Ukraine—with its rich black soil that would help it become a major grain producer—was continually carved up by competing powers. As a result their nationalism has two sides. Janus-like one looks towards the past and the other to the east.
Let us trace its history in a few sentences. In the ninth century, Ukraine, known as Kievan Rus, was becoming the early seat of Slavic power and the newly adopted Orthodox religion. But Mongol invasions in the 13th century curtailed Kiev’s rise, with power eventually shifting north into Russia to present-day St. Petersburg and Moscow. In the 16th century major swaths of the country were under the control of Poland and Lithuania, with Cossack fighters patrolling Ukraine’s frontier with Poland.
In the 17th century, war between the Tsardom of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth resulted in more internal divisions. Lands to the east of the Dnieper River fell under Russian imperial control much earlier than Ukrainian lands to the west of the Dnieper. The east became known as “Left Bank” Ukraine and a center of industry and coal. Lands to the west of the Dnieper, or “Right Bank,” were to be ruled by Poland. A small part in the west, called Galicia, was allotted to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the last 19th century. The Austro-Hungarian empire ended at the end of World War I, but that small part of western Ukraine remained outside the Russian empire and was incorporated into the U.S.S.R. only as a result of the Second World War.
After the communist revolution of 1917, Ukraine was one of the many countries to suffer a brutal civil war before becoming a Soviet Republic in 1920. In the early 1930s, to force peasants into joining collective farms, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin orchestrated a famine that resulted in the starvation and death of millions of Ukrainians. Afterward he imported large numbers of Russians and other Soviet citizens—many with no ability to speak Ukrainian and with few ties to the region—to help repopulate the east. The fault lines dividing thus between east and the west we might say that the crisis in Ukraine was waiting to happen.
Tailspin: Nationalism in a sense is an impossibility considering its domino effect. By the same standards ethnic minorities on their cultural identity, belief shall demand their own spheres of control. We have seen it in Balkans demand for Khalistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Inversion principle determines such breakdown no matter how you set up nations.
(ack: National Geographic Magazine)