By Anna Palagina
“World history has never been just to certain individuals or certain nations. Small nations and their achievements are often neglected while the accomplishments of large nations are at times exaggerated.”
– Slavko Bokshan, Serbian scientist, collaborator of Wilhelm Röntgen.
In 1926, the newly established Soviet Empire was conducting its first full census. The data on national identity and ethnicity of the Soviet Union’s population was much needed by Bolshevist ideologues, who were on an important mission. For their Brave New World they wanted to build the New Soviet Man – a person whose national and cultural identity and sense of belonging was replaced by unquestioned loyalty to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, personified by the Soviet regime. According to the census, nearly 32 million Ukrainians were living in the Soviet Union in 1926. Sadly, these numbers would soon change dramatically. Over the next ten years, millions of Ukrainians vanished into thin air, lost to government-organized famine, deportations, and sociocidal policies that encouraged Ukrainians to denounce their national identity and language, russify their last names, and proclaim themselves Russians (before 1917) or New Soviet Men (after 1917) — Russian-speaking beings of pure conformity.
The oppressive imperial machine killed the stubborn and enslaved the soft. According to conservative estimates, between 3.5 to 6 million Ukrainians died from starvation during the government-engineered Holodomor of 1932-1933. Less conservative studies claim that man-made famine and political purges took the lives of up to 12 million Ukrainian farmers and city dwellers in the 1930’s. Their offense to Soviet rulers was great: intellectuals did not want to praise and support the collectivization and russification policies of Stalin, farmers would not join the ranks of slaves in collective farms, rightfully considering them a new form of serfdom. They refused to forego their identity as Ukrainians and individuals in favor of reforming as New Soviets.
The survivors’ world view and outlook were badly mutilated by Soviet indoctrination that proclaimed the butchers of Ukraine its saviors and heroes. The indoctrination reduced Ukraine to fodder: in the eyes of the average postwar Soviet citizen, Ukraine was a place that provided food for Real People — a breadbasket, a backwater with funny folks in shirts, a place from where any worthy person migrates as fast as he can — to Moscow, to join the Real People. Real People speak Russian, Real People love all things Soviet, Real People do not like their nation (unless they are Russian of course), Real People invent, sing and create. If you happened to create something while being a speaker of Ukrainian, your works were surely second grade and probably anti-Soviet as well.
The Soviet monster collapsed, but the attitudes remained, kept up through Russian media channels, racist anecdotes and hate speech. “Ukraine? Oh, that place where someone you know ran away from to find a cool life in London. Or New York. Or Paris. Why not to Moscow? Well, he must be a stupid russophobe. Big Brother loves you, unlike these freemasons over on Wall Street. Big Brother could have killed you all, but did not, out of brotherly love! Why are you not grateful?!”
It is high time to take a second, good look at Ukraine, to peel away the layers of Russian propagandist burkas from her. Not only is Ukraine the biggest country in Europe, with many unique breathtaking landscapes; it is also the motherland of hundreds of history-makers, many of them pioneers in their fields.
Ukraine’s lands have been populated since prehistoric times. The oldest map known to scientists, as well as the most ancient Homo Sapiens settlement, were discovered in the Ukrainian village of Mezhyrichia in Rivne region. They are about 14.5-15,000 years old. The map was carved on a mammoth bone. One of the most ancient worship sites known to humanity, «The Stone Barrow» (ca 20th century BC) is located in Zaporizhya Oblast. The site consists of a vast network of caves, walls covered with petroglyphs and cuneiform writing.
Ukraine has been a trade and culture artery of medieval Europe from the beginning of its history. The geographical center of Europe is located amidst the picturesque Carpathian mountains near the Ukrainian town of Rakhiv. Major medieval trade routes ran through Ukraine, connecting Northern Europe with Byzantium and Asia. Known to contemporaries as the Route from the Varangians to the Greeks, the 3,000-kilometer long system of rivers and roads connected the northern lands of Ancient Rus with Southern Rus, and the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea. Thus, Kyivan Rus formed a trade and culture bridge between Scandinavia, the Baltic and Western Europe on the one hand, and Eastern Khazar and Byzantine lands in the east and south on the other. Kyiv, the capital, established itself firmly in the control of this route. As a result, it soon became one of the most flourishing and populated of European cities. Its population had reached about 50,000 when the Mongol Horde dealt a mortal blow to it in 1240. It took almost 600 years for the number of inhabitants to recover.
