We’re not Russian, We’re Ukrainian

Graphic by André Averion | Mercury Staff


Ukrainians have suffered greatly at the hands of Russians, in part due to the international community’s insufficient response to Russian imperialism.

I wear many different labels. I’m a Comet, a Houstonian, a Texan, an American, a Ukrainian and a Crimean Tatar. However, it has become obvious to me that not many of my peers on campus know much about the latter two. Having not met any Crimean Tatars or Ukrainians outside my family or cultural settings, usually, when people hear that I am descended from this region, they automatically assume I am Russian. To be labeled as Russian when I am not is hurtful, and small actions such as incorrect labels show the ignorance in how students view Eastern Europe.

Russia has been oppressing Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for hundreds of years, using their dominance to overshadow both groups. It’s imperative to know now more than ever that as we speak, Russia is silencing our voices, ripping away our culture and taking over our land. Being aware of the atrocities that the Russian government is committing against Ukraine will ensure no Ukrainian will ever have to label themselves as Russian.

Russia has been expanding their bounds since the beginning of the 21st century. They have been killing, destroying and erasing any group of people that stands in their way of the reunification of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. For the past 10 years, Russia has been sowing the seeds of anti-Ukrainian propaganda in the American media. The Kremlin, government of the Russian federation, spends over $300 million per year spreading disinformation and toxic rhetoric on hundreds of different platforms, specifically social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The goal in this propaganda is to have more foreigners, specifically Americans, support Russia’s “expansion” and reunification of the former Soviet Union. However, despite Russia’s propaganda campaign, at the beginning of the war, the support for Ukraine was undeniable. I was honestly shocked at the number of my peers and prominent American figures showing support for one of the less recognized countries in Europe. The momentum was strong. Biden and Congress immediately showed tremendous support for Ukraine by supplying military arms, contributing economic aid and severing business, economic and military ties with Russia.

However, since those few months, there has been a loss in traction and support. According to a September poll by the Pew Research Center, Americans’ concerns about Ukraine have lessened. In March, only 7% of Americans said the US was providing “too much support to Ukraine.” However, in September, that number has now shot up to 20% of Americans believing we give too much to Ukraine. This number is even more frightening given that Republicans have taken over the house, and polls show that they’re less concerned about Ukraine’s war effort than in March. Social media and news, in general, tend to have this effect when a global tragedy hits; it’s big news for a little while, and then it’s dead silent after about a month or so. I have seen this pattern consistently since 2020. However, war doesn’t stop when the media stops reporting on it, nor does it stop when social media users stop posting about it. If Ukrainians start losing aid, they’ll lose access to critical military arms and much-needed economic assistance.

Crimeans were forced to label themselves as Russian again in 2014. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, illegally invaded and annexed Crimea with overwhelming disapproval from the U.S. as well as the international community. Crimean Tatars — including my Babushka (grandmother) — were forced to forgo their Ukrainian citizenship and take on Russian citizenship instead. Frightened about their future in their homeland, at least 10% of the remaining Crimean Tatars in Crimea fled to the mainland, Ukraine, to escape the Russian regime. At that point, the U.S. imposed strong sanctions against the Russian government. However, these sanctions didn’t deter Russia from its position in Crimea. There should have been more decisive action then, maybe including a military response instead of just economic. If there had been a more robust backing from the world instead of just “calling for peace” and sanctions, Russia probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to fully invade Ukraine in the coming years.

It is essential that we, as future leaders and the next generation, speak out about the humanitarian crisis happening to our allies. Email, call and write to your local, state and federal representatives and ask them to continue supporting aid to Ukraine. If enough constituents speak out about a specific subject, representatives will notice and, hopefully, take action. Continue showing your support for Ukraine by being outspoken on social media, donating to Ukrainian fundraisers and charities and supporting Ukrainian individuals and businesses. Although these acts seem small, you are doing your part in helping millions of Ukrainians keep their freedoms. Ultimately, pay more attention to how you label your Eastern European peers. It is inaccurate and hurtful to carelessly mix Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in with Russia given all of the trauma and pain we have endured.

I am not Russian, my sister is not Russian, my mother is not Russian and my grandmother is not Russian. Our label is Ukrainian and forever will be. Slava Ukraini!


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