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History of Ukraine

History of Ukraine - Yuriy Aleksieiev Sometimes it helps to see just how badly a country's intellectuals describe their own history. This was originally published in Ukrainian and then translated into an absolutely ham-fisted English version. But I don't think the superficial nature of the content is the translator's fault.

Even if the primary audience is Ukrainians, would not the process whereby Stalin starved to death millions of Ukrainians warrant more than a paragraph? Because that's just one of the places where we are provided historical references without further explanation. The writer is a professor with a Ph.D who has served as director for any number of institutes of Slavonic Studies in Ukraine, but I am reminded, as I learn about the Ukrainian backgrounds of both Gogol and the author of Master and Margarita from other reference books, that there seems to be a pattern of Ukrainian intellectuals providing turgid detail without perspective. This author describes the first Ukrainian historians in the 17th century "trying to move from enumerating the events to their thorough understanding", but hasn't picked up the process himself. It's still far more explanation than I can get from average Ukrainians.

What's potentially valuable for foreign readers:

-- The main international trade route, the "route from the Varangians to the Greeks" started to lose its importance in the 12th century. Another book tells me that the Greeks and then the Genoese settled the Crimea, and that it was possible to navigate the river from the Crimea to the Baltics or vice versa.

-- Lithuania, then Poland overran large parts of Ukraine at one time. Ukraine is the second largest land mass in Europe, which finally explains how Lithuanians claim that they were the largest empire in Europe at one time. I've just read that Hitler's secret plans also included taking the industrial center of Donetsk, which is a source of ongoing battles as we speak. You'd think being a land with just 5% mountain would be automatically hopeless for Ukrainian defenders, until one reads in Shirer's account of the Nazis that the Swedish King and Napolean were also stopped on the endless Russian steppes.

-- The book hints that serfdom imposed by the Lithuanians may have led to the rise of Cossacks, or individual rebels fighting for independence.

-- Cossacks were first mentioned in the 15th century, guiding the Polish army against the Tartars. "A Cossack's main pursuits included 'obliging' (various trades and crafts) and 'pillaging'.

-- Cossacks are mainly glorified here, with the exception of a wayward hetman or two.

-- Kruschev was of Ukrainian descent, which apparently helped Ukrainians in some ways. Another book I have mentions that Kruschev reassigned the Crimea to Ukrainian lands.

-- In the early 19th century, meetings for Ukrainian independence were held in Masons lodges. The Mason "eye", I notice, appears on the Ukrainain 500, although it was only a Ukrainian who suggested recently that it was conspiratorial.

-- What seems like a typical 19 century process to define nationality by formalizing the Ukrainian language and recording its folkore. It having happened late in a country that was seldom independent, not even this modern professor sees it as a dubious process yet.

-- I'd always wondered what happened in Austrian history to make the Balkans such a hot spot for ethnic wars. This book suggests that the revolution of 1848 which overthrew the government of Vienna coincided with nationalist activism in Ukraine.

WWII era: "It should be mentiond that the main role in the process of Ukrainian liberation was played by the regular Soviet Army."

Under Russia, "many Jewish writers, scientists, and artists were blamed for 'cosmopolitanism'. The case of the so called 'Jewish intellectuals plot' that presupposed splitting Crimea from the USSR was set up." What? No further information provided. This book makes reference to the misuse of farm land as industrial land, which in one sense, might be the problem or argument which made Stalin's collective farms and industrialization so disastrous. But I also get a sense that Ukraine is an immense, mostly flat farm land still keen to remain tradition-bound.