A Splintered Ukraine

8 august 2007

Roy Medvedev

Resume: Efforts to unite Ukraine around the ideology of Ukrainian ethnic nationalism have proven futile. The complete fiasco of the ideas of Rukh was quite obvious way back in the 1990s. The phenomenon of Victor Yushchenko, who tried to give nationalism a new lease of life, rests on support gained from external forces, first and foremost, and also on support given to Yulia Tymoshenko’s populist movement that harvested votes in the cities and districts where an overt ethnic nationalism would not have had any chances otherwise.

A sovereign and independent Ukraine only appeared on world and European maps fairly recently, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. No one in Europe had prepared the event and no one was prepared for it. No one understood the nature of the Ukrainian nation either. The Europeans did not have any experts on Ukraine or even Ukrainian translators, although the same is true for Kazakhstan, Belarus and Moldavia. The West only had Sovietologists, Kremlinologists and Russia specialists. Europeans could much better understand the independence of smaller countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and even Armenia and Georgia. Ukraine suddenly became the biggest European country in terms of territory. It had a smaller population than Germany, France, Britain and Italy, but larger than Spain or Poland. Yet it was way behind Europe in terms of economic might, living standards and the maturity of national consciousness. As far back as in the mid 1990s, several European foundations sent researchers to Ukraine to produce a clearer picture of the past, present and future of the new neighbor, which had sprung up so unexpectedly. The research proved to be immensely complicated as the results of polls differed tremendously in Kiev and Odessa, Kharkov and Sevastopol, Lvov in the country’s west and Donetsk in the east. The problem was that the differences affected basic values of national history and religion, as well as Ukraine’s relations with Russia and Western countries.

Yet the West did not have any special interest in Ukraine: there was a general decline in attention toward anything related to Russia and the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. The number of university students studying Russian dropped by dozens of percent, and only a few showed interest in studying Ukrainian, Georgian or Kazakh. Interest in Ukraine skyrocketed all of a sudden only during the ‘orange revolution’ in November and December 2004. That event propelled the names of Yulia Tymoshenko and Victor Yushchenko to worldwide acclaim. When Yushchenko addressed a joint session of both houses of the U.S. Congress as the newly elected Ukrainian president, U.S. representatives and senators welcomed him as a hero, with more than a hundred of them lining up to shake hands with him.

However, later developments puzzled and disappointed Western political analysts and policymakers. Over the past year, the Western mass media dropped virtually any comments on what was happening in Ukraine. Russian newspapers, too, drastically cut their Ukrainian coverage. The Ukrainian equation has proven to be overly complex due to the presence of many unknown elements in it.

The authoritarian regimes of the former Soviet Union and the Russian Empire had many more drawbacks, apart from checks on openness, but while they shackled progressive processes, they also weeded out the seeds of discord scattered around the Imperial lands. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, those seeds sprouted out in the South Caucasus, North Caucasus, Central Asia, and Ukraine. The latter avoided an armed conflict, but the acute contradictions that surfaced in Ukrainian society continue to threaten its stability and are slowing down the country’s development.


Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko made a critical address to the nation when he called for unity between Left-Bank Ukraine and Right-Bank Ukraine. At the same time, Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich promised to build a policy taking account of “Ukraine’s three cultural and economic spaces – the European, Eurasian and Mediterranean.” Former President Leonid Kuchma had claimed that Ukraine has twelve clearly shaped and distinct historical regions – the Sloboda region, Polesia, the Middle Sub-Dnieper region, the Dnieper Rapids region, the Donets Basin, Podolia, the Black Sea Littoral Area, the Crimea, Volyn, Galicia, Transcarpathia (known as Subcarpathia in the West – Ed.) and Bukovina (Leonid Kuchma. Ukraine Is Not Russia: A Return Into History, Moscow, 2003, p. 19. – Russ. Ed.).

I personally see no grounds to disagree with Kuchma on this classification, yet as a historian I would put these regions in a different order and specify the different paths that they followed over the past thousand years.

