Olivia Durand, a postdoctoral associate in history at Oxford University, explores Vladimir Putin’s claims that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”.
A political pamphlet published in 1762 describes the conversation between “Great Russia” and “Little Russia”. In exchange, the second land refused to simply shrink into a part of Great Russia and came up with its own unique history and identity. At that time, the name “Ukraine” did not yet designate a country. But the noun Ukraine – a word meaning “borderland” in some Slavic languages - was used to describe its future territory: the vast steppe surrounding the Dnipro (Dnieper) River and bordering the Black Sea.
The term Little Russia was gradually phased out in the age of nationalism, when 19th-century Ukrainian-speaking thinkers and scholars decided to overthrow the old derogatory term in favor of a modern idea of Ukraine as a country. But two centuries later, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia exploit these historical discourses to justify his invasion of independent Ukraine. He made his feelings clear in a Article from July 2021 published on his presidential website when he wrote of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people – one whole”.
The capital of Ukraine, Kyiv (or Kiev), has been repeatedly described as “mother of Russian cities“. Kyiv is the center of Kyivan Rus’ (882-1240), an Orthodox medieval state from which Russian leaders – from tsar to Putin – trace their country’s roots (ancestry is also identified). received by Belarus and Ukraine). The claim is often used support Russia’s Sovereignty Over the Territories of Ukraine.
But this is a misconception. While the forerunner of the Russian empire, Muscovy, rose after the Mongol invasion (1237-40) marked the end of Rus’, the rulers of Moscow only took control of Kyiv 500 years later. . Confirmation of Kyivan’s origin was instead a convenient method of negating the Mongol and Tatar element that shaped Muscovy’s early development and instead gave Russia an Orthodox past, with the tsars seemingly being appointed by God.
Russian territorial influence over what remained of Rus’ was limited by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795), a confederation of two great powers in Central Europe. Most of the region known as Ukraine remained outside Russia’s jurisdiction until last partition of Poland in 1795.
Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe and its geography is influenced by more countries than just Russia. Since Ukraine originally meant “borderland”, the territory was the target of several kingdoms – not only Russia, but also the Khanate of Crimea, the Kingdom of Poland, and the Habsburg and Ottoman empires.
The Polish-Lithuanian Relations is key to understanding this geography – before 1648, almost all Ukrainians lived under Warsaw’s rule. The steppe region to the south of Ukraine is sparsely populated, while in the west Hungary has ruled Transcarpathia since the Middle Ages, and the main cities of L’viv or Ternopil are successively in Poland or Austria. These cities briefly became centers of Western Ukrainian People’s Republic from 1917 to 1921, before their integration into the Soviet Union.
Since 2014, the Donbas region to the east and the Black Sea coast has been at the center of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. This land is known as “New Russia”.Novorossiya) of Catherine II “the Great” after her armies conquered them in the 1770s. But only a few Russians moved to the “wild fields” in southern Ukraine (very dikoe), promoting the recruitment of foreign settlers from elsewhere in Europe.
So the “New Russia” was never really very Russian. Historically, its territory was settled by Mennonites and Catholic Germans, French and Italian traders as well as large numbers of Greeks, Jews (from Poland and western Ukraine), Bulgarians, people Serbs and of course Ukrainians.
When Vladimir Putin mentioned this vast area “New Russia”, he mainly reveals an incomplete understanding of Ukraine’s multi-ethnic past. Trying to understand Ukraine only through the lens of Russia is limited: Ukrainian identity is the sum total of a multicultural population, connected not only with Russia but also, essentially, with the central European states. and the Black Sea region.
Cultural hegemony in Ukraine
The rise of the Ukrainian nationalist movement in the 19th century was seen by Russian authorities as a sign of corrupting foreign influence – possibly even the result of a Western conspiracy. Ukrainian identity is characterized by dependence on a predominantly urban Russian culture, the Ukrainian language associated with the countryside.
The Russian language remains a tool of social mobility – very important for anyone who wants to participate in the administration of the Russian empire and improve their socioeconomic status. Today in Ukraine, Russian is still a convenient language for work, used by many businesses and technology industries.
Ukrainians was said long before Taras Shevchenko’s first publication in Ukrainian in the 1830s, but its alphabet was not standardized until the late 19th century. Initially, the Ukrainians were encouraged by the tsarist government as a counterweight to Polish influence. But as the secret societies of Ukraine (Hromady) was developed to pursue the study of folklore, in 1876 outlawed tsarist government all publications and performances in Ukrainian.
After 1917, Ukraine experienced a brief cultural spring due to local policies (korenizatsiia) under the Bolsheviks. They initially encouraged national languages to undermine Russia’s cultural dominance, with 89% of newspapers being printed in Ukrainian by 1931, and 97% of elementary school students learning the language. But Stalin reversed these policies in 1932.
The The Holodomor Famine, which killed an estimated 3.5 million people in Ukraine alone between 1932-33, destroyed the very population that could preserve the cultural and social imprints of national identity. This disaster changed the demographic balance of the country, with the loss of one third of Ukrainian population.
The rapid succession of occupations and battles of the Second World War also marked the loss of Ukraine’s rich multi-ethnic past, with executions and deportations. its Jewish population, and nearly wiped out of the remaining Crimean Tatars.
By 1946, only 25 million inhabitants remained in Ukraine, which opened the country to a growing wave of emigration from other parts of the Soviet Union – especially from Russia. The destruction of Ukrainian society before the war and its replacement by supporters of a greater Russian ideology was reinforced by 1958 language and education reform, aiming to make Russian the second mother tongue of all non-Russians.
At the time of Ukraine’s independence in 1991, a third of the population were Russophone emigrants and their descendants, especially in the industrial east and Crimea. To this day, Ukraine is the home of largest population of Russian speakers outside Russia.
In 1991, 90% of the population voted in favor of an autonomous Ukraine. Now, 30 years later, Ukraine considers itself a post-colonial and multinational country – neither “Russia” nor “Small”. While Russian politicians continue to see Ukraine as Russian for their own sake, this view ignores how Ukraine has persevered in the face of forced assimilation, cultural differences, Russian belligerence. imperialism and colonial exploitation, to become one’s own country.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/russia/955446/how-russian-is-ukraine How Russian is Ukrainian? | British Weekly