The formation of the national consciousness of Ukraine was constantly accompanied by the oppression of the empires under whose power the state was. As a result, even today the world often perceives independent Ukraine as a part of Russia (at least it was the case before the start of the war in 2014), Ukrainian history, language and culture as by-products of the Russian heritage, and the Ukrainian people have an inferiority complex. However, if one dives deeper than this, there are numerous facts of the distortion of Ukrainian history by Russia, as well as facts indicating the purposeful destruction of the culture and language of Ukraine. Why is this important? At least because now Russia has started a brutal full-scale war, justifying it with pseudo-historical facts and finding “confirmation” that Ukraine should be part of Russia. The basis of Russian propaganda is history, which they stole, changed, and rewrote.
The goal has long been set to draw a direct line of succession from Kyivan Rus to Muscovy (an alternative name for Grand Duchy of Moscow), to create the impression that Muscovy has hereditary rights to Rus. Without a powerful past, it is impossible to create a powerful nation, and the Russian tsars understood this. That is why, starting with Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584), appropriation of the history of Kievan Rus and creating the “mythology” of the Russian Empire was an important task. A task that actually was wiping Ukrainian history, culture, and language from the face of the earth, and which Russia’s leaders are still trying to implement. It was the realization of this task that gave rise to this particular myth of brotherhood of the Russian and Ukrainian nations, where, of course, the former is considered to be the elder brother, and the latter is subordinate to him.
First of all, during the existence of Kyivan Rus, there was no historical mention of the Muscovite state. Muscovy as a state was created in 1277, and at that time Rus had existed for more than 300 years.
Massive falsification of history was started by Peter I. It was he who initiated systematic work on extermination, extraction, and rewriting of historical documents in 1701. In 1716, he “made a copy” of the so-called Königsberg Chronicle, which argued for the unity of the Slavic and Finnish lands. Research works by Nikodym Kondakov and Volodymyr Syzov provide convincing arguments in favour of the fact that this copy is nothing but a fake. Access to the “copy”, as well as to the original, was, of course, closed.
Peter I brought a large number of specialists from Europe, including professional historians, who were involved in writing and falsifying the history of the Russian state. The above-mentioned Kondatov and Syzov, in particular, agree on the fact that in the “copy” of the Königsberg Chronicle, the pictures depict German miniatures, not Rus life: the princes of the Rostov-Suzdal land are dressed in European clothes, and the women wear long German dresses with narrow waists.
Based on this, on October 22, 1721, Muscovy declared itself the Russian Empire, and Muscovites were proclaimed Russians. This is how Ukrainians were deprived of their heritage, the history of Kyivan Rus.
The falsifications started by Peter I were actively continued by Catherine II The Great, who demanded an evidentiary basis for the history of her state. Therefore, in 1783, she created the “Commission for compiling notes on the ancient history of Russia”. The commission worked for 10 years, in particular, they rewrote the “The Tale of Ihor’s Campaign” and “The Tale of Bygone Years”, and classified the book “Scythian History” by Lyzov, which indicates that the inhabitants of Muscovy are a separate, distinctive people that have nothing to do with Rus. They also wrote new Russian history summaries that were drawn up in the 18th century but were presented as if they dated from the 11th, 13th, and 14th centuries.
“In order to appropriate the history of Kyivan Rus and perpetuate this theft, the velykorosy (the name of the people who lived on the territory of modern Russia, translates as great Rus people) had to suppress the Ukrainian people, drive them into slavery, deprive them of their own name, starve them to death,” writes Yaroslav Dashkevych. In the context of these falsifications, it is curious to look at the Soviet repressions from a completely different angle.
In the history of the Soviet Union, starting from the 1920s, there were several periods of great famine, primarily associated with collectivization and the establishment of grain procurement plans, which created enormous pressure on the peasantry. First of all, Ukraine was called the granary of the Soviet Union for a reason, and in fact, even the setting of unrealistically high plans for the delivery (probably it would be more correct to call it forced withdrawal) of grain was directed against the Ukrainian people. Only peasants from Ukraine and Kuban were forbidden to leave villages for cities or other Soviet republics. According to various estimates, the Holodomor (the period of famine) of 1932-1933 took up to 10.5 million Ukrainian lives.