The historical destinies of Galicia, as well as neighboring Transcarpathia and Bukovina, are very specific. These parts of western Ukraine were the least affected by the Tatar-Mongol invasion compared with the other principalities of Kievan Rus. In later centuries, they were regions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rzeczpospolita, Hungary, and Austria-Hungary. They were never subordinate to the Russian Empire and during World War I conscripts were drafted there to fight in the Austro-Hungarian army, not the Russian army. The Treaty of Versailles split these lands among three countries – Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. They were incorporated into Soviet Ukraine de facto only after 1945. The people in these regions have always felt a strong influence from the Roman Catholic Church, but both the Polish Kingdom and the Hapsburg monarchy regarded them as provinces. People in Galicia did not know anything about Alexander Pushkin, yet equally enough they knew nothing about Taras Shevchenko, the prominent nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet. Thus, the nationalist idea that budded there at the end of the 19th century was centered on obtaining autonomy for Ukraine within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Sloboda region (whose name is derived from the Russian word ‘sloboda’ – a non-serf settlement of peasants and/or craftsmen) is historically a part of Russia. The border separating the Russian state and Rzecz Pospolita at the beginning of the 17th century was far to the west of the modern cities of Izyum, Kharkov, Sumy and Rylsk. This underdeveloped area attracted peasants from Rzeczpospolita, who were fleeing oppression, as well as fugitive Russians. Russian servicemen settled there, as well as Cossacks from Ukraine who had lost battles to Polish troops. The Russian government would deploy the new Cossack regiments there that would make up the Belgorod defense line protecting Moscow from incursions by the Crimean Tatar khans. Kharkov, founded in 1656, developed as a Russian city. After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, it was the industrially advanced Kharkov that became the first capital of Soviet Ukraine. It remained the capital until 1934. According to a census taken in 1989, ethnic Russians accounted for up to 30 percent of the population in the Sloboda region of Ukraine. Ukrainians made up another 65 percent, but most of them spoke Russian as their native language.

From the historical, ethnic and cultural point of view, Ukraine’s foundation was formed out of three historical regions that were officially called Malorossia (Little Russia) in the Russian Empire. Today this area encompasses the City of Kiev, the Zaporozhye, Zhitomir, Vinnitsa, Kiev and Kirovograd regions on the right bank of the Dnieper, and also the Chernigov and Poltava regions on the river’s left bank. The Russian classical novelist Nikolai Gogol, the linguist and ethnographer Vladimir Dahl, as well as numerous other Russian and Ukrainian writers devoted their writings to Malorossia. The word was included in the full title of the Russian emperors.

In the mid-17th century, hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky led a national revolt for the liberalization of the Ukrainian people in this region. By 1650, the three districts had singled themselves out of the whole territory and had formed a state ruled according to the habits and traditions of Cossack life. In 1654, when these lands joined Russia, their aggregate territory was even smaller than it was originally. The areas that can be called Bogdan Khmelnitsky’s Ukraine went over to Russia only after the Andrusov Treaty of 1667 and the so-called ‘treaty of eternal peace.’ As a nation and state, Ukraine took shape around this central territory. Only a part of Malorossia was integrated into the Malorossian General Governorship. Soviet-era historiography discarded the term Malorossia as capitalist and nationalistic, while today’s nationalists condemn it as an asset of “Russian imperialism.” The common people did not reject it, however, and even Zaporozhye Cossacks mention “our Malorossian fatherland” in their documents. Ukrainian publicist Leonid Berest said: “Yes, we are Malorossians, Little Russians. The so-called national democrats hate the word bitterly. But what’s so bad about it? It was here in Kiev, in Malorossia, that Rus, which was destined to become Great Russia, took its origins. Malorossia is called this way because it is the original Russia. Contrary to the fantasies of our nationalists tormented by the inferiority complex, the name does not humiliate anyone.” (2000 weekly, October 6, 2006, p. F3).

Novorossia, which incorporates the regions of the Black Sea northern littoral area, is another large and very special part of the country. Most of the territory lies within the so-called ‘Wild Field’ zone of southern steppes, from where the Crimean Tatars and Turks made incursions into Russia and Rzeczpospolita. Russia acquired this area under peace agreements signed with Turkey in 1739, 1774, 1791 and 1812. One of the first cities founded by Catherine II in the area was Yekaterinoslav (currently Dnepropetrovsk). It was meant to become the capital of the entire new territory, but its actual development only began in the 19th century when railways and industrial facilities were built there. At the same time, the coastal cities of Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa developed at a fair pace. The resettlement of people to Novorossia only began after its annexation to Russia, with a population made up of Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Jews, Bulgarians and Germans. Nationalistic ideas have never been very popular in Novorossia. As journalist from Odessa said, his hometown is “a commercial center, where the majority of people consider money to be the matter of primary, secondary and tertiary importance. This is the way it has always been there, even during the Soviet era. Odessites may hold the Ukrainian state in disrepute, but they will never be so desperate and irrational as to instigate any sort of revolution against it.” (Russia and Ukraine, Moscow, 1997, p. 240).

