Understanding Ukraine The history of a country at war by pedro graterol
Like many around the world, I’ve been shocked by the horrific images coming out of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. This war is one of the most seismic geopolitical events in our generation and will surely have consequences on the economy and international relations of a highly globalized world. At this point, we don’t know how the war will turn out. However, we need to be equipped with the knowledge to be able to navigate the turbulent times that will come as the war continues to develop. So, I want to present a brief and reduced recap of the major events in Ukrainian history so that we can have a better understanding of what is going on.
Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe, and, before the war, it had a population of about 40 million. Its capital is the city of Kyiv and to understand the relationship between Russia and Moscow, it’s important to understand the role that this city played. Bordering the Dneiper river, Kyiv was the capital of the Kievan Rus, the first Slavic state in history which lasted from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. Both Russian and Ukrainian cultures came from the Kievan Rus but were later separated during the Mongol Invasion of the 1240s into what is now Russia and Ukraine.
Ukraine spent centuries being conquered by neighboring empires such as Poland, Lithuania, and the Habsburg. In the late 18th century, the country’s territory was divided between Austria and the Russian empire. However, in 1918, Ukraine declared its independence during the Russian Revolution. Yet, its independence was short-lived, and Ukraine was annexed to the Soviet Union in 1922. During this time, Ukrainians suffered from horrific political oppression and a starvation policy designed by Josef Stalin in 1932 which is known as the Holodomor. It’s estimated that at least 3 million people died because of it, and right after surviving this tragedy, the country had to undergo the horrific racial extermination policies of Nazi Germany as it occupied its territory during WW2.
As the Soviet Union started imploding, the territories around it started to declare their independence and establish democratic constitutions. Ukraine’s transition to democracy has been a chaotic process, but after almost a century of fighting for its independence, the country started to make significant strides towards democracy. After the Orange Revolution in the early 2000s, the country’s last 8 elections had not shown any significant democratic backsliding and the country’s policies moved closer to Western Europe, as it tried to join both the EU and NATO. This shows a sharp political distancing from Russia, who in 2014, invaded and illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea as retaliation. What we see today is another instance of a country with imperial ambitions trying to conquer Ukraine. Russia’s invasion joins a long list of horrific attacks against the Ukrainian people who, as we have seen in the images out of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, will not let their country be taken over without a brave fight.
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