Welcome to June’s #TrailingSpouseStories. This month we explore our national identity and how it shows in our day-to-day expat life. We also reflect on how our itinerant life has influenced the expression of our national identity and how we feel about it.
Just a short disclaimer: this post worked out to be more serious and, perhaps, not very positive, unlike my usual cheerful TinyExpats style, but I just couldn’t keep it light in this situation.
I left Ukraine, when I was 17, and went to study in London. The place, where I studied, had a very high percentage of international students, so my friends came not only from England, but pretty much from all over the world. Food, holidays, traditions – it was such a crazy mix at that time. I lived in UK for 7 years and I really got used to certain things. All those little things that you might not even notice on the daily basis, but years later, looking back at it, I can see some of my habits springing from that time in UK. Over the following years, moving between Germany, China, Russia and CZ, I started to appreciate differences. However, I think, I also started to feel different about my national identity, not very nationalistic, maybe. When asked, where I am from, I would always say that I’m Ukrainian. However, during the last years, especially, it suddenly started to feel even more confusing.
Just over a year ago, a revolution in Ukraine changed so much in the country and in people’s points of view. The main reason for unrest that started in Kiev was to overthrow the president, who decided to go against EU integration in favour of further co-operation with Russia. Of course, the fact that that president was beyond corrupt did not help his case. I understand the reasons behind that revolution (referred to as Maidan) and I can see why people were so unhappy about the ruling government. What I really could not go along with was the simultaneous rise to power of nationalistic parties and organisations. “Who doesn’t jump is a ‘Moskal’ (bad word for a Russian)!” – this slogan was shouted out by thousands jumping people on the Kiev’s main square. Really? Seriously? Way to go. That was like a very serious argument towards EU integration. Apparently, Bandera was a national hero again. Yes, of course, he fought for the independence of Ukraine and against USSR. But he did it together with German Nazi’s, managing to contribute to deaths of thousands of Ukrainians and Polish. They say: “USSR commanders also killed a lot of people”. They did, but does it mean that you should use another killer as your hero? Why do you have to call yourself a Bandera follower? Why not a patriot?
Then things got even worse. Crimean referendum and a bunch of ‘polite people’ in military uniforms without markings lead to Crimea claiming its independence and almost straight away joining Russian Federation. Another wave of hatred and mutual insults across mass media ensued. In Odessa, 46 died and more than 200 were injured in an unimaginable clash between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian nationalists. It’s 21st century, how could the questions of national identity lead to people being locked up in burning buildings? Finally, two Eastern regions tried to proclaim independence and started full out war with main Ukrainian forces, apparently using whatever military ammunition was left on the army bases. That ammunition and loads of various army machinery seems to last up until now, a year later. Russia is not involved. Officially. My home town is in one of those regions. My parents cannot go back home. My relatives live in fear of bombings and without steady salaries. This seems as a horrible movie that never ends.
What makes it worst is the constant lies and insults pouring out of every TV channel and website both in Russia and in Ukraine. I do not support Russian policy, at all. I am completely and utterly against it. But when my Ukrainian friends started writing on social media that all Russians must be killed, that they are an inferior race and Ukrainians are so much more developed, I just could not stay silent, reading such generalisations. WWII? Fascism and Nazi Germany? Ubermensch and holocaust? Are those things completely forgotten now? Arguments that Russians write similar things on their pages do not seems viable to me – if someone decides to become a psycho, do you really need to join in? Two people, who I considered friends in the past, deleted me from friends on Facebook and stopped communicating with me, because I voiced my opinion that you cannot just say such things. Even if the other country is invading, you cannot say all of the people in that country are beneath you and deserve to die. You just cannot. They deleted me as a “Putin supporter”. Funny, as I always said I was against what he does.
I am still Ukrainian, but I refuse to call myself a nationalist or a Bandera supporter. I will never say that Russians are an inferior race – my husband is half Russian/ half Ukrainian born in Russia, my girls have Russian blood. I will always say that what’s happening in the East of Ukraine is a crime, but I will never say that people who lived there deserved it as they were not proper Ukrainians. If having a strong sense of national identity means that I have to become a blindsided and see world in black and white, then I have a problem with it.
Check out other #TrailingSpouseStories in this month’s blog crawl:
Clara of The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide says that although she has travelled extensively all her life and lived in many different countries, she has never felt anything but British through and through in Why I Have Always Felt British All My Expat Life.
Didi of D for Delicious discovered that when she lived outside the Philippines, she learned to embrace the entirety of her Filipino-ness – the good, the bad and the ugly in #TrailingSpouseStories: Embracing Filipino version 2.0.
Yuliya of Tiny Expats shares that sometimes, what your national identity represents is not exactly what you would like to represent in At War With National Identity.