Spiritual Direction: Rewriting History-Do Not Fall For This Again and Again
The notion that Ukraine is not a country, but a historical part of Russia, appears to be deeply ingrained in the minds of the Russian leadership. Competing interpretations of history have turned into a key ingredient of the deepening dispute between Russia and the West and a subject that Putin in particular appears to feel unusually passionate about. However, is this a case of facts or wishful thinking on the part of Russian President Putin? If it is indeed wishful thinking how is he rewriting history to get others to believe him?
These are two questions we are going to look at in today’s article on Spiritual Direction. To many people war between two countries is not really a religious matter but, to me, it is exactly what it is - a religious issue. It is religious because we should live our life and live our politics centered on Jesus Christ and both Russia and Ukraine are Eastern Christian Countries. Russia is Orthodox and Ukraine is Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox. In a world that is full of problems, why should two Eastern Christian Countries be this close to war with each other?
All Ukrainians are Russian but not all Russians are Ukrainian. How could this be possible? According to Putin Already long before the Ukraine crisis, at an April 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Vladimir Putin reportedly claimed that “Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? A part of its territory is [in] Eastern Europe, but a[nother] part, a considerable one, was a gift from us!”
In his March 18, 2014 speech marking the annexation of Crimea, Putin declared that Russians and Ukrainians “are one people. Kyiv is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus’ is our common source and we cannot live without each other.”
Since then, Putin has repeated similar claims on many occasions. As recently as February 2020, he once again stated in an interview that Ukrainians and Russians “are one and the same people”, and he insinuated that Ukrainian national identity had emerged as a product of foreign interference. Similarly, Russia’s then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a perplexed apparatchik in April 2016 that there has been “no state” in Ukraine, neither before nor after the 2014 crisis.
Such slogans and insinuations might be little more than a rhetorical smokescreen concealing a pursuit of sober, hard-nosed realpolitik. But there is much to suggest that these beliefs are in fact informing policymaking at the highest levels of power. What’s more, they appear to have rubbed off on other world leaders as well. In an autumn 2017 briefing, US President Donald Trump reportedly exclaimed that Ukraine “wasn’t a ‘real country,’ that it had always been a part of Russia”. Could the concept of the Big Lie be in place here? If you say a false story long enough people begin to believe it. For example, The US fought WWI to save Democracy for the World.
Statements like these from some of the world’s most powerful leaders illustrate that history has become a subject of enormous importance for both sides in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Historical arguments have been used to justify and rationalize Russia’s annexation of Crimea. From the moment unmarked troops seized the Peninsula in late February 2014, Russian officials have made any number of misleading claims about Crimea’s past and have greatly exaggerated the extent of its historic connections with Russia. But beyond the status of Crimea, disputes about the correct interpretation of the past have been at the center of Russia’s policies towards Ukraine as a whole. More broadly, competing interpretations of history – particularly the Stalinist period – have turned into a key ingredient of the deepening dispute between Russia and the West and a subject that Putin in particular appears to feel unusually passionate about. Amid all the mythmaking about Ukraine’s past, a brief reality check is in order: Is it historically accurate to claim that Ukraine has never truly been a nation or a state in its own right? Of course not. Let us look at the real history of the Rus.
Aside from its cultural proximity, Ukraine’s sentimental and spiritual appeal to many Russians derives from the fact that the Kievan Rus’ – a medieval state that came into existence in the 9th century and was centered around present-day Kyiv – is regarded as a joint ancestral homeland that laid the foundations for both modern Russia and Ukraine. The Rus were people who came from Sweden to settle along the rivers of western Russia. Kyiv was the capital city of the Rus and the name Russia actually comes from this ruling group- the Rus. Therefore, by definition, the Ukrainians (people from Kyiv) have the right to claim to be Russians but the Russians can not claim to be Ukrainian at all.