The United States, Britain and France are the recognized political pioneers of the world, countries first instituting democratic forms of government with citizen’s rights recorded in their Constitutions, with citizen-wide elections. Yet it was in Ukraine that the first Constitution ever was created in 1710 by Ukrainian Kozak Hetman Pylyp Orlyk. It established a democratic standard for separate government branches – legislative, executive, and judiciary, well before Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. The Constitution limited the executive authority of the Hetman, and established a democratically elected Kozak parliament called the General Council.
The rise of European science and technology out of the murky waters of the Dark Ages was made possible through the rise of the universities. In Eastern Europe some of the oldest schools of higher learning were founded by the Ukrainians. In 1576, prince Konstyantyn of Ostroh founded a Slavic-Greek-Latin academy in his home town; in 1615 Elizabeth Hulevych founded what soon became one of the oldest and biggest universities of Eastern Europe — Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Ukrainians pioneered a great amount of research that transformed modern science and everyday life more than once.
Ilya (Elie) Mechnikov, the pioneer of immunology, was born in Kharkiv Oblast and received his training from the University of Kharkiv. Mechnikov discovered phagocytosis, thus giving birth to the study of immunity. He was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery, sharing it with Paul Erlich. Another great contributor to modern medicine and physics was Ivan Pulyui (born in 1845 in Hrymayliv, Ukraine), a Ukrainian-born physicist and inventor, who worked together with Wilhelm Röntgen on X-rays. He is credited with the early adaptation of X-ray technology for use in medical imaging.
Ironically, many Ukrainians contributed to the short-lived might of the Soviet Empire. Serhiy Korolyov (born 12 January 1907 Zhytomyr, Ukraine) was the lead rocket engineer and spacecraft designer in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s. Basically, he was the one who created practical approaches to astronautics, enabling the astronauts to manage long stays orbit.
Likewise, menacing nuclear race missiles of the Cold War Era were not produced by scary Russians in Moscow. They were made in Ukraine, by a collective of engineers working in the Ukrainian Pivdenmash plant that also manufactured space rockets, satellites and wind turbines. The most famous strategic missiles built by Pivdenmash are the R-36 family that can carry ballistic intercontinental missiles and space vehicles. In the USA these missiles are known by the name SS-18 Satan. Satan’s heavy throw weight and extremely large number of re-entry vehicles led some US experts to believe that Soviet Union would have first strike advantage if the missiles were used. Some Satans had 10 warheads and up to 40 penetration aids. Contemporary U.S. missiles, such as the Minuteman III, carried three warheads at most.
Less ominous and more peace-friendly are the An-225 Mriya planes, manufactured by Antonov Design Bureau in Kyiv. Antonov A-225 Mriya is a strategic airlift cargo plane designed in the 1980s. The An-225’s name, Mriya (Мрiя) means “Dream” (Inspiration) in Ukrainian. Powered by six turbofan engines, it is the longest and heaviest plane ever made, boasting a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tonnes.
Ukrainians also contributed to aviation development across the ocean. Igor Sikorsky (born May 25, 1889 Kyiv, Ukraine), a Ukrainian-American aviation pioneer, blessed the world with both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Sikorsky emigrated to the USA in 1919. In 1923 he founded a company, Sikorsky Aircraft corporation, developing the first commercial craft for ocean-crossing journeys. The craft was operated by Pan-American Airways. In 1939 Sikorsky designed and flew the first modern American helicopter, VS-300. With changes, the VS-300 gave a start to Sikorsky R-4, which became the world’s first mass-produced helicopter.
A lot of small technological improvements to everyday life originated in Ukraine. For instance, Igantiy Lukasevich and Yan Zekh invented the first kerosene lamp, while working for the “Under the Golden Star” pharmacy in 1853. In the same year, the first surgery with kerosene lamp lighting was carried out. The first frame beehive was invented by a Ukrainian, Petro Prokopovych, boosting up the honey production efficiency. Currently, Ukraine is a world leader in the production of honey – an eco-friendly, organic product, that keeps its consumers in good health and spirits.
FREEDOM OF INNER SPEECH
Ukrainians were always inclined to practice fine arts, this being the only way to express themselves within the oppressive imperial culture. The popular figurehead for Ukrainian literature is Taras Shevchenko, a revolutionary poet and author of realistic prose. Had he lived today, he probably would be singing his poems in hard rock and heavy metal. Monuments to him grace 1200 locations all around the world.
