How divided is Ukraine?

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Loyalty to one’s tribe, homeland or city is as old as humanity, but modern nationalism is an idea that arose in 19th century Europe.  Modern nationalism is the idea that any group of people of common ancestry speaking a common language should have their own independent government in order for their culture to flourish.

This made obvious sense to divided peoples such as the Germans and Italians or subject peoples such as the Greeks where a group of people of common ancestry and common language occupied the same territory.  But it is harder to apply where you have populations of different ancestry and language all mixed together in the same territory, which is the case for much of the world, including the whole area stretching from the Balkans in Europe through southwest, southern and southeast Asia..

As the map above shows, not everybody in Ukraine is of Ukrainian ancestry nor speaks Ukrainian as their primary language.  Ukraine also is home to Jews, Tatars and other nationalities not shown on the map.

One of the problems of Ukraine, as in many nations in Africa and Asia, is that its boundaries were not determined by the Ukrainians themselves, but by the ruling nation — in this case, the Soviet Union.   Stalin, like other colonial rulers, was a practitioner of divide-and-rule, and so drew boundaries of the Soviet republics so that each contained minority groups that might look to Moscow for protection.

Now Vladimir Putin says he has a duty to protect Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east from persecution.  A think an east-west vision of Ukraine would be a great tragedy because so many of the “wrong” ethnicity would wind up on the “wrong” side of the dividing line.   Fortunately a Pew survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians, east and west, want to remain a united nation, and that even Ukrainians in the east have no desire to be rescued by Russia.

An extremist few could start a cycle of violence and retaliation that could change all this, so it behooves authorities east and west to keep their ultra-nationalists under control.


Here are links to the on-line articles I’ve found most helpful in understanding Ukrainian history.

Nine questions about Ukraine you were too embarrassed to ask by Max Fisher of the Washington Post. A snapshot of Ukrainian history and of the situation as it appeared at the start of 2014.

What can history teach us about the unrest in Ukraine? by the PBS Newshour.

22 Maps That Explain the Centuries-Old Conflict in Ukraine by Magda Teter for Talking Points Memo.  This sequence of historical maps shows all the different nations that since 1400 have ruled over the territory now known as Ukraine.

Genocide in the 20th Century: Stalin’s Forced Famine 1932-33 on The History Place.  As many as 7 million Ukrainians may have died as a result of Stalin’s policy of starving out farmers who resisted collectivization of the land.

Decades Lost to Bribery in Ukraine by Agnes Lovasz for Bloomberg News.  Independent Ukraine was one of the most corrupt countries on earth.

The Danger of False Narrative on Ukraine by Robert Parry of Consortium News.  This article tells how the U.S. government plotted to destabilize Ukraine and draw it out of the Russian sphere of influence.

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One Response to “How divided is Ukraine?”

  1. tiffany267 Says:

    Thanks for posting this and thanks for the links. Though I’m interested to read what others have to say, my immediate reaction to this situation is that, for Russians, it’s probably not motivated as much by ethnic heritage as it is by realpolitik and politico-economic control of the region.

    It’s horrific that in the 21st century anyone is still advocating politics be ruled by ethnicity. One’s rights neither begin nor end at their racial or ethnic background. Every individual in the world has the same basic individual rights, and there ought to be little to no difference where political lines are drawn because the only legitimate purpose of government and law is to defend those individual rights. Where laws start being written to favor collectivist ideas like ethnic heritage, that’s precisely where civilization has broken down into barbaric civil wars tearing apart families and leading to brutal bloodbaths.


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