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Ukraine. Birth of a Nation

Ukraine occupies an important strategic position in Europe, both from a human and the material basis. By tracing the fate of the Ukrainian people through the centuries we can explain the process by which Ukraine has appeared upon the maps of the world.  Ukraine has had a sad and tragic history.

The name Ukraine with its translation has been used in a variety of ways since the 12th century but in the end, the meaning of Ukraine, “land within the edge of a border” it defines the territory of Kievan Rus (the state which grew to encompass modern day Ukraine, Byelorussia and north-western portions of Russia).

Ukrainians are believed to have descended from the Indo-Europeans with roots found in the Trypillya culture which dates back to the fifth to third millennia BC.  During a vast period of time, Ukraine was inundated by many other ancient cultures such as the Scythians, Greek city-states and ancient Rome, to be succeeded by the Goths and Huns.  By the end of the 10th century, the city of Kyiv became the capital of a powerful state-Kyivan Rus (border stretched from Baltic to the Black Sea and from theCarpathian Mountains to the Volga River).

 In 988 AD Prince Volodymyr the medieval ruler of Kyiv Rus decreed that paganism be abolished and all citizens be baptised and introduced Christianity to his land. Eventually the language spoken in Kyiv-Rus began to acquire features which later would develop into the Ukrainian language. Within the space of 100 years the Kyiv Rus state created some of the most beautiful artistic and architectural monuments of medieval Christianity in Ukraine.

 The 13th century saw a devastating invasion of the Mongols which dealt a mortal blow to Kyivan Rus which had already been weakened by internal strife with local rulers vying for power. During this unrest neighbouring countries like Lithuania, Poland, Muscovy (Russia) and Turkey wanted to establish control of the fertile land and advantageous geographical position of Ukraine. To alleviate the tension, a Cossack state emerged, Zaporizhian Sich, (an autonomous political organized society, located in today’s central Ukraine), they acquired the status of an upholder of freedom and cultural traditions.

Over the years, the Cossack state emerged as a savior for Ukraine until 1654. In that year Ukraine faced an imminent number of invasions from neighbouring countries (Turkey and Poland).  Ukraine was forced to sign a treaty with Russia which put Ukraine under the protection of the Russian tsar, this was called the Pereyaslav Treaty. This Treaty proved to be a turning and tragic point in the history for Ukraine; strict control was established by Russia over the Cossack self-government.

 As the years progressed, attempts by a number of Hetmans (military Cossack commanders, second in rank after the Prince of Ukraine) tried to break away from Russia but failed and serfdom was introduced by the late 18th century. In spite of the loss of statehood, prominent cultural figures of Ukraine, and later an ever widening circle of Ukrainian intellectuals, never abandoned the hope of restoring Ukraine’s independence. Then into the 19th and 20th centuries Ukraine saw some upsurge of activity and awareness in the national liberation movement.

The time from 1917 to 1921 proved to be very difficult for Ukraine. There was struggle for power, rampant banditry, and total confusion. In 1922, most of Ukraine became a socialist republic of the Soviet Union. The early 1930s saw a man-made famine (Holodomor) of staggering proportions which starved at least 4 million people and hundreds of thousands of intellectuals and citizens who opposed the Soviet regime were either shot by Stalin’s firing squads or exiled to Siberia. Then in the 1940s, Ukraine was devastated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; where thousands of hundred thousands died at the front and at home. Into the post-war era reconstruction made Ukraine a developed industrial and agricultural country once again, but under the tyranny of the communist regime.

Ukraine became somewhat different in the 1980s, this was the time of growing national awareness and social unrest. Then on August 24, 1991, Ukraine proclaimed independence. Ukraine faced a multitude of very difficult tasks which had to be solved in the relatively short post-independent period; creation of a new political system, new state law, a new system of national security and defence, involvement internationally. Ukraine wanted to establish a working relationship with the European Union and NATO.

At the present time, Ukraine is a presidential parliamentary republic. Ukraine stands at a significant crossroad, a country that must be strong to respect its native heritage and must choose between democratic values. Ukraine cannot be pressured by autocratic imperialist abyss. Ukraine must grow and reform itself economically being indispensable to political and national survival. It would be a tragedy if after 27 years of independence, Ukraine would sacrifice its statehood. There is much to be done by Ukraine on a substantive basis to have a place on the international stage and to continue the road to independence.

Ukraine’s task is to trace the fate of the Ukrainian people through the centuries to explain why Ukrainian history has been so consistently ignored in modern times. Also to point out the process by which Ukraine can again appear upon the maps of the world as a vibrant dynamic state, a nation that has a long flourished history to share with the world.

About The Author

Peter J. Manastyrsky has written articles on political issues and a member of the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg.

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