The Donets Basin (Donbass) plays a huge role in Ukraine’s current political and economic life. Development there began much later than in other parts of the country. Coal deposits were discovered there as early as at the beginning of the 19th century, yet the production of coal only began after the Crimean War, when the first railway lines were built. The discovery of giant iron ore deposits in Krivoy Rog gave a huge impetus to the region’s development. Coal production in Donbass stood at around 25 million tons a year in 1913 and iron production was around 3 million tons. The region turned into an “all-Union steamshop” during the Soviet era. Ethnic Russians and native Russian speakers dominated its population. Even after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, Miners’ Day is still a major holiday there. The Donetsk and Lugansk regions have a combined population of 8 million, making them the most densely populated regions in Ukraine and they have the biggest concentration of the working class in the post-Soviet Union.

The Crimea stands apart from all other areas of the country. Its formal integration into the Russian Empire took place in 1783 and the city of Sebastopol (Sevastopol) was founded the same year. Soon after that the Crimea became part of the Tauride province, with its capital in Simferopol. Throughout the 19th century, the authorities conducted a policy of pressuring the indigenous Tatar population to leave for Turkey. Tatar emigration to the Ottoman Empire reached its peak during the Crimean War from 1853-1856 and afterwards. To replace the Tatars in the Crimea, the czarist Russian authorities resettled Russian and Ukrainian farmers, German and French colonists, Jews, Bulgarians and Greeks. The southern coast of the peninsula soon turned into a seaside resort for the Russian aristocracy and wealthy people. A territory known as the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic emerged as a region of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) at the end of 1921. Its entire population was a mere 720,000 at the time, including about 144,000 Tatars. It is well known that the Tatars were deported from the region in 1944. By the end of the Soviet era, the Crimea had a population of 2 million, 67 percent of which were Russians and 26 percent were Ukrainians. The Tatars began to return to the peninsula after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Their number has now reached 250,000, but they do not have a clear legal status. The Crimea has again become an autonomy – this time inside Ukraine, to which it was administratively subordinated in 1954.


Throughout the 19th and the 20th centuries, the Ukrainian economy was built as an element of the overall Russian imperial or Soviet economic system, and that is why horizontal links between Ukrainian regions were rather weak. The bulk of resources and heavy industries were located in the country’s east – in the Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye, Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk regions. As a whole, these regions make up the Industrialized East. Ukrainian national capitalism, represented by the Donetsk clan and the Dnepropetrovsk clan, took shape there after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The capital Kiev and the central regions around it do not have a precise economic specialization, boasting a variety of industries and a developed agricultural sector. The economy of the Black Sea littoral zone has always been determined by its closeness to the sea. It is a very good area for developing seaside resorts and international tourism.

The western zone is the most economically backward part of the country. Even the agricultural sector there is less productive than in central or eastern Ukraine. Six western regions – Volyn, Lvov, Transcarpathia, Chernovtsy, Ternopol and Rovno – only accounted for six percent of the nation’s total industrial output in the period from 2000-2005. Foreign investment has practically bypassed western Ukraine.


In 1991, Ukraine had only one canonical denomination of Eastern Orthodoxy – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which reported to the Moscow Patriarchate. A non-canonical denomination, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that was set up in 1927, but which was outlawed in the Soviet Union, re-emerged by its side in 1989-1990. It has parishes in western Ukraine and in Belarus today. A new split in Ukrainian Orthodoxy occurred at the very end of 1991 under pressure from Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of an independent Ukraine, and at the initiative of Metropolitan Philaretos, as a non-canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church reporting to the Kiev Patriarchate. It took away about 30 percent of all Orthodox parishes. Philaretos was issued an anathema in Moscow and excommunicated from the Church, but he was declared a patriarch in Kiev.