One famous artist is Kazimir Malevich (born in Kyiv), a founder of the suprematism movement and a pioneer of geometric abstract art. His teacher, Mykola Pymonenko, lived in Kyiv and was an artist of great acclaim, known for his portrayal of the life of «small men» – workmen and peasants. Pymonenko also produced some of the wall frescoes of the St. Volodymyr Cathedral in Kyiv. Another important avant-garde artist is Oleksandr Arkhypenko (born May 30, 1887, in Kyiv, Ukraine). He was one of the pioneers of cubism in sculpture.
Famous Pablo Picasso was enthralled with the works of Ukrainian primitivism artist Kateryna Bilokur (1900-1961). In 1954, after visiting her art at the exhibition, he praised them as the works of genius, comparing them to the works of another great artist, Seraphin Louis.
In fact, many «Russian» artisans had profound Ukrainian roots. The reason they (or rather their ancestors) chose to become «Russian» was the politics of the empire, where your career depended on how well you fitted in with the Russian rulership. You had to conform politically if you wanted to create artistically. Or just wanted to have a career. One can assemble an entire dictionary of Ukrainian surnames distorted by the systematic practice of russification. This way, the Ukrainian family Chekh became Chekhovs in the 19th century. Anton Chekhov, the great writer, confirmed that his grandfather was Ukrainian. Deynekas became Denikins, kozak Rozums became Rozumovskiys, Chaikas became Tchaikovsky. Peter Tchaikovsky’s Ukrainian grandfather – Petro Chaika – was a graduate of the Kyiv-Mohyla academy. The Russian government sent him as a medic to the Vyatka region. After his 24th birthday the future genius composer lived in Ukraine for several months almost every year. During this time he wrote more than 30 masterpieces, using Ukrainian folklore and Taras Schevchenko’s lyrics to fill them. In the harsh times of the imperial onslaught against the Ukrainian language, he tried to put Mykola Lysenko’s Taras Bulba on stage and used many Ukrainian folk songs in his work. In Kyiv he created the operas Koval Vakula, Mazepa, the romantic song Cherry Garden by the House, and the duet In the Garden by the River.
Another Russian icon with Ukrainian roots is Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Dostoyevsky family came from the village of Dostoyevo near Pinsk (Ukrainian-Belorussian border). One of the Dostoyevskys was a priest of the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery and ran for the office of Metropolitan Bishop in 1647. Andriy Dostoyevsky, the writer’s grandfather, was also a cleric. He had expected his son Mikhail to become a cleric as well. Mikhail had defied his father and chose to run off to St. Petersburg, where he later became a renowned surgeon. He wrote poetry in his youth. According to Dostoyevsky’s daughter, “poetic prowess was already in the Ukrainian family of my father’s, and were not given just now through my Moscow mother, as literature associates of Dostoyevsky suppose.”
The famous painter llya Repin‘s ancestors, Ukrainian kozaks Ripa, evolved into russified Repins. Ilya himself was born in Kharkiv Oblast and cultivated his Ukrainian roots in his art. He painted himself as a Kozak perched against a canon. “It is time to think about a Ukrainian style in art,” he would say, and go on to create many Ukraine-themed pieces. The most famous of those – the battle art “Zaporizhzhya Kozaks Writing a Letter to the Turkish Sultan”- exists in two variants.
Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Soviet futuristic poet, openly proclaimed himself a descendant of Ukrainian Kozak. “I am a Kozak through my first grandfather and a Sich Kozak through the other” – he wrote about himself. Indeed, his father was of Zaporizhya Kozak descent and his mother Kuban Kozak. The Ukrainian roots of Mayakovsky’s name possibly come from the Kozaks who guarded the lighthouses (mayaks) which were set aflame in case of Tatar raids. Mayakovsky openly criticized the imperial practice of mockery towards Ukraine and colonial attitudes of Russians towards Ukrainians. This topic periodically surfaces up in his poetry, when he incites the «moscals» not to stare and laugh at Ukraine. He also exposed the «brothers’» shallow manner of brotherly love, reminding that the «brothers» were comfortable with Ukraine staying within borsch, salo, Taras Bulba and Taras Shevchenko, the rest of Ukrainian history being discounted and excluded. At the same time, the «brothers», according to Mayakovsky, were very fast to make nasty jokes, «say something foolish, unload the entire mental burden, go and tell some Ukrainian anecdotes about how funny the Ukrainian language sounds». He praised the Ukrainian language for its austere beauty and expression, calling the russians to open their ears and eyes to it. Unfortunately, his poetry fell on deaf ears.
