Vladimir Putin’s war banishes for good the outdated myth that Ukrainians and Russians are the same

Metropolitan Onuphry’s statement is just one of many similar statements, public and private, issued in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine since the Russian attack. Onuphrius’ own clergy asked him to declare his metropolis’ autocephaly or independence from Moscow.

“No one will ever forget or forgive Russia for what is happening now” is a common leitmotif of Facebook posts and private exchanges. One can see in such declarations not only defiance but also a feeling of betrayal.

The stubborn resistance of the Ukrainian government and public to Western warnings about the coming invasion was based at least in part on the belief that Russia, historically and culturally close to Ukraine, might launch a new round of hybrid warfare but not would not dare to wage a large-scale war against Ukraine. And Russia would surely never attack Kiev, which Putin called “the mother of Russian cities”.

This quote comes from the medieval chronicle of Kiev, which refers to Kiev as the mother, or capital, of Russian rather than Russian cities.

There is a profound difference between the Rus tribes of medieval times, which included all Eastern Slavs, and today’s Russians. But Putin followed in the footsteps of the Russian imperial tradition which treated Kyivan Rus’ as a Russian state.

In the 19th century, some Russian historians argued that medieval Kiev was actually settled by ethnic Russians, who migrated from the area during the 13th century Mongol invasion.

No such emigration had taken place, as historical and linguistic data prove. Nor is there any evidence to suggest the existence of a unified nationality in the medieval state of Kyivan, which stretched from the Carpathians in the west to the Don in the east, and from the Baltic in the north. to the shores of the Black Sea to the west. South.

It was originally ruled by Viking princes and included Slavs and non-Slavs. But imperial mythology claimed there was such a nationality, and it was Russian.

This understanding of 19th century history was central to Putin’s assertion of the existence of a Russian people that includes Russians and Ukrainians. He now faces his final death in the skies above Kiev.

The Russian assault on Kiev destroyed another symbolic link between Russians and many Ukrainians, that of the history and mythology of their common resistance to Nazi Germany during World War II. One of the most famous Soviet songs about the start of the German attack referred to Kiev in its first line: “On June 22, precisely at four o’clock in the morning, they shelled Kiev, and we were told that the war had begun.”

The “they” of the song were the Nazis; now those attacking Kiev are the Russians, claiming their goal is to liberate Ukrainians from the Nazis within them. Ukrainians are now defending Kyiv, citing its Hero City status, which it received from the Soviet government for its resistance to the Nazi invasion in 1941.

Far from inspiring gratitude for so-called “brotherly assistance”, the current war contributes to destroying a number of Russian imperial and Soviet myths.

Instead of halting the development of the Ukrainian nation and destroying its attachment to sovereignty, the Russian invasion in general and the assault on Kiev in particular strengthen the sense of identity and unity of the Ukrainian people, while giving it a new purpose, new stories, and new heroes and martyrs, among which a place of honor is already reserved for the defenders of Kiev.


Serhii Plokhy is the author of The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. His new book, Atoms and Ashes: A World History of Nuclear Disasterswill be published in May

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