Tangled history between Russia and Ukraine

As Russia invaded in Ukraine and declared war on them has dominating the headlines, a glance back at the two countries long, interconnected history demonstrates how the scene was prepared for today’s war.
The joint history of the two nations dates back more than a thousand years, to a period when Kyiv, today Ukraine’s capital, was at the heart of the first Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, which was the origin of both Ukraine and Russia. Vladimir I, the pagan prince of Novgorod and grand prince of Kyiv, converted to Orthodox Christianity and was baptised in the Crimean city of Chersonesus in A.D. 988. Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin has proclaimed that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people, a single whole”.
Nonetheless, during the last ten centuries, Ukraine has been frequently partitioned by rival countries. In the 13th century, Mongol soldiers from the east conquered Kyivan Rus. Polish and Lithuanian forces attacked from the west in the 16th century. Warfare between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Tsardom of Russia in the 17th century brought territories east of the Dnieper River under Russian imperial rule. The east became known as “Left Bank” Ukraine, while regions west of the Dnieper were known as “Right Bank” Poland.
The Russian Empire seized right bank (western) Ukraine more than a century later, in 1793. In the years thereafter, a strategy known as Russification has prohibited the use and study of Ukrainian, and individuals have been forced to adhere to the Russian Orthodox faith.

20th Century Communism

During the twentieth century, Ukraine experienced some of its most traumatic events. Following the 1917 communist revolution, Ukraine was one of several countries to experience a devastating civil war before being fully integrated into the Soviet Union in 1922. To force peasants to join communal farms in the early 1930s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin organised a famine that resulted in the suffering and death of millions of Ukrainians. Following that, Stalin imported a significant number of Russians and other Soviet residents, many of whom did not speak Ukrainian and had no links to the region, to assist repopulate the east.
These historical legacies left long-lasting fault lines. Individuals in eastern Ukraine have greater links to Russia and are more inclined to support Russian-leaning authorities since they were under Russian administration far earlier than people in western Ukraine. Western Ukraine, on the other hand, has spent centuries under the fluctuating rule of European countries such as Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is why Ukrainians in the west prefer to favour more Western-leaning leaders. The eastern population is more Russian-speaking and Orthodox, whilst the western population is more Ukrainian-speaking and Catholic.

Some opinions by Officials

Ukraine gained independence after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. However, bringing the country together proved to be a challenging feat. For one thing, “the idea of Ukrainian nationalism is not as profound in the east as it is in the west”, according to Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine. The transition to democracy and capitalism was costly and turbulent, and many Ukrainians, particularly in the east, yearned for the relative stability of previous epochs.
“After all of these variables, the largest gap is between those who consider Russian imperial and Soviet rule more favourably vs others who see them as a tragedy”, says Adrian Karatnycky, a Ukraine scholar and former fellow at the Atlantic Council of the United States. These schisms were exposed during the 2004 Orange Revolution, when thousands of Ukrainians marched in favour of deeper European integration.
According to Serhii Plokhii, a history professor at Harvard and the director of its Ukrainian Research Institute, ecological maps show a divide between the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, known as the steppes, with their fertile farming soil, and the northern and western regions, which are more forested. He claims that a map displaying the demarcations between the steppe and the forest, as well as a diagonal line running east and west, shows a “striking similarity” to political maps from Ukrainian presidential elections in 2004 and 2010.

Crimea annexation

In 2014, Russia seized and annexed Crimea, which was quickly followed by a separatist revolt in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, which led in the establishment of the Russian-backed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk. Today, Russian forces are once again massed on Ukraine’s borders, highlighting the region’s turbulent past.

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