Reinvention of Pro-Russian Politics in Ukraine without Russia: Old and New Adversaries of the EU Integration



As Ukraine’s usual electoral cycles are disrupted by the war, and no major power shifts are on the horizon, the political landscape of the country is nevertheless changing. The parties with a pro-Russian agenda are de jure banned since 2022; however, it would be mistaken to write both the actors and the expectations of their voters off. This essay questions several assumptions regarding "pro-Russian" political movements, such as their inevitable ideological and financial dependence on Russia, and the deceptive dichotomy of "pro-Russian" and "pro-Ukrainian" politicians, which used to be reflected on in bipolar terms. This dichotomy ignores the vague, unsteady body of ideas that has been emerging even before the 2022 invasion, and the gravitation of the former "pro-Russian" voters toward these ideas. Unlike the old agenda, this new one is rather inclusive and vocally anti-Kremlin. It may become more popular as more mistakes are made by both the EU and Ukraine on the way to Ukraine’s EU integration.

What does "pro-Russian" really mean? 

The obvious definition of a "pro-Russian party" (or a politician, or an NGO) would be those actors who advocate for some form of an alliance with the Russian Federation, be it a political alliance, closer economic cooperation, transparency of borders (which had been de facto transparent during the first years of independence), a military alliance (which always implied being NATO’s rival), and ever stronger cohesion of Ukrainian and Russian educational, media, religious, cultural, and commemorational policies, first of all the usage of the Russian language and adhering to a Russian historical narrative. 

Unlike in some of the other post-communist countries, Ukrainian independence did not have a solid institutional foundation in 1991. Ukraine did not have its own national bank and its own currency, and no diplomatic representation abroad (except the United Nations where it was a member as a Soviet Republic since 1954), let alone enough competence inside the country to fill in the new infrastructure. The USSR was also much more isolated than the Soviet satellites, but even the slim chances to get some experience of the world beyond the Iron Curtain were made impossible by Moscow elites. No Ukrainian could even dream of studying Economics in New York in the 1970s, as Polish reformer Leszek Balcerowicz did. Moreover, the Ukrainian communist establishment of the late 1980s was even more conservative than their counterparts in Moscow and Leningrad. When Moscow was already shaken by perestroika, Kyiv was still a sleepy Brezhnevist preserve.

Nonetheless, it is fair to give Ukrainian elites of the era—both communists and democrats—the credit for being sufficiently astute to use the chance of the August 1991 coup to navigate the transition. They understood that the demand from Ukrainian society of those times was straightforward: "Don’t get us back to the Soviet totalitarian regime and do whatever is needed to secure the freedom we already have." This did not mean to follow the path their Western neighbors pursued. Ukraine never experienced so called "shock therapy", such as those seen in the majority of post-communist states. It did not experience lustration, or a dramatic change of ruling elites. Ukrainian independence was largely a means for the communist elite to get a free hand to get their own sandbox and to control economic assets without sharing this control with Moscow. Their idea of independence was "in Texas, only Texans can rob banks" (a quote used frequently in Ukraine to describe the stand of the political class back then). The democratic elites, i.e., former dissidents, human rights activists, and Ukrainian intelligentsia, were true believers in Ukrainian independence, but lacked the managerial skills for all needed positions to have an upper hand and access to capital and assets during privatization. However, the latter enjoyed the support of the active part of the society, were visible, and therefore took responsibility for all the economic troubles that came in the early 1990s. The downward spiral of inflation, growing unemployment and poverty undermined the idea of independence. The mere fact that Ukrainian sociologists had been measuring the support of the idea every year (and until the present day), explains why the term "pro-Russian" was operational in Ukrainian political discourse. How close Ukraine should be to Russia was a usual topic of political shows just two decades ago.

The first vocally pro-Russian president, Leonid Kuchma, was elected in 1994 and stayed in office for two terms, until 2004. During his 1994 campaign he promised to restore economic ties with Russia and the former Soviet republics, and to enforce joining into an economic union with them, as well as giving official status to the Russian language. Also, he promised liberalization and social welfare, privatization and cheap medicine for all, financial aid for maternity leave, and low taxes. In other words, the promise reflected the general contradictory aspirations of most of Ukrainian society in this period. 

For the next two decades, so called "pro-Russian" politicians were always appealing to the social welfare agenda: their voters felt vulnerable, and statistically that segment of voters was older, poorer, less educated, and rather paternalistic in their mindset and values. With the gradual economic recovery, the uprising of the new middle class, and rather in spite of the Orange Revolution and the new pro-Western president Victor Yushchenko having come to power in 2004, this agenda shifted to what is now called "culture wars," i.e., discussions about history, especially regarding the Second World War, and the status of the Russian language. 

The metaphor "birth of the nation" frequently used after the Maidan revolution and the beginning of war with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, is well-grounded. It was only after this critical juncture that Ukraine became fully independent, both politically and economically. Indeed, it was also only after this moment that Moscow was not a part of the decision-making process in one way or another. Euromaidan represented a number of milestones, and one of them was the merging of two civic trends as a mainstream state policy: it focused on Ukrainian national emancipation (i.e., emancipation from Russian influence and the Soviet past, which, in the language of this period was sometimes described as "pro-Ukrainian," rather than pro-democratic and liberal), and another one mainly focused on European and NATO integration. As Ukrainian philosopher, Volodymyr Yermolenko, put it about the people who went to Maidan to advocate for the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, "we came here seeking for Europe, and found Ukraine." Soon the integration to EU and NATO became the official course of the country as the respective amendments to the Constitution were made in 2018.


Starting from 2014, not only the former pro-Russian Party of Regions had to reinvent itself, but their voters, and—what is much more compelling—those who did not vote for them but shared similar sentiments. Some elements stayed almost as radical as they were before. It is reasonable to use the term "pro-Russian" for them. They have been represented by and mostly supported the Opposition Platform: For Life and Shariy’s Party.     

The other part lost their illusions in the Russian state (if they had any). Their most popular self-identification is "Russian speakers" or "Russian speaking Ukrainians," which means more than just daily usage of the language, but the significance the language had for them (many Ukrainians spoke Russian without any symbolic value loaded). These people have been very clear that they do not consider the Russian Federation as an aspiration, or just a better place than Ukraine. They neither wanted to live in Russia, nor wished Ukraine to have any kind of alliance with it. They objected that they are a national minority and prefer not to describe themselves as one. However, while they regularly appeal to the European Union and "European values" as a benchmark and a referee, they could simultaneously mock "Euro Optimists" and Ukrainian civic society for allegedly being played by Western institutions (i.e., the European Union, the United States and Canada) working in Ukraine. Unlike "pro-Russian" voters of the previous decades, they learnt Ukrainian and might switch to it from time to time to demonstrate their tolerance and proficiency, but refused to acknowledge they should do it permanently in solidarity and support of Ukrainian speakers. They despised Putin’s Russia, but almost all their references, be it business, culture, intellectual debates or lifestyle, came from the Russian sphere.

