The event was hosted on the 25th of October 2023 in the European Parliament by MEP Rasa Juknevičienė in cooperation with the Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial.
Thank you very much for inviting me. It is very interesting to listen to the stories of all the speakers that echoed in me. I’m going to dwell on my own story, and tell you about the general situation of indigenous peoples of Russia. I belong to the Shor, a small indigenous people from Russia, living in Kemerovo Oblast, which is the coal area of Kuzbass. Five years ago, I had to flee from Russia because my family and I were fighting against the barbaric excavation of coal in Kuzbass and we were threatened and harassed by Russian authorities and large coal corporations. We got asylum in Sweden.
Indigenous peoples of Russia are different. I’m from a small indigenous people, and there are larger ones. Non-Russians in Russia have always been suffering. In Russia, my people have been fishing and hunting for centuries and used to do smith work before we lost this type of our traditional handcrafting because the Russians prohibited smith working to our people. Today, we are losing traditional crafts like fishing and hunting because of the barbaric excavation of coal. Our taiga is being destroyed, and our rivers are polluted by the barbaric open mine excavation of coal. Today, we are losing such traditional crafts as fishing, hunting, and many of my people relocate to urban areas. They lose their native language; they assimilate, undergo urbanization, and naturally, our health really suffers. Our children are born with horrible diseases. There’s a very high rate of cancer because of the environmental disaster in our region. This is one of the chains in the link of the colonial policy of Russia.
Indigenous peoples of Russia have been suffering, and we can see this today. We could see this when a large-scale invasion of the Russian troops started in Ukraine a year ago. Who were the first people to be mobilised in the army, who were sent to the front? The representatives of indigenous people: Yakuts, Buryats, Tuvans. Some of our men escape mobilisation just going to taiga for hunting, berry-picking, and traditional survival. There was a case of escape via Alaska when men crossed the border by boat and asked for asylum. Many people could not hide; they didn’t know what to do. They are grabbed and enlisted. There were reported cases in Yakutia in faraway villages, there were no roads, the mobilised people were taken by helicopters. Some representatives of indigenous people go to the war voluntarily because they are subjected to propaganda. Many of them go there just to make their living. They die, and then their bodies are brought home. The Shors are 10,000 people, and if they enlist 10 or 20 men, it’s a big lost. Some of our people are prisoners of war. Many of them get back from the war wounded and disable. It’s a horrible tragedy for our peoples. Some people who are in prisons conclude contracts to come back to their homeland as alleged heroes. In general, it’s horrible, scary, and very sad. It’s important to highlight it, and it’s important that we’re here today to discuss it.
The agenda of colonial oppression is very acute. We have been speaking about that for a long time. This situation in our region, the situation with coal excavation, has been going on for quite a while. Indigenous peoples not only in Russia but around the world usually live in areas with a lot of resources, and there is a conflict between the peoples and businesses. We have a right to our area, and there should be informed preliminary consent. However, Russia does not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples. Russia tries to manipulate indigenous peoples when those who have lots of money and leverage buy the representatives of some organizations among indigenous people. They present us as funny people who just dance and sing, but they do nothing for our native language, they do nothing to really develop us, and they do not support the right for our self-determination.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the idea that has been mentioned today, that Ukraine today pays a very high price. This is a tragedy. We can see they pay this price not only for their own freedom but for the freedom of all other nations and people who for centuries have been suffering from discrimination, suppression and xenophobia.