What is the best invention from Ukraine

Ukraine, Russia, Europe

Felix Schnell

To person

PD Dr. phil., born 1970; Eastern European historian at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin. [email protected]

What is the story actually used for? On the basis of this apparently naive question from his daughter, the French historian Marc Bloch designed his theoretical assessment of the position and self-assurance, which as the "apology of history" still fascinates today and should be part of the tools of every history student. In the following I will proceed in a similar way and ask five simple, but actually difficult questions that are of central importance for the Ukrainian-Russian relationship, and try to answer them as briefly as possible.

What is Ukraine

Originally it is a "historical landscape", a transition area between the Polish, Ottoman and Russian empires - but above all a multi-ethnic area that was politically hardly or only weakly structured until the 17th century. The spheres of influence of Poland and Russia were roughly separated by the Dnieper, while Ottoman vassal states dominated the southwestern part, including the Crimea. Between them, Cossack societies held their ground for a time, maneuvering between the imperial powers. In short: Ukraine was the exact opposite of a territory for a long time.

That changed in the course of the 18th century when the Russian Empire expanded south and west, along with Austria and Prussia, wiped Poland off the map and destroyed the Crimean and Jedisan khanates. From that time on, with the exception of Galicia, which fell to Austria as a result of the Polish partitions, most of Ukraine was under Russian rule. The autonomy of the Cossacks was abolished and the greater region was divided into governorates, which were shaped according to administrative, not ethnic, cultural or historical criteria. In this way, tsarist provinces came into being, but no Ukrainian administrative area. Officially, it stayed that way until 1917.

At the same time, at the beginning of the 19th century, intellectuals increasingly began to speak of the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian culture and language, but above all to think of Ukraine as a territory. This culminated in the 1890s with the definition that the country of the Ukrainians extends "from the Bug to the Don". [2] None of this had much to do with political realities - nor with ethnic realities: in the first census in the Russian Empire in 1897, around two thirds of the people in this area professed the Ukrainian, officially "Little Russian" language. The rest spoke Russian, Polish, or other languages. [3] The Ukrainian-speaking population was mainly concentrated in the northern areas - this reflected the tsarist history of conquest of the greater region, the traces of which are still formative today. Because in the later conquered southern areas mainly Russians were settled, which is why they were called "New Russia".

In March 1917, national activists had the opportunity to realize the idea of ​​a Ukraine stretching from the Bug to the Don. Tsar Nicholas II had to abdicate and the February Revolution swept away the Tsarist empire. In Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), the provisional government and the revolutionary Soviet assumed "dual power". The less revolutionary than nationalist "Rada", the local counterpart to the Soviet, was established in Kiev and claimed to speak for the Ukrainians and the Ukraine. But their authority and power were limited. For one thing, it had no administrative apparatus in the provinces because the tsarist authorities had been dissolved without replacement and the Rada could not replace them. On the other hand, the Rada politicians made the same mistake as the Provisional Government in Petrograd: They postponed a fundamental land reform to the convening of the "Constituent Assembly" and refused to recognize the unauthorized "black" redistribution of the estate by the peasants. It was precisely this recognition that the Bolsheviks expressed as one of their first measures when they came to power in October 1917. The Rada rushed to proclaim Ukraine's independence and proclaimed the Ukrainian People's Republic (UNR). But without a powerful army, without territorial organization and, above all, without authority among the mass of the peasant population, the UNR was more claim than a state which could not offer effective resistance to the Bolsheviks. [4]

It was German and Austro-Hungarian troops who made what the Rada could only talk about become reality in the First World War. The governments in Berlin and Vienna urgently needed food in the fourth year of the World War, and the situation offered the opportunity to officially "come to the aid" of the UNR, but in fact to conquer the Ukraine as a "breadbasket" for supplying their own people. In March 1918 the Bolsheviks had to renounce "Ukraine" under superior military pressure in the peace of Brest-Litovsk. What that meant in detail was decided by the interests of the Central Powers and the advance of their troops. The latter only stopped at the Don in May 1918 - not because Ukrainian politicians wanted it that way, but because the Germans were also interested in the coal and ore deposits in the Donbass region. [5] How little the Rada or the UNR mattered was shown at the end of April when the Central Powers promoted and sanctioned the coup of the former Tsarist general Pavlo Skoropadsky and accepted him as the "hetman" of a formally independent Ukraine. In contrast to the "revolutionary" Rada, Skoropadsky was able to reactivate the former tsarist administrative apparatus in the provinces. This and the bayonets of the occupiers established an effective Ukrainian state and a Ukrainian territory stretching from the Bug to the Don for the first time in history.

The German role in the Ukrainian state-building process is often ignored because it does not seem to fit into the narrative of a Ukrainian nation that asserts itself to the state. If the Bolsheviks, who quickly occupied Ukraine after the withdrawal of the Central Powers, retained the "German form", it was less due to the ethnic and cultural conditions, but rather to the fact that they became heirs to the Tsars and thus unwillingly became imperialists. Lenin interpreted the resistance that peasants in Ukraine had made to forced grain taxes as an expression of Ukrainian national sentiment and was forced to put "Great Russian chauvinism" in its place for the sake of surviving the Bolshevik revolution. Like many others, this analysis of Lenin was wrong, but it gave the Bolsheviks orientation in the chaos.

The Soviet nationality policy assumed that the de facto imperial restoration that the Bolsheviks carried out on their advance must be represented as national liberation. Therefore peoples and national republics were constructed and the formation of national Bolshevik cadres was promoted so that the centralist claim to rule of the population could be confronted in the form of "own" not "foreign" agents: these republics should be national in form, socialist in content. [6 ] The territorial maximum format of Ukraine, to which maps have become accustomed since that time, was due not least to the integration of this powerless entity into the imperial structure of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian national movement or the Ukrainians had little part in this. There are reasons for this related to the following two questions.