March 19, 2022 | The Berkshire Eagle

History explains Ukraine’s tenacious resistance to Russia

March 19, 2022 | The Berkshire Eagle

History explains Ukraine’s tenacious resistance to Russia

There is a saying that you can push a meek and mild Ukrainian all the way until his forehead touches the ground. Then, he arises a Cossack.

With Russia’s frontal attack on Ukraine, the foreheads of 40 million Ukrainians hit the ground.

After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden promised 100 drones, 800 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 9,000 anti-tank weapons. The stage is set for a long fight through this spring.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, he expected a quick victory. His soldiers carried three days of rations and packed their dress uniforms for a victory parade down Kyiv’s central Khreschatyk Street. So far, they have been unable to take any of Ukraine’s top 10 cities.

History of resistance

Putin — and most of the Western media — have been surprised by Ukrainians’ fierce resistance. Ukrainian history gives insight into this resistance.

Ukrainians like to say that their eastern border marks a cultural divide — between citizens in Ukraine and serfs in Russia.

“Ukraine” means “borderland.” The culture that evolved on the untamed steppes was one of escaped serfs. These free-wheeling, answer-to-nobody people became Cossacks. Often switching allegiances between Poland and Russia, the Cossacks protected the Slavic steppes from slave-raiding expeditions by the Turks.

The cult of the Cossack and this anarchic culture helps to understand the unruliness, love for freedom and lack of deference to Moscow that characterizes Ukraine today.

In 1919 and 1920, when most of the former Russian Empire was convulsed in a civil war between the Reds and the Whites, Ukraine had a third movement, the Blacks. Riding under the black flag of Nestor Makhno’s Revolutionary Insurgent Army, 100,000 anarchists sought to create a stateless society. At its peak, this army controlled an area the size of Ireland with 7.5 million people.

After the Reds prevailed, Stalin engineered a mass famine to bring Ukrainians to heel. From 1932 to 1933, 4 million Ukrainians starved to death in “the breadbasket of Europe.” Only in January 1934 did Stalin feel safe enough to move the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from Kharkiv, 30 miles west of the Russian border, to Kyiv, in Ukraine’s heartland.

For decades, the Soviets suppressed information about the Holodomor, or “kill by starvation.” But since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, a whole generation has grown up studying how their ancestors were starved to death on orders from Moscow. Today, in Kyiv, yellow construction cranes loom over a building site on the west bank of the Dnipro River. The site is to hold the largest museum in Ukraine: the Holodomor Museum.

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