A Brief History of Russia and Ukraine

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Brooke Elliott, Staff Writer

With the world’s eyes glued to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this past week, many people are looking to the long and brutal history of the two nations for some sort of explanation. The two countries, by the most liberal of terms, have had a bumpy relationship, and understanding their origins may help those who are new to world politics to understand the current political climate. 

In the late middle ages- specifically the ninth century BCE- a Viking group called the Keivan Rus was founded in the area of modern day Ukraine and Russia, and both countries and ethnic groups trace their origins back to this common ancestor. The two countries were mostly separate from that time to 1793, when Catherine the Great of Russia took most of Ukraine into what was then the Russian Empire. Ukraine was the the Russian Empire what Ireland was the the United Kingdom- that is, a subordinate, separate, entity. They had their own language and culture from the beginning. 

When the Russian empire fell, and the Soviet Union rose to power, Ukraine fought for independence. It was a losing battle though, and in 1922 the peoples were officially under a communist regime. There they stayed, fostering a spirit of independence from Russia, until Joseph Stalin gained control of the USSR around a decade later. 

Stalin was fearful of the Ukrainian threat to his empire, knowing that their strong opposition foreshadowed problems in the future. To eradicate this concern, he first took land from the peasants and gave it to the state. That was just the beginning. The infamous Holodomor- coming from the Ukrainian word for “extermination from hunger”- still sends chills down the spine of all who merely think of it. In 1932 this artificial famine began, which is just as terrifying and inhumane as it sounds. Russian authorities went door to door in Ukraine confiscating food, creating a famine and killing out those who posed a threat to the Soviet state. 

This atrocious display of humanity took place for a year, and in that time killed off around four million Ukrainian people. 

The people of Ukraine survived off of frogs, toads, mice, and yes, cannibalism. 

The second wave of Stalinism resulted in the deaths and arrests of countless Ukrainian intellectuals, a method long used to subjugate a culture. This was a popular way to erase a people’s sense of nationhood since the time of the czars, and it was adopted by Stalin, and now Putin. Artists, writers, and scientists were exterminated, and with them went integral aspects to the Ukrainian people. Even a letter was taken from their alphabet, making even their writing more similar to that of Russia’s. 

Finally, in 1991, after centuries of abuse, Ukraine was a free nation and people; this independence was a testament to the blood, sweat, and injustice suffered. Putin, much like Stalin, sees an independent Ukraine as a threat to the power of Russia, and so he, like his predecessors, is attempting to subjugate them. To aid the Ukrainian people, here are some links to sites where you can learn more or donate to the cause: