Monday, June 27, 2016


Ukraine

Ukraine's Cryptic, Clever (And Always Insulting) Lexicon Of War

Valenki, traditional Russian felt boots, have lost much of their appeal in recent decades. In the context of the conflict in Ukraine, "valenki" can be roughly translated as "ignorant Russian fools."
Valenki, traditional Russian felt boots, have lost much of their appeal in recent decades. In the context of the conflict in Ukraine, "valenki" can be roughly translated as "ignorant Russian fools."

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As the separatist conflict simmers in eastern Ukraine, supporters from both camps fight on in another war -- a war of words. The result is a torrent of new slurs -- often cryptic, at times clever, always insulting.

Here are some of the most common terms:

Banderovtsy, banderlogi

Russian synonyms for "neo-Nazis," literally followers of World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera.

The "logi" suffix lends an additional pejorative connotation.

From the onset of the pro-European Maidan protests in Kyiv, Russian authorities have repeatedly branded the demonstrators -- and more generally any Ukrainians supporting efforts to steer their country out of Moscow's orbit -- "banderovtsy."

A hero to Ukrainian nationalists, Bandera collaborated with Nazi Germany in a bid to create an independent Ukrainian state. The Nazis subsequently arrested him and his associates. 

He was assassinated in 1959, a killing widely attributed to the Soviet KGB secret services.

Vatnik

A quilted jacket, usually gray in color and stuffed with thick cotton. Once worn by gulag prisoners, it is seen as a cheap, highly unglamorous item of clothing.

More recently, the word has become synonymous with boorish Russian patriotism. 

"Vatniki" are characterized by a blind loyalty to their government, a loathing for all things American, excessive alcohol consumption, and the unshakable belief that the Russian nation is the world's greatest. 

"A vatnik is a garment of poor, destitute people who possess nothing else and who are ready to wear it for the rest of their lives," says Russian linguist Gasan Guseinov. "It designates a primitive person who is incapable of standing up to those who have abused him his entire life. It's a very offensive word."

Vatniki are routinely lampooned on social media sites and even have their own cartoon character.

Ukry, ukropy

The term "Ukry" emerged in Ukraine, where the belief was once held that Ukrainians descend from the mythical Ukr people -- a premise long rejected by etymologists. 

A more accepted theory, rather unpopular among nationalists, is that the country's name comes from "okraina," "outskirts," or "borderland."

Detractors have co-opted the term "Ukry" to deride Ukrainians loyal to the Kyiv government.

The derivative "ukrop" means "dill." 

Valenki

Traditional Russian felt boots, "valenki" were once popular footwear prized for their warmth. They have lost much of their appeal in recent decades, instead becoming associated with the rural lifestyle.

The term is also used to describe foolish or naive people. 

In the context of the conflict in Ukraine, "valenki" can be roughly translated as "ignorant Russian fools."

Maidanuty

A rather unfeeling term targeting pro-Ukraine sympathizers who took part in the recent Maidan protests.

The ending "uty" evokes a very crude slur whose toned-down translation would be "raving mad."

"Maidanuty is a person who lives in Ukraine and champions its independence but who is profoundly sick," explains Guseinov. "It's someone there is no point even speaking to."

Putinoid

This self-explanatory epithet is reserved for fans of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Pravoseki

A member of Pravy Sektor, or Right Sector, an ultranationalist Ukrainian group that took part in the Maidan protests.

The "sek" ending is borrowed from a Russian slur against homosexuals.

A pro-Russian rebel wears a St. George ribbon.
A pro-Russian rebel wears a St. George ribbon.

Kolorady

Ukrainians came up with this unfriendly nickname -- short for Colorado potato beetles -- to mock people wearing the St. George ribbon, a symbol adopted by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With its orange-and-black stripes, the bug strikingly resembles the divisive ribbon.

A scourge for farmers, the voracious beetle is particularly reviled in former Soviet countries, where it ravaged crops in the wake of World War II.

Soviet propaganda then vilified them as part of a CIA plot to destroy Soviet agriculture.

Junta

That's how many Russians, including journalists, have been describing the new government that came to power in Ukraine following the Maidan uprising. 

And finally ...

La-la la-la la-la

These days in Ukraine, all you need to do if you want to express your distaste for Putin is hum (or write) "la-la la-la la-la." 

This seemingly inoffensive refrain actually refers to a song based on the popular catchphrase in Ukraine: "Putin is a d***head." 

The tune, which went viral in March after Ukrainians soccer fans sang it at a match in Kharkiv, has since been performed by Putin foes around the globe.

While some of these terms can seem amusing and constitute a fascinating new field of study for linguists, Guseinov warns that these pervasive new slurs are, in fact, no laughing matter. 

"Like ants, these words are creeping into our language and shaping people's perceptions," he cautions. "Getting rid of them is very difficult. There isn't a single school in Russia that teaches children that such language is unacceptable. Adults don't understand this either. We are witnessing a crisis of collective consciousness, a crisis in society's metal state."


Claire Bigg

Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


 

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