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Never Felt Discriminated For Speaking Russian In Western Ukraine Says Poet

March 18, 2014
Choices in the Crimean referendum

“In the past five years, I visited the Ukrainian-speaking Western Ukraine six times. I have never seen any nationalists there. I have never felt discriminated against because I spoke the Russian language. Those are myths. In all the cities of Western Ukraine I have visited, I spoke with everyone in Russian—in stores, in trains, in cafes. I have found new friends. Far from feeling aggression, everyone instead treated me with respect.’

These are the words of prize-winning Russian-language poet Anastasiya Afanasieva who lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Russian troops began overrunning Crimea setting the stage for the referendum on Sunday in which, according to the results at least, the voters decided overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia. The excuse of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for his use of force in Crimea, manipulating to hold a referendum and now for expanding into other areas of Ukraine, is the discrimination Russian-speaking minority suffers in the hands of the Ukrainians.

Afanasieva’s exasperation appears in a contribution to Poetry International (reproduced by Pen America in its blog) by Ilya Kaminsky, who lives in the US. He reflects on what concerns poets chiefly – examining the way what social scientists, politicians and soldiers speak about in sweeping generalisations actually happens in the lives of individuals and communicating the experience in words to touch the emotions, consciences or souls of others.
“[rather] than using this space for personal reflection, I want to include some communications I have had with Ukrainians, and particularly poets, in the region, to give voice to those whose world is in turmoil, and to give English speakers a better sense of current events,” says Kaminsky in the piece titled ‘Letters from the Ukraine.’
One poem that probably speaks of what is happening in Crimea right now:
Who came to power in our cities?
Who are these
that decide
to break the hearts of our houses and let out their warm raspberry blood?
Now they come
together in their black suits, looking like chimney-sweepers
who have come
to power.
(Translated from Ukrainian by Valzhyna Mort)
Click here to read the full text 
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.