Ten Things Most People Don’t Know About Ukraine

A recent look at the official statistics at Munich’s Kreisverwaltungsreferat (county authorities) showed that officially more Ukrainians live in Munich than either Brits or Americans. An estimated 12,000 Ukrainians live in or near Munich.

Here are 10 things you should know about Ukraine which might help explain the recent demonstrations war there. These factoids were culled from either Paul Robert Magocsi’s ‘A History of Ukraine’ or Orest Subtelny’s ‘Ukraine: A History’. Ukrainian schools often used a translated version of Subtelny (from English to Ukrainian) to teach pupils Ukrainian history. These two giants are considered by many scholars to be the two best sources for Eastern European studies in English.

  • Shortly before the Mongols sacked Kyiv in 1240, it had 35,000-40,000 inhabitants. London reached that number approximately a century later.

  • After the Mongols were vanquished, Ukraine was controlled by either the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Tartars of the Ottoman Empire, the czars of Russia and eventually the Soviet Union. Except for a brief few months in 1918, Ukraine was never an independent country after 1240 until the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991.

  • From 1848-1917, western Ukraine was under the control of the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs gave western Ukraine near autonomy. The eastern part was led by the czar in Moscow, who considered Ukraine to be nothing more than a vassal state.

  • In 1919, six foreign armies were operating on Ukrainian soil. These included the French, the Romanians, the Hungarians, the Russians (Red and White), and the Poles. Three Ukrainian armies joined the fray: Red, White and Anarchist. Kyiv changed hands five times in 1919. Between the two world wars, Hungary and Czechoslovakia also found reason to have armies in Ukraine too.

  • Kyiv is known as the city of 300 churches. Before the Soviets conquered it Kyiv was known as the city of 3,000 churches.

  • The most important Ukrainian ever was Taras Shevchenko. He basically standardized and created the modern Ukrainian language. Statues of him can be seen all over Ukraine.

  • The Holodomor of 1933, ‘Death by Hunger’, caused the deaths of 4.5-5 million Ukrainians directly. Another 10 million died in the 1930s as a result. Stalin wanted the grain of Ukraine to feed his factory workers in the cities, and was only too pleased to decimate Ukraine, the only country with a population (and mentality) to cause problems internally for the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union denied it ever happened, but it is recognized as genocide by the United States and many members of the European Union, Stalin being the perpetrator.

  • The Soviet Union wasn’t able to completely pacify western Ukraine until the 1950s. The areas near the Carpathian Mountains were trouble spots for many years after WWII.

  • From 1657-1686 another ‘Thirty Years War’ but with a different name was fought in Ukraine between Poland, Russia, the Turks and the Cossacks. Cossacks’ leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky threw his countrymen’s lot in with Russia, forever aligning Ukraine with Russia and not Poland. Poland and Russia would continue to try and pull Ukraine into their respective spheres of influence.

  • Leonid Brezhnev and Leon Trotsky were born on Ukrainian soil, and Nikita Khrushchev moved there when he was 14.

GolodomorKharkivA brief look at the history of present-day Ukraine shows the tremendous amount of difficulties this country has had, and continues to have, to assert its rights as an independent state. Though many of the difficulties can be traced back to the behemothian neighbor Russia, it runs much deeper than that. Western Ukraine has enjoyed a bit more independence that eastern Ukraine, and this is one of the main factors as to why it has been in the lead when it comes to the demonstrations across war in the country.

While Germany Lays Sleeping

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS (1)“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”- Martin Luther King (Editors’ note: Martin Luther King Day is an American holiday on January 20th, 2014.)

As the events in Ukraine continue to unfold, many Ukrainians on the ground are asking ‘where are the Europeans and the Americans?’

It is both a legitimate question and a rhetorical one.

On December 2nd, 1823, Virginian James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, announced to the world in what was later to become known as the Monroe Doctrine, ‘… that any further colonization of the Western Hemisphere by Europe would be considered an act of war.’ Though the US was mostly toothless at the time and unable to do much enforcing of the document, it laid the groundwork for the idea that any important decisions involving the Western Hemisphere would involve the US.

It was mostly formulated by John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, who was also the son of Bostonian John Adams (the second president of the US). The leaders of both the northern and southern states were in agreement.

This doctrine changed the US and its role in the world. Previously, George Washington had recommended that the US remain out of foreign conflicts and affairs. ‘It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,’ he said in his farewell address. But times had changed.

And they are changing once again.

A century later, as Europe was engulfed in the first half of the world wars, many Americans pleaded with the US government to remain on the sidelines. The Isolationists included some of the biggest names in business and politics. ‘Why should we involve ourselves in Europe?’

Woodrow Wilson, quite possibly the last intellectual president before Clinton or Obama, saw the danger of this thinking and continued to assert American influence on a global scale. His peace plan begged France and Great Britain to go easy on Germany. They did not. No better fertilizer was ever spread across a country for the rise of fascism a few decades later.

The United States of America supported the Allies in both world wars, covertly at first, and more overtly as the results became clearer. It had become increasingly impractical to remain neutral.

This lesson has changed little since.

second-world-war-russian-front-07

World War II was fought in Ukraine

The deaths that occurred in other theaters during World War II should not be lessened in any way, yet, the total amount of death and destruction incurred by Ukraine towers over every other participating country of that war in both raw numbers and percentage. Some have estimated that nearly 10,000,000 Ukrainians and Jews have lost their lives on Ukrainian soil. The number is probably closer to 7,000,000.

Ruined_Kiev_in_WWII (1)Ukraine was the anvil as the two ideologues, Stalin and Hitler, pounded away at each other creating more than a ‘Lost Generation’ for Ukraine, but a ‘Lost Century’. The remnants of this conflict can still be seen today. The Soviet Union won the ‘Great Patriotic War’, but lost the bigger cold war. Capitalism and democracy were the bigger winners, Germany rebuilt. Ukraine never recovered from their losses, never rebuilt, and their turning towards ‘Mother Russia’ is in many ways still explicable.

Germany, leaders of Europe, it is time to atone for your failings with Ukraine. The people who have braved the cold to demonstrate against totalitarianism (it is alive and well in Europe) are asking for Germany’s help. Germany should influence now and create their own ‘Merkel Doctrine’. This is Europe and not some faraway land. Any decisions in Europe should involve Germany, and it is time to put the considerable weight of your country to work to dissuade those who would try and create oppressive regimes in your own back yard.

Germany’s pacifism (now) is legendary. It has mostly forsaken military involvement around the world to focus on its economy.There is an old saying in Germany that goes something like this: “The person who pays gets to point the car in the direction he wants.” Germany should get this. But Germany must point the car towards the light and not look the other way as others dangle cheap things to help your economy.

bmwDriving the car of Europe is not only a courtesy. It is an obligation.

Germany, do what you do best. Your European brothers in Ukraine beg of you, please drive the car.

Michael V Owens, married to a Ukrainian, lived in Ukraine for a year, and is the son of a Ukrainian. He was a professor of American Literature and History, and gave numerous lectures on world economics, law, and government, at Kyiv International University. He has regular contact with Kyivians and Ukrainians, and travels once or twice a year to Ukraine.