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Ukrainian Nationalist Movement: Challenge Growing From Within : Soviet Union: Legalized less than a month ago, Rukh already has remarkable influence in the second-largest republic in the nation.

March 03, 1990|CHARLES P. WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rukh leaders concede that their greatest strength lies in the western Ukraine, which dictator Josef Stalin absorbed from Poland in 1939, while the eastern Ukraine has been part of Russia for 300 years. Rukh leaders maintain that the different historical backgrounds help account for the higher level of political consciousness in the west.

It is also true, however, that the eastern Ukraine contains a much larger percentage of ethnic Russians and other minorities, who have been lukewarm to some of the nationalist changes proposed by Rukh.

For example, last October, after substantial prodding from Rukh, the republic's parliament adopted Ukrainian as an official state language, a move which was highly popular among Ukrainians but considered threatening by some in the Russian minority.

Rukh is actually a coalition of vastly different interest groups principally united now by their opposition to Communist Party rule from Moscow. The constituent parts range from the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, which is considered radical leftist, to members of the long-suppressed Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Ivan Drach, a poet who was chosen as leader of Rukh last September, is also a member of the Communist Party, as are a number of high Rukh officials. But Rukh spokesmen dismiss this as a "paradox," which they say merely reflects the lack of choices available before the Gorbachev political thaw.

Rukh officials in Lvov said even the local police have refused to take action against Rukh meetings, telling Interior Ministry officials to send police from outside the area.

Rukh has had great success in identifying issues which are of burning concern here, so much so in fact that Communist Party candidates in the current election campaign have started mimicking Rukh propaganda.

An example is the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Rukh leaders have demanded that Chernobyl be closed entirely on safety grounds, a position reluctantly supported by the Ukrainian Communist Party leadership only three months ago. Now, the decision has been made to phase out the plant over five years.

Rukh is also taking the lead on other sensitive environmental issues such as the high level of pesticides in the soil, a crucial issue in this agricultural region.

Rukh has stopped short of calling for immediate independence from the Soviet Union, as have the Baltic states and Moldavia. But Rukh has demanded what it refers to as economic sovereignty, meaning that the ownership of the republic's industries should be transferred to the Ukraine from ministries in Moscow.

"The Ukraine can exist without the help of the Soviet Union and still feed the people around it," said Lvov candidate Goryn. "Soon we too will be fighting for world markets. The West will have to provide a place in the sun for Ukrainians to dance."

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