As an American who has been living in Kharkiv, Ukraine for the past two years, I’m often asked for my opinion on the current situation in Ukraine by Ukrainians. I’m also often the recipient of concern for my well-being from friends back in the USA. While I’ve exchanged private email and messages with a number of people, and posted a few news stories to my accounts on Facebook and VK, I haven’t actually written up a statement of my own until now. I guess the time has finally come for me to write a few things about the current state of affairs here in Ukraine, and in Kharkiv in particular.
A Brief History Lesson
To even begin to understand the situation in Ukraine, I think Americans need a bit of a history lesson. The fact is that most Americans probably couldn’t have located Ukraine on a map before the recent unrest began, and most of them have zero understanding of Eastern European history. As evidence of this, I cite one question that Americans frequently ask me about Ukraine: “Isn’t the Ukraine part of Russia?” No, Ukraine is not part of Russia, and it’s not “the Ukraine” anymore. During the Soviet era, Ukraine was one of the republics of the USSR, and was known as “the Ukraine” in the west as it was a regional republic within a larger whole (the USSR). Today it is an independent nation, and as a result, the “the” before its name has been dropped. In any case, Americans really do need a bit of a history lesson when it comes to understanding politics, society, and ethnic issues in Eastern Europe, as they generally don’t understand much of anything about this entire region.
The Kievan Rus was established in the 9th century by the Varangians as the first historically recorded Eastern Slavic state. It rose to substantial influence and power during the Middle Ages, but had disintegrated by the end of the 12th century. It was invaded by Lithuanians, Poles, and Mongols, and its territories belonged to those groups entirely by the 14th century. In the 15th century, various regions of modern Ukraine were ruled by the Polish, the Lithuanians, and the Crimeans. By the 18th century, Ukraine had been split between the Poles and the Russians. By the 19th century, it was possessed by the Austrians (and later the Austro-Hungarians) and the Russian Empire, and it remained so until the 20th century. Read more »