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Sensemaker: Russification and resistance

Sensemaker: Russification and resistance

What just happened

Long stories short

  • 11 year-old Miah Cerrillo described daubing herself in blood to survive the Uvalde shooting as the US House of Representatives approved gun control measures that are doomed in the Senate because of Republican opposition.
  • 39 academics condemned a “whitewash” of China’s oppression of Uyghurs by the UN’s human rights chief.
  • The UK government cancelled a high-speed rail line intended to link Scotland to HS2 (more below).

Russification and resistance

Civilians left in newly Russian-occupied cities in southern Ukraine have experienced torture, kidnapping, joblessness, lack of food and medicines and an exodus of more than half the population. They are also experiencing Russification – a process designed to change their homeland more profoundly than any missile.

How russification happens

Passports. On 25 May Putin signed a decree simplifying the issuing of Russian passports for residents of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, and representatives of the Russian-backed “Donetsk people’s republic” started handing out Russian passports in Mariupol. 

Ukraine’s foreign ministry called this a “brutal violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and evidence of Russia’s true aim of occupying Ukrainian territories and further integrating them into Russia. It didn’t have to wait long for more evidence.

Referendums. Last month, according to Kherson’s Ukrainian regional governor, the deputy head of Putin’s administration told Russian collaborators in Kherson to prepare for a referendum in the autumn. If it happens…

  • it would follow a pattern established in Crimea in 2014 to establish manufactured consent for the occupation;
  • that ‘consent’, though bogus, would give Putin extra leverage in any peace talks; 
  • and could lead to Ukrainian men with Russian passports being called up by the Russian army and made to fight Ukrainian forces, as happened to some living in occupied Donbas since 2014. 

Language, history, money. The pro-Russian self-proclaimed governor of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, has said all official documents should be written in Russian only. In addition…

  • Schools and universities in Kherson oblast have been told to switch to using the Russian language and curricula including a Kremlin-approved Russian version of Ukrainian history. 
  • Teachers from annexed Crimea have been enlisted to retrain teachers in Kherson. 
  • Rubles have been trucked in to circulate alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia. 

Russia is “forcibly aligning its administration with that of the Russian Federation by introducing the Russian ruble as legal tender and employing Russian teachers to introduce Russian curriculum and language to schools,” the UK’s Defence Intelligence stated yesterday. “Russia will highly likely claim its occupation of Kherson as evidence of delivering improved governance and living standards to the Ukrainian people.” 

Shoot to kill. People can now leave Kherson only via Crimea, annexed by Russia eight years ago. Ukraine’s security service recently published a telephone conversation between two Russian occupiers saying they were allowed to shoot civilians at checkpoints “if you are suspicious of them”. 


  • Of water: Kherson oblast (region) hosts the North Crimea Canal – at 400 km one of the longest in Europe – which carried water to Crimea before the 2014 annexation and was then dammed. In February Russian forces blew up the dam to let water from the Dnipro River flow to Crimea again.
  • Energy: the oblast also hosts the  Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant and the Zaporizhya nuclear power plant, both seized by Russia at the start of the war. The nuclear plant is still within the Ukrainian energy system but Moscow is forcing Kyiv to pay for the power it produces or send it to Crimea. 
  • Produce: the region is Ukraine’s main supplier of fruit and vegetables as well as a global supplier of wheat, sunflower oil and soybeans. This year the occupiers are expected to send 70 per cent of its harvest to Russia.  
  • Children: Vadym Skibitsky, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, has said Russian forces are deporting children and teenagers from Kherson to Russia and the Russian-held Donetsk region. 

Melitopol as a resistance centre

On 18 May a Russian military train was blown up by partisans in Melitopol. Before that they destroyed a bridge being used by Russian forces to bring weapons to the region.

On 30 May a blast in the centre of Melitopol reportedly injured the niece of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian governor of the Zaporizhya region, Evgeniy Balytsky.  

