The war in Ukraine has created fear, grief, and uncertainty throughout the university community. Various perspectives are available, including those of the University of Rochester’s Matthew Lenoe, an expert on Soviet and Russian history, the mass media, and the experiences of Soviet soldiers during World War II. Lenoe explains the dangers of wrongly blaming Putin’s invasion on the concept of a Third Rome. But if you are still convinced that Russia is to blame, you must read on for some perspective on the conflict in Ukraine.
In the Soviet Union, Ukrainian nationalist sentiments were suppressed, but they gained traction after the Holodomor famine in 1932-33, which was caused by Stalin’s agricultural policies. The famine killed between three and five million Ukrainians. As a result, armed uprisings against Soviet rule broke out during and after World War II, centered in the western parts of Ukraine annexed by Poland in 1939. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was granted independence in 1991.
Before the 18th century, most of what is now Ukraine was formally ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian nobility. This part of the country was largely populated by Orthodox East Slavs who formed semi-autonomous Cossack groups. Unlike today, however, most Cossacks did not want to become part of Muscovite Russia. As a result, these groups formed the Zaporizhian Sich and ‘Cossack ‘Hetmanate’ in 1648. In 1648, the expanding Tsardom of Russia signed an alliance with these Cossacks.
In West Slavic languages, the preposition na is used with Ukraine, whereas the South Slavic languages, such as Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian, use v exclusively. In German, Ukraine is rendered as two juxtaposed vowel sounds, but its pronunciation is similar to that of its South Slavic cousin, Ukrayina. The word “ukraina” is also used to describe the southern border of Russia.
The Russian government has resorted to increasing its military presence in the area of eastern Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin declared a “new phase of war” in the region. This time, however, it appears that Russia is intent on destroying Ukraine and threatening international peace. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians are reportedly displaced in eastern Ukraine and need to flee. In addition to the military response, the U.S. government has suspended Russia’s permanent observer status in the Organization of American States (OSCE).
While both Presidents of the United States and France have called for diplomacy, Russia has escalated its actions toward Ukraine. The United States, Britain, and Germany have withdrawn diplomatic staff from Ukraine’s embassy, citing Russian “provocations.” Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country is ready to discuss its neutral status with Russia. Earlier, U.S. officials walked back Biden’s “call” for regime change in Russia, saying that the United States has no intention of a change in government in Moscow.
In his March 18th 2014 speech to the Russian parliament, Putin cited this line as a proof that he did not recognise the boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and did not recognize them. He also referred to the disputed territory as the Soviet Union’s “historical South,” despite the fact that no Russian presence existed there prior to the 19th century. As a result, the current southern-eastern border of Ukraine was drawn without regard to the ethnic composition of its population.