Derogatory terms for Russians gaining strength in Ukraine

My latest inspiration for a journal post (it has been a long time) is derogatory words for Russians that are now popular in Ukraine by virtue of the 9-month Russian aggression. It is a pity to see slurs directed at any particular nationality gaining wider and wider usage, but unfortunately, in the case of Ukraine, the Russian public seems to support Russia’s chauvinistic war against its much smaller neighbor so widely (at least, if official Russian reports are to be believed) that the growing anti-Russian prejudice among Ukrainians is understandable, even if not fully justifiable.

The first that comes to mind is the term vatnik. This word refers to a kind of quilted jacket worn both by Russian soldiers and labor camp prisoners, and was perhaps most prominently visible recently as worn by “Strelkov” (Ivan Girkin), the Russian military intelligence officer who led the separatist war in eastern Ukraine for several months, but who has since apparently taken shelter in Moscow. Girkin can be seen wearing this jacket in many photos, but the term as applied to actual people connotes a Soviet-era slave mentality. The Ukrainian language Wikipedia page has a passage that translates roughly thus:

A collective form of Russian patriotic cattle. Likes totalitarian power (Putin, Stalin), subordination, equalization of people with the same brush, vodka and all things Russian. Hates the USA and everything non-Russian. The holy feast of the vatnik is on May 9, when the vatnik likes to drink and talk about how his “grandfathers fought.” Patriotic, impotent and incorrigibly stupid, irony and self-irony are absent as such.

The word vatnik is often shortened to simply “vata.” Here is a photo of the quilted jacket known as a vatnik:


Another derogatory word for Russians making the rounds in Ukraine lately is katsap. This word is very probably derived from the word for “goat” (kozyol) and refers to the long beards that were traditionally part of a Russian male’s appearance, rather like those of goats. But the word is also believed to have Turkic origin, as the Arabic word qassab means “butcher,” and the Turkish phrase Adam kassaby refers to someone who is a savage or despot. Here is a photo of Orthodox Christian Old Believers wearing the kind of beards that personify the katsap:


Finally, the term Moskal is used to refer to Russians generally, and has gained currency as a derogatory term for Russians in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, as well as Ukraine. The term originated as a reference to those drafted as soldiers in the Russian Imperial (later Soviet) Army, who returned home to Ukraine speaking Russian. It now refers to any person who has lost his roots. Below is a painting by the Ukrainian national poet and bard, Taras Shevchenko, called “Katerina,” depicting a young woman returning to her native village after parting company with her fellow “Moskaly.” She looks oblivious to hostility of the dog, which barks at her as if she is an alien, sinister force:


The combination of the three slurs immediately conjures in my mind a new name, patronymic and surname: Vata Katsapovich Moskalyov (Вата Кацапович Москалёв). If such a person were to be visualized, he might look something like the man in the below photo. Pictured is Alexander Dugin, the head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations at Moscow State University and Putin’s personal state ideologist. The caption below the photo reads: “There are no more opponents of the Putinist course. and if there are, then they are mentally ill and they should be sent away for clinical examination. Putin is everywhere. Putin is everything. Putin is absolute, and Putin is indispensable.”


For those who can understand Russian, here is an interesting and colorful music video published in mid-March 2014, shortly before Russia formally declared the annexation of Crimea to be a fait accomplis. It is called “Idyot katsap po gorodu” (There is a katsap in the city), adapted from the traditional pop song “Idyot soldat po gorodu” (There is a soldier in the city).



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  1. I didn’t know Putin had a state ideologist. Terrifying. Interesting read. Thanks.


    • He’s not an “official” ideologist, but he is increasingly seen as the de facto “Kremlin historian” who interprets things to suit Putin’s expansionism. He is also vaguely convenient, in that Putin can disclaim him while keeping him close, as if to say: “You see? This is how my people think, so what do you expect me to do?” Then we get more aggression and imperialism, etc.


      • Great piece. I love how what at first looks like a mere list is in fact working toward a finale, that Alexander Dugin is the embodiment of all three nicknames combined. It helps that he looks like a greasy bum.


      • He is a greasy bum. That’s part of his schtick. They didn’t bathe as often in medieval times.


  2. You deplore the use of derogatory slurs to degrade any group and then proceed to provide an entire list of nasty stereotypes. On the other hand there’s only one that the pro-Russian separatists applicy to the IMF stooges of Maidan, and the massacre in Odessa (2 May 14): fascists.


    • As I have reported on this site, “fascism” is not a monopoly enjoyed by Ukrainians. Among the “Novorossia” separatists are several openly Nazi, fascist, ethnically chauvinist and anti-Semitic groups and movements. These include “Russian National Unity” and others who draw on the legacy of the alliance between the Third Reich and the Russian Don Cossacks, who formed an SS Corps (much larger than a division) to fight alongside the Wehrmacht in WWII:

      As for the massacre in Odessa on May 2nd, as I have also detailed, this was an operation of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, and the unfolding investigation is gathering more and more evidence of this. Russia and its paid propagandists like to explain everything bad that happens to supporters of Ukrainian independence as a “false flag” operation by the Ukrainians, the CIA, Mossad, etc., etc. They have lately done this with the murder of Boris Nemtsov. But responsible, mature analysts can see through these lies:


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