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Ukraine is Where the Soul Is. Foreign Born Ukrainians Get New Legal Status

Bohdan Nahaylo speaks to Anton Tkach and Oleksandr Bartneyev about their new legal status as Ukrainians living abroad


Hello and welcome to Ukraine Calling, your weekly review of what’s been happening in Ukraine with a focus on a main issue. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here’s a look at some of the stories that were in the news this week.

FOCUS INTERVIEW: Bohdan Nahaylo speaks to Anton Tkach and Oleksandr Bartneyev about their new legal status as Ukrainians living abroad.




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FOCUS INTERVIEW: Bohdan Nahaylo speaks to Anton Tkach and Oleksandr Bartneyev about their new legal status as Ukrainians living abroad.

Nahaylo: Today we have a quite interesting topic, which might be of interest to many of you out there of Ukrainian origin who were either born in Ukraine, or your parents were born in Ukraine, or your ancestors come from Ukraine. This week I was one of four people who were given, awarded, the status of a Ukrainian living abroad. It used to be called “a foreign Ukrainian” – “закордонний українець”. Sounds a little bit strange but, on the other hand, it is a form of recognition of a link to Ukraine for those of us who were born or lived outside of Ukraine and who may not know this country really well but still feel closeness to it for whatever reason: cultural, family, history, sympathy. Anyway, I thought very interesting discussion could be held on the topic of what does it mean in a broader context of what it means to be Ukrainian these days. I, for instance, was born in Great Britain to Ukrainian parents. My mother is from Kyiv region and my father is from Ternopil region in Western Ukraine. My first wife was from Canada. My children have Canadian citizenship and yet feel a very strong affinity to Ukraine. When I was at the ceremony yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kyiv, I met three other colleagues, much younger than myself, who were also given the status. I managed to get at least two of the three to come and join me in the studio today. I have here Anton Tkach who is from Australia and who will introduce himself. All I can say is that I know his father, a well-known Ukrainian-English translator. We also have Oleksandr Bartenyev, who will also tell us about himself. He’s got a Russian passport and Ukrainian roots. The third person, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, is from Moldova. Unfortunately, he is not here to join us. Just to give you an idea of spread: Ukrainians from Britain, Australia, Russia, Moldova, from near and far. Let me ask Anton, my colleague from Australia. Why did you apply for the status of Ukrainian living abroad? Was it simply for symbolic reasons?  Does it give you some practical advantages?

Tkach: Yes, for me it started with a few issues at the Embassy [where he goes to obtain a visa] I chose to apply for this, and see if it [Ukrainian living abroad status] could help me go to the Embassy a few less times in a year. Instead of going every time, waiting for 30 days, getting your passport back, finally get it all together and start working. Now that I have it, I can get multiple entry visa for five years. It is also much easier for me to get my work visas done. I am off to Warsaw tomorrow to get all work visas done, and then come back and have it all done within a week.

Nahaylo: So for you it was more of a pragmatic choice. A practical decision to facilitate entry into Ukraine and your stay here. 

Tkach: Of course. I feel myself Ukrainian. Ukrainian was my first language.

Nahaylo: From what you are telling us I understand that the choice to apply was more practical or pragmatic one, a way of facilitating your entry to this country and conditions of stay here.

Tkach: Yes. Of course, I felt Ukrainian all my life.  I grew up speaking Ukrainian. It is my first language. English I learned at 3 or 4 [years of age]. My parents are both Ukrainian. Dad was born in Australia, but his parents are of Ukrainian descent. My mom was born in Uman, Cherkasy region.

Nahaylo: That‘s interesting. So your father was actually born in Australia and you have been eligible for this status even though it is now two generations ago that you…

Tkach: With the status, I think you can go back to your grandparents level, as long as you can prove your grandparents were born in what is Ukraine today.

Nahaylo: As I understand it, the status falls short of giving you citizenship. It allows you to apply for a visa for five years, or more, to work here. So you have certain advantages. You can apply for citizenship because this card gives all the rights and responsibilities of being Ukrainian. Eventually, you can apply for citizenship. It just takes a while for you to get there.

Nahaylo: Oleksandre, over to you now. You have Russian passport.

Bartenyev: Yes.

Nahaylo: Tell us about yourself and your background.

Bartenyev: I was born in Russia in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. It is very far from Ukraine but my father was born in Kharkiv.

Nahaylo: Let me just ask you to tell our listeners how old you are. You look very young.

Bartenyev: I am 18 years old and I am studying at Kyiv National University named after Shevchenko.

Nahaylo: What are you studying?

Bartenyev: I am studying physics. It’s my second year at this university.

Nahaylo: I noticed from our conversations that you speak good Ukrainian. When did you learn Ukrainian in Russia?