President Victor Yushchenko believes Ukraine has one more denomination of Orthodoxy – the Greek Catholic Church (its disciples are otherwise known as Catholics of the Eastern Rite – Ed.) that has a vast presence in western regions. This Church came into being in 1596 under strong pressure from Roman Catholics and the Polish authorities. It kept the Eastern Orthodox rites and the Old Church Slavonic language, customary for believers in Eastern Europe, but assimilated Catholic dogmas and defected to the jurisdiction of the Holy See. Following the Soviet-era ban on its activity, it rose up in the early 1990s and demanded a return of all the church buildings that had been taken away from it. Leonid Kuchma, then the newly-elected president, seemed lost and did not know what to do about it. “The summaries of incidents that I found on my desk every morning resembled battlefield reports,” he wrote about it later. “This battle involved more than a thousand parishes. Priests’ houses were set ablaze, and crowds assaulted and seized church buildings and even whole villages. I got an impression at times that this was a war where everyone fought against everyone else, although each fighter knew perfectly well who his foes were. The continuing struggle for churches and parishes turned into a big stumbling block in relations between Kiev and Moscow.” (Leonid Kuchma. Ukraine Is Not Russia: A Return Into History, Moscow, 2003, p. 481. – Russ. Ed.).

These splits, which have still not been fully eliminated, weakened the Orthodox Church and the Christian faith in general to the degree that after the mayoral election of 2006, businessman Leonid Chernovitsky, a member of the Embassy of God sect, became Mayor of Kiev. The sect appeared in Nigeria and its father superior, senior pastor Sunday Adelaja, moved to Kiev after that. The city’s Orthodox community was appalled by the fact that a sect of some sort would have power in a city where the Grand Duke Vladimir baptized Great Rus in 988. A campaign is underway in Kiev to replace Chernovitsky through a referendum.


The lands of Kievan Rus and, subsequently, all principalities which were ruled by princes descending from the Rurik dynasty and which had Orthodox churches, had a common language. It was used in the first ballads and chronicles, and the first literary work of Kievan Rus, The Lay of Igor’s Campaign, was also written in it. The formation of the Golden Horde and Rzeczpospolita, and pressure from German orders and the Ottoman Empire, left dramatic imprints on the fate of the Eastern Slavs. However, sometime in the 16th century they would perceive themselves – and would be perceived by others – as a single nation with a common faith, a common language and common literature. Monasteries and churches were the centers of writing and knowledge at the time, and the authors of handwritten books, copyists and readers identified them as Russian centers. The first Russian printer, Ivan Fyodorov, began working in Moscow in 1564 and then continued in Lvov where he printed, apart from a new edition of the Acts of the Apostles, the first Russian ABC book. The Mogilyansky Academy in Kiev, set up in 1631 by Metropolitan Peter Mogila, played an important role in the promotion of Russian literature and writing. It was the first institution of higher learning in Malorossia and reported to Kiev’s Cave Monastery. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was probably the largest education center in what is now Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

Undoubtedly, differences appeared in the spoken and written language over time, yet these were differences between dialects of one language, not separate, fully developed languages. The first attempts of writing literature in the Ukrainian language were only made in the early 19th century, and all encyclopedias point out a play by the playwright Ivan Kotlyarevsky called Natalka-Poltava, which was staged in 1819. Vassily Gogol, the father of Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, also wrote vaudevilles and poetry in Ukrainian to attract audiences in the town of Poltava. His son, who had much more expansive ambitions, wrote on Ukrainian topics, but in the Imperial Russian language from the very start. He dreamed of a literary career and of seeing his books become popular all over Russia. One of the pillars of Ukrainian poetry, Taras Shevchenko, came from a serf family. He excelled as a painter and was bought out of serfdom by a group of Russian painters. He started writing poems and ballads in Ukrainian, thus laying the foundations for the contemporary literary Ukrainian language. However, he was still not able to completely break out of the realm of the Russian language and wrote his diaries, novels and stories in Russian.

All public schools in Malorossia only taught in the Russian language in the 19th century. The authorities of the Russian Empire would persistently turn down demands from Ukrainian democrats to allow the use of their native tongue in the education system. It was only in the early 20th century that the Russian Academy endorsed a decision to recognize Ukrainian (‘Malorossian’ as it was called then) as a separate language and not a dialect of Russian, as had been officially declared before. However, Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin’s government ignored the decision.

