The Sorrows of Ukraine

I do hope that Ukraine manages to transform itself into a progressive liberal democracy, a fit candidate for membership of the EU, as so many of its citizens wish, and does so with the minimum of bloodshed. Alas, the odds are against it. The name Ukraine means ‘borderland’, and the fact that it has been independent for the past 23 years is little short of a miracle. Since the fall of Kievan Rus’ (old Ruthenia) to the Golden Horde in 1240, Ukraine has only known a few short and scattered years of independence: it has been a perennial battleground, its rich black earth fought over and dominated by successive Western and Eastern powers, from the medieval Poles to the 20th century Soviets.
Today people are talking about the split between the pro-European Ukrainians of the West and their pro-Russian opponents (many of whom are of Russian descent) in the East. But more accurately there are not two Ukraines but four, each with their own distinctive national character.
From 1772 to 1918 the Western third of the country formed the Eastern half of Galicia (Halych, Austrian Poland or Malopolska) and was an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To this day its inhabitants feel thoroughly European. Between the wars it had been returned to independent Poland, and was only united with the Ukrainian SSR at the Yalta Conference in 1945.
The southern region formed the old Czarist guberniyas (provinces) of Kherson, Taurida and Yekaterinoslav. Conquered from the Ottomans in the late 18th century, this was always part of Russia and it was largely colonized and developed by Russians, with the help of many Germans and Jews who moved there. It was only allocated to Ukraine by Kruschev in 1954, as an internal administrative exercise.
The Eastern third, or Donbass, is also Russian. This was never part of Kievan Rus’ and unlike the Ukrainian heartland is mainly industrial.
True Ukraine is an egg-shaped area centred around Kiev, and there the people are true Ruthenians, with a culture noticeably different from that of their neighbours to the south, east and west.


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