Since the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has rightly become headline news and a major talking point. Before February, it is fair to argue that many people around the world could not have even pointed out the location of that country on a global map, but because of the situation now, it seems clear that almost every country except India, China, and Belarus is on the side of Ukraine. I thought it was time to look at the history, and perhaps put current events in some context. I will use short points to illustrate it.
*Known as Kievan Rus until the 12th century AD, Ukraine later came under control of the Polish/Lithuanian empire from 1569 until 1686. It was then divided, with half ceded to Russia. After 1795, modern day Ukraine was ruled equally between the Austrian Empire and Russia.
*Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the long civil war that followed, Ukraine eventually became part of the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, in 1922. In the early 1930s, up to five million people starved to death in Ukraine following a great famine. Some people believe that this was a deliberate act by the central government in Moscow.
*When Germany invaded Ukraine in 1941, Ukrainian nationalists fought against both Germany and the Soviet Union, hoping to achieve independence. Many other Ukrainians collaborated openly with the Nazis, even forming regiments in the Waffen SS, part of the German army. They saw the Germans as liberators from Soviet control. Some joined the pro-German Auxiliary Police, others served willingly as guards in Concentration Camps, including Treblinka. In September 1941, 34,000 Jews were executed in just two days outside Kiev, at the Babi Yar ravine. They were shot by German SS and SD troops, assisted by Ukrainian Auxiliary Police and antsemitic volunteers. Other Ukrainians fought against the Germans by serving in the Soviet Red Army.
*From the end of WW2 until 1991, Ukraine remained as part of the Soviet Union, with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic having some self-government, as well as its own place on the United Nations Security Council. In 1954, Crimea was transferred from central control to become part of the Ukrainian SSR.
*After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Ukraine declared independence in 1991, with 90% of the voters in the country voting for independence. (Only around 50% in Crimea)
*In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, and pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine, precipitating a war in the Donbass Region that was ongoing (with some Russian support) until the recent Russian invasion. In 2021, pro-Russian Russian-language TV channels were banned in Ukraine. Also in 2021, NATO announced that Ukraine could become a member if it met certain criteria, but not as long as it was still at war with separatists in the Donbass region, and involved in disputes with Russia over the territory of Crimea.
*The Far Right, Neo-Nazi Azov battalions are militia groups that have fought against separatists in the Donbass Region since 2014. They were formed by Andriy Biletsky, an ultra-nationalist political figure who previously led groups including the openly neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly (SNA), which preached an ideology of racial purity for Ukraine. Allegations against them include the mass murder of Russian-speaking civilians, the forced ‘clearance’ of Russian-speaking communities in the Donbass, and the rapes of hundreds of women. They were formally integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, in 2014. It is their presence on the battlefield that gave Putin his (albeit flimsy) ‘justification’ for “ridding Ukraine of Nazis”.