The first schools to teach in Ukrainian appeared during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921). This innovation was supported by nationalists and Bolsheviks alike. There was an intensive development of Ukrainian public schools and language in the 1920s, and one of the would-be closest aides of Joseph Stalin, Lazar Kaganovich, did much to bolster this process. In 1930, schools that used Ukrainian as the main language of instruction accounted for 85 percent of the school system. The waves of ‘Russification’ and ‘Ukrainization’ alternated over the next several decades in parallel with the change of leaders. But Russian still dominated on the streets of Ukrainian cities. In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic came up with a constitutional amendment that declared Ukrainian the only state language on the republic’s territory. The decision produced numerous practical problems in the work of organizations of the then ruling Soviet Communist Party and state agencies in the last two years of Soviet history.

After the Soviet Union was gone, the language conflict grew to a degree that prompted observers to speak of a linguistic war. The acuteness of the situation was aggravated by coercive measures on the part of the government. As an independent Ukrainian state was formed, Ukrainization became a segment of the official government policy conducted by the country’s first president Leonid Kravchuk. The same policy continued during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, although he was less active in that sphere.

There is no need to recount the details of the hasty Ukrainization of the 1990s. The policy bumped into one mishap after another. The progress of openness, freedom of the press, a market economy, the general IT revolution, globalization, and freedom of travel created a booming use of Russian rather than Ukrainian in a most paradoxical way. The Russian language was much more convenient and instrumental in business, since 75 percent of Ukraine’s population were fluent Russian speakers versus 60 percent who were fluent speakers of Ukrainian. Most businessmen preferred to advertise in Russian. Nationalists pressured the authorities into passing a law that banned advertising in unofficial languages. This was an anti-market legal act, since a market economy with its competitive environment must squeeze out weak players. The problem is that newspapers, books, magazines, television series and other mass media products are also assets of a market economy. During the Soviet era, each town and district could publish newspapers in both Russian and Ukrainian and regulate their circulation. But as market relations set in, the number of Ukrainian newspapers in circulation had fallen 80 percent by 2000 from 1990, while the number of Russian-language magazines and newspapers had considerably grown. The situation with the printing and sale of books was the same. This situation on the free media market caused panic among radical nationalists. The poet Pavlo Movchan, a member of parliament representing the nationalistic movement Rukh, told Voice of Russia radio that “the Russian language and Russian culture are more powerful than missiles.” “The situation in Ukraine demonstrates that the Russians are victors even without a war. Nothing is being done today to put Ukrainian into a dominant position, into the position of an official language, which it is under the Constitution.”

The government forcibly reduced the number of schools that taught in Russian. Their number can be counted on two hands today in western Ukraine. Only five such schools were left in Kiev by 2004. A huge number of schools were even closed in eastern Ukraine, where native speakers of Russian make up most of the population. This policy has had a telling impact on the overall literacy of the youth who do not know either Russian or Ukrainian properly. Attempts to change documents at industrial facilities and research institutes into Ukrainian have also been a disaster. And can anyone actually gain anything from making lecturers teach surgery in Odessa or space study in Dnepropetrovsk in Ukrainian instead of Russian?

The ‘orange revolution’ pushed the language conflict even deeper into the quagmire. A decision was made in 2005 to impose Ukrainian on all agencies of law and order and the judiciary. It also prohibited students trying to enter university to write their entrance exams in Russian even if they had been educated in Russian. The government attempted to introduce quotas for imports of Russian books, thus running into a problem with the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages that had been ratified by the very same parliament and had gone into effect on January 1, 2006. Regional and city councils in Donetsk, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Sevastopol, Lugansk, Odessa and many other places used the Charter as a basis for adopting regional laws declaring Russian as an official language and giving it equal status on their territories with Ukrainian. Changes in the government in August 2006 have scaled down the acuteness of the language problem, but this conflict, which deals a blow to Ukraine as a country, is far from over.