At this point it is important to make a distinction between the already known term "Ruski mir" and the alternative, while partly overlapping "Russian world." The latter is close to "Global Russians," the term coined by Snob magazine editor Vladimir Yakovlev at the height of Russian financial might in 2008. While Ruski mir may be described as the conservative, étatist, strongly connected to Russian Orthodox church, ideology, "Global Russians" is rather libertarian: they are people who "live wherever they wish, do whatever they want, absorb any culture, become a part of any community, but stay connected with the Russian-speaking culture and keep being a part of it."[1] Being successful, well-off, and influential, or at least relevant in the West, was the intrinsic part of Global Russians’ ethos. Though these two ideologies may seem opposing (the Snob magazine possessed an image of pro-Western and opposing the Kremlin), in fact they had an important feature in common (and it is also important for the Ukrainian context as I will explain below): proving Russian supremacy as an "alternative civilizational project," or by beating Westerners at their own game, i.e., by proving Russians are good enough to occupy the offices of Western corporations, financial institutions, luxury hotels, and gossip pages of the Western media.[2]

Unlike "Global Russians," being Ukrainian Russian-speakers does not imply representing Russian culture, let alone Russia’s mainland. They see themselves as representatives of Ukraine, just that their vision of Ukraine is different, if not opposing to what they describe as an "ethnic-based model of Ukraine." And here was the misinterpretation, conscious or not, from what their opponents really represented: even the Ukrainian far right do not propose an "ethnic-based model" is possible in Ukraine, as the decades of cruel Soviet social engineering and urbanization made it impossible. Most Ukrainian communities are mixed. Though many researchers and journalists use the term "ethnic-based model," it should not be applied to Ukraine: according to the latest survey, 92 percent of Ukrainians believe anyone who claims herself or himself Ukrainian, may be one.

The difference between moderate and radical advocates of what is frequently described as the "ethnic-based model" is the degree of loyalty to the idea of affirmative action for Ukrainian language and culture, and compliance with the mainstream Ukrainian historical narrative. 

What was common between "Global Russians" and self-proclaimed "Russian speakers" was that neither wished to see themselves as a diaspora or a minority, and for both of them, high social status was an essential part of the identity. As identifying oneself as Ukrainian and speaking Ukrainian was stigmatized as lower status both in the Russian Empire and in the USSR, this option as the only possible one had been seen as a losing strategy, and thus a threat to a usual (and/or desirable) status and a personal or collective downshifting. Another common feature was an embracing of the Soviet past on a collective and a personal level. 

This embracing had a solid background as the whole Soviet narrative was based on the dichotomy of Soviet rule as a modernizing, progressive engine transforming society, and "peasant" backward national cultures. That dichotomy was shaken by perestroika and glasnost when the price of "progress" had been revealed, and the loss of Soviet rule to the Western countries in economic competition became obvious. However, the reconsideration of the Soviet past began simultaneously to the cementing of Putin’s power and ideology between 2007 and 2013 and the shrinking of the old Sovietophiles’ core base: this could be observed as a glamorization of the Soviet aesthetics, rewriting and reframing it.[3] And so Soviet legacy elevated from backwardness and misery to a kind of modernization project when it comes to society, and a kind of "good pedigree" on a personal level. In short, these groups not only claimed their right to call themselves Ukrainians, but implicitly claimed to be the better part of Ukrainians. One may ask: what is wrong with keeping part of your identity (such as mother tongue) and being a Ukrainian patriot? Isn’t it exactly that inclusivity and the rise of the political nation you all keep talking about?     

There are two ways of interpreting this inclusivity: either it is a zero-sum game or a positive sum game. For example, in the first case, any expansion of usage of the Ukrainian language (which de facto had the opportunities as of a national minority—meaning the usage of it was reduced if not discriminated in many spheres, such as business, some creative and luxury industries etc.) or more Ukrainian historical figures on the curriculum is interpreted as a discrimination of so-called "Russophones." In the second case, people who technically are "Russophones" themselves had nothing against more Ukrainian in the public sphere, education, etc.; they support the cause, and do not feel intimidated. So, the dividing line here is how much power and privilege each group is ready to share, particularly with those who didn’t enjoy privileges before. This dividing line is not necessarily (and comfortably) coincident with the other easily measured lines, such as language usage, religious preferences, or even self-identity.

Research by Henry E. Hale and Volodymyr Kulyk[4] provides an insight into this phenomenon, based on the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology survey of 2017. Hale and Kulyk explored how ethnicity structured the public support of the radical reforms, particularly those which they called "post-imperial emancipatory reforms" or PIE reforms, those "essentially aim at establishing firm political and cultural boundaries separating ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Russia,’ thereby reflecting a strong identity component." They found that it is prosocial, civic values rather than parochialist attitudes that are the strongest predictors of support for radical reform; again, even reforms that have exclusionary content such as promoting the Ukrainian language over Russian.[5] Aside from PIE reforms, people who claim their native language to be Ukrainian are more inclined to support decentralization—despite popular assumptions that exactly they are those seeking homogenization.

Before the 2022 invasion. Heroes and voices

As it is obvious that the groups above did not get proper names, and the terms "pro-Russian" and "pro-Ukrainian" are far from being accurate, it makes sense to describe the role models, heroes, and the main narratives of their prominent voices of at least one of these groups—the emerging, the least discussed, and ready to fill the niche when political life restarts in Ukraine, while old pro-Russian parties are done. 

Since 2014, with the war in Donbass and after the annexation of Crimea, openly pro-Russian rhetoric became marginal and more and more inappropriate in Ukraine, and with the simultaneous "Ukrainization," both personal and policy-wise, of the new president, Petro Poroshenko, a new set of ideas began to crystallize in opposition to the mainstream discourse (that Ukraine relies on their Western partners and identifies itself as a future member of the European Union and NATO, no matter how distant this future is, and speeds up its emancipation from Russia, both economic and cultural, and does justice for the previously oppressed groups—Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars). 

Not all critics of Poroshenko had their own agenda conflicting with that one, but all with their own agenda criticized Poroshenko and European Solidarity, his party. Nowadays Poroshenko’s legacy is frequently summarized according to his 2018 campaign slogan: "Army. Language. Faith." Few remember though that back in 2014 he was a man of compromises, a politician who linked old and new elites, and an alternative for those voters who saw Maidan leaders as too radical (and he won the elections in the first round). Poroshenko’s "Ukrainization" mentioned above was in fact the evolution he went through—from being "pragmatic" regarding Russia, business-oriented, giving talks at the Russian Embassy in Kyiv, supporting the March 2014 bilingual TV-campaign "One country," and giving part of his inaugural speech in Russian (addressing Ukrainians from Donbas).

This evolution is not unique: former Communist functionary Kravchuk appeared "pro-Ukrainian" in 1994 as his rival Leonid Kuchma—a "pro-Russian." However, it was Kuchma who signed the Charter in Distinctive Partnership with NATO in 1997. He won his second term in 1999 also due to exactly those Western regions afraid of his pro-Russian agenda five years previously. He described his policies as "pro-Ukrainian," meaning "pozablokovist," i.e., centering on the neutrality of Ukraine. However, his second term started with a new reformist government of young and mostly pro-Western politicians (the most prominent of those was prime-minister Victor Yushchenko). Very soon Kuchma was punished for that: though not totally innocent, he was framed during "Gongadze-gate" and a scandal with Kolchuga passive sensors[6] in 2000–2002 and trapped in international isolation. In fact, Kuchma became dependent on the Kremlin, and during the years of political crisis the Russian influence on Ukraine was omnipresent, and the country itself served as a playground for Russian spin-doctors (the crisis culminated in 2004 with massive protests known as the Orange Revolution). The nature of Volodymyr Zelensky’s evolution is different for obvious reasons, however it fits the general pattern: every president becomes more Western-oriented and deploys emancipatory policies while in office. The only exception is Victor Yanukovych (in office during 2010–2014), but even he was walking the same road until the dramatic turn in 2013, and actually because of that he ended up in Rostov. 