Bartenyev: Yes, I’ve lived almost all of my life in Ukraine and I studied the Ukrainian language in Poltava’s specialized School #3.

Nahaylo: The heartland, the area of Kotliarevsky [writer, considered one of the fathers of Ukrainian literature] and Gogol and many others, yes?

Bartenyev:  Yes, I studied Ukrainian language and literature there.

Nahaylo: OK. Why did you apply for the status? 

Bartenyev: The status means not just something social, but some practical thing for me. Because I am planning to continue my studies and the status will help me to do so much more easily. The second thing why I applied for the status is because it means for me to be a part of one big community that I live in.

Nahaylo: OK. Thank you for bringing that up. This is what I wanted to move on to. For me personally, obviously, there were practical considerations to facilitate my entry and stay here, but of course I wanted some reaffirmation of my links to Ukraine. It is nice to have a document, however symbolic, it remains, that you are part of as you called it “a community,” a family. I would like to hear what two of you think. I think that today it is almost artificial to divide Ukrainians into “we-they” – those who live in Ukraine and those who live abroad – because in today’s world of social media where we can communicate with one another across borders and across continents very easily, where we can see on the screen in front of what is happening at the Maidan, what is happening during the Orange Revolution. For me today the sense of Ukrainian-ness is not a geographical thing. It is something to do with a sharing of common values and identification with a cause, with a country, with a project. Whatever you want to call it. Something that links our parents, our ancestors, with what is being attempted in this country today, in whatever form it is taken. What would you say?

Tkach: I partly agree with you. You go to Canada, or Australia, and you see vyshyvanka [Ukrainian embroidered shirt] is worn more often than you see it on Maidan here. It was not on Maidan revolution. Today you see few people wearing vyshyvanka. Go to any Ukrainian festival, go to Ukrainian schools, go to the Ukrainian dancing I, which you could see twice a week in Melbourne, it is all there. You see vyshyvanka all the time. You see more traditional dress. All people are practicing Ukrainian culture, not possibly language. I think, as you mentioned, being Ukrainian is very symbolic and it is bringing us close to be in Ukraine. Being in Ukraine doesn’t necessarily mean you are more Ukrainian, or less Ukrainian, than living abroad and being Ukrainian.

Nahaylo: Is that because living outside where you felt at least some generations ago and some decades ago that you were in an exile,  that you were artificially removed from your motherland and have a sense of nostalgia, guilt, desire to be in contact again, to continue the processes that were left unfinished. That is different here where being Ukrainian is taken for granted. Obviously today it is different because there is a war going on. And after Maidan it is a different political, psychological setting, shall we say. But for most people, I guess, they don’t need to wear vyshyvanky, embroidered shirts, national costumes so much. Though I would say that in the last two or three years after Maidan I have seen grater pride certainly in Kyiv, L’viv, big cities in wearing emblematic forms of Ukrainian-ness whether it is embroidered shirts, blue and yellow ribbons, etc. as a kind of assertion of Ukrainian-ness, particularly in young people. I think I see that more. I hear Ukrainian spoken more often than I have ever did. What is your observation, Alexander?

Bartenyev: Yes, I think so. For example, in our university I see blue and yellow flags more. We have to study the Ukrainian language. So, I think that in the last years, the Ukrainian nation is more united than in any other period of history.

Nahaylo: It is not simply because geographical consideration. We are united perhaps around core ideas: independence, democracy…

Bartenyev: Yes. With the help of the Internet Ukrainians all over the world can unite and stand for right ideas, for democracy …

Nahaylo: …and for being themselves.

Bartenyev: Yes.

Tkach: I would like to touch on one point. We have got very many different protests. You have got a protest of fifty people. You have gays, straight, right wing, left wing everyone there because they are united against something. It can be corruption, it can be moving on with progress in Ukraine. It is all about core ideas as you said: an independence, no corruption in Ukraine, dissent living wage. That’s what they want.

Nahaylo: Because we are limited in time unfortunately, give me some sense of what does it mean for you today as young people to be Ukrainian? What is that about? Why is it important in your life?

Bartenyev: For me it is very important because all my friends and family are a part of society. Being Ukrainian is like being a part of this society too, to find work in this society, to live with them.

Nahaylo: To belong to and to be useful

Bartenyev: Yes.

Nahaylo: You have a bit of a head start because your dad is very involved in cultural life.

Tkach: Yeah, I guess it’s a hard question for me because I grew up and had maybe a little bit of an identity crisis when I was younger – whether I’m Ukrainian or Australian. Then as time went on, I went overseas, travelled and saw people.  They would ask me, ‘So what are you, Australian or Ukrainian?’ The more and more you talk to people they go, ‘you can’t be Ukrainian, you’re Australian, you grew up there, you have the accent, and everything”. And you go, ‘I spent ten years doing Ukrainian school and doing Plast scouts. What am I?’ I guess coming here, coming to Ukraine for a few months, visiting and working is blurring that line even more, and I still don’t have an answer for that, whether I’m Ukrainian or Australian.  

