Where do Ukrainians live in Russia?—And who are the “benderovcy”?

Oct 6, 2014 by

In the last 10 months there has been much discussion in the media and blogosphere of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. Such discussions generally focus on which parts of Ukraine ethnic Russians live in, whether “ethnic Russians” can be equated with “speakers of Russian”, and whether their linguistic and other rights are being violated. What has not been discussed, however, is the symmetrical question about Ukrainians living in Russia. There are nearly 3 million ethnic Ukrainians living in the Russian Federation, according to the 2010 census, and where exactly they live and how they got there reveals a great deal about the current tensions. (All figures below are from the 2010 census, with absolute numbers rounded to thousand.)

The general principles of migration predict that we should find significant Ukrainian population in regions bordering Ukraine (just as there are numerous Mexican immigrants in southern states bordering Mexico, from California to Texas), and in large cities, such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, which attract migrants of all kinds. The 2010 census data reveal that there are indeed 290,000 Ukrainians living in the five Russian regions bordering Ukraine: Bryansk, Kursk, Belgorod, Voronezh, and Rostov oblasts. However, in none of these oblasts does the proportion of Ukrainians in the total population exceed 4%: the highest proportion, 3.83%, is found in Belgorod oblast, with Voronezh a distant second (3.1%), and Rostov ranking third (2.69%). In the more northern Bryansk and Kursk oblasts, Ukrainians constitute less than 2% of the total population. Russia’s two largest cities have relatively large absolute numbers of Ukrainians (254,000 in Moscow and 87,000 in Saint Petersburg), but they constitute merely 2.44% and 1.87% of the total populations, respectively. The regions surrounding these two cities—Moscow and Leningrad oblasts—show similar proportions of Ukrainians in the total population, 2.23% and 2.51%, respectively. Altogether the number of Ukrainians living in the five regions bordering Ukraine, the two largest cities, and their surrounding oblasts is 820,000—less than a third of the total Ukrainian population in the Russian Federation. Moreover, Ukrainians constitute less than 3% of the total population of these areas.

Ukrainians in Russia

Most Ukrainians in Russia obviously live in other parts of this vast country. But are they spatially concentrated in a few particular areas, or are they relatively evenly distributed? To answer this question, I mapped the 2010 census data, showing the proportion of Ukrainians in the total population, by federal subject (see map on the left). As expected, the lowest concentration of Ukrainians is found in ethnic republics in the North Caucasus, Middle Volga, and the Altai area. There are also relatively few Ukrainians in the central regions of European Russia. The highest concentration of Ukrainians is found in Yamal-Nenets autonomous okrug of Western Siberia—13.03%. Similarly high figures are found in Magadan oblast, and Chukotka and Khanty-Mansi autonomous okrugs—9.89%, 9.22%, and 8.6%, respectively. Tyumen and Murmansk oblasts, and the Komi Republic are the only other federal subjects with over 6% of Ukrainian population. The absolute number of Ukrainians in those areas is not very high—542,000 total in the seven above-mentioned areas, roughly the same as in the five oblasts bordering Ukraine plus the city of Moscow. The high ratio of Ukrainians in these lightly populated areas, however, is surprising.  It also shockingly reminds us why Ukrainians settled in such remote areas in the first place.


What all seven areas share in common is their horrific GULAG past (to be discussed in more detail in the following posts). In fact, Chukotka autonomous okrug and Magadan oblast are known collectively as “Kolyma” (named after the Kolyma River), a term which has become synonymous with the GULAG system. The Komi Republic was another epicenter of GULAG camps; some of the country’s worse labor camps, such as Vorkutlag, were located here. Ukhta, also in the Komi Republic, was another center of labor camps, where many Soviet POWs liberated from the Nazi camps were exiled, including my great-uncle Michael, who survived nearly four years in the Flossenbürg concentration camp only to be exiled to Ukhta.