In 2019, Poroshenko dramatically lost the elections to Volodymyr Zelensky, and from then on, the story became known worldwide. The slogan "Army. Language. Faith." had been soon turned into a meme, mostly used to mock Poroshenko. The slogan needs to be explained: from outside it may seem a conservative one, however it was in fact emancipatory. Ukraine did not have a functioning army in 2014, as it was sabotaged at the highest level (for example, Yanykovych appointed Russian businessman Dmytro Salamatin as defense minister). Russian had no official status, but was de facto the language of money and power, the most influential media, and the most influential people (including Poroshenko). The biggest Ukrainian Church was controlled by Moscow directly and openly, and it was vocally hostile to everything Ukrainian, let alone European. The conflict of interpretation of the slogan may be compared to marriage: if someone tells you at a social event that she or he values marriage, you will probably read them as conservative when assuming a person is straight (and step away as soon as possible). But if you know a person is gay, you interpret their values as progressive and emancipating. It’s about haves and have-nots.

How dim these lines are demonstrates the fact that two allegedly antagonistic groups share the same hero: short-term Ukrainian ruler Pavlo Skoropadsky. Skoropadsky came to power due to the coup d'état that was backed by big landowners and secured by the German army in 1918. He overthrew the Ukrainian socialist government, and though he was totally a man of Russian imperial culture, having spent all his previous life as a loyal, distinguished Tsarist officer and a general of the imperial army, he put a lot of effort into the Ukrainization of the army after the revolution, as well as the country’s public institutions. In other words, unlike many of his peers who chose the White Guard, Skoropadsky chose Ukraine. He ruled Ukraine as an authoritarian leader for less than a year, but he managed to establish the Ukrainian Academy of Science, a Ukrainian national library and national archive, numerous Ukrainian high schools, as well as other institutions. He did not believe in Ukrainian independence in 1918, but his actions served to strengthen it. He tried to speak Ukrainian and encouraged others to do so. In short, Skoropadsky used the managerial competences and experience of the former Tsarist elites, those identifying themselves with the Russian empire, to serve a Ukrainian independent state. Still, it looks like his support of Ukrainian independence was rather pragmatic, a tool to resist Bolshevik aggression. He ended up with an attempt to get back to federation with Russia, something that fitted his views, the views he partly revised many years later as an emigré. This evolution may be one of the reasons Poroshenko was compared with Skoropadsky (and he’s probably compared himself with Skoropadsky as well, or at least had been comfortable with the comparison). 

But this is not the only reason that makes Skoropadsky’s figure attractive for people of opposite views. His memoirs of 1917–1918[7] are quite popular (Poroshenko used to recommend the book) and the choice of quotes often used to support one’s thoughts can explain why his figure is so important. This choice demonstrates how projecting the words and the image of a historic figure onto contemporary political discussion helps to articulate what cannot be articulated directly (for different reasons). 

Ukraine's fight for independence in the nineteenth and in the twentieth centuries was definitely led, both intellectually and practically, by leftists. One of them famously said that being a Ukrainian means being a socialist, and being a socialist means being a Ukrainian. That was just natural as the exploited and oppressed class, the equivalent of Marx's proletariat, were Ukrainians, mostly peasants. As the upper classes identified themselves either as Russians or Poles, Skoropadsky's figure was the only figure something so obscure as Ukrainian conservatism might rely on. Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky despised leftists, and particularly Ukrainian socialists. 

Skoropadsky also despised Galician Ukrainians (today’s Western Ukraine), i.e., Ukrainians who lived in the Habsburg empire before its defeat in the First World War and the Ukrainian revolution of 1917, though he acknowledged their mature political culture and determination. He did not trust Poles, considering them as "the natural enemies" of Ukrainians (unlike Russians). Unfortunately, the resentment towards both Galician Ukrainians, and sometimes Poles, remains perceptible to this day.

One of the famous quotes is that he had to "build Ukraine in defiance of Ukrainians."[8] In his memoirs he acknowledged that he relied on Russian human resources as with Ukrainian "it was impossible to build anything serious. The educated class of Ukrainians is in fact scarce."[9] The general implication here is that both in twentieth and in the twenty-first centuries the old elites were better equipped for ruling the country than Ukrainian dissidents or revolutionary leaders. This notion returns to the fore from time to time: at the beginning of the 1990s, Ukrainian democrats and dissidents had been blamed for economic troubles, and the dichotomy between administrative competence and "Ukrainian patriotism" became popular. An image of "крепкий хозяйственник" (can be idiomatically translated as "a good manager") contrasted with a Ukrainian "democrat," allegedly helpless and focused only on identity issues. The former image was updated throughout the 2000s to an "effective manager," preferably with a Western MBA; however, the implied idea was that he (mostly "he") cannot be a Ukrainian speaker and anyhow "национально озабоченным" (literally "nationally concerned," meaning "nationally conscious," an analogue to "woke").

And that’s not only a notion of Skoropadsky himself, but also about him, the aspirations he embodied.[10] "We need a polish, an authority, old historic traditions, in short: a gentleman of the finest breeding for a ruler, not some provincial counselor, not a parvenu," grumbled Dmytro Dontsov, the head of the national press agency in Skoropadsky’s government, and later the theorist of Ukrainian integral nationalism.

What is crucial in Skoropadsky’s worldview (and poorly reflected on by his admirers) is that this idea of being professional, educated, and polished, does not imply being a true cosmopolitan: the line between "we" and "them" is very clear to him, and despite his dependence on the German army based in Ukraine, "we" includes Ukrainians and Russians as rivals to others: "If we provide freedom for developing Russian and Ukrainian cultures, we may flourish, however [if] we reject our first culture now, we will be just a bedding for other nations, never able to create something outstanding."[11] When he explains his federalist views on Ukrainian future, his choice of words is telling: he wished Russia and Ukraine to constitute "equals" not just a federation, but "one mighty body, called Great Russia."[12] It may seem that this pro-Russian inclination should repel Ukrainian patriots of nowadays, but that is not exactly the case.[13] Stuck in the dichotomy of "pro-Russian" vs. "pro-Ukrainian," one may fail to suppose that it may be the word "Great" is more relevant for Ukrainian aspirations than the word "Russia." But as both Russian hostility and irrelevance became obvious, so did the significance of "greatness." And that is, the new vision of Ukraine: "one mighty body" minus Russia. Still great though.

Reclaiming the past and mapping the future

While in the first transition years Ukrainian pro-Russian parties and activists gave highest priority to the defense of Soviet legacy and used leftist rhetoric, and pro-European parties advocated liberal economic reforms and identified themselves as a "right center," this correlation seems not to be precise and solid anymore.[14] That is the reason to investigate Skoropadsky’s figure: he appeared to be useful as a poster child for the kind of Ukrainian conservatism and right-wing discourse that would be free from the Ukrainian "ethnic" label. 