Ukraine’s history intertwines with the history of other countries – Lithuania, Poland, Austria, Hungary and Russia, among others, – and this gives endless headaches to Ukrainian historians. Unlike many neighboring nations, the Ukrainians proved unable to establish their own state in the Middle Ages or in later periods. The Ukrainian nation did not have its own kings or princes or patrimonial aristocracy. It never waged wars in Europe, minted its own coins, set up parliaments or wrote laws. Different parts of the nation lived through their history in totally different ways, in different countries and amid differing systems of values. So, can the situation call forth the creation of a national history, “integral and transparent in everyone’s eyes” – something that President Yushchenko demands? To do this, mythologizing and even outright falsifications come in handy.

One of the bluntest myths suggests that the Ukrainian nation began to form in the 6th-7th centuries rather than in the 16th-17th centuries. This leads to the conclusion that the history of Kievan Rus belongs entirely to Ukraine and is its ‘golden age,’ that Kiev is not a common cradle for the Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian nations. The nationalistic movement Rukh was extremely displeased with the unveiling of a monument to Kievan duke Yaroslav the Wise in the Russian city of Yaroslavl on the Volga in 1993 and, in particular, by Boris Yeltsin’s presence at the ceremony. The nationalists discerned an anti-Ukrainian intrigue in it. “He was our prince, not yours.”

The Ukrainian 5-hryvnia bill depicts the portrait of hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky and the 10-hryvnia bill portrays hetman Ivan Mazepa. Official Ukrainian historiography proclaims both men as heroes. No doubt, Mazepa betrayed Russia and Tsar Peter the Great who had supported his ascent to the hetmanate, but historians allege he did not betray Ukraine. He presumably sought to create an independent Ukraine, which exonerates him of any guilt in the nation’s conscience. However, Russian historians have not changed their views of Mazepa.

New ideas about Ukrainian history say nothing about the destiny of the Ukrainian people during their almost 260-year-long association with the Russian Empire. Next in line in textbooks after hetman Mazepa is Simon Petlyura, who helped establish the Directorate of Ukraine in 1918 and then presided over it. German troops pulled out of Kiev after Germany’s capitulation in World War I. Hetman P. Skoropadsky fled the city together with the Germans. Petlyura entered Kiev with a small army on December 14, 1918. The Directorate tried to pool together the hastily formed Ukrainian People’s Republic and the West-Ukrainian People’s Republic that arose out of the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. An act on their unification and on creating a “free state” was signed on January 22, 1919. Since 1990, Ukraine has celebrated this date by a variety of gala events as “Community Day,” although no real Ukrainian national state was set up in 1919. The Directorate held out for several months. Once it was driven out of Kiev by the Red Army, it fell under the crushing blows of the army of pro-monarchist General Anton Denikin, who was fighting the Bolsheviks. Petlyura fled to France, where he was killed on a street by a young Jewish watchmaker. The killer said that he had done away with Petlyura in an act of revenge for all the Jews who had fallen during pogroms in Ukraine. However, after examining the materials of the case, a French court found the young man not guilty.

One more horrifying page in history that Ukraine’s neo-nationalists itch to bring up again is the famine in the winter of 1932-1933 in which millions died. That famine was the product of Stalin’s criminal policies, not any kind of drought, and it spread throughout all the grain regions of the Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan, the Volga area, the basins of the Don and Kuban rivers, and Ukraine. But Ukrainian historians seek to magnify the impact of the famine in 1933, disastrous as it was by itself. They pass it off as an act of genocide, as a campaign targeted precisely at the Ukrainian nation. They also describe Stalin’s rule as “the regime of Russian Communism.” However, such interpretations of that calamitous event have absolutely no grounds.

Probably the most painful heritage that the 20th century left to Ukrainian historians and politicians is the activity and fate of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) that was set up with his active aid and later turned into the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). OUN was hammered together by young Ukrainian émigré radicals in 1929 and its headquarters opened in Berlin in 1934, which naturally means it cooperated with the National Socialist Party and the Gestapo. When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, OUN combat units marched in the footsteps of the Nazi armies. OUN proclaimed on June 30, 1941 in Lvov that the Ukrainian People’s Republic had been restored – “in cooperation with the National Socialist Great Germany” and its Fuehrer Adolph Hitler. The Germans did not recognize that act, however, and arrested Bandera, who spent the rest of the war in jail on the Eastern front. His associates set up the UPA in 1942 and gave command over it to Roman Shukhevich. UPA units did not conduct any operations against the German occupation, though. The period of its combat action falls in the years from 1944-1947 when it fought against units of the Soviet Army and security services. Various Ukrainian military and police formations also took part in punitive actions against the Jews and Poles. Bandera was killed in West Germany by a KGB agent. The secret services carried out the assassination.

