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Ukraine and Russia “share a long and common history” FAQ

"Kalka" by Pavel Ryzhenko depicts the Mongol Horde's victory over Kyivan Rus at the Battle of Kalka (circa 1223)
“Kalka” by Pavel Ryzhenko depicts the Mongol Horde’s victory over Kyivan Rus at the Battle of Kalka (circa 1223)
Ukraine and Russia “share a long and common history” FAQ
Article by: Yuriy Lukanov
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Edited by: A. N.
“A shared long and common history” implies Ukraine and Russia are somehow like Siamese twins – in their origins, historical development, and in their current values and outlooks. These assumptions are often repeated by the media, but closer examination reveals crucial substantive differences.

1. Common origins? For more than 300 years, ‘Moskovia’ was… ‘Moskovia’

This is key for proper understanding… up until the early 1700s, most maps, government documents and all other records throughout the territory of present-day Russia proclaimed themselves “Moskovia” (Muscovy). All the people considered themselves Moskovites. But in trying to kick-start his country into contemporary Europe, Peter the Great searched for a more imposing pedigree (the word “Moscow” means “swampy or dark waters” in the ancient Finno-Ugric language).

“Third Rome” was a failed attempt to connect Russia’s royal genealogy through Byzantium to ancient Rome (the title ‘Tsar’ was derived from ‘Caesar’) . Other spurious “ancestors” were considered. Finally, Peter looked at his neighboring country Ukraine, direct descendants of the Empire ‘Rus’ with its glorious history. Peter purloined the title that rightfully should have belonged to Kyiv and, over his own citizens’ stubborn objections, renamed his country ‘Rus-sia’. In 1721, the ‘Tsardom of Moskovia’ became officially the “Empire of Russia”.

2. ‘Rus or Russia… who cares?’ – big significance of one small letter “s”

1570 map showing Rus and showing Moscovia
1570 map showing Rus (lower circle) and Moscovia (upper circle)

This crucial distinction between ‘Rus’ and ‘Russia’ may not seem like a big deal to many westerners, and their unfamiliarity hinders media from appreciating current developments.

Few here might know of the majestic Kyiv-based “Rus” Empire, the largest country in Europe and dating back to the 10th century. The Kings of Rus in Kyiv had already established a codex of laws to apply to citizens of every level, and their princesses were being married to Kings in France, Sweden and other nations. Princes Anna of Kyiv could read and write five languages at a time when the entire French court was illiterate and her husband Henry I signed all documents with an “x”. After Henry’s death in 1060, Anna became the first French queen to serve as regent.

This Empire of ‘Rus’ (with one “s”) is the direct ancestor of present day Ukrainians.

At the same time, the area later to be called Moscow was a minor trading outpost on the borders of Rus. The indigenous Finno-Ugric tribes were pagans and lived in primitive Eskimo-like underground homes. Kyiv sent priests, laborers and settlers in an attempt to civilize the people living there. In contemporary histories written by scribes, it was merely called “the Land beyond the Forests”.

Present day ‘Russians’ (with two “s”) are in reality former Muscovites who interbred with colonists sent there from Kyiv, and later were ruled for 250 years by the Mongols.

3. Russian genetic studies have demonstrated very close ties of northern Russian DNA with the Finno-Ugric tribes and with Mongolians.

A 2013 study supported by grants from the Russian Academy of Sciences (A.V. Khrunin et al.) revealed a “new pole of genetic diversity” in northern Europe, reasserting that northern Russians exhibit a substantial presence of Finno-Ugric genotypes.

Starting in the mid 13th century Moskovia submitted to Mongolian rule for the next three hundred years. By 1350 the Tatar language had become fashionable in the court of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Look at the names of cities and rivers in most of today’s Russia and you will hardly recognize any Slavic roots, but rather a mixture of Finno-Ugric and Mongolian names.