One of the many reasons is the global context. Ukrainian emancipatory discussions are not necessarily following the global trends but have their own trajectory and even predict them; for example, the analogue of the #metoo movement, #янебоюсьсказати[15] started in Ukraine a year earlier, in 2016. Nevertheless, many Ukrainians used to perceive the respective discussions in Western media and blogosphere through Russian optics (as they followed Russian bloggers and media). Russian media and opinion leaders had been openly hostile to the "woke" movement in general, and the Black Lives Matter and MeToo campaigns. As in Russia there was nothing even close to the public pressure felt in Western countries, their reflections were not just critical, but vocal and insulting, and eventually they produced an idea that Russia was defending "true European values" from degenerate Western leftists. These sentiments found their supporters in Ukraine, and those were easily projected to the anticolonial aspirations of Ukrainians. In other words, some opinion leaders felt comfortable to compare the Queen Victoria or confederates monuments toppled in Canada and the USA with the toppled monuments of Lenin and other Soviet leaders in Ukraine, obviously (and comfortably) making parallels between Soviet legacy (allegedly modernization, progress, and urban culture) and WASP legacy in the US, between themselves and the white elites in North America and Europe, between people of color and Ukrainians and their "parochial nationalism."

In some sense they got it right (unlike many observes abroad who saw Russophones as the discriminated minority and Ukrainian speakers as the dominating majority, and Ukrainian nationalism as a counterpart of other Central European nationalisms): while being a majority on paper, Ukrainian speakers were the de facto minority in numerous spheres—from business communications to fashion, from the corporate world to athletic clubs. The unique Ukrainian context allows for an unconventional way to avoid this minority status: by redefining Ukraine’s colonial past and thus avoiding the "victimhood" of being a Ukrainian and all that nasty leftist discourse this status implies. 

This redefining (that is still in progress as this essay is published) is not without grounds: the intellectual influence of Ukraine on Moscow since the seventeenth century at the latest, the impact of Ukrainian old elites in St. Petersburg since the eighteenth century, Ukrainian input in imperial culture (aka "Great Russian Culture") and the appropriation of Ukrainian prominent figures by Russia, is a broadly examined and described subject. It is not a huge exaggeration to propose that the Russian Empire as an idea was developed by visionaries from Ukraine, and Ukrainians are partly responsible for it. However, a never-ending discussion on "Was Ukraine really a Russian colony?" goes on in two streams, and the one on Ukrainian responsibility is obviously the minor one. The mainstream of it is the reappropriation of the Ukrainian role in empire-building. To put it simply, if Ukraine invested in building the Russian Empire, both intellectually and with its resources, human resources the most, should we not reclaim our share of it and focus on those moments when Ukrainians had an upper hand, rather than on exploitation and discrimination? 

This discussion extends to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Soviet legacy at large. In this case the facts to support the idea of reappropriation are even more solid. The Soviet Union as a project would indeed have been impossible without Ukrainian input, and again, intellectual input. The difference between the Soviet nostalgia of pro-Russian parties of the 1990s and 2000s and this new post-Maidan reappropriation is focused not on social welfare and the predictability of the USSR, but on "the scale of ambitions and dreams" the Soviet Union possessed "statehood, global competitiveness, systemic thinking, and solidarity."[16] That’s how one of the prominent Ukrainian activists, a brilliant organizer of field hospitals at the front, and one of the best Ukrainian constitutional lawyers Gennady Druzenko put it. In 2020, in another of his numerous columns he put it even more bluntly: "The imperial component of Ukrainian identity is not about Russia, it's about the scale of ambitions and dreams. Denying it as an adverse one, we […] turn from one of the world leaders in technologies [as Soviet Ukraine used to be, Druzenko believes] to ‘an agrarian superpower’ that exports people, grain, and iron ore… […] To compete with Ruski Mir, to effectively resist it, to compete for our place under the sun in this cruel world, we must find a decent place in the Ukrainian project for the Ukrainian imperialists who have been self-fulfilling in a foreign empire for centuries."[17]

Between 2020 and 2022, people coming from very different places promoted these kinds of ideas. They may belong to different professional and social circles and did not even know each other. It would be wrong to describe them as a "movement," let alone a political one. Moreover, their personalities are not crucially important. What is common about them, however, is their messages and their approach to conveying these messages. The latter was approaching the decision-makers, influencers, and business elites, or at least a well-off audience. While praising libertarian and entertaining authoritarian ideas, and praising financially successful people, the main targets of their critique were "old Ukrainian ethnic-national humanitarian elites" and the "Western-backed" sector of Ukrainian civic society. 

One of the speakers was Valeriy Prymost, who came from the advertising business and screenwriting, and reinvented himself as a writer and, as he proudly put it, an expert in storytelling (his idea of storytelling is: "Facts are nothing, story is everything"[18]). Prymost deserves credit for having effectively generalized the visions and aspirations of at least some substantial part of Ukrainian business elites (and wannabes around them); that is, (and not only) a fascination with China and libertarian technocrats of the Silicon Valley, a criticism of social welfare (from a reasonable one to an Ayn Rand kind of criticism), and a certain skeptical view on "Brussels bureaucrats" and "Leftist Europe." In his most scandalous publication, a column in the popular weekly NV[19] that was recently included in the book of essays Українські основи / Ukrainian Foundations (a hint to the Federalist Papers), together with the texts of respectable Ukrainian intellectuals, Prymost called for "not European anarchic democracy with the universal suffrage," but "Eastern Asia enlightened dictatorship with strong power and corporate form of the state," "a real cult of healthy lifestyle," the violation of which will be "a social crime." And the most important: "we will have to solidly indoctrinate ourselves with the idea of our uniqueness, our global mission, and to stop cruelly any attempts of revision." That may sound chilling, especially when coming not from some dark corner of the Internet, or from athletic guys with torches, but from a yuppie columnist in a respectable weekly.[20] Though it might also be just an attempt to sell his services of "creating a national narrative" to those interested in a political project, and Prymost was quite clear about, so to say, product: "National narrative is a part of transformation of the country. Who needs it? Europe doesn’t need it, America doesn’t need it… our oligarchs, do they need it?[21]

Just like several other promoters of the "global mission," Prymost was neither fascinated with Russia nor afraid of it, reframing it rather as a rival than an enemy: "Russia is not an obstacle, the problem is not Russia."[22] (In his popular interpretation of Russian history,[23] Valeriy Prymost also praises Skoropadsky: "Who did more for Ukraine than this ‘maloros’ with no guts, no statesman? Skoropadsky’s method was essentially German: no vacuous reflections, just a rational approach."[24] "Maloros" is a euphemism for a person loyal to Russia in this context.)

