Fragments from a War Diary, Part #83
When I woke up this morning, much to my surprise, I found that I was still having technical problems. I went to Church, to ask the Powers That Be about it. God wasn’t having technical problems, and neither was Jesus. Nor was the Holy Spirit. They told me not to worry about it; but my technical problems didn’t seem to be getting resolved. So I consulted with my technical teams in the Church crypt. While some people seem permanently interred in the crypt, I am pleased to say that I am not one of them. My technical problems are now resolved.
Central Kyiv is dominated by a number of glorious churches in her centre, although I cannot describe all of them here. The Saint Sophia Cathedral is arguably the most impressive; this is an architectural monument to the Kievan Rus’ period, a sort of imperial Ukrainian era between the ninth and thirteenth centuries in which the city we now call Kyiv was the capital of a multi-ethnic nation including Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians. What is often forgotten amidst the contemporary war and the appalling and unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine is that the various peoples of the region have historically lived together and shared a number of cultural traits in the course of various imperial and other regimes of government in which the borders of the region have shifted over time.
The Kievan Rus’ stretched as far north as Estonia and as far south as the eastern shore of the Sea of Azov, and was a distinctive period in the history of this region in which Ukrainian culture flourished and was highly influential on all the peoples of the region. Indeed the distinctive influence of Ukrainian culture persists to the present day, Ukraine being a source of multiple poets, writers, distinctive religious traditions and a variety of other cultural treasures that make Ukraine so wonderful and indeed unique a country. This is one of the many righteous reasons why the West is making such determined efforts to protect the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine, and why we should continue to do so. Nothing less than the cultural history of Ukraine and her people is at stake. The fear the Ukrainians have long harboured - and I must say with some justification - is that the Russian government is hell bent on assimilation of Ukrainian culture into Russian and in particular Soviet traditions of government.
Language remains a vexed point of dispute in wartime Ukraine. Although I have expressed the view that discrimination on the basis of language is highly undesirable during the period that Ukraine remains at war with Russia, the point many Ukrainian first-language speakers will make is that the presence of a significant proportion of the population who speak Russian as their first language is the consequence of forced Russian cultural assimilation of Ukrainians. At various points in recent (and not so recent) history in which Russia has dominated Ukrainian territory politically or militarily, large numbers of ethnic Ukrainians have found themselves deported to remote areas of Siberia or even murdered en masse and replaced with Russian speakers. Therefore, Ukrainians complain, the reason a substantial proportion of Ukrainian nationals speak Russian as their first language is because the Russian and Soviet governments over various periods of history have been committing genocide.
There is a significant degree of truth in this. In 2022 hundreds of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians are reported to have been deported from occupied Donetsk and Luhansk provinces to more or less remote corners of Russia, including women and children. This ostensibly took place to protect them against the war but in fact it was a massive exercise in ethnic cleansing and undoubtedly it comprised a war crime. One of the reasons that a lot of people in eastern and southern Ukraine speak Russian as a first language (or, at least, they did until the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine when a lot of them stopped doing so) was because at the end of World War II, after some 25% of the population of Ukraine had been killed; and after the Holodmor (peasants’ famine) in 1931-32 killed millions of people in Ukraine, Stalin shipped in large numbers of Russians to repopulate Ukraine and to grow the Soviet Union’s industrial base in Ukraine using Russian workers.
In time, the vast majority of those ethnic Russians who themselves were the subjects of forced or semi-forced transfers to Ukraine assimilated themselves to Ukrainian culture and started speaking Ukrainian as a second language. It would be totally bogus to blame the people of Ukraine who speak Russian as a first language for the efforts of Stalinism in trying to change the political and cultural composition of Ukraine using totalitarian and barbaric methods. Nobody is responsible for that except Stalin himself. And nobody, in my view, is responsible for the barbaric policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin in prosecuting the current war so irresponsibly and catastrophically for the European polity, than Mr Putin himself.
Nevertheless this does explain the resentment that Ukrainians feel, that there have been attempts throughout history to dilute Ukrainian culture and that in the recent past these attempts have been predominantly directed by Moscow. This explains why, for Ukrainians, the issue of their cultural self-preservation is so important a one. Notwithstanding Mr Putin’s dramatic, misleading and frankly tedious essay in July 2021 purporting to justify a Russian invasion of Ukraine on the basis of the countries’ common histories (link available here; warning: this is a link to a Russian government website and it may not be available in Ukraine and even if it is available then it may not be safe so use a secure browser to view it), the Ukrainians as a nation with a distinctive identity feel under threat as a result of the aggressive military actions of their far larger neighbour.
That is why it is so essential to support Ukraine not just financially and militarily but also to support her cultural institutions and artefacts, her language, and to promote and inculcate Western values of freedom, democracy and rule of law into the Ukrainian political culture as part of Ukraine’s process of accession to the European Union and assimilation into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Ukraine has a far stronger tradition of political and indeed economic freedom than Russia, and the country’s culture is much less infected with the sorts of suspicious sinisterism that the security state inculcated in Russian people, starting with Lenin, working through the Stalinist era and now continued during the era of Vladimir Putin. Ukraine has never forcibly deported people en masse or committed genocide, and her government does not arrest people for peaceful political activities such as demonstrating for a political cause or expressing dissenting political opinions. Ukraine remains a democracy in the western sense, whereas Russia most certainly is not. Ukrainians, a hardy, tough people, are nonetheless fundamentally peaceful and their culture inclusive, and that is one of the many reasons why the West properly continues to support them in their heroic resistance against Russian attempts at domination. Slava Ukraini.