Nahaylo: But I think one of the very inspiring things that I’ve noticed, and that I witness myself, is that the sense of Ukrainian-ness is no longer a narrow one. It’s not limited to vyshyvanky – as you’ve said, varenyky, to language, to even a particular understanding of history. The sense of being Ukrainian is more of a sense of being a part of a European nation, and knowing one’s place in the scheme of things: geopolitical, ethical, moral, etc. And I feel quite comfortable being British, with my British education, but being Ukrainian. I don’t have a problem combining the two. The only problem I have is that the British passport considers me a subject of Her Majesty the Queen, I would prefer to see myself as a citizen of a country – especially after the French Revolution and whatnot. This is a British quirk that I’m sure the Australians and Canadians understand. But nevertheless, I think today one can be Ukrainian and be comfortable about it, even though our adversaries, particularly in Moscow, would like to typecast us as some kind of narrow-minded, neo-fascistic entity. Ukraine today, particularly the younger generation, is more open and it’s very open to the world.

Tkach: I completely agree. What I mean is that I’m not struggling with being Australian or being Ukrainian. It’s just that the lines are so blurred about whether I am Australian or Ukrainian and I feel comfortable in both, but when someone asks you on the street ‘where are you from?’ – am I Ukrainian or am I Australian?

Bartenyev: For example, when I had the status I thought about being a Russian. But no one said to me like ‘you are not with us, you are foreign person, go away.’ I studied in school and all my classmates understood that I was one of them.

Nahaylo: You belong there and you’ve made your choice, but you can fit in. And I think the operative way would be to say that you respect cultures, you respect backgrounds, and as long as people are tolerant and respectful to you.

Bartenyev: So, I have and had a lot of friends in school, and my nationality wasn’t a wall between society and me.

Nahaylo: But nevertheless, as you said at the beginning, you identify with Ukraine through your family and with what Ukraine represents today. Which is a personal choice that you’ve made. Even staying here, as I understand it, you are here not just because you want to be a student, but you feel comfortable in Ukraine, you really feel at home here.

Bartenyev: Yeah, I really feel that my home is here and I am planning to build my family in Ukraine.

Nahaylo: Anton, and other Ukrainians in Australia and let’s assume you are talking about Canada and America today, we’ve always been faced with problems of assimilation, losing that culture, losing that touch. Is that bond with Ukraine still as strong as it used to be? Is Ukraine, in your view, official Ukraine doing enough to cultivate and to prolong those ties?

Tkach: I’d say it’s very different talking to my dad’s generation, whose parents arrived in the ‘50s and they came to school and they were told ‘no Ukrainian, you have to speak English.’ My dad’s name was changed from Yuriy to George when he came to school – he had no clue what George meant. I think being born in the ‘90s is a whole different era. You’ve had Nezalezhnost [independence], you’ve got a whole new kind of Ukraine coming through. The same in Ukraine. You meet people who were born before the ‘90s and after the ‘90s, and you can see a difference.

Nahaylo: Are you telling me that being Ukrainian has become more attractive for younger people?

Tkach: Yeah, I’d say that. But it’s becoming a different kind of Ukrainian because in the ‘50s you had Ukrainian mom and Ukrainian dad. Now more and more you got either one parent that’s Ukrainian or one of their grandparents that’s Ukrainian. Now you’ve got people going to scouting camps and coming to events, and they don’t speak Ukrainian, but they love Ukraine. They don’t know why, but they love it.

Nahaylo: Now looking forward. Would you bring your children up as Ukrainians? It’s a personal choice. Let’s not look at nationality or citizenship. Would you be prepared to install in your children to pass over to them your sense of Ukrainian-ness?

Tkach: Without a doubt, absolutely, without a doubt.

Bartenyev: I will like to save Ukrainian traditions, and pass them to my children, I will keep it.

Nahaylo: Well we don’t know what Volodymyr Vynnychenko would have told us, but with a name like Vynnychenko he must feel some affinity to Ukraine. That’s quite strong and obviously he applied also for the status. I have been talking to my guests today who are Anton Tkach, from Australia and at present working here and to Oleksandr Bartenyev from Russia, but with strong ties to Ukraine. This is Bohdan Nahaylo, born in Britain, with a British passport – and some say with a British accent.


