Since February 24, the international community has watched the Russian invasion of Ukraine lake.
Like other neighboring countries, the two countries have just as much historical and cultural ties that unite them as they separate them.
This common heritage dates back to the 9th century, when Kiev, the current Ukrainian capital, was the center of the first Slavic state, created by a people who called themselves “Rus”.
It was this great medieval state, which historians call Kievan Rus’, that gave rise to Ukraine and Russia – its current capital, Moscow, which appeared in the 12th century.
The Christian faith was Orthodox, founded in 988 by Vladimir I of Kiev (or Saint Vladimir Svyatoslavich “the Great”), who consolidated the Kingdom of Rus in the territory that today corresponds to Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and extends to the Baltic Sea. .
Among the large number of Slavic dialects in the region, the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian languages eventually developed.
Because of this common past, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people, one whole.”
However, specialists note that, despite the common origin, the path of the Ukrainians took different paths from the path of the Russians at least in the past nine centuries, when they were under the rule of different peoples.
For Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at University College London, it is important to see Ukraine, its territory and identity, as a “dynamic puzzle” rather than as a weatherproof unit.
In the middle of the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire conquered the union of the principalities of Rus.
Then, at the end of the 14th century, the region ended up being divided between the Grand Principality of Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which later joined Poland), which took advantage of the decline of Mongol power to advance in the region.
Kiev and its vicinity came under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – leaving western Ukraine more vulnerable to Western influences in the following centuries, from the Counter-Reformation (the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation) to the Renaissance (artistic art). and culturally inspired by classical antiquity, which cut off the values of the Middle Ages).
The so-called Carpathian Galicia, also in western Ukraine, was long ruled by the Habsburg dynasty, known for being at the head of the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian empires.
So this western part of the country has a very different history from eastern Ukraine, Jeffrey Hosking, a prominent Russian historian, told BBC HistoryExtra.
Many of its residents are not Orthodox Catholics, and belong to the Unitarian Church or the Eastern Catholic Churches, who perform their rites in the Ukrainian language and recognize the Pope as their spiritual head.
Another part of Ukraine today that has a very special past is the Crimea, with its relations with the Greeks, Tatars and periods under Ottoman and Russian rule.
In the 17th century, a war between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Tsardom led to the Russian Empire’s control of the lands east of the Dnieper River, known as the Ukrainian “left bank”.
Decades later, in 1764, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great dismantled the Ukrainian Cossack state that had dominated the central and northwestern regions of the territory and began advancing on the Ukrainian lands until then controlled by Poland.
During the ensuing years, a policy known as Russification prohibited the use and study of the Ukrainian language. The local population was pressured to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith, so that they could form another one of the “small tribes” of the great Russian people.
In parallel, nationalism intensified in more western lands, which passed from Poland to the Austrian Empire, where many began to call themselves “Ukrainians” to distinguish themselves from the Russians.
With the twentieth century came the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union, rearranging the Ukrainian puzzle.
The western part of Ukraine was taken from Poland by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the end of World War II, when the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was formed.
Under the common Soviet mantle, in the 50s of the last century, Moscow fulfilled an old demand of the Ukrainian Republic and transferred Crimea to the country.
The region is located on the Black Sea in the south, and the region also has strong relations with Russia, which to this day maintains a naval base in the city of Sevastopol. Crimea returned to Russian control in 2014 when Putin invaded and annexed it.
During the period of Soviet domination, the attempt to subjugate Ukraine to Russian influence intensified, often at great human cost.
Millions of Ukrainians who were already part of the Soviet Union in the 1930s died in a widespread famine – which became known as the Holodomor – promoted by Stalin as a strategy to force peasants to join the communist policy of collective farms.
Stalin even sent large numbers of Soviet citizens, many of whom had no knowledge of the Ukrainian language and few ties to the region, in an attempt to resettle in the east of the country.
However, Soviet Moscow did not dominate Ukraine culturally.
Economic, political, and military decisions were imposed from the center, Hosking says, but Ukraine “has some autonomy” in the areas of culture and education.
Although Russian was the dominant language, children learned Ukrainian in primary school, many books were published in the local language, and in the second half of the twentieth century, a “strong Ukrainian national movement led by people with Ukrainian education” arose in the Union.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and in 1997, a treaty between Russia and Ukraine established the integrity of the Ukrainian border.
However, the different legacies that characterize the country’s regions have left divisions that often look like an abyss.
The regions on both sides of the Dnieper River have deep contrasts, which were marked by the extent of Russian rule.
To the east, relations with Moscow are stronger, and the population is more likely to follow the Orthodox religion and speak Russian.
In the western part, centuries of rule by European powers, such as Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ended up contributing to the fact that many of its inhabitants were Catholic and preferred to speak the local language.
Each side has its own interests: some yearn to return to what they consider to be their motherland, while others yearn to take independent paths.
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