Secondly, the communist totalitarian regime always deprived Ukrainians of their cultural heritage, forced them to renounce their historical past and traditions, and banned language in any of its manifestations. The regime methodically instilled new customs and rituals in Ukraine, destroying not only the physical but also the spiritual life of Ukrainians. An entire literary and artistic generation of the Ukrainian intelligentsia was exterminated by the Soviet regime. The generation that is now called the Executed Renaissance. In just one day, November 3, 1937, by the decision of non-judicial bodies, more than 100 people, more than 100 representatives of the intelligentsia – the gold of the Ukrainian nation – were executed. The policy of exterminating the Ukrainian elite, and depriving Ukraine of its future has always been on the agenda of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and Russia.
With independence, Ukraine began a new way of getting rid of the imposed views on its own inferiority, the role of the “younger brother”, and views on the poverty of its own culture and language. The Revolution of Dignity and the beginning of the war in 2014, as well as the beginning of a full-scale war, caused a powerful surge in the national consciousness, raising not-so-popular issues of restoring justice in the hidden parts of Ukrainian history and culture, national identity.
However, even these 30 years of independence were full of struggle with the propaganda machine of the Russian Federation, which still did not give up its imperial ambitions. It is especially prominent now how the manipulation of history affects our present. The role of Ukrainians is downplayed in everything, even in the Second World War, even though the data on the number of deaths clearly show that Ukraine and Belarus lost the largest percentage of the population defending universal values. During all 30 years of independence, the Russian language, culture and view of history continued to dominate not only in the Ukrainian space but also in the world.
Now, centuries-old Russian propaganda has turned into a mechanism that helps justify a full-scale war. The President of the Russian Federation often refers to pseudo-historical facts, arguing why this or that part of Ukraine and other states are actually Russian territory. European citizens constantly question whether it is true that Ukrainians and Russians are brotherly nations, or whether it is true that the Ukrainian language is only a dialect of Russian. And can we really trust the “historical” sources that are usually used to legitimize such views on Ukraine, knowing how they have been falsified for hundreds of years?
Yaroslav Dashkevych concludes his report with the words “Ukrainians, who emerged as a nation in the 11th-12th centuries, and perhaps even earlier, were declared “Little Russians”, and Russia began to spread this version to the whole world. For the slightest deviation from this view, people were executed, destroyed, or sent to the Gulag (a division of the NKVD that managed the system of correctional labour camps, which in fact were concentration camps for political prisoners). The Soviet period was particularly brutal. During that time, Ukraine lost more than 25 million of its sons and daughters who died in wars for the interests of Russia, during collectivization, in exile and in concentration camps.” This report was published back in 2011, that is, before Russia started the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and before the beginning of a full-scale war 132 days ago (the article was finished on July 5). The Ukrainian people still lose the blossom of the nation every day in the fight for freedom. These people die because of the imperial ambitions of Ukrainian neighbours, and by no means Ukrainian brothers.
Written by Anna Proskurina.
Translated into English by Anna Proskurina and into German by Nele Koenig.
- Yaroslav Dashkevych, report “How Moscovy appropriated the history of Kyivan Rus”, Як Московія привласнила історію Київської Русі
- Yurii Stryhun, article “Königsberg Chronicle was falsified by Peter I and Catherine II claims Bilinsky”, Кенігсберзький літопис сфальшовано Петром І та Катериною ІІ – Білінський
- Holodomor Museum, article “The history of Holodomor”, Історія Голодомору
- Article “Shor Renaissance: definition and the specifics of the period”, Розстріляне відродження”: поняття і особливості доби
- Article “Executed Renaissance,” Розстріляне відродження