Many of us have not paid much attention to Ukraine until this year. That is a mistake. Ukraine is important. And very interesting.
Europe is well known around the world for colonizing countries for its own benefit. When I was young, I actually believed they did that to spread civilization to the world. That seems almost unimaginably naive now.
What is not commented on as much is Europe colonizing other parts of Europe–colonizing itself in other words. In no part of Europe was this more significant than Ukraine. First, the Soviet Union under Stalin colonized Ukraine. That was Stalin’s attempt to make Ukraine and Soviet Union one. It was a shot gun wedding. After that there was the attempt by Nazi Germany to colonize Ukraine. Again this was another bloody union. Neither of these imperial powers used seduction—only brute force. When this also failed, Russia quickly stepped in to fill the void. It would do what Germany was not able to do for long. As Yale Historian Timothy Snyder who is an expert on Ukraine, said in his book The Road to Unfreedom “No other land attracted as much attention within Europe. This reveals the rule: European history turns on colonization and decolonization.” That is why Snyder in another book referred to this area, that included Ukraine, as “the Bloodlands.” He named an earlier book after that. That is what Putin is trying to do again. He wants to join the ranks of Stalin and Hitler.
Everyone wanted the bread basket of Europe. That was and is Ukraine. That is still true. Joseph Stalin realized that Soviet Russia unlike other European countries had no overseas possessions such as India, North America, or South America. He did not think that was fair. It really wasn’t fair for any country to possess other countries, but that was not relevant. Every European country thought it had the God-given right to exploit other countries. As a result, Soviet Russia had no alternative but to exploit its hinterland. Since Germany had no hinterland left, it exploited what it could. Here are some astonishing numbers that Snyder drew to our attention:
“Ukraine was therefore to yield its agricultural bounty to Soviet central planners in the First Five-Year Plan of 1928-1933. State control of agriculture killed between three and four million inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine by starvation. Adolf Hitler saw Ukraine as the fertile territory that would transform Germany into a world power. Control of its black earth was his aim. As a result of the German occupation that began in 1941, more than three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine were killed, including about 1.6 million Jews murdered by Germany and local policemen and militias. In addition to those losses, some three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat as Red Army soldiers. Taken together, some ten million people were killed in a decade as a result of two rival colonizations of the same Ukrainian territory.”
Think about that. Let those numbers sink in. And I learned none of this in High School. How ignorant could I be? Answer: very ignorant. For good reason, Snyder has called these lands “Bloodlands.”
In the western Ukraine the western districts which had been part of Poland before World War II, Ukrainian nationalists resisted the imposition of Soviet rule over them. Hundreds of thousands of those Ukrainian resisters were deported to the concentration camps called the Gulag. More bloodshed again.
Many of those prisoners were still alive when Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Stalin. In the 1960s and 1970s Ukrainian communists joined their Russian communist comrades and together ruled the largest country in the world. According to Snyder, Russian communists never denied that Ukraine was a nation, they just thought Ukraine would be better off under Russian rule. That is what colonists always believe. They are exploiting the colonized for their own good.
In 1991 the failed coup against Gorbachev opened the way for Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian ruler, to lead Russia out of the Soviet Union. At the same time, Ukrainian communists agreed with Ukrainian oppositionists that Ukraine should also leave the Soviet Union. As Snyder said, “In a referendum, 92% of the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, including a majority in every Ukrainian region, voted for independence.”
These are the people that Putin says are tyrannized by Neo-Nazi Ukrainian leaders into forcing Ukrainians to stay separate from Russia. Many Russian agree with Putin. According to Gwynne Dyer, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press,
“In a telephone survey of Russians three weeks ago by Lord Ashworth Polls 76% said they supported the “special military operation” in Ukraine, 81 % said it was necessary to protect Russian security, and 85% had a favorable view of Vladimir Putin. The numbers are untrustworthy of course; would you always tell the truth to a stranger ringing up out of the blue and asking dangerous questions? It was also striking that a majority of the youngest group (18-24 years old) actually opposed the war, so there’s some hope if you want it. But a clear majority of Russians strongly back the invasion of Ukraine.”
It seems unbelievable that so many Russians would support their leader. It shows the power of lies. It shows what happens when powerful countries fight over weaker ones. Blood land is created.
George Orwell once said if you want a vision of the future imagine a boot stomping a human face forever.