Head of Tax Service arrested on Corruption charges

A Kyiv district court ruled on March the 7th to place Roman Nasirov under arrest after a long and dramatic hearing. Nasirov was the Chief of Ukraine’s Fiscal Service and has been charged with fraud and the embezzlement of $74 million. Nasirov was ordered to surrender his foreign passport, was given a bail of 100 million Hryvnia (approx. $3.7 million) and has been ordered to spend 60 days in pre-trial detention.This was a landmark win for Ukraine’s independent anti-corruption bureau, NABU, and for civil society. There had been a number of attempts to arrest other high-profile officials, but all had managed to evade arrest, often due to procedural technicalities. Nasirov is the highest ranking politician to face corruption charges yet.Nasirov is known as a strong ally of President Poroshenko. On the other hand he has been known for undermining attempts at reform and stopping attempts to change the tax administration and customs service. The President applauded NaBU’s case against Nasirov and said it was a good example of the effectiveness of anticorruption reforms in Ukraine. Roman Nasirov’s lawyers are now appealing the charges. Whatever turns the case may take, it may be one of the biggest legal challenges for Ukraine since independence.

Ukraine accuses Russia of financing terrorism in the International Court of Justice

This week saw the preliminary hearings in Ukraine’s case against Russia in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Ukraine is seeking a fine against Russia for intervening militarily in Ukraine, financing acts of terrorism, and violating the human rights of millions of Ukrainian citizens. Ukraine had submitted an indictment against Russia on January 16th to the UN’s highest court. Russia stands accused of violating 2 conventions: the Convention on the Suppression of Financing Terrorism and also the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. The Ukrainian side maintains that Russia has financed illegal armed groups, trained them and supplied weapons to them in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine. It is also accusing Russia of illegally annexing Crimea and discriminating against Crimean Tartars and pro-Ukrainian Crimeans. Russia had previously denied sending its army or weapons to Eastern Ukraine. In the hearings it has claimed that Ukraine does not have sufficient evidence of weapons being supplied to the separatists. After the preliminary hearings, Ukraine has requested the court to order conditional measures, which is to order Russia “to cease and desist” while the case is being heard. The hearings are expected to last at least until the end of April.

Explosion at the Stepova mine in L’viv oblast

Eight miners were killed and six were injured during a explosion at the Stepova mine in L’viv oblast on March the 2nd. The cause of the explosion is believed to be methane gas and there was also a tunnel collapse. Also this week, coal miners from the same state company, L’vivVuhillia, staged a protest in ‘Lviv, to demand their unpaid January wages. The case was resolved in a commercial court, the company and the miner’s wages are to be paid.

The War

There has been an overall increase of cease-fire violations this week, (from 84 to 153 daily) particularly in the Mariupol area. Observers noted that there was an increased use of enemy drones, probably due to better weather. According to the Ministry of Defense, 5 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action and 55 were wounded. Four civilians were wounded as a result of enemy shelling close to residential areas.

Women’s Day in Ukraine

International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, for many years a public holiday in Ukraine, met with mixed reactions this year. There had been an initiative, led by the de-communisation movement, to downgrade International Women’s Day to a regular working day, as it is in Europe. However, losing a public holiday did not seem to gather much support. For some, the holiday felt like a remnant of the Soviet ideological past. In the 50 years since it became a Soviet family holiday, the nature had changed and it had taken on a sentimental tone. It is an occasion to make sentimental speeches and present women close to you with flowers and chocolates. Only one in five Ukrainians now see it as a day which reminds them of women’s rights. There is a younger generation who see it as the day to voice issues, such as gender discrimination and domestic violence. Women’s day marches, did take place in at least six Ukrainian cities on March the 8th.


Crimean Tartars in Vogue

This month’s issue of Vogue magazine online features a story on Crimean Tartar fashion prepared by a Ukrainian photographer and Crimean Tartar models. The display of costumes is quite unique, especially considering that some of them are antiques and a number of them had to be brought out of Crimea.

Shevchenko Day

The prestigious Taras Shevchenko Prize, the highest prize for significant contributions to Ukrainian arts and culture, was awarded on Shevchenko day, March the 9th. This year there were four winners – writer and publisher Ivan Malkovych for Literature, sculptor Mykola Malyshko for achievements in the visual arts, composer Bohdana Froliak for her work with Music, and for film – director Stepan Koval. Ivan Malkovych thanked the committee on behalf of the prize recipients with an inspiring interpretation of Shevchenko and a plea for protecting the Ukrainian language. 


People across the country celebrated Shevchenko Day in many different ways, from traditional poetry recitals to creating innovative internet memes. The city of Kyiv celebrated with Happy Hour, which was free rides on the Metro for passengers who could quote Shevchenko poems.


We haven’t played music from Odesa for a while. Here’s a number for you by Public Drama called Poezia, which means Poetry. Enjoy.


Next week tune in for a new episode. And we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at [email protected]. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.

Interview transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Nykole King, and Ilona Sviezhentseva. Headlines and Culture by Oksana Smerechuk. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. Web support Natalia Kucheriava.


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