But from the time of its foundation to its conquest by the Mongols in the 13th century, the Rus’ had become nothing more than an increasingly fragmented federation of principalities. Its southwestern territories, including Kyiv, were conquered by Poland and Lithuania in the early 14th century. For roughly four hundred years, these territories, encompassing most of present-day Ukraine, were formally ruled by Poland-Lithuania, which left a deep cultural imprint on them. During these four centuries, the Orthodox East Slavic population of these lands gradually developed an identity distinct from that of the East Slavs remaining in the territories under Mongol and later Muscovite rule. A distinct Ukrainian language had already begun to emerge in the dying days of the Kievan Rus’
. Following the incorporation of present-day Ukraine into Poland-Lithuania, the Ukrainian language evolved in relative isolation from the Russian language. At the same time, religious divisions developed within Eastern Orthodoxy. From the mid-15th to the late 17th centuries, the Orthodox Churches in Moscow and in Kyiv developed as separate entities, initiating a division that eventually resurfaced in later schisms.
Most of what is now Ukraine was formally governed by Polish-Lithuanian nobility prior to the 18th century, but these lands were predominantly inhabited by Orthodox East Slavs who began to form semi-autonomous hosts of peasant warriors – the Cossacks. Most of them felt a cultural affinity for Muscovite Russia but had no particular desire to be a part of the Muscovite state. In the 16th through 18th centuries, the Cossacks in present-day Ukraine began to form their own de facto statelets, the ‘Zaporizhian Sich’ and later the Cossack ‘Hetmanate’. They staged a major uprising against their Polish overlords in 1648. Six years later, the expanding Tsardom of Russia signed a treaty of alliance with the Zaporizhian Cossacks. Notwithstanding this temporary turn towards Moscow, the Cossacks also explored other options: In the Treaty of Hadiach with Poland in 1658, they were on the verge of becoming a fully-fledged constituent member of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Had this treaty been successfully implemented, it would likely have tied the Cossacks’ quasi-state firmly to its western neighbors for the foreseeable future.
The treaty failed, however, and the Cossacks remained divided in their loyalties. Internal disagreements about whether to side with Poland or Russia contributed to a series of civil wars among them in the late 1600s. In a foreshadowing of Ukraine’s present-day dilemma, the Cossacks shifted their allegiance more than once with the ultimate aim of gaining autonomy from both sides. In 1667, Poland-Lithuania had to cede to Moscow's control of the territories east of and including Kyiv. The Cossack statelet in the eastern territories gradually turned into a Russian vassal state, but its relationship with Russia was rife with conflict. Sporadic Cossack uprisings were now directed against the Tsars. In 1708, for instance, the Cossacks’ leader Ivan Mazepa allied himself with Sweden and fought against Russia in the Great Northern War. In 1775, the Zaporizhian Sich was razed to the ground by Russian forces, and the Cossacks’ institutions of self-governance were liquidated. Following the final Partitions of Poland in the 1790s, the Russian Empire absorbed the remainder of modern-day Ukraine (apart from its extreme west, which was annexed by Austria).
The territories of Ukraine remained a part of the Russian state for the next 120 years. Russia’s imperial authorities systematically persecuted expressions of Ukrainian culture and made continuous attempts to suppress the Ukrainian language. In spite of this, a distinct Ukrainian national consciousness emerged and consolidated in the course of the 19th century, particularly among the elites and intelligentsia, who made various efforts to further cultivate the Ukrainian language. When the Russian Empire collapsed in the aftermath of the revolutions of 1917, the Ukrainians declared a state of their own. After several years of warfare and quasi-independence, however, Ukraine was once again partitioned between the nascent Soviet Union and newly independent Poland. From the early 1930s onwards, nationalist sentiments were rigorously suppressed in the Soviet parts of Ukraine, but they remained latent and gained further traction through the traumatic experience of the ‘Holodomor’, a disastrous famine brought about by Joseph Stalin’s (remember- Stalin was not Russian he was Georgian) agricultural policies in 1932-33 that killed between seven and twelve million Ukrainians. Armed revolts against Soviet rule were staged during and after World War II and were centered on the western regions of Ukraine that had been annexed from Poland in 1939-40. It was only with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that Ukraine gained lasting independent statehood of its own – but Ukrainian de facto political entities struggling for their autonomy or independence had existed long before that.
