An Attempt to document the History and Context of the War in Ukraine Updated 14. May 2022
The earliest archeological evidence are called Kurgane. These are small man made hills, which are graves. A well known one is called Kamjana Mohila and dates back 20 000 years ago. A lot later Kievan Rus was a medieval political federation located in modern-day Belarus, Ukraine, and part of Russia (the latter named for the Rus, a Scandinavian people, probably the Vikings). The name Kievan Rus means ‘land of the Rus. The term Rus means people identified as Vikings to rule and maintain order in this area in the mid-9th century. The Rus ruled from the city of Kiev. One emperor called Vladimir made big political progress in the late 10th century and converted to Christianity. Putin uses the above story to claim that Ukraine has been Russian. Putin unveiled 2016 a statue of Vladimir in Moscow. Both claim Vladimir being the founder of their respective nations. The descendants of Vladimir fought each other from 1054 to 1237. Fact is in the 12th century Kijew was one of the richests et largests city in Europe. It was economic, and cultural center of a powerfull, internationelly well connected diverse kingdom (Source: Felix Philipp Ingold, Schweizer Monat, June 2014, page 36). In the 13th century Mongols invaded, lots and lots of wars and changes, like everywhere in the world for the next centuries to come. (Sources: https://www.worldhistory.org/Kievan_Rus/). Historical Atlas “Historica”. The problem: Moscow did not exist at that time or at least was a tiny village compared to the city of Kiev. Kievan Rus was not a Russian nor a Ukrainian Structure of some sort of State. It was a result of historical developments of the Middle Age. In 1648 as an independant Kosak State called Hetmanat, it had to forge alliances with Poland and Russia, was annected and divided, belonged to the Austrian-Hungary Empire at times, the East belonged to the Russian Zar (Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag 3rd April 2022). In 1783 Russia gave the Krim to Ukrain. Change is a constant with Ukrainians. But Ukrainians are not Russians.
The below text is a translated summary of two articles published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung dated 5. March 2022. The Authors: Ulrich M. Schmid, Professor für Kultur und Gesellschaft Russlands, Universität St. Gallen. Interview with Harvard Professor Serhii Plokhy.
The beginning of a modern project of a Ukrainian Nation surfaced in the early 19th century. The Ukraine Nation was built piece by piece via cultural evolution and emergence. Parallel a Russian Nation was build based on the same natural historical emergence. Before Napoleon early 19 Century invaded, the Russian Aristocracy for example dressed and spoke French amongst each other and read Rousseau or Diderot. After 1812 that ceased of course, and Russian language and Literature revived. In addition, Russia developed a state ideology based on Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Patriotism. (Minister Uwarow in 1833).
Since “Russia” had and has a lot of neighbors and neighboring cultures, it had to make offers of integration (like lower Gas Prices for Ukraine in present day terms) balancing the efforts of homogenization. But not always: 1863 the Zar banned the Ukrainian Language in usage of printed text. A campaign of Russification started. Only 1905 the Russian Academia recognized Ukrainian as independent language.
20th Century: October revolution 1917 Lenin and his Bolsheviks tried to bring Kiev under their control, but the Ukrainian National movement was too strong.1918 the Ukrainian Parliament pronounced an own State. 1922 Lenin, based on pressure of Ukrainian and Georgians, built a Russian Federation instead of a Central state.Stalin consolidated power by 1928 and started to kill the upper class of Ukrainians and confiscated the wheat of Ukrainian framers which lead to Holodomor, which means “killing through starvation” in addition to ethnical cleansing of other social classes. An estimated 3,5 to 7,5 millions of Ukrainians dies between 1931 and 1933. The Ukraine was not a posterchild either. Who is? In 1934 a Ukrainian Fascist group killed the polish minister of interior. Hitler invades Ukraine a second time after 1918, in 1941. In 1954 Chrustschow gave the Krim to the Ukraine. Ukraine as a multi-cultural state never made pressure on local Russians to convert to Ukrainian Culture and Language. The Alliance Ukraine and Russia existed until 1986 under Gorbatschow. The Tschernobyl accident ended the relationship and ultimately the USSR ceased to exist. 1991 Creation of Ukraine and many other states as a sovereign, independent States, as they exist today.
From 2013 to 18. February 2014 Euromaidan. 2014 first Russian war in the Ukraine. Putin took the Krim “back”. Then 24. February 2022: Putin gives orders to start another Invasion and War.
Putin wants the 19th Century Russian state back, whatever it was. For him Ukraine is part of that. In every dimension: geopolitical, cultural, and historical. However, Ukraine has learned to be a multi ethnic model, language, religions, considering modern Institutions, with sense of citizenship, souverains and democracy. Today political Ukraine is much more homogenic and much closer to Europe, thanks to the younger generation. Ukraine is an open society and only open Societies evolve to a common good (Popper) shaping the future. As Putin and his hitmen show, he is against all this.
In 1988 I met a Hungarian in Zurich. He was a refuge in 1958 when Russia invaded Budapest. “All what the people in the East want is FREEDOM”, he said. It is our duty to help and support both Ukrainians and Russians over the coming decades to appease and reduce the emerging hate. The Russian people are suffering too. Putin does not care. But the Russians must learn too to fight for a tolerant open and peaceful Russia. Freedom, Openness is key, but as Harari suggests we need to give History less importance, because only the future can change. Each and everyone of us can contribute. I want to thank Ulrich Schmid and Serhii Plokhy for their great articles. And the NZZ for publishing.