Victor Yushchenko submitted a bill to the Verkhovna Rada on several occasions from 2004-2006 to recognize the OUN/UPA as a party of war, which would automatically put the former militants on a par with Soviet veterans of World War II. The bill was never endorsed, but in spite of this, the OUN/UPA is still trying to organize parades, manifestations and “military patriotic games.” It has a huge influence in western Ukraine.


Ukraine only has two big neighbors today – the European Union in the west and the Russian Federation in the north and east. Russia is moving toward integration with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the format of the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) and is expanding its ties within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Even a large country like Ukraine cannot develop successfully in today’s world if it does not make a strategic integration choice. Ukraine has not made any such choice however, and now it finds itself at a geopolitical impasse.

The willingness of the majority of Ukrainian politicians to move along the road toward European integration is easy to understand, but after absorbing twelve new countries over the past three years, the EU should take a long break now to carry out complicated and costly procedures of bridging the gap between Eastern and Western Europe. Turkey, a country with a population of 70 million, has been next in line to join the EU since 1963. It has made great achievements toward integration already, to say nothing of being an official candidate for joining since 1987. It is believed that Turkey will eventually get EU membership in 15 years. Only after that will the EU be able to accept an application from Ukraine. At this time, it is neither an associated member nor a candidate country, and nobody has promised anything to it. Ukraine has not fully formed as a state entity or a nation yet. Its economy is not self-sufficient even in the smallest degree. It has close economic relationship with Russia and other former Soviet republics, but not with the West. There are no obstacles to Ukraine’s development in the direction of the CIS, since the transition mechanism of the Common Economic Space is already in place. And yet Ukraine has stopped halfway, thus sinking deeper and deeper into geopolitical isolation.

This geopolitical impasse has had serious repercussions for Ukraine’s economy. Projects slated for the long term are being frustrated. There are problems with imports of Ukrainian products. Since Ukraine was not a Russian colony, the two economies developed as parts of an integral economic unit for over 300 years. One cannot simply take a scalpel and cut off the territorial, economic, cultural, historical and religious life of Ukraine from a common economic, cultural and information space that still exists and then attach it to the European Union, the eastern part of which is still in formation. This kind of surgery might end up in death due to loss of blood.

The West would undoubtedly be unenthusiastic about a broadening of ties between Russia and Ukraine. The Western preferences were quite obvious during the ‘orange revolution.’ But the West is not ready to pay for all the excesses of Ukraine’s westward drift. As European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso summarized the difficult talks on Ukraine’s accession, he said in plain terms that the accession – so much desired by the Ukrainians – was not acceptable for the EU. When asked about the reasons for such a position, Barroso said with a note of irritation it was because Ukraine was not ready, in the first place, and the EU was not ready, in the second. German political expert and economist Conrad Schuller wrote in commenting on this situation in Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on October 31, 2006 that Ukraine urgently needs prospects in the West if it wants to continue developing in the same direction and does not wish to feel Russia’s iron grip sooner or later. Something should be done immediately so that the territory from Galicia to the Donets coal fields with its huge pipelines pumping Russian and Central Asian oil and gas to Europe is not lost, Schuller claimed. He indicated that if Ukraine cannot aspire to a place in the Brussels condominium, it should at least be admitted to a welcoming arrivals lounge where it could wait for ten to twenty years while the doors for it are kept open. The Financial Times said on October 13, 2006: “We need only one thing... to know and to feel through written agreements that there are prospects for Ukraine in Europe, so that we can see the horizon.” While Yushchenko is obviously ready to wait for fifteen or twenty years, Pyotr Talanchuk, the director of the Open International University of Human Development will wait for thirty or even fifty years. “We won’t get away from the EU anyhow,” he said. (Zerkalo Nedeli, Kiev, November 30, 2004). But do the people of Ukraine agree with a prospect like that?