What Russia Is Currently Doing
Russia under Putin is trying to do things much like what Hitler did in the 1930s. David Cameron, Former UK Prime Minister, in 2014 told European leaders that the west risks making similar mistakes in appeasing Vladimir Putin over Ukraine as Britain and France did with Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the second world war. No one stopped Putin from taking over Crimea in 2014 like no one stopped Hitler from taking over the Rheinland when on March 7, 1936, he sent in 20,000 troops to do exactly that- takeover the Rheinland.
In 2014 Putin explained about Crimea like this, “Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,” Mr. Putin declared in his address, delivered in the chandeliered St. George’s Hall before hundreds of members of Parliament, governors, and others. His remarks, which lasted 47 minutes, were interrupted repeatedly by thunderous applause, standing ovations, and at the end chants of “Russia, Russia.” Some in the audience wiped tears from their eyes. A theme coursing throughout his remarks was the restoration of Russia after a period of humiliation following the Soviet collapse, which he has famously called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”
Now today, Putin is trying to take over the rest of the country. Does this not remind you of Munich in 1938. After talking to Hitler and bringing back an agreement to avoid war, Neville Chamberlain on Sept. 30, 1938, said, “We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.“ Upon his return to London, Winston Churchill told Chamberlain, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”
This is not the time, this is not the place for this to be happening. We should learn from our history and remember Churchill’s famous quote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Pray for the Ukrainian people. May God protect and keep these people safe. Pray for the world, pray that we all turn our attention to Jesus Christ and live by His principles. Say this prayer to St. Vladimir-the grandson of St. Olga and ask for his help.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY PRINCE VLADIMIR, EQUAL OF THE APOSTLES
O great favorite of God, divinely elect one, glorified by God, Prince Vladimir, Equal of the apostles! Thou didst reject the false belief and impiety of the pagans, and didst come to believe in the one true God in three Hypostases. And, having received holy baptism, with the light of divine faith and piety thou didst illumine the whole land of Russia. Therefore, glorifying and giving thanks to our all-merciful Creator and Savior, we glorify and give thanks also unto thee, our enlightener and father; for through thee have we come to know the saving Faith of Christ and have been baptized in the name of the all-holy and most divine Trinity. By this Faith have we been delivered from the just condemnation of God, from everlasting bondage to the devil and the torments of hell; by this Faith have we received the grace of adoption by God and the expectation to inherit the blessedness of heaven. Thou art our first leader to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Author and Accomplisher of our everlasting salvation; thou art the fervent intercessor and mediator for the Russian land and all its suffering and oppressed people. Our tongue is unable to describe the magnitude and exalted height of the benefactions poured forth by thee upon our land, our fathers and forefathers, and on us also, unworthy though we are. O our all-good father and enlightener: look down upon our infirmities and entreat the all-merciful King of heaven, that he be not exceeding wroth with us, even though, in our weakness, we sin all the days of our life; that He not destroy us in our iniquities, but that He has mercy and save us in His mercy; that He planted in our hearts the saving fear of Him; that He illumines our mind with His grace, that we may understand the ways of the Lord, may forsake the paths of impiety and error, and hasten along the paths of salvation and the truth, of the determining fulfillment of the commandments of God and the precepts of the Holy Church. Entreat God Who loveth mankind, O kindhearted one, that He increase upon us His great mercy; that He deliver us from the invasion of aliens, from internal strife, sedition and upheavals, from famine, deadly plagues and from every evil; that He grant us seasonable weather and fertility of the earth; that He preserve and save our most pious nation from all the wiles and assaults of the enemy; that He grant it victory over the adversary and fulfill all its good desires; that He defend its might with wise and faithful servants and maintain righteousness and mercy among its judges and governors; that He grant to our pastors zeal for the salvation of their flock and assistance to all men to conduct their affairs virtuously, to have love one for another and oneness of mind, and to struggle faithfully for the good of their homeland and the Holy Church; that He shine forth the light of the saving Faith in our land, unto the uttermost ends thereof, that the unbelieving may turn to the Faith, that all heresies and schisms may be abolished, and that, living thus in peace on earth, we may be counted worthy with thee of the blessings of heaven, praising and exalting God supremely forever. Amen.