Ukrainian sources say more than 20 resistance operations in and around Melitopol have killed more than 100 Russian soldiers. 

And so the insurgency begins. Russification is happening, but not welcome. 


Odey’s warning
Investors in Crispin Odey’s Odey European Inc. hedge fund will be relieved, delighted, anxious or quite possibly all three. The relieved ones will be those who stuck with him since 2015. In that time the fund lost 93 per cent of its value as simple equity investments grew, only to recoup its losses in an astonishing 110 per cent surge so far this year. The gains have come mainly from shorting long-term UK government debt. The delighted investors will be the very small number who bought stakes in the fund at the start of the year and have since doubled their money. The anxious ones will be those listening to Odey’s warning that life is about to get “much more difficult for investors and for governments,” thanks to shortages, outages, strikes and war. In related news, the cost of filling an average family car in the UK rose today above £100 for the first time.


High-speed pork? 
When looking at the list of MPs in marginal UK constituencies who supported Boris Johnson in Monday’s no-confidence vote, it’s worth asking what might have persuaded them to vote to keep a PM now widely seen as an electoral liability. James Grundy (MP for Leigh, majority of 1965) seemed delighted when the proposed Golborne Spur of the HS2 rail line on the Crewe-Manchester line was quietly scrapped on Tuesday. Coincidentally, the spur had been due to run right through a farm in the Leigh constituency registered to the name of Mr David John Grundy. James Grundy MP has openly spoken of growing up on his parents’ farm in the locality. One to keep an eye on.


Webb ding
Sensemaker is a huge fan of the James Webb telescope and is therefore dismayed to have to pass on Nasa’s news that one of the telescope’s mirrors has been dinged by a micrometeorite. The object may have been as small as a grain of sand but will have been travelling very fast. It’s said to have slightly blurred the focus obtained by the mirror in question. On the plus side, there are 18 of them and the agency insists the scope can still “exceed all mission requirements despite a marginally detectable effect in the data”. But the instrument is now a million miles away and a repair – such as carried out on the Hubble telescope in 1993 – would be ruinously expensive if not impossible. The Webb’s mission is to capture and study light emitted 13 billion years ago, shortly after the Big Bang. Scientists expected impacts from small pieces of space debris, but not this soon.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Brexit MDMA
After years of festival doldrums, the great British tradition of getting sunburnt and/or drenched while dancing in a field is back. But festival-goers intending to take illicit substances should be aware of the increasing amount of fake MDMA on the market. New peer-reviewed research has found 45 per cent of drugs tested at English festivals last year contained no MDMA at all, up 38 per cent on 2019. Instead, pills were composed of cathinones (also known as New Psychoactive Substances) and caffeine. Cathinones, though similar in some respects to MDMA, can feel less effective to users, leading to increased dosing, hyperstimulation, anxiety, insomnia and potentially psychosis. This isn’t just about drug-suppliers squeezing more money out of consumers. The Netherlands is a significant source of MDMA for the UK, where driver shortages and Brexit have impacted supply. Crackdowns on online criminal networks and fluctuations in demand over the pandemic are also to blame. Of course, the safest option is to not take anything at all. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Reservoir docs
Archaeologists from Germany and Iraqi Kurdistan have seized the chance to study a drowned city revealed by a shrinking reservoir behind the Mosul Dam on the River Tigris. The modern name of the site is Kemune but ancient foundations that emerged just three months before the reservoir started filling up again could be those of the Bronze Age city of Zachiku. They include remains of a multi-storey warehouse containing intact ceramic vessels and cuneiform tablets dating back, it’s thought, at least to 1350 BC, when an earthquake is believed to have destroyed the city. A severe drought last year forced officials to divert water from the reservoir to southern Iraq, but by March it was refilling with snowmelt from the north.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata
Contributing Editor

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Giles Whittell and James Wilson.

Photographs Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock, Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images, Alessandro Guerra/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock, AP/Shutterstock, Getty Images, Kurdistan Archaeology Organization/Universities of Freiburg and Tübingen

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