Who is the Ukrainian diaspora? Despite the apparent “childishness” of this issue, it has a very real basis. Recently, unexpected projects have emerged whose task is to disperse the very notion of Ukrainianness abroad. And this is also a reflection of the war that is going on in Ukraine. Here, the Russians are following the old principle: if the process cannot be stopped, it must be led.
It is clear that the Ukrainian diaspora is by no means a monolithic structure with limited access and centralized management. So almost anyone can declare themselves a Ukrainian representing the national community abroad. In a democratic world, it is impossible to prohibit a person from registering a project name using the words “Ukraine” and “diaspora.” Thus, to throw manipulative narratives into the information space “on behalf of” ethnic Ukrainians.
Moscow, Kaluga and Shariy
Among the many similar formations that have emerged since the beginning of the great war, the Diaspora UA group draws attention to the use of almost the entire Russian propaganda arsenal. Currently, it is positioning itself as a “group of volunteers” – US citizens originally from Ukraine – that invites “discussion about events taking place in the US and Ukraine in the struggle for freedom and democracy.”
The composition of the project participants immediately raises a lot of questions. First of all, because most of them have a very distant relationship to Ukraine as such. Some of them are unclear how they became Ukrainians. The rest are hardly active supporters of Ukrainian independence.
The most well-known and media-promoted members of Diaspora UA are Andriy Illarionov and Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs. Ilarionov is a Russian citizen currently living in Washington, DC. Former economic adviser to Putin and his representative in relations with the G7 leaders. After a conflict with his “employer,” he immigrated to America.
Maksakova is a famous Russian opera singer. Former member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation from the United Russia party. Until 2016, she was an ardent Putinist. She voted for the resolution on the annexation of Crimea, although she later tried to deny it. In 2016, she moved to Ukraine with her husband Denis Voronenkov (shot dead in Kyiv in 2017) and began to actively criticize the current political regime in Russia.
Harry (Yuri) Tabach is another former Muscovite. At the age of 14 (1976), his parents took him to Austria for treatment of a severe mental illness. How they managed to do this in the heyday of Brezhnev’s rule is not known for certain. He served in the Navy Medical Service, was a member of the US Embassy in Moscow, held positions in NATO, and was the first USSR-born officer in the US Army.
Andrey Azarkin, born in Kyrgyzstan. Later, he moved to the United States and became an American citizen. He served in the U.S. Army for two years. Currently, he is the owner and director of ARVI Consulting, a company that deals with “corporate investigations” (in other words, industrial espionage).
Among all these people who have somehow “joined” the ranks of the Ukrainian diaspora, there are several former and current Ukrainian citizens. In particular, Yuriy Pidvalnyi and Yuriy Konderevych, who left for the United States, received American citizenship and periodically organize strange rallies near the White House with slogans like “Everyone is tired of Ukraine.” At the same time, they are actively giving interviews to Russian media with similar narratives.
Or, the “leading analyst” of the YouTube channel “Diaspora UA” Zoya Kuskova. Kharkiv “activist” of Anatoliy Shariy’s party. She also founded the NGO Kharkivshchyna Razom (Kharkiv Region Together) together with Bohdan Zhykharev, one of the sponsors of Gennadiy Kernes’ political party. In fact, this NGO became one of the links in a complex chain through which Kharkiv criminal Volodymyr Katsuba financed Shariy’s party.
About “experts” and “expertise”
In general, one could ignore the strange activities of the newly minted “Ukrainians.” There are plenty of such “Ostap Benders” today. However, there are a few significant “buts” that do not allow us to dismiss this project as such. First of all, it is worth noting the media and public components of Diaspora UA’s activities.
As mentioned above, the group’s members periodically appear as organizers of public events. At least twice a month, mini-rallies are held on weekends near the White House in Washington, DC. A maximum of 20 people take part in them. Needless to say, these actions did not receive at least some support from the local Ukrainian community. The main slogans used during the rallies are “everyone has forgotten about Ukraine” and “where is the landlord”.
