This comment represents Russian stereotypes of Ukraine as poor, disorderly and lacking civic patriotism – and of Ukrainians as “second-class” Europeans. Researchers have also documented various forms of hate speech denigrating Ukrainians and denying Ukrainian statehood on Russia’s most popular social network, VK.
When the Russian forces began the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, most Russian soldiers expected not only to be greeted as liberators but also to find people suffering under the yoke of “Nazi usurpers”. They thought Ukraine would be like Russia of the 1990s – divided, disorganised and poor.
Ukraine’s per capita GDP was US$3,725 (£3,000) in 2020, while Russia’s was almost three times higher at US$10,127. On the other hand, as recently as 2017, Ukraine topped the list of the world’s most equal countries by the Gini index. Russia was a long way down the list.
In fact, Russian invaders found neat, prosperous villages and towns where people lived decently and as communities. Ukrainians apparently could have it all: a democracy and an economy, imperfect but functioning.
The invaders were astonished at Ukrainians’ standards of living(Russian looters were reportedly surprised at the sight of Nutella in Ukrainian houses, which they apparently saw as a sign of untold luxury).
They were also surprised by Ukraine’s community spirit: mayors, priests and volunteers braved bullets to distribute food to compatriots, rejecting and defying Russian soldiers’ threats and bribes. This stood in stark contrast with the Russian military leadership’s disregard for supplying, directing and evacuating its soldiers.
Confronted with Ukraine’s stiff resistance but also signs of a good life, Russian soldiers must have wondered how Ukrainians, considering their stereotyping in Russia as “simple” and “naive”, could have built a functioning country on their own.
The narrative of Ukraine being under the control of – variously – the west, George Soros or “Judaeo-Masons” would have resonated with the soldiers. And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine.
This article was originally published by The Conversation