4. Common outlook? Russia’s orientation was to Asia, Ukraine’s was to Europe.

Peter the Great waged many wars to get a “window to Europe” after centuries of being cut off from Europe during subservience to the Golden Horde. Once Ukraine was annexed by Russia in the 17th century, Europeans became more commonplace in Petersburg. Ukraine’s Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, one of Eastern Europe’s preeminent academies, which had been teaching students from Poland, Belarus, Moldavia, Bulgaria and Greece, now began to teach Russians for more than a century.

In Ukraine, economic life and trade, universities, science, the arts and cultural life thrived from cross-pollination with European countries. Foreign diplomats and correspondents like Guillaume de Beauplan, Johannes Korb and many others left memoirs, noting the differences crossing over the border from Russia to encounter the Ukrainians’ culture, friendliness and generosity, love of land, pride and fierce independence.

In 1481, Yury Drohobych from western Ukraine was voted the first Rector at the Bologna University, Italy. Ukrainian Count Andriy Razumovsky commissioned a cycle of wonderful string quartets from Beethoven.The first printing press was founded in Lviv, Ukraine in 1573 by Ivan Fedorov, but only after he had been chased out of Moscow after his shop and books were burned by people who considered them the work of the devil.

5. Common languages?

Kyivan colonizers and priests introduced Slavonic to the Finno-Ugric residents of Moskovia. The centuries long Mongolian Yoke period (Boris Godunov was of Asian Tatar stock), added a significant imprint on the Moskovian language. Due to their isolation, the Russians retained numerous archaic structures from old Church Slavonic, later adding German verb structure and many German words and phrases.

By contrast, Ukrainian very quickly dropped all the archaisms, and in their free and open European atmosphere underwent an unrivaled development. Today, for example, you can easily hear many phonetics, grammar and roots common with Italian. In fact, many foreigners consider the Ukrainian language and songs as the rival of Italian.

Linguistically, Ukrainian is more closely tied to Bulgarian, Polish and Slovak than it is to Russian.

6. It is not Russian language that needs protecting, but Ukrainian.

Russian history reveals systemic marginalization and attempts at elimination of the Ukrainian language and culture. The Valuev and Emsky Decrees for the 19th century said there “never was, is not, nor will be a Ukrainian language” and banned Ukrainian books. The Soviet Union instituted the primacy of the Russian language and brutally squashed Ukrainian cultural revivals by decreeing many artificial linguistic changes in an attempt to increase “similarities between the two brotherly languages”.

Contrary to claims of “persecution of Russian language and culture” in Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of books, newspapers, magazines, and TV programs are in Russian. 1,700 Russian schools officially operate throughout Ukraine, including many in western sectors. The Ukrainian Constitution specifically singles out Russian for “free development, use and protection” and in areas like Crimea Russian language, culture, churches and schools (fully funded by the state) approach near unanimity.

(In contrast, there are merely a dozen schools with Ukrainian as an optional study language throughout all regions of Russia where over three million Ukrainians reside. Petitions to authorities remain unanswered. There are no Ukrainian-language newspapers nor radio nor TV broadcasting in the entire Russian Federation.)

7. Common history?

The Soviet Union tried to establish the myth of two “brotherly nations”. But Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea is merely the latest chapter in centuries-old efforts by Russia to subjugate or eliminate Ukrainians as a nation and as a culture. In 1169, Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky of Suzdal (Moskovia) brutally sacked and plundered Kyiv, preparing the way for its 1240 destruction by the Mongols. And only now we are beginning to realize the full extent of the Soviet era ‘Holodomor’ – the artificial famine in the 1930s, calculated to wipe out Ukrainians and succeeding to the count of six to eight million deaths.

8. Russia was responsible for Demographic Catastrophe in Ukraine

Throughout the Tsarist and Soviet eras, millions of Ukrainians were either executed or forcibly relocated to all corners of the Russia, and Russians were brought into their place. (In Crimea, Stalin also deported all Crimean Tatars and replaced them with ethnic Russians.) Most recently, on 3/3/2014 the Russian Minister of the Far East, Aleksandr Galushka, unveiled a disturbing initiative to move residents of Ukraine to the Russian Far East as labor.

By Adrian Bryttan, New York, March 6, 2014

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Edited by: A. N.
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