He shared though—and here’s the crucial point—the fascination with the idea of Kyivan Rus’ (the correct historical term would be just Rus, as "Kyivan Rus" is a late ideological construct of nineteenth-century Russian historians). Prymost referred to the period as the last when Ukrainians possessed superiority.[25] 

Rus’ was a medieval realm, the predecessor of the modern Ukrainian state. The problem is that the Russian Empire (not without the help of the Kyivan orthodox clerics) has also been claiming Rus’ historical legacy (at first, for dynastic reasons) from the seventeenth century and up to Putin’s infamous articles and speeches.
Important both for Russian and Ukrainian historical narratives, the period of Kyivan Rus’ functions as a mythologized "golden past" both for Ukrainian, Russian (imperialistic), and Soviet historiography. This narrative, which was eventually enshrined within popular culture, from historical novels to Soviet movies and children’s books, portrays Rus’ as a peaceful, almost pacifist country in constant rivalry with the Tatars and the West. The period when former Rus’ lands became a part of the Lithuanian Duchy, and then Rich Pospolyta/Rzeczpospolita, or the Commonwealth of Lithuania and Poland, is described as a dark age of Western/Catholic occupation of Slavic people and repressions towards Orthodox Christianity (not true).

The truth is Rus’ was once a mighty and developed realm in the Middle Ages, but it soon declined (mostly due to Tatar invasions and feudal wars), and its symbolic significance prevails the amount of material evidence of past fame. The idea of this once "great" country, its link to Byzantium, had never died, and was a founding myth both for Russian and Ukrainian premodern and modern aspirations.[26] The idea that influential families of the region were old Rus’’ legitimate successors was totally natural for the premodern era, and that kept the memory of the realm alive. And lately this myth was addressed again, this time as a model of Ukrainian future. 

The most famous revisionist of Rus’ is Oleksiy Arestovych who became known beyond Ukraine after the Russian invasion in 2022. His career could be good material for a picaresque novel. He first leaped to real popularity during Euromaidan with blogs and viral videos as a self-proclaiming strategy expert. Before that he was an actor (some remember him advertising washing powder on TV), and a former deputy head of notoriously anti-Western Bratstvo paramilitary organization. In the latter role he even took part in a panel, "The Role of the West in Ukrainian Orange Revolution" with Alexander Dugin in Moscow.[27] Later he explained it as an intelligence mission (he also claimed to be an intelligence officer). He describes himself as a former military officer, a military translator, a psychologist and a philosopher (he studied "deep psychology" with Russian teacher Avessalom Podvodny since 2003).[28]

This career path may be a bit confusing, but it led him to the position of speaker for the Ukrainian delegation at the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk (he started in 2020 and left the position in January 2022) and an adviser to Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff (2020–2023). And no one could deny Arestovych’s popularity as a video blogger, and it grows: in June 2023 he had 1.69 million subscribers on YouTube, and as this essay had been edited it is already 1.71 million.[29]  

Arestovych addressed the matter of "Kyivan Rus’" and Ukraine as the new/old European superpower in "From Scandinavia to the Caucasus" back in 2015,[30] and spoke up more in 2020[31] and 2021. In his 2020 video (which has more than 114,000 views) he outlined the "fifth project for the future Ukraine."[32] Arestovych’s presumption was that there were four main projects: eurooptimistic (the term is not Arestovych’s invention, Ukrainian young activists indeed called themselves "Eurooptimists"), nationalist, Soviet, and Russian. All of them he considered exclusive, and all of them were grounded on the "false history" of Ukraine. Speaking of this "falsehood," he argued that Russian Empire is not "foreign" to Ukraine: "The Russian Empire and Soviet Union are both something Ukrainians have created. Ideologically they have been created by Ukrainians." He recited historical figures to support his idea: Bezborodko, Razumovsky, Paskevich ("who had conquered nine enemy capitals"), Sikorsky, Skoropadsky. It is important that Arestovych pretended to be inclusive in his interpretations of Ukrainian history; however, the figures he mentioned all had been Russian statesmen or loyal Russian public servants. One of the "enemy capitals" was Warsaw: Ivan Paskevich, indeed Ukrainian by origin, was responsible for crushing the Polish uprising in 1831. Alexander Bezborodko was one of the architects behind the partitions of Poland. 

Arestovych described his "Fifth project Rus'-Ukraine" as an inclusive one, and he was neither embarrassed by the competition with the Russian project nor by the confusing names: "We are Rus’, we are Russkie, Rus’ki." In his vision he is eager to unite "archetypes" of the "old Rus’" and Zaporozhian Sich, the military Cossack republic of the late sixteenth–eighteenth centuries: "centralized prince’s power, mighty merchant estate… regional elites […] The United States of Ukraine consisted of 20–25 Siches. Only these are techno Sich, futuro Sich…" It should be noted that Cossack Ukraine, and Sich in particular, was the next milestone of Ukrainian history, almost equally praised by Ukrainian, Russian, and Soviet historiography for its crucial role in the war with the Poles and the subsequent (though not planned by Cossacks) annexation of Ukrainian territory by the Russian empire. 

In 2021, Arestovych joined efforts with another popular video blogger and an important intellectual voice of what may be dubbed in Arestovych’s spirit as "post-Russian project," philosopher Andrei Baumeister. Andrei Baumeister, a Philosophy professor at the Kyiv National Shevchenko University, has been enjoying popularity since he started his blog on YouTube. He is also a popular guest on other YouTube channels as well as offline talks, including events for the business community. Baumeister successfully met the demand for humanitarian knowledge and the "Aspen-like" aspirations of the ambitious people coming from other spheres (business, IT, creative industries, etc.), and proposed to them crash courses on philosophy and "critical thinking." When the duo discussed "The Resurrection of Rus’" in 2021, Baumeister’s channel had 260,000 subscribers (not all of them were from Ukraine: Baumeister not only spoke Russian, but, perfectly aware of his audience’s origins, also referred to Russian contexts).

Their talk lasts more than two hours,[33] and it was probably the exhaustive outline of a new ideology, the scraps of which could be traced in different other sources before and after that. The discourse is sometimes esoteric, sometimes pseudo-intellectual—but the ideas can be easily translated to reasonable arguments (as we’ll see in the next section). The main points are: 1) from the times of "Kyivan Rus’" and up to the Soviet period no "constructs of senses existed" that supposed any way for Ukraine; 2) Ukraine should look up to "the local powers," i.e., Turkey, Azerbaijan, Arab Emirates. "Libya was one of those powers once." Turkey is a "hard-working laboratory," and it succeeds because it is an imperial nation: "they still remember how these codes work"; 3) authoritarian leaders are the response to superpowers that do not let them to build relations with the "community of the world pharaohs."[34] These local powers thus have no chance in a fair game. "The pharaohs do not let local powers be born, that’s why we have authoritarianism"; 4) Ukraine went from one captivity to another, and then to the third one, we are slaves using the vocabulary of freedom; to resist "pharaohs" we need "to change ontology," to deny the ontology of the "pharaohs"; 5) the great future of Ukraine is not compatible with the ideas of Western "pharaohs," and it wasn’t in the past: “the Great Duchy of Lithuania made us fall asleep, everything stopped. All our senses went to Muscovites with the departure of the [Orthodox] metropolitan [to Moscow]." To become a member of the European Union means "dissolution" of Ukraine forever, the loss of "historical fate as is"; 6) "an open liberal system" is unlikely to breathe life into ambitious transformations of Ukraine and to build an "original country"; 7) we need to claim Rus’ legacy back from Russia and to come back to our Rus’ roots. 