However, the group’s main activities are expected to be transferred to online platforms. The main one is the YouTube channel of the same name. Its content is a hellish vinaigrette of crazy conspiracy theories and outright manipulation. However, there is an interesting detail: until the beginning of 2023, this channel did not have a stable audience at all. The popularity of the posted videos did not even reach the miserable figure of a thousand views. The situation has improved dramatically since the new year. It’s not to say that the videos we upload are wildly popular, but most of them get between 5 and 10 thousand views.
Not much either. But it seems that these videos are not intended for a mass audience. Their main task is to be quoted in the interested media. These are primarily pro-Trump American sources and Russian propaganda projects. All of them use high-profile quotes from Diaspora UA as “proof” of Ukrainians’ despondency and ingratitude.
In this sense, the channel’s themes fit into the general context of the Russian “agenda.” Wild manipulations are well received by a certain number of uncritical viewers.
For example, a video with the telling title “The Real Goals of Ze’s Trip to the United States” is based on comments by a “well-known expert” Zoya Kuskova. She does not bother with excessive argumentation in her comments: Zelensky is bad because Biden allocated money for Ukraine’s recovery. At the same time, he transferred the money not directly to Ukrainian officials, but to a special fund under the IMF. It is difficult to understand why this is bad. But Ms. Kuskova moves on so quickly to the next thesis that there is simply not enough time to think about it.
It turns out that Hillary Clinton, who fights against climate change and advocates for gender issues, is involved in helping Ukraine. And this is very bad. Therefore, such assistance to Ukraine is useless.
Investments in Ukraine are criticized. The argument is that if someone wants to invest in Ukraine without waiting for a victory, it means that the investor agrees to a Russian victory…
Traditionally, the topic of the lack of a landing list is raised. Conclusion of the “expert”: “There is no result because there is no pressure on the authorities. And there is no pressure on the authorities because people do not understand anything except us.”
The total harassment of the Ukrainian diplomatic mission in the United States can be distinguished as a separate line. Oksana Markarova is almost a demon from hell. The accusations against her are direct and require no further explanation: “Is the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States working against Ukraine?”, “Billions, Conspiracy and Ms. Markarova”, “Offshore and Ms. Markarova”.
In general, the topic of non-use of the landing page is perhaps the leading topic for the channel and its “experts” in general. And this is understandable, because this issue is extremely controversial and politicized. It makes no sense to delve into the nuances of its provision and the logic of approval within this text. It is worth noting that the solution to this issue in any case does not depend on Ukraine. Americans decide on their own how to allocate the expenditure side of their budget. Under the close supervision of taxpayers (and voters).
Each video channel is required to provide a document “List of Conservative Media that are absent in the information space of Ukraine”. This is a list of Trump’s most odious media outlets, full of anti-Ukrainian propaganda. In particular, Fox News, Newsmax, and The Federalist.
In addition, since March of this year, Diaspora UA has been actively distributing letters of accusation against the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States among members of the Ukrainian diaspora in Washington, DC. The main message reflects the channel’s theme: “We have learned that the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States of America is an opponent of our peaceful assemblies and rallies, and spreads fakes that these protests somehow harm Ukraine, and that there are some mythical agreements with the Biden Administration, according to which we need to “forget” about the Lend-Lease Law! Also, these fakes often misinterpret the Law on Land-Lease, which openly misleads people!” (author’s spelling preserved).
There is no point in listing the activities of the “diaspora” any further, as their rhetoric continues to revolve around the “total betrayal” of the Ukrainian leadership and the embassy in the United States. This is compounded by similar accusations against the American president.
It seems that one could have ignored their existence altogether, given the low popularity of the eponymous resources. But the activities of Diaspora UA have all the hallmarks of a Russian special operation. And the question is not how many views each individual video with the most scandalous title has. The problem is that so-called “experts” are actively entering the public sphere. They are quoted by well-known media resources. These opinions are presented as the position of the allegedly real Ukrainian diaspora, which most of the project participants cannot represent in principle.
This is now a real threat to Ukraine’s national security. And it is not so much the critical viewers who should be engaged in countering the fake “diaspora” as the relevant Ukrainian special service.