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The War in Ukraine

This guide will help you understand the crisis.

FACULTY ANALYSIS - Professor Howard Hisdale

A One Page History of Ukraine and Russia by Professor Howard Hisdal, CD, MA

Russians have searched for Slavic origins of the word “Russia”, but it originated with the Rus’, the Norse from Sweden who rowed up the Russian Rivers and down the Ukrainian Rivers to the Black Sea to trade Slavs on the slave market of Constantinople or Miklagard.  This gave us our word slave in English. The Kievan-Rus state (862-1242) had its capital in Kyiv (the Kiev spelling is derived from Russian).  In 988, a turning moment in Slavic history came when Volodymyr (Vladimir in Russian) the Great, had the people of Kyiv baptized into the Eastern Orthodox faith of Byzantium.  Moscow did not yet exist.

The Mongols attacked in the winter of 1237 and conquered the Kievan-Rus state.  For centuries the Slavic peoples lived under the Mongol yoke.  The prince of Moscow collected the tribute for the Mongols, or Tartars, and in 1480, Ivan III broke free of the Tartars and started to build the Russian Empire with himself as Tsar, the Russian word for Caesar.  The Russian tsars ruled with strong central control and started to drive the Mongols back.  With musket and cannon the Russians expanded eastwards through northern Asia to the Pacific Ocean and Alaska.

Tsar Peter the Great attempted to bring Russia into Europe by building a navy and shaving the beards off his nobles.  He expanded Russia south to the Black Sea.  He met and the defeated the invading Swedish army at Poltava in Ukraine in 1709, and was helped by the Cossacks, free bands of Slavs living in Ukraine.  Ukraine was not fully incorporated into the Russian Empire but was also part of a Lithuanian-Polish Empire, and the western part of Ukraine was in the Austrian Empire up until 1914.  That is why some Ukrainian (Galician) immigrants were interned as enemy aliens in Canada, while other Ukrainian immigrants served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Despite political separation, the Ukrainian people developed a distinct Ukrainian culture of their own with writers, poets, singers, and dancers.

During the Soviet–Ukrainian War of 1917-1921 Ukraine attempted to unify and become independent but was crushed by the Red Army and assimilated into the Soviet Union as a founding republic, called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. 

Stalin inflicted a famine called the Holodomor to crush Ukraine from 1932 to 1933. An estimated 3 to 5 million Ukrainians starved to death.  This created bitter memories.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 some Ukrainians thought they were being liberated, but most fought in the Red Army.

As a republic of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had a seat of its own in the United Nations in 1945. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, over 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence, including 56% in Crimea and majorities in all regions. In 1994, Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons that it had as a part of the Soviet Union and became a non-nuclear state. Its borders were guaranteed by Russia.  In 2014, the Ukrainian people overthrew a pro-Russian government and turned to the West.  This is when Putin took Crimea and promoted separatism in eastern Ukraine.  President Volodymyr Zelenskyy won the 2019 election with 73% of the vote.  Zelenskyy has risen to the leadership challenge of the invasion by Russia under Putin in 2022.

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