What we said above makes it clear that divisions inside Ukrainian society are deep, they are spreading in different directions and intricately crossing one another. Ukrainian citizens do not want to speak the same language, they go to churches of different jurisdictions even within the same denomination, they diverge in the assessment of their own historical events and differ in the estimation of current politicians and public figures, as well as the politicians who lived fifty, one hundred, two hundred, five hundred, or even one thousand years ago. People living in different parts of the country do not have a feeling of being members of one nation with a single system of cultural and national values. Nonetheless, the vast majority of them would like Ukraine to keep its sovereignty and independence. None of the reciprocally bickering regions would like to join Poland, Romania, Hungary, Turkey or Russia again – the countries they used to be integrated into seventy, one hundred or four hundred years ago. This situation is undermining Ukraine’s development, complicating peoples’ lives, generating risks, obstructing the normal functioning of political institutions, and bringing about frequent changes of the powers that be and ruling elites. For an observer, the pace of affairs in Ukraine is an equation that has many more known elements than unknown ones. But what is the way to solve the equation and can it be solved at all?

One of the suggestions on how to do this shows up in the mass media more often than others. It is to turn Ukraine into a federation. There are many proponents of federalization. They cite numerous arguments to substantiate their proposals. One of the most popular and sober politicians, Yevgeny Kushnaryov, who died fairly recently, wrote that “federalism provides the only way out for Ukraine now.” “If we don’t assimilate the principles that will underlie the European philosophy of state administration in some thirty years’ time, we will lag behind others irreparably, in which case the economic, social and political losses will really be great.” (2000, April 14, 2006, p. B2). Kushnaryov proposed beginning the federalization process in three to five regions first and then spreading it to the entire country in fifteen to twenty years from now.

Self-styled federalization is already in progress. The weakness and instability of the government in Kiev simply compels the local authorities to take charge of resolving the most pressing problems. But formal federalization requires impressive changes to the Constitution, and this does not seem possible given the current alignment of political forces in Ukraine. Since world practice does not offer a common model for a federation, Ukraine must design one on its own. There is no way to do it by commanding and administering. First, one must unite the country somehow and look for ways of rational federalization only after that.

Efforts to unite Ukraine around the ideology of Ukrainian ethnic nationalism have proven futile. That the ethnic idea does not work was recognized during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma. The complete fiasco of the ideas of Rukh was quite obvious way back in the 1990s. The phenomenon of Victor Yushchenko, who tried to give nationalism a new lease of life, rests on support gained from external forces, first and foremost, and also on support given to Yulia Tymoshenko’s populist movement that harvested votes in the cities and districts where an overt ethnic nationalism would not have had any chances otherwise. But today Yushchenko’s star is fading, and odious personalities like Borys Tarasyuk or Petro Lutsenko are dropping out of the political scene.

The Russian Federation itself does not have a clearly shaped national and state ideology yet. It is also true, however, that Russia has no problems with language, geopolitical choice, or national and historical self-identification that would be as huge as the ones Ukraine is struggling to resolve now. But Kazakhstan could be viewed as an illustrative example in this case, though. It faced very much the same and even more complex problems from 1991-1999. But immediately after the first disappointment, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said firmly to his opponents: “The economy first, politics next.” He picked the root cause out of a multitude of problems and managed to pull his country out of a deep crisis. One can pool Ukraine together and eliminate splits between its regions only through economic development and a rapid advance toward an affluent and comfortable life. It would be reasonable for Ukraine to stop gazing into the past, which differs from region to region. The country must look into the future, which alone can unite all of its citizens. The only way to solve the Ukrainian equation is to ensure a radical and rapid enough economic growth. Ukrainians are very tired from poverty, unemployment and an exhausting struggle for survival. Instead of the European choice, the language situation, NATO membership and even democratic problems, any sensible Ukrainian politician must push to the top of his agenda living standards, livestock breeding, the rehabilitation and development of industries, and employment for everyone willing to work. If the economy grows, it will itself show which of the two ways – to the EU or to the Common Economic Space – is shorter and more lucrative. The new Ukraine does not have any historical enemies. It is surrounded by countries and peoples that wish Ukrainians the best and Ukraine should make the most of this advantage. It does not stand in anyone’s way and no one will stand in its way toward success.

Last updated 8 august 2007, 14:14

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