Arestovych didn’t just meditate on the issue: a few months later he publicly proposed to rename Ukraine to Ukraine-Rus’, and even said that there were talks in the Office of President about the idea.[35]

Rus’ was one of the European medieval realms that was close to the rest of Europe both politically and culturally. So, why is this novel idea of reclaiming Rus’ in fact anti-Western? It is true that most Rus' relations were with European rulers; however, these relations were matrimonial. The Christianity, and thus the intellectual tradition, came from today’s Bulgaria, and back then it lacked a vivid connection with Greek philosophy, the writings of Aristotle, for example, a connection which educated minorities of other European countries enjoyed. The real Rus’ (as academic historian knows it) was not "anti-Western": the very concept of "the West" didn’t exist back then. Rus’ was pre-Western. The country that came next was reshaped, modernized, or to be clear, Westernized, and it eventually became Ukraine. As Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak put it, "Rus’ plus Progress [a modern idea – O.F.] equals Ukraine." Moreover, "the making of modern Ukraine (as well as Russia and Belarus) was bound to be the unmaking of old Rus’," Hrytsak believes. It is not an accident that back in the late nineteenth century another Ukrainian historian, a founding father of Ukrainian historiography (and the first Ukrainian president), Mykhailo Hrushevsky, used the name "Ukraina-Rus’," as modernization en masse came only with the First World War, revolutions, and the audacious struggle for independence. However, only later was the myth of Rus’ mostly shaped as counter-Western (including in the Soviet pop-culture Arestovych enthusiastically cited).

After the 2022 invasion: Can one be "pro-Russian" without Russia?

It is safe to assume that in the nearest future Russia will neither be a political player nor a role model/ally/patron with some form of influence over Ukrainian voters, as it was before 2014 and even before 2022. Since the invasion of 24 February, it quickly became obvious that the activities of pro-Russian political parties were not just populist rhetoric, but actually supported Russians aggression. Numerous party members, as well as party-backed local authorities openly supported Russian occupation and even took part in persecution of Ukrainians on the occupied territories. The most notorious of them left the country immediately after or before the invasion, mostly for Russia. As of November 2022, almost half of all politicians in the National Record of Traitors compiled by Chesno, the watchdog organization, were former Party of Regions, and 60 were the Opposition Platform—For Life (reinvented Party of Regions) members. The party lost 13 seats at the parliament during the first year since invasion. 

Formally, the Opposition Platform—For Life (OPFL) was banned, but the MPs (those who stayed in Ukraine), as well as local deputies, kept their status. The notorious right-hand man of Victor Medvedchuk (who was, in turn, Putin's unofficial representative in Ukraine) had been the chair of the Parliament Committee for free speech up until his arrest by the SBU (Ukrainian security) and subsequent treason charges on 25 September, 2023.[36]

In contrast, some of the vocally pro-Russian politicians changed their stance profoundly; one such is Oleksander Vilkul, a long-serving member of parliament, and the vice-prime minister during Yanukovych’s tenure. He was one of the most radical pro-Russian politicians, accused of the persecution of activists during Euromaidan, and was openly friendly with Russian nationalist bikers. It was Kryvyj Rih, a big industrial city in Dnipropetrovsk region where Vilkul made his both business and political career up to the national level during Yanukovych’s times (and where his father was acting mayor and secretary of the city council). Kryvyj Rih is also Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown and an important industrial city close to the frontline: once the battle was almost at the city border. Vilkul took the initiative, took the leadership at the city Council of Defence, and in two days he was appointed to the head of Regional Military Administration. 

While the pro-Russian parties lost the trust of Ukrainians (down to 6% for OPFL as of May 2022[37]), and so did their agenda,[38] it is too early to assume that all their voters had a change of heart. First, the war amplified a trend that has been unfolding for years. Second, in 2019 when Zelensky and his party Servant of the People won a segment of voters from pro-Russian parties with their allegedly inclusive appeal,[39] OPFL still managed to become the biggest opposition fraction in the Rada (Ukrainian parliament). And finally, with the millions of Ukrainians abroad, migrating back and forth and unavailable for polls, the data may shift in time. 

The enthusiasm and morale of the first year of invasion may also change as the nature of the war changes. Besides domestic problems (such as inconsistency of mobilization policies, corruption scandals, exhaustion of those who has been fighting since February 2022), the delays of weapons delivery, the endless discussions on the matters that only take time and thus lives of Ukrainians, and NATO’s failure to give Ukraine a positive signal at the Vilnius summit in July 2023, have all added to the sense of frustration. 

Meanwhile, the popularity of Arestovych dramatically rose after the invasion, and despite making some unfortunate public comments about missile attacks, subsequently resigning from the Office of President and being harshly criticized, he is still popular.[40] During the first months of war, he worked as Ukrainian "sedative-in-chief" and conveyed positive, optimistic messages. In May 2022 65 percent of Ukrainians said they liked him: only Volodymyr Zelensky was more liked (88%).[41] In July 2022, 14 percent of Ukrainians trusted him as a reliable source of information, that means he had more followers than Zaluzhny with 9 percent, and fewer only than Zelensky with 29 percent.[42] In August 2022, he said in an interview that he would consider running for office "if Zelensky will not."[43]

Any popularity is volatile (Arestovych managed to get into another controversy in September 2023, this time he may also face criminal charges).[44] Ukrainian pundits and spin doctors may speculate about possible political projects,[45] but the point is that the faces of these new projects are variable. It is safe to suggest that any political party of movement will have veterans in their leadership and on their advertisements. As the Ukrainian army is egalitarian, the veterans also represent the entire political spectrum—from left and LGBT activists to the radical right. And all of them will be highly trusted by Ukrainian society, at least for some time. 

As it also safe to suggest that though the pro-Russian inclination will not be a selling point, it does not mean that the other crucial element of the old rhetoric is off the table; that is, anti-Western resentment. And this time it will be facts (mostly misinterpreted, but still), not the myths and prejudices. The first signals are indicated already: the restrictive measures on Ukrainian grain exports are just a first example of the problems to expect. Any Ukrainian path of EU candidacy will be essentially different from the paths of Eastern and Central European countries. As Ukrainian expert Yevhen Hlibovytsky put it, Ukraine, unlike these countries at their moment of joining EU, "has clearly formed a map of capital, for better or for worse, the capital in fact shapes the interests, and if these interests are not considered, all might of the capital will engage in politics with Euroskeptic slogans. I’m afraid that while our pro-Russian core shrank but didn’t disappear, at some point those unhappy with European integration and patriotic populists will find a way to join forces around common interests. And this common interest will be opposing Brussels."[46]

The idea that former ideological opponents, even enemies, may cooperate is something to consider already if one looks at the messages, not personalities. The mistake old pro-Russian politicians made was that they kept trampling on the same lawn over and over. They instrumentalized nostalgia and paternalism, and thus addressed poorer, older, less educated, resentful voters. The greatness they were selling was in the past. The new actors will sell greatness in the future; or to be more precise, reclaiming the past as a beta-version of the great future ahead: "a Futuro-Sich," "Cosmic Rus’," or whatever they name it. (By the way: reclaiming the Rus’ legacy from Russia, which is, again, well-grounded intent, is what unites the most radical Ukrainian nationalists and actors like Arestovych.) These new actors will work with young, ambitious, well-off, active, mostly libertarian audiences. All of these considerations do not mean the latter will be optimistic: the devastation of war and the mistakes of Western institutions will be a cocktail fatal for the country. 