The camps in the frigid Far North (Murmansk, Komi Republic) and the Kolyma were also the ultimate destination of many ethnic deportees, viewed by the Soviet regime as “anti-Soviet, criminal and socially dangerous elements” simply in virtue of their birth: residents of the Baltic countries, Western Belarus and Ukraine, and Moldova, Volga Germans, and numerous others. While women and children were typically resettled in Kirov, Tomsk, Omsk, and Novosibirsk Oblasts, as well as Krasnoyarsk and Altai Krais, men were generally imprisoned in the more remote and harshest camps, where most of them perished. Those who survived the camps usually could not return home even after liberation and thus often remained in the same areas.

Although Nikita Khrushchev joked in February 1956 in his speech “On the Personality Cult and its Consequences” that Ukrainians avoided ethnic deportation “because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them”, it is not true that Ukrainians—particularly those from the western regions—eluded such a ghastly fate. As discussed in detail by a Ukrainian journalist and blogger andreistp, Ukrainians were victims of a whole series of ethnic deportations. (The following three paragraphs are based largely on facts and figures cited by andreistp.) The first wave came in 1925-1928, when the borders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine were being defined. In this event, those living on the “wrong” side of the border, including hundreds of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians, were forcibly “resettled”—not to the “right” side of the border, but rather east of the Urals. Then, in the early 1930s, Stalin’s collectivization campaign led to the deportation of tens of thousands of Ukrainian kulaks, the Russian term for “rich peasants”, defined as those “with a couple of cows or five or six acres more than their neighbors”. However, many of those deported under this category were hardly prosperous: even the official Soviet statistics shows that only 22% of the households had two horses, only a third of the households owned a pig, and only a fourth had a plow.

In 1939, western Ukraine was “returned” to the Soviet Union—the Soviets insisted that those areas had been unfairly ceded by the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin in what they referred to as the “shameful” Brest peace treaty. Once again, numerous Ukrainians were cleansed from those areas; Poles, Belarusians, Lithuanians, and others were treated much the same way. From December 1939 to March 1940, over 137,000 people were deported from Western Ukraine and Western Belarus, mostly to the Far Northeast, the Komi Republic, and Kazakhstan. An additional 6,000 families of the so-called kulaks were deported from Western Ukraine and Belarus in April 1940. According to some sources, in 1939-1940 up to 20% of Western Ukraine’s people were sent to Siberia, Kazakhstan, Far North, and the camps in the Volga region.

The next deportation, known as Operation “West”, came just two years after World War II, when on October 21, 1947 over 76,000 people were deported from Western Ukraine, among them 18,866 men, 35,152 women and 22,174 children. These figures from the official reports by the Ministry of State Security are challenged by some Ukrainian historians, who contend that according to documents of the Ukrainian nationalist underground, as many as 150,000 were deported. Most of these deportees, sent to Kazakhstan, Far North, and Siberia, were relatives of members of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) or “active bandits, arrested or killed in battles”, as the decree of Council of Ministers of the Union of the USSR put it. The stated goal of this operation was to weaken the so-called “banderovcy”, a term originally referring to the followers of Stepan Bandera, the leader of OUN, but quickly extended by writers of Soviet propaganda to include all Ukrainian nationalists and people opposing the Soviet national policies in Ukraine, regardless of their attitudes towards Bandera, a truly controversial figure.


Recently, the term banderovcy (sometimes incorrectly used as benderovcy) has been enthusiastically revived by the official Russian propaganda and unofficial bloggers alike. On March 18, 2014, President Putin in his speech following the annexation of Crimea labelled the Kiev government as “contemporary henchmen of Bandera” and asserted that “Crimea will never be in the hands of banderovcy”. The popularity of the revived term banderovcy is due in part to its consonance with bandity ‘bandits, gangsters’ and Bandar-logi (Rudyard Kipling’s Bandar-logs, or ‘monkey-people’); the latter term is now often used as banderlogi, mutually exchangeable with banderovcy. In Russian propaganda texts and the blogosphere, the term “banderovcy” is frequently equated implicitly or explicitly with “murderers”, “terrorists”, “fascists”, “Nazis”, “russophobes”, and “anti-Semites”—all of which are often used as catchall swear words, devoid of their original specific meanings.


