Ukraine and Sergei Roy

Russian Naval Vessel in Ukrainian Port

Subject: Ukraine and Sergei Roy
Date: Sun, 06 Apr 2014
From: Stephen D. Shenfield <>

I would like to thank readers who have sent me appreciative and encouraging responses to my paper “Ukraine:Popular Uprising or Fascist Coup?” (which is now online on my site at

I would also like to respond to the long article by Sergei Roy (JRL 2014-#76). It is indeed “insightful” in many ways, but it also has objectionable aspects.

For one thing, it is one-sided.Roy rarely notes the extent to which what he says of Ukraine is also true of Russia. He makes great play of the dissociation between reality and the Ukrainian discourse that conjures up a Russian military invasion out of thin air. Apart from the fact that Russian troops are occupying not only Crimea but also adjacent parts of Kherson Province, is it not worth considering what actions and statements on Russia’s part might have contributed to the war psychosis in Ukraine? And why not acknowledge that the dominant Russian political discourse is also dissociated from reality in important ways? Doesn’t the official Russian political discourse conjure up an equally imaginary mass of refugees flooding into Russia from Eastern Ukraine?

The long disquisition on the immaturity and poverty of the Ukrainian literary language has disturbing policy implications. If fewer world-famous authors have written in Ukrainian than in Russian, so what? The value of a language to its native speakers cannot be assessed by any such ‘objective’ criteria, nor do their linguistic rights depend on them.

I have noticed that many Russian speakers, in Russia and in Ukraine itself, hold the Ukrainian language in disdain. They habitually insert some Ukrainian expression into Russian speech (with special intonation) or writing (with quotation marks) – not because there is no equivalent in Russian but as an expression of ridicule. Though closely related to Russian, Ukrainian is now firmly established as a distinct language. Many Russian speakers, however, appear to perceive Ukrainian as a debased form of Russian. It is as if they are saying: ‘What absurd people to talk Russian like that!’

I would like to ask Roy to ponder whether the attitudes that he (like many others) expresses might have something to do with the harsh and aggressive form often assumed by Ukrainian nationalism.