Putin's Denial of Ukrainian Statehood Carries Dark EchoesRoundup
tags: Russia, Ukraine, nationalism, World War 2, Eastern Europe
The writer is Levin professor of history at Yale University and the author of books on Russian and Ukrainian history including Bloodlands and The Road to Unfreedom.
On Monday afternoon I took part in the dissertation defence of a young Ukrainian historian. I had to call in to Lviv, to the Ukrainian Catholic University. On a day full of threats, we had a discussion of history.
The candidate submitted a biography of Mykhailo Rudnyts’kyi, a poet and literary critic who hailed from an illustrious Ukrainian family: one of his brothers, Antin, was a composer; his other brother, Ivan, was a journalist; and their sister, Milena, was a feminist, parliamentarian, an activist at the League of Nations.
They were born in the old Habsburg monarchy and matured in the Poland of the 1920s and 1930s, which had a large Ukrainian minority. The Rudnyts’kyis lived in a cosmopolitan city that they called Lviv. Not far to the east was the Soviet Union, with its Ukrainian republic, home to far more Ukrainians.
A century of Ukrainian pain and hope came through the details of the family history. In 1932 and 1933, Milena struggled to bring the attention of the world to the Holodomor, Stalin’s political famine in Soviet Ukraine, which killed some 4mn people. Stalin, for his part, blamed Ukrainians themselves for starving and his propaganda called anyone who mentioned the famine a Nazi.
Hitler had just come to power. Like Stalin, he wanted to master the fertile black earth of Ukraine and his ultimate war aim was to win it for a German racial empire. In 1939, Stalin and Hitler were allies in the first part of the second world war and split Poland between them. Suddenly the Rudnyts’kyis’ home city of Lviv was part of the Soviet Union.
Three siblings fled; Mykhailo remained. Then, in 1941, Hitler betrayed Stalin, and Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Now Lviv fell under Nazi rule. Mykhailo went underground and earned a living as a pseudonymous translator.
Highlight text He and his siblings were Jewish on their mother’s side. They were all famous Ukrainians; it was a nation they had chosen. Two of their grandparents were Jews, one was a German-speaking Pole and only one was Ukrainian. Their father and their mother had spoken Polish together, and their father had died young. Yet they all helped to make a Ukrainian nation.
I was thinking about all this as Russian artillery began to fall in eastern Ukraine.