Letter to Carleton University

In January, we learned from students of Carleton University that there have been multiple incidents of the ‘Z’ symbols being drawn in public places around the campus. These symbols are widely recognized as a display of support for Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine. We also became aware of at least one discussion promoting Russian state propaganda that was hosted at Carleton University.

According to concerned Carleton students, they tried contacting the university administration and the Student Association, made reports to campus security, and contacted other resources on campus but didn’t find any real support. As a result, many of them feel unsafe and scared. The University’s lack of action creates an impression that the University is not treating concerns of their students as legitimate and is, effectively, creating favourable environment for the spread of Russian aggression and propaganda on campus.

As a non-governmental organization representing Russians who firmly condemn this war, we wanted to reach out to Carleton University to express our support for your Ukrainian students, and the entire anti-war community on campus. Your students need your support, please listen to them. In turn, we would like to explain why allowing ‘Z’ symbols on campus means allowing harassment and why it is a symbol of hate and oppression.

The letter ‘Z’ has become an official symbol of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which is recognized as genocide by the Canadian Government. It is the symbol ubiquitously set up across Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia to intimidate the local populations and mark their military advancements. Proud display of this symbol accompanies numerous cases of murder, torture, sexual violence and other war crimes committed by the Russian military against Ukrainian civilians, as can be seen from multiple accounts by independent media and the UN reports. Some of your Ukrainian students’ friends and family members might have been victims of these crimes committed under this insignia. Their home cities may be currently destroyed with a ‘Z’ marking every other building.

In Russia, the display of ‘Z’ symbols is also ubiquitous, intended to conjure feelings of patriotism among those who support the government and the war. However, its other important purpose is to intimidate those who dare to stand against Putin’s party policy and speak up against the war. There have been many incidents of ‘Z’ symbols accompanied by threats appearing on the doors of activists, for example. So for many Russians it is a symbol of war atrocities committed in your name, of ethnic cleansing of native peoples of Russia, of being forced to leave your home, of constant fear of persecution for yourself and your family.

We would also like to explain why enabling events promoting Russian propaganda on your campus is not promoting free speech but rather promoting hate speech and justification of genocide. The Russian propaganda advances the idea that the Ukrainian people does not exist and is merely a part of the Russian people, that the Ukrainian culture is a made up construct, that the Ukrainian language is a dialect of the Russian language, and the Ukrainian territory is in fact Russian territory stolen from Russia at the dissolution of the Soviet Union. All of this leads to the idea that the ongoing war in Ukraine is justified to let Russia reclaim its historic territories, destroy Ukrainian cultural heritage and cease the use of Ukrainian language on the occupied territories. Hence, Russian propaganda directly translates into justifying the genocide of the Ukrainian people.

When you permit Russian propaganda on your campus, not only do you promote an unsafe environment for your Ukrainian students, but you also drown the voices of Russians with a perspective other than that of the Kremlin, which has been silencing them in Russia all along. If you are truly interested in showcasing different views, including the Russian view on the war and the situation in Russia, we ask you to take into consideration the views of Russians who escaped repressions and indigenous peoples of Russia, rather than the official line of its corrupt government. We will be happy to connect you with speakers, politicians, professors, and indigenous peoples’ rights activists if you are interested in hosting such discussions.

Again, we ask you to stand for what’s right and support your students suffering the repercussions of the ongoing war in Ukraine. We believe that an environment promoting feelings of intimidation and pain is not a safe and productive environment for students. We are certain you agree with us. Please, stand with your Ukrainian students and listen to them if they are reporting something traumatizing for them happening on campus. Do not hesitate to take action against the hate and harassment toward your students.

We hope that since the incidents occurred Carleton University was able to take some action on how to help the students feel safer on campus. If not here is an example of how a university can show support to its Ukrainian students shown by the University of Waterloo: https://twitter.com/UWaterloo/status/1509898711568166920. The University administration publicly condemned such acts of hatred and vandalism, promptly removed the symbols, and opened an investigation. 

To learn more about what Ukrainian students need Carleton University to do to feel safer on campus, you can read the statement of Carleton’s Ukrainian Students’ Club: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn5RlWHOFjc/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

We trust that the Carleton University administration, as well as other universities in Canada, will hear their students. Maybe this letter will help to see the issue from one more perspective.

Thank you,

Activists of Russian CanadianDemocratic Alliance (RCDA)