Yet some Ukrainian nationalists wear the label “banderovcy” proudly. Thus, Oleg Tyahnybok, the leader of the extreme nationalist Svoboda party, said in a 2013 speech (translation mine):

“Stepan Bandera is not just a man who entered history. He is a man whose life and struggle made it so that all of us Ukrainians are called “banderovcy”. His name became a common noun, some people call us “banderovcy” out of spite, others call us “banderovcy” and think we are to be offended. But we are honored by it!”


But time and again, Ukrainian writers, journalists, and bloggers stress that few of today’s Ukrainian nationalists—people who want Ukraine to be truly independent of Russia and better integrated into Europe—hold the extreme right-wing, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic views that are often ascribed to Stepan Bandera. Only slightly more than 1% of Ukrainian citizens voted for Oleg Tyahnybok in the most recent presidential election. Most polls conducted in September 2014 predict that only 4-5% of the electorate will vote for his Svoboda party in the parliamentary elections to take place later this month. It has to be noted, however, that Russia’s anti-Ukrainian attitudes, propaganda, and policies (past and present) serve to push the Ukrainian public opinion in a more nationalist direction. The “Ukrainians in Russia” map above helps us understand why so many Ukrainians today are reluctant to embrace Putin’s Eurasian Union ideas: Kolyma is too far from Ukraine, after all!



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  • Dmitry Pruss

    The Gulag theory has some credence, but I don’t think you find as many Latvians or Chechens in these mineral-rich regions today as you theory would predict? Indeed, of all Stalin era exiles, returning to the homelands was prohibitively complicated only for Meskheti Turks, and, to a lesser extent, to Crimean Tatars. Are you sure that the Ukrainians of Russia’s oil-and-gold frontier are descended en masse from the exiles who for some strange reason bucked the trends and didn’t return, and have not migrated there in the more recent decades in search of economic opportunity, lacking in agrarian and rust-belt Ukraine?

    Conversely, Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk oblast’s had massive exile populations, but they don’t figure prominently on the ethnic map? No oil meant no recent population influx there, indeed.

    On an anecdotal level, the one Chukotka Ukrainian I know moved there as a child with her parents in the late 1970s from Slavyansk (of more recent civil war fame).

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Dmitry. I’ve thought about this recent mineral/oil driven migration too. I am not going to deny that some (maybe even a fairly significant number of) Ukrainians migrated more recently. However, I don’t think that would explain it at all. Some of the highest concentrations are found in Chukotka and Magadan, areas that are not exactly rich and drawing migrants these days (in fact, Magadan is quickly depopulating, as I will discuss in one of the following posts in more detail). It would be surprising if Ukrainians are moving there en mass when everybody is running away… As for Irkutsk and especially Krasnoyarsk krais, there’s a bit of dilution effect: there are some areas within the Krasnoyarsk krai where the concentration is much higher—and guess what? it’s exactly the areas where most of the camps were. I did not incorporate this data because the base map I’ve had did not have some of the smaller federal subjects that had been incorporated into larger ones (even if I have the census data for them). It would be interesting to look at even finer-level data if I had it… But the more local migration since the dissolution of the GULAG system may well mask some of the more local effects too.

      • chyron

        You forgot that in _soviet_ era there was ‘northern multiplier’ for salaries. So number of people worked in Far North and not all of them returned home. Given that slav population was more suitable for technical jobs due to usage of native/close language than most people from ‘national republics’- it’s no surprise that it were either russians or ukrainians (’90s greatly reduced number of jews in Russia due to immigration).

        As for banderovcy…let’s say that some ideas are plague. Current excavations of mass graves of civilians killed by ‘hardcores’ from ‘national guard’ units gives very good idea that sometimes containing plague requires showing no mercy to carriers.

        • Dmitry Pruss

          At least half of Magadan Ukrainians in 1989 have moved there in the previous 19 years, consistent with the “long ruble” hypothesis. More details in my comment in the Magadan entry

          • Is there a particular source for this stats? Maybe it’s in the other comment…

        • I am not sure I get your point about the “plague”?

          As for the “northern multiplier” idea, I am not denying that some Ukrainians live in those areas from a more recent date and a more voluntary resettlement — all I am saying is that I don’t think it accounts for all the facts.

