September 01, 2014

An Ambivalent Relationship

“ Украины нет, не было и быть не может!” (“There is no Ukraine, there was no Ukraine and there can be no Ukraine!”) is a phrase I heard repeatedly as a child, although then I was too young to pay attention to it or to realize its significance.

The time was the 1950s, the place was Casablanca, and the sentiment was voiced to my parents – both Ukrainian, “ новые иммигранты” (new immigrants) from the Soviet Union – by old aristocrats, or what was left of them. These latter had fled Russia after the revolution and settled in French-speaking Morocco, where they were known as “ старые иммигранты” (old immigrants), aging admirals and fading “grandes dames” who scolded my mother for speaking to me in that peasant “ muzhik” language (i.e. Ukrainian).

In that settlement of Slavic refugees, my parents were the only ones who admitted to being Ukrainian, thus fueling more than one heated discussion with old and new immigrants alike, about Ukraine or “ Малороссия” (Little Russia) as some called her disdainfully, and her right to autonomy.

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