The new messages will not be openly anti-European/anti-Western either. An example of such positive messaging is the viral text[47] by Yevhen Dykyi, a former company commander of the Aidar Battalion, and frequent commentator on military affairs in Ukrainian media. Dykyi agrees that Ukraine badly needs both NATO and EU integration (for totally pragmatic reasons), but his point is it should be ready to survive without them. He admits Ukraine as an integral part of the "global West," but is quite skeptical about Western capabilities. His harsh criticism of the indecisiveness of the White House, NATO and other Western institutes is not unreasonable, but the choice of words in other paragraphs implies cynicism regarding Western values. As a model for Ukraine, he chooses Israel, and urges Ukraine to follow the example: "Jews didn’t get angry at the world, they just lost illusions about it, and reconsidered their position in this uncomfortable and unjust world, the position of a Chosen People who themselves hammer out and take by force what they consider their rightful property".[48]

And while no one can tell what these future movements and parties will be like, and who will speak on their behalf, popular figures and even institutions are already here, ready for the job.[49]

Historical parallels

If something like that—hybrid and likely incompatible—does not seem plausible, it makes sense to look back. Because very similar ideas had been entertained in Ukraine before. 

Between the First Russian Revolution of 1905 and the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the Ukrainian region of Volhynia, now Western Ukraine, was one of the main bases for the Russian radical monarchists also known as the black-hundredists (chernosotentsy). Though the movement is known as ultra-nationalist Russian, antisemitic, anti-Polish, and anti-Ukrainian, about a quarter of all members in the Russia Empire belonged to the party's Pochaiv branch. While black-hundredists in Kyiv published their newspapers and other party’ propaganda in Russian and mocked the Ukrainian national movement shamelessly, in Volhynia, they published newspapers in the Ukrainian language, built monuments to Ukrainian Cossack heroes and organized events praising Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine's most important national poet, who was severely censored by the Tsarist regime.[50] There was a practical reasoning behind that: Volhynian peasants and burghers just didn’t speak Russian. However, it was not only language that was instrumentalized: black-hundredists cooperated closely with the Orthodox church, and together they promoted Ukrainian Cossack heroes, organized events, and built a Cossack memorial near Berestechko (the site of an important and tragic battle during the major Cossack uprising against the Polish gentry in 1651). As monarchists were determined to fight the contemporary Polish national movement and Catholic church, they played the Ukrainian card, and eventually empowered Ukrainian national movement. Historians Klymentiy Ivanovych Fedevych and Klymentiy Klymentiyovych Fedevych (Jr.) propose that there is a direct link between monarchists' activities within the period 1905–1917, and Ukrainian national movements in Volhynia in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The idea is that this link was not only ideological, but also intergenerational: the Fedevyches believe that the children and grandchildren of Volhynia monarchists took part in the Ukrainian nationalist movements of the interwar period.[51]

This unfortunate link between Russian monarchists and Ukrainian nationalists may seem a paradox, especially as OUN is probably the most demonized Ukrainian nationalist organization, both by Soviet and modern Russian propaganda. However, the same stereotypes Russian monarchists used to mobilize Volhynia peasants were embedded in the Soviet historical narrative, and—being totally fair—partly in the Ukrainian romantic narrative of the nineteenth century. To put it succinctly, the initial Ukrainian national emancipation was in fact an emancipation not from Russia, but rather from Polish and Catholic influence, which in the Ukrainian context has been a substitute of Westernization for centuries (except for the Galicia region under Habsburgs in the nineteenth century, and exactly this special kind of Westernization shaped the distinctive political culture there). If not for repressive Russian policies, brutal Russian imperialism, and first of all, the incompatibleness of Ukrainian and Russian political cultures on the commoners' level, the anti-Russian component of the Ukrainian national movement might not be that strong. 

The anti-Polish, anti-Catholic (and implicitly anti-Western) character of the early Ukrainian national movement is almost forgotten in modern Ukraine. The Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation is one of the two countries’ success stories: since the late 1980s, and especially in the 2000s, Ukrainian and Polish public intellectuals, civic society, and respective churches managed to overcome the tragic history of the national conflicts of the early twentieth century in Galicia. Unfortunately, they could not repeat this success in the Volhynian region (which is just around the corner). There are numerous reasons for that, and it probably makes sense to take the Fedevyches’ argument into account as well. 

At the national level Ukraine made substantial progress to get rid of the anti-Polish and anti-Catholic stereotypes in the school curriculum and the mainstream historical narrative, though there is still a lot to be fixed. Shortly before the invasion, both professional and popular discussion started about the role of the 1648 Cossack uprising (that eventually led to unity with Russia), the uprising much praised both by Russian, Ukrainian, and Soviet historiography. In Ukrainian popular imagination, the anti-Polish component of the 1930s Ukrainian nationalism is overshadowed, if not erased, by the later anti-Soviet struggle of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). However, the embedded anti-Western character of the Ukrainian mainstream narrative is not totally deconstructed and there may still be grounds for future revisionism. The reaction of the Ukrainian media and many public intellectuals to the protests (and provocations) of Polish farmers at the Polish-Ukrainian border in 2023–2024, unfortunately, confirmed that.

Conclusion and recommendations

It is tempting to put this new ideological turn onto the same shelf as anti-European sentiments in other Central European countries—Poland and Hungary first—as those also appeal to "greatness" and are fueled by resentment. However, there is an important difference: no resentful Central European elites will refer to the Soviet Union side of the Cold War as "we." These countries were satellites of the Soviet Union, but they did not have agency to contribute directly to the Cold War. Ukrainian communist elites of its first decades of independence were involved in the antagonism as they were a part of the important defense industry production concentrated in Ukraine. The arms race boosted Soviet industry on Ukrainian territory, and some of that industry (like steelmakers, etc.) was inherited (one way or another) by Ukrainian oligarchs. Post-Soviet elites had reasons to feel an attachment to Cold War legacy, and the average workers had reason to feel an attachment to industrial might and special work pride. Legitimizing of the Soviet Ukrainian of the past also legitimizes the Ukrainian share in the Cold War, and symbolically uplifts its status from a victim of Soviet colonialism to a former rival of the USA (not necessarily accompanied by anti-American hostility).

Claiming Rus’ symbolic legacy is an intellectual exercise of reimagining Ukraine without its uncomfortable rivalry with Russia, of distilling something profoundly different from Europe yet appropriate for the world after 2022. The crucial asset of this legacy is the kind of greatness that may substitute the worn-out and divisive myths of Soviet victory in the Second World War and others. To see the other pitfalls of this reputedly crazy and unpractical idea, one should look back at the reassessment that happened along with the embracing of the Commonwealth experience of Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania,[52] and the political culture they produced together, both on a political and society level. In this context it does not look that esoteric and far from politics, especially as the strong Ukrainian-Polish bond became even more important; however, it is still vulnerable, as the events of 2023 proved. 

The main challenge posed by these future movements to the EU integration of Ukraine is that the actual and potential opponents of European and Euro-Atlantic integration do not build their arguments on resentment, frustration, and unrealistic visions only (as the pro-Russian parties used to do). At the essence, most of their arguments are well-grounded. Different European and international institutions made a lot of mistakes[53] while helping (and nudging) reform implementation, and Ukrainians have good reason to question the competence, commitment, and understanding of the country within these institutions. The political capital of these parties will grow not due to their efforts, but due to the failures of EU institutions to keep up the pace of Ukraine integration to European Union. The unprecedently high support of EU integration in Ukrainian society thus becomes their leverage, not an obstacle: the more painful the disappointments that beset Ukraine’s European aspiration, the more support the future anti-Western movement or party will get.

