Gogol Bordello's front man on what it means to be Ukrainian

The World
Eugene Hutz of the band Gogol Bordello

A controversial bill signed this month by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has reopened the question of Ukrainian identity. The law makes Ukrainian the official language in public schools for grades five and up.

Poroshenko says the law will help kids get a leg up when looking for jobs in Ukraine, but minorities in Ukraine don't see it that way. They say mandating one language in the school system threatens people who speak Polish, Hungarian or Russian.

Amid all of this, Ukraine has had its longstanding conflict with Russia. The battle began two and a half years ago and has led to the Russian annexation of Crimea.

This search for Ukrainian identity is something Eugene Hütz can relate to. He and his family arrived in the US as refugees in 1992 after moving through Europe to escape — among other things — the Chernobyl disaster. He formed the popular gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello in 1999. 

Although his music is influenced by the region, Hütz doesn't feel all that patriotic. "On a tribal level maybe, and on a cultural level," he says. "But I also know that Ukraine has been sort of diluted to a certain extent throughout the Soviet era." 

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This point is an important one, and it's one many Ukrainians agree with. Their culture and identity got subsumed by Russia during the Soviet era. That aftertaste lasts in Ukraine to this day.

"I always felt like I'm some sort of observer, even when I was inside of [Ukraine]. I never felt like I quite made it in to the league of real Ukrainian this or real Ukrainian that. I certainly didn't feel Russian," says Hütz. "I just felt like I was somehow misplaced to begin with." 

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