One of the most famous Christmas songs in the world is “Shchedryk”, a folk song recorded by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych, the famous master of capella choral. Outside of Ukraine the song is known as the «Carol of the Bells» and graces the holiday season of millions in Christian countries.
The PianoGuys cello arrangement of the Shchedryk // Carol of the Bells.
GO PLACIDLY AMIDST THE WAR AND HASTE
All this finesse and potential, however, was regularly wasted in bloody wars instigated by failing empires. The geopolitical curse of living next to its blood-thirsty descendant, the Russian empire, of serving as a bridge between Europe and Russian Asia, led to centuries-long struggle for the self-determination and reinstatement of Ukrainian statehood. One crazy example of the desperate yet unyielding struggle was given by The Ukrainian Insurgent Armies, who led guerilla warfare on the de-facto occupied territory for almost twenty years. The technology and methods of the Ukrainian soldiers were even studied by the Cuban rebels of Fidel Castro.
“If I had an army like the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the German boot would have never trodden on French soil,” – Charles de Gaulle said.
And yet, this centuries-long stand did not make Ukraine a war-hungry monster. Indeed, Ukraine gave up the third biggest nuclear arms arsenal in the world. More than a thousand nuclear missiles and warheads were located on the territory of Ukraine at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union and proclamation of Ukraine’s independence. The warheads and missiles were given to Russia, the bunkers destroyed. In return, Ukraine received money for disarmament, as well as security guarantees from nuclear states. Sadly, Russia did not stick to its end of the bargain.
FUN FACTS ABOUT UKRAINE
One of the first metropolitan stations of the Kyiv Metro, «Arsenalna», stands near the Parliament buildings. Located 105 meters underground, it is the deepest metro station in the world. Urban legend has it that the station is home to secret hideouts for shady governmental activities.
Trembita, an alpine horn native to Carpathian Ukrainian culture, is the longest windpipe musical instrument in the world, typically taking more than 3 meters of length.
The longest cave in Ukraine, “Optimistichna” (Optimistic), is located in Podillya. It is a plaster cave 20 metres underground and 216 km in length. It is the second longest plaster cave in the world, after the Mammoth Cave in the USA.
The oldest tree in Ukraine is the 1300-year-old oak in the town of Yuzefin, Rivne Oblast.
The Ukrainian “Pivdenmash” (Dnipropetrovsk) plant produces the most eco-friendly rocket carriers in the world. The “Sea Start” pleasure space project uses them to launch space vehicles and cargo into space.
The third most visited McDonald’s in the world is located in Kyiv by the railway station. This location has consistently won the title of the most lively McDonald’s restaurant over recent years.
Ukrainians are fifth in the world in alcohol consumption, right after Moldavians, Russians, Hungarians and Czechs. The average Ukrainian over the age of 15 drinks 15,6 litres of alcohol annually (a litre more than an Irishman and almost two litres more than a Norwegian).
The singing sands of Ukraine are located near Lavrinka river (town of Nikopol). The sands «sing» after absorbing enough rainwater, when the top layer sticks together and forms a crispy crust. Stepping on it one can hear sounds akin to the howling of the wind.
- Andriy Pryymachenko, “From the creators of Borsch” Project, https://www.behance.net/gallery/From-The-Creators-of-Borshch/15795643
- Yuri Klyapko art gallery: http://en.artscad.com/@/YuriKliapko
- Ivan Puluyi: http://web.archive.org/web/20080528172938/http://www.meduniv.lviv.ua/oldsite/puluj.html
- Russification of Ukraine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russification_of_Ukraine
- Yelyzaveta Hulevych:
- Elie Mechnikov: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lie_Metchnikoff
- Serhiy Korolyov: http://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/solodko/5167f8024342b/
- Ukraine is Wonderful (Fun facts about Ukraine): http://vsviti.com.ua/2013/09/ukrajina-nadzvychajna — translated from Ukrainian by Mariya Scherbinina.
- Satan R-36: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R-36_%28missile%29
- Mykola Pymonenko: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mykola_Pymonenko
- Kateryna Bilokur: http://welcome-to-poltava.com.ua/read/ekaterina_belokur
- Kazimir Malevich: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimir_Malevich
- Aleksandr Arkhypenko: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Archipenko
- Igor Sikorsky: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igor_Sikorsky
- Kamyana Mohyla (Stone Barrow) National Park: http://www.stonegrave.org/
- Pylyp Orlyk’s Constitution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Pylyp_Orlyk
- Nobel Prize 1908: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1908/
- Famine as weapon (Holodomor 1932 — 1933): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor
- Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, 2010.