[1] [In Russian]
[2] [In Russian]
[3] [In Russian]
[4] Henry E. Hale, Volodymyr Kulyk. Aspirational Identity Politics and Support for Radical Reform: The Case of Post-Maidan Ukraine. // Comparative Politics, Volume 53, Number 4, July 2021, pp. 713-751(39)
[5] Ibid, p. 727
[6] US State Department accused Ukraine on selling Kolchuga sensors to Iraq. The accusation was based on the same tape recordings from Kuchma's office that the previous accusations of him having allegedly ordered assassination of journalist Georgy Gongadze.
[7] Скоропадський Павло. Спогади: кінець 1917 — грудень 1918 / пер. з рос. Е. Соловей; упоряд. Ігор Гирич. — К.: Наш формат, 2017. — 456 с. [In Ukrainian] 
[8] As the ideologist of Ukrainian integral nationalism Dmytro Dontsov recalled in his memoirs.
[9] Скоропадський Павло. Спогади, p. 218–219 
[10] It's not only Skoropadsky who is embraced. Ukrainians openheartedly appropriate famous aircraft engineer Igor Sikorsky. Though Sikorsky acknowledged himself a Ukrainian (partly to made clear he's not a Pole that many assumed), his loyalty always lied with Russia. Nevertheless, Kyiv Polytechnic holds his name. In 2019 Ukraine put into circulation the 1000-hryvnia banknote, and of all figures it was Volodymyr Vernadsky who ended up on it. A distinguished academic, Vernadsky was sympathetic for Ukrainian cause, even supportive, but skeptical on Ukrainian independence, and at first, even skeptical on independence of the Ukrainian Academy of Science he chaired. 
[11] Скоропадський Павло. Спогади, p. 220
[12] Ibid, p. 258
[14] See: Hale, Kulyk, p. 725
[15] "I'm not afraid to say" in Ukrainian.
[16] Генадій Друзенко. Демони історії. Чого радянське минуле може навчити українців майбутнього // Фокус. – 03 серпня 2020. [In Ukrainian]
[17] Генадій Друзенко. Між криївкою та імперським спадком. Чому в Україні однаково дискомфортно і націоналістам, і космополітам // Фокус. – 9 July 2020. [In Ukrainian]
[18] Як створити "сторі" успішної країни (Valeriy Prymost speaks with Dmytro Zolotukhin). 26 July 2021. [In Ukrainian]
[19] Валерій Примост. Україна не в минулому. Вона — в майбутньому // NV. — 1 September 2020. [In Ukrainian]
[20] He was even more sincere about his fascination with totalitarian Chinese governing in another media outlet, again targeted mostly young professionals: [In Russian]
[21] Як створити "сторі" успішної країни (Valeriy Prymost speaks with Dmytro Zolotukhin). 26 July 2021.
[22] Ibid
[23] Примост Валерій. Едіп Московський: нариси історії росіян. Книга 1. — Київ: Темпора, 2016. — 508 с.; Примост Валерій. Едіп Московський: нариси історії росіян. Книга 2. — Київ: Темпора, 2016. — 476 с. [In Ukrainian]
[24] Примост Валерій. Едіп Московський: нариси історії росіян. Книга 2. C. 126. 
[25] Як створити "сторі" успішної країни (Valeriy Prymost speaks with Dmytro Zolotukhin). 26 July 2021.
[26] More on the matter of the significance, actual and symbolic, see: Ярослав Грицак. Подолати минуле. Глобальна історія України. — Київ: Портал, 2021. [In Ukrainian]
[27] Arestovych, Dugin, Korchynsky "The Eurasian anti-orange front" (2005), conference in Moscow. Full video. [In Russian]
[28] [In Russian]
[29] Arestovych's channel on YouTube: [In Russian and Ukrainian]
[30] Все проблемы Украины решатся с монополизацией наследия Киевской Руси. — Алексей Арестович — 12 May 2015 [In Russian]
[31] Иду на вы! Русь-Украина — 21 September 2020 [In Russian]
[32] Арестович: 5-ий проект Украина будущего — 4 May 2020 [In Russian]
[33] Политические этюды 5. «Возрождение Руси» (канал Баумейстера) — 10 April 2021 [In Russian]
[34] The term "pharaohs" appeared as the two speakers used the figure of Moses as a metaphor for their aspirations.
[35] Arestovych's interview to Roman Tsymbaliuk — 1 September 2021 [In Russian]
[37] [In Ukrainian]
[38] [In Ukrainian]
[39] More on the matter in The Zelensky Effect by Olga Onuch and Henry E. Hale. While some interpretations of data may be questionable, the general idea of the book is in sync with the presumptions in this essay. See: Olga Onuch, Henry E. Hale. The Zelensky Effect. Hurst & Company, London. 2022. 
[40] [In Ukrainian]
[41] [In Ukrainian]
[42]Дослідження%20Демократія%2C%20права%20і%20свободи%20громадян%20та%20медіаспоживання%20в%20умовах%20війни.pdf [In Ukrainian]
[43] Gordon and Arestovich are walking around Kyiv. Putin, Zelensky, deception of Yermak, Zaluzhny. — 10 August 2022 [In Ukrainian with English subtitles]
[44] [In Ukrainian] Arestovvych fled abroad soon, and from then on he called for negotiations with Russia and changed his rhetorics for more critical towards Ukraine, and less critical towards Russia. He also announced his goal to become Ukraine's next president. His swift trajectory has confirmed the point of this article even before the text was ready for publishing.
[45] [In Ukrainian]
[46] Євген Глібовицький. Чому Україна дивує світ? // Європейська правда — 5 June 2023 [In Ukrainian]
[47] [In Ukrainian]
[48] Ibid 
[49] Где мы потеряли будущее и как его вновь обрести? Контуры Киевского проекта — 24 December 2022 [In Russian] 
[50] Климентій Е. Федевич, Климентій І. Федевич. За Віру, Царя і Кобзаря. Малоросійські монархісти і український національний рух (1905-1917 роки) / пер. з рос. Катерина Демчук. — Київ: Критика, 2017 [Інститут Критики; Український науковий інститут Гарвардського університету]. — 308 с. [In Ukrainian]
[51] Федевич, Федевич, За Віру, Царя і Кобзаря,k p. 261.
[52] Declaration of joint European Heritage and Common Values on the occasion of 230th anniversary of the Constitution of 3 May 1791 and Mutual Pledge of 20 October 1791. Signed on 7 July 2021, in Vilnius in the English language by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine H.E. Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania H.E. Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland H.E. Zbigniew Rau 
[53] Discussion with Roman Vashchuk, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine on 22 October 2020. "Вибачайте, якщо щось було не так: ЗАХІДНЯ ПІДТРИМКА РЕФОРМ в УКРАЇНІ, 2014-2019. [In Ukrainian]

This publication represents the views of the author(s) and not the collective position of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM Vienna) or the "Europe’s Futures" project.