A Depressing Overview of the History of Ukraine

I’m Ukrainian-American.  Both my parents were DPs after the Second World War who emigrated to the US in 1950 with my sisters. I was born and raised in the Chicago ‘Ukrainian Village”, which we referred to as “the Ghetto”.

My parents, and most of their generation of emigres, were very political. Ukrainian was spoken at home, I went to Ukrainian school on Saturday, and I belonged to Plast, the Ukrainian boy scouts. I married a nice Ukrainian girl. Throughout my childhood and young adu…

  1. Salvatore Padula

    Main feed.

  2. Severely Ltd.

    Well put together (and timely) history lesson. Kozak, is your family from the eastern or Western Ukraine?

    Yeah, main feed.

  3. flownover

    I have read that the Russians may just be grabbing back the Crimea and their port. Do you think this is stagecraft and another chance to show the world that Putin is the man and Obama is the boy, playing draw a line in the sand ?

  4. Kozak
    Severely Ltd.: Well put together (and timely) history lesson. Kozak, is your family from the eastern or Western Ukraine?

    Yeah, main feed. · 10 minutes ago

    Western. Bucovina on the Romanian border.  My dads history is a capsule in 2oth century history. Born  under Austro hungary, then Romanian King, then Romanian Facists , seded to Soviet Russia almost sent to Gulag as Wrecker, then Nazi Germany , spent rest of war avoiding “Liberation” of Soviets, US zone of occupation  (barely!)and Military government, emigrated to America cast his first vote at 45. 

  5. John Walker

    I know almost nothing about the Ukraine after World War II.  I’m soliciting information, not advocating a view.

    Today I listened to a podcast with Paul Craig Roberts, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration and columnist for the Wall Street Journal.  He claims that what is going on in the Ukraine is that the U.S. has been encouraging moderate groups in the West to align with the EU and U.S. and thus distance the Ukraine from Russia, but that this has resulted in hard-line groups, dating back to anti-Soviet days, coming to the fore and  advocating extreme nationalism, to the extent of banning the use of Russian.  This, in turn, polarised the Russian-speaking east and especially Crimea, which was Russian until 1954.

    I have no idea whether there is some truth in this analysis or whether it’s a crackpot theory.  It did not impress me that Dr. Roberts mispronounces “hegemony” and “Crimea”.  But if there is something to this, the presentation in the Western media is completely missing the conflict between pro-Europe and radical nationalists on the anti-Russian side.

    Enlightenment, anybody?

  6. Nanda Panjandrum

    Thanks for the knowledge and perspective, Kozak!  Yes, Main Feed! (Praying and fasting, by the way…).

  7. Roberto
    John Walker:  Enlightenment, anybody? 

    I cannot speak to the veracity of that but I have come across claims that some Ukrainian media outlets are portraying a very different picture on the ground from what we are hearing:

    There is a “reign of terror” in Kiev and some other areas right now.

    Offices and even private homes associated with the former ruling party and its communist allies have been ransacked or burned by militias even though Yanukovich’s mansion has been left alone…

    Other pro-Russia citizens have been rounded up and taken away by militias, with no warrant.  We have no idea if, how, or where they are being held…

    Riot police returning to their bases in western Ukraine were forced to attend public assemblies in which they had to get on their knees and beg forgiveness (whether or not they were involved in any abuses.) Some have already fled their homes and are living as refugees. 

    Also, one of parliament’s very first post-revolution decisions was to revoke the right of local governments to do business in non-Ukrainian languages, such as Russian.

    It very much has the air of propaganda, yet who can say?
  8. Israel P.

    Killing the Jews – both while collaborating with the Nazis and earlier on their own – and chasing the rest away probably didn’t help either.

    (When I was there nearly fourteen years ago, everyone said “I don’t know anything. I was someplace else.”)

    This is a list of only part of my father’s father’s father’s line.

  9. iWc

    Ukraine does not want freedom or success. Wallowing is easier and more fun in a suffering kind of way. That is why everyone is so corrupt: their worldview is inherently cynical.

    For my part, I have no concerns on behalf of the country. It will or it will not sort things out. But I am very worried about Putin, and what will happen next if nothing slows him down.

  10. Danny Alexander

    Thank you for the history, but please note these asterisks.

    (And incidentally, I write this as someone who had a maternal great-grandfather who hailed from Berdichev.)

    *17th-century =

    The presumably democratically-elected Hetman, Bogdan Khmelnytsky, was at the helm of military operations deliberately targeting all Jews within reach for slaughter.  

    (Granted, Poles were also explicitly targeted as well and subjected to similarly large-scale massacres.)

    One can argue till the cows come home whether the actual numbers of Jewish mass-murders totaled as much as was claimed in years past, or whether they tend closer to a notably lower number (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmelnytsky_Uprising).  

    Really, though, that is moot:  Even at the lower number of 18,000 murdered out of a total targetable Jewish population of 40,000 we are still talking about a damnable policy and its unpardonably gruesome execution.

    The shock-waves throughout the Jewish world of Eastern Europe were nothing short of massive.

    *20th-century =

    Holocaust/Shoah.  

    Lots of enthusiastic Ukrainian collaboration/participation and advantage-taking, no matter how one wishes to posit extenuating circumstances.  

    (Soviets? Nazis? Independent partisans?  All of the Above, vis-a-vis the Jews.)