          • chyron

            Until recently most people thought that things that banderovcy said are more ‘huffing and puffing’ but they DO act exactly the way we and poles remember from their ‘spiritual ancestors’ albeit at smaller scale… In legal language proper term i believe is ‘crimes againt humanity’.
            And that ‘only’ 1% voted for most ‘authentic’ of ’em is misleading as at least 75% of ‘2014 election’ voters seems to have no qualms about ’em (8.5% voted Lyashko who basically iirc hijacked Tyagniboks electorate, both other major candidates also used similar rhetorics as minimum because since USSR was dispersed Bandera and his followers got status of ‘national heroes’ in ukrainian state).
            So for vigilant observer remnant Ukraine is ill with worst kind of nationalism and illness progressed far beyond posibility of self-recovery. And they don’t even realize that themselves 🙁

          • As the term is applied in certain circles to virtually every Ukrainian, and even to people who are not Ukrainian in any way, shape or form (like Shenderovich or Bykov), you’ll have to be more specific as to who you are talking about before you brandish terms like “crimes against humanities”. Also, short of seeing any specific crimes, I don’t want to accuse Ukrainians of the “worst kind of nationalism and illness”, as you put it. Somehow, applied to certain groups nationalism is viewed as an “illness”, while other groups are allowed the exact same views and policies and it’s considered a perfectly good thing that they are “nationalistic”. I hold no such double standards.

          • chyron

            300+ bodies of executed civilians were excavated in DNR during last two weeks near former encampents of ‘NaziGuard’. But OSCE and UN refrain from commenting due to bodies bein’ not yet officially IDed and well known political pressure. That ukrainian forces indiscriminatelly shell civilian areas is well known fact since beginning of conflict (while Slavyansk atrocities can be attributed to inability of IDing militia forces’ positions, Donetsk and Lugansk are entirely different stories) . That ‘antimaidan’ activists tend to ‘disappear’ in remaining ukrainian areas (without turning bein’ officially arrested) since late february is also ‘secrets of Polichinelle’.

            PS 5th column received ‘banderovcy’ brand simply because they’re siding with ‘real’ banderovcy but in reality they’re either russophobes like aforementioned Sh. or are in category best described as ‘His loyalty couldn’t be bought at any price; but it could be rented remarkably cheaply’.

          • You will have to support your claims about Shenderovich etc. “siding with “real” banderovcy” or being “russophobes” by some factual evidence. You’ll be hard pressed to find any.

            As for the so-called atrocities of the Ukrainian army, what about the Russian-paid, -trained, etc. forces — playing the Palestinian game, aren’t they?

            Not to mention shooting down civilian aircraft…

          • chyron

            You never listened to ‘Echo of Moscow’ radio, didn’t you? As after that any questions about Sh. allegiances and opinions are void.

            Russian-trained forces? You mean volunteers? Then:

            How about RightSector troops trained in Baltic states?

            How about numerous mercenaries from Poland etc fighting in NaziGuard?

            How about ‘instructors’ from ex-BlackWater?

            As for poor passengers of Malaysian jet…the only radar emissions registered in area by _NATO_ were those of unmodernized S-125 – ukrainian army has them, but these obsolete SAMs were never captured by rebels and long gone from russian inventory along with S-200s of 2001’s ‘Tel-Aviv – Novosibirsk’ fame. That western media automatically blamed rebels and Russia has more to do with west unilateraly choosing side in this conflict than any facts.

            PS ‘Palestinian game’? Of course my opinion on ME is ‘A plague on both your houses’ – first-gen israelis did ethnic purges and used terror against civilian population.

          • I’ve spoken to Shenderovich in person.

            Yeah, “volunteers”: conscripts left with no choice but to return in closed coffins. Afghanistan all over, only at least Brezhnev had the balls to admit involvement…

            As for the jet, why weren’t independent investigators allowed on the scene?

            As for your so-called opinion on the ME, you either uninformed or morally repugnant. Or both.

