March 5, 2015 by AK
In The Guardian, Elena Savchuk on female nurses and fighters with the Ukrainian volunteer battalion Aidar. My two cents in the comments, edited:
The author reports that fighters of the Aidar battalion “have a reputation for fierce nationalism” and writes of Mama Tanya’s “committed nationalism.” But there’s no clarity on the meaning of the term in the Ukrainian context: is it ethnic pride and rage, or is it civic nationalism, also known as patriotism?
An obvious clue would be the language they speak: is it Ukrainian, Russian, or a mixed dialect, “surzhik”? If I were to guess, Vitaminka comes from Zaporizhia (Zaporozhye) and the two nurses, from Lugansk (Luhansk), so they are probably native Russian speakers. Judging from her background, Mama Tanya is most likely a Russophone, too. None of the women appears to come from the hotbed of ethnic nationalism, Ukraine’s western parts.
I don’t see ethnic resentment behind their actions. I suspect that ethnically, culturally, and linguistically, they are very close to the Russian troops and separatists they are fighting. The difference is these ladies have chosen to help a relatively free Ukraine over an authoritarian Russia.
But in the Kremlin’s view, most Ukrainians are a subspecies of an enlarged Russian nation – excepting the Greek Catholics in the West but including most of the Orthodox 77%. Since the ladies in uniform are not from the West, they must be essentially Russian according to this doctrine. The net result is Russian women fighting against a Kremlin-ordered invasion to keep their homeland free. This picture is completely unacceptable to the Kremlin so Putin bots are out in droves to paint these women as Nazis.
A minor quibble: the author calls the city in southern Ukraine, “Zaporozhe,” which is more Russian (Zaporozhye) than Ukrainian (Zaporizhia) but not quite Russian either. Still she prefers Ukrainian names for Debaltseve (Debaltsevo in Russian) and Luhansk. The latter is Lugansk in Russian, but the difference is notional because most Southern Russian speakers pronounce “g” the Ukrainian way, as a voiced “kh” or a voiced “h”. I’m not saying it’s wrong but it’s inconsistent. I prefer using Russian names for Russian-speaking cities but I wouldn’t be making scenes about it.