    Depressing?  Yes.  Blank check?  No.

  11. Dave Carter
    C

    Kozak, thank you for this. I had a friend many years ago who hailed from Chicago, and who was of Ukranian ancestry. He didn’t talk much about it though. You’ve added important context to the headlines.

  12. Kozak
    iWc: Ukraine does not want freedom or success. Wallowing is easier and more fun in a suffering kind of way. That is why everyone is so corrupt: their worldview is inherently cynical.

    For my part, I have no concerns on behalf of the country. It will or it will not sort things out. But I am very worried about Putin, and what will happen next if nothing slows him down. · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    Optimism is pretty thin on the ground after being a slaughterhouse in WW1, a failed attempt at nationhood, Soviet occupation and genocide, the Gulag, WW2, more Soviet occupation and genocide, a bungled independence, and now Russia again scheming and invading.  Even the Ukrainian national anthem strikes a depressing note. The first line is:

    “Ukraine is not dead”.  On the other hand, despite that, for 400 years the dream of independence lives.  People have DIED by the hundreds recently for their cause.  and there’s this:

    images.jpgDoesn’t look like apathy to me. When was the last time WE put up a fight like that?

  13. Crow

    Excellent, concise history for those unfamiliar with the region, Kozak. The depressing story of former Soviet apparatchiks replacing one flag with another is repeated again and again across a number of former satellites and occupied countries, unfortunately.

    Also, interesting to hear about your parents and your experience growing up in Chicago’s little Ukraine.

    Kozak:  Once again, our bad neighbor to the East is trying to sweep Ukraine into its stifling embrace, exploiting the ancient divisions it helped cause. I hope enough Russophiles remember what a tight and painful embrace it’s been in the past to avoid their jumping so eagerly back into it.

    These old ethnic fault lines across the Balkans and down into central Asia won’t be resolved anytime soon. I am unsurprised to see Russia re-exert its influence everywhere from Chechnya to Georgia as Putin attempts to consolidate his regime.

    Unlike some other adversarial regimes in the world, Putin’s Russia is largely acting rationally in its perceived economic and political interests across the Black Sea.

    Our response on a number of fronts should look to compel a change in Putin’s calculus in Eastern and Northern Europe going forward.

  14. Concretevol
    Israel P.: Killing the Jews – both while collaborating with the Nazis and earlier on their own – and chasing the rest away probably didn’t help either.

    (When I was there nearly fourteen years ago, everyone said “I don’t know anything. I was someplace else.”)

    This is a list of only part of my father’s father’s father’s line. · 2 hours ago

    Edited 2 hours ago

    Israel P, lists like this need no commentary.  Very powerful

  15. Kozak

    Crow’s Nest

    Yeah it’s not surprising but may not be in Russia’s long term interest. First everyone of Russia’s neighbors now know what Russia’s assurance is worth.  Second if they completely destabilize Ukraine, Putin could be looking at a civil war on his doorstep, and maybe the occupation of a large  heavily populated hostile area swimming in weapons, with those long gas pipelines, Russia’s prime source of income nice fat targets.

  16. Adrian
    Kozak:

    Unfortunately, instead of having a real revolution and hanging the bastards, the same corrupt apparatchiks who ruled under the Soviets simply took down the Red Rag and ran up the Blue and Yellow … Nothing really changed…

    There’s this terrific movie called Sunshine about a family of Hungarian Jews under the Nazis and then the Communists, and it makes the identical point. Sure, at the highest level, the most recognized faces may have been gotten rid of and replaced by a new set of rulers. But pretty much everyone else, the evil corrupt faceless bureaucrats who ran the Nazi state, well, they just traded in one color cap for another, and became overnight the evil corrupt faceless bureaucrats running the Communist state.

    Whether in Ukraine or Hungary or anywhere else, I think this is one of the most important observations about human nature and the nature of tyranny there is.

    It’s very important in America, too, I contend. People are excited about getting rid of Obama, me too, but I think we’re doomed anyway unless we get rid of the faceless fascist bureaucrats who really run the country.

    Anyway, great post, thank you!

  17. Kozak

    I would suggest anyone interested in this topic listen to the current Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast  which is a great synopsis. Also this from NR has some useful info:

    <br><br>

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/372319/about-those-ukrainian-extremists-andrew-stuttaford

  18. Kozak

    Add to the depressing history of Ukraine an antisemetic streak, no doubt about it. I’ve dealt with it in friends and family. I’m not looking to excuse past injustice. It’s not unique to Ukrainians. Russians, Poles, Romanians Germans, almost every national group in Europe has had this issue. America displaced its native population and enslaved Blacks.

    Do those past sins forever doom a people to be subjugated by their neighbor ?

  19. The Mugwump

    Kozak,

    I’m still perplexed by Putin’s motivation in this situation.  Black Sea ports and wheat don’t make for a sufficient geopolitical reason.  I have to agree with Dr. Rahe that Putin is risking more than he has to gain.  The nature of warfare since World War II doesn’t usually include naked cross-border aggression.  Putin’s gambit seems both reckless and ultimately counterproductive.  So what’s your best guess?             

  20. Jimmy Carter
    Kozak:  America displaced its native population and enslaved Blacks.

     24 minutes ago

    I take issue with this statement.

    No, this land was civilized and then named America.

    There may have been slaves in America, but She didn’t “enslave” Them, She liberated Blacks.

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