          • chyron

            Sh.: Then he belongs either in second mentioned category or live in reality not intersecting with that of common people(in that case results of tunnel vision equals to bein’ in first category).

            Jet: AFAIR initially investigators were allowed, THEN there was demand that everything must be done via ‘official Kiev’ and OSCE – which was actually equal to demand that rebels cede that area. With both rebels and kiev unable to provide guarantees of safety, ICAO weren’t ready to commit it’s people. And Ukrainian army began offensive in that area inc. shelling of crash site. That brings some interesting interpretations.
            Volunteers: I don’t know where you heard of that kind of volunteers outside highly disreputable sources with strong foreign financial influence. All i know says that lot of people made that choice via various kinds of ‘grapevines’ outside of any chain of command.

            ME: And we even avoided really murky and unsolvable question ‘who did it first’ 🙂

          • He lives in reality uncorrupted by sick propaganda that would make Mr. Goebbels jump with joy.



            ME: you might want to avoid that question as it would ruin your carefully constructed view that has nothing to do with facts…

          • chyron

            Given that except numerous repost of _initial_ message by liberal media there were no follow-up, i still see no evidence that this is something more than overreaction of concerned mothers ( when my friend volunteered to 2nd Chechnya i saw similar reaction from his mum).
            PS Thing about militiamen and DNR civilians wellcomed in our hospitals and so-called ‘Voentorg’ is in absolutely different plane to that you meant i think.
            PS2: One must be anochoret to be free from any propaganda. Sh’s case is repeat of western one, proven to be lie in too many cases. One time i took masochistic delight comparing our liberals’ speeches to CNN’s ‘line of party’ – that is known to be the most dumbed down version of american official position. It mostly were same things down to isolated phrases. Though must say Sh. is reality talented – unlike less bright liberals he really gives things a personal touch and his language is really living one.

          • You may believe all you want, including Russian “zombo-TV”, which all outside Russia can only laugh at. Orwell described today’s Russia all too well.

          • chyron

            But Orwell basically wrote about fate of England and extrapolated from their distinct appoach 🙂
            Our media is just a bleak shadow of weblike Empire of Lies that western ones became. ‘Sheeple’ is word in english last i’ve checked 🙂

          • You are much mistaken on both points. Orwell wrote about the Soviet Union/Russia, even by his own admission. Research that.

            As for the Empire of Lies, you yourself said “weblike” about the West — there are different voices, different agendas, and different perspectives, all in a complex maze that is not easy to navigate, so too many people prefer the “Cliff notes” version, for sure, but information is available. Not quite so in Russia, where dissenting opinions are haunted down.

            Anyway, you are clearly not coming here to have a reasoned discussion or to learn anything, so I am not sure you need to come here at all.

          • chyron

            Of course there’s semi-official fringe media everywhere ‘cept USSR (1929-1985), but there’s the catch – it’s fringe. For.ex. US audience mostly watch Fox,CNN and NBC. That in USA there’s two main parties of “Little-Endians” and “Big-Endians” and system seems to be rigged to deny any other party’s success is of course reflected in how media resources are split (and btw republicans become more and mirror image of Dem’s as i noticed over last decade). That’s one of reasons Al Jazeera and RT become relatively popular…just like VoA in late USSR.
            AFAIR there’s no problem for ultra-left and ultra-liberal press to exist in our country – at least i see people trying to impress factory-made hadrcore-communist papers to me weekly and aforementioned EoM (and much more practical RBC) are functional last i’ve checked this Tuesday.

            PS “Dozhd” people though must be lucky to be in Russia – they just lost financing and support from State and didn’t got under trial for aiding troublemakers (twisting facts by the way).

            PS2 As for western media…if one ready to believe THEIR fringe:

            And for ‘learn anything’…if there were no subject of banderovcy in article that otherwise was opinionated but reasonable then there would be neither ‘khokhlosrach’ nor opinions on our ‘LIEberals”.

          • As someone who puts CNN and FOX into the same category and thinks Al-Jazeera is not a biased outlet with a very specific agenda, or that a news outlet like Dozhd should be prosecuted and persecuted… Well, that says everything we need to know about you.