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Ukraine in the spotlight. Journalism in a time of war

Jan 25, 2023 | Life, Opinion, Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

As traumatic and destructive as Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine has been over the past year, there is at least one small positive that has come out of this tragic experience. The world has finally become aware of Ukraine as a distinct country with its own language, culture and history. This recognition is long overdue.

For much of the past few centuries, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the Russians, whether in the form of the Tsarist state, the Soviet Union, or currently as the Russian Federation, to deny that Ukraine was a legitimate nation state and the Ukrainian people a distinct ethnicity separate from the Russians. Until this latest war, most people outside of Eastern Europe were either sorely oblivious of Ukraine’s history or had bought into Russia’s propaganda and disinformation effort that sought to convince the world that Ukrainians were not a separate ethnic group, but just a subset of the Russian race – “Malorossy”, or Little Russians, and the Ukrainian language just a minor dialect of Russian.

As any knowledgeable and qualified historian of Eastern Europe will confirm, Ukrainians and the Ukrainian national polity have been around for many centuries longer than the Muscovite Russian state, and if anything, the Russians are more of an offshoot of the Ukrainian ethnic group, than the other way around. Nonetheless, the Russian rewriting and distortion of history has been quite effective in deceiving the rest of the world and in serving Russia’s imperialistic designs to dominate and control its southern neighbour.

Russia’s incursion into Ukraine last February has thankfully started to overturn this gap in the world’s understanding of the true reality of the politics of Eastern Europe and has forced the world to make more of an effort in understanding the truth of the complicated history of Russia and Ukraine.

This is particularly true of most Americans who until recently were woefully ignorant about Ukraine and its historical struggle to maintain its identity, freedom and independence. That informational vacuum is starting to dissipate, and there is a significant upsurge in interest amongst Americans in trying to understand what is going on in Kherson, Kharkiv, Bakhmut, Kreminna and Mariupol, places that were totally unknown to them before this war.

This point was brought home to me this past week when I took part via the Internet and the magic of ZOOM, in an academic presentation organized by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa Oklahoma on the crucial role played by the Ukrainian underground punk rock band “VeVe” (Vopli Vidopliassova) in fostering a resurgence of Ukrainian rock music as the Soviet Union was breaking up over thirty years ago. The key speaker was Maria Sonevytsky, an American of Ukrainian background who is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Music at Bard College in the state of New York, and an expert on the current Ukrainian music scene. The presentation drew an audience of some 80 locals and more via the Internet. This is in the heart of Midwest America where there is a miniscule population of Ukrainians, and only one Ukrainian church to my knowledge in the whole state of Oklahoma. This kind of turnout and interest in a fairly esoteric ethnocultural subject is nothing short of remarkable and demonstrates a growing awareness and interest in all things Ukrainian amongst the American populace.

I should add in the interest of full disclosure that my daughter, Zenia Kish, is a professor at the University of Tulsa, and Associate Director of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities which organized this event. I was similarly surprised when on a visit to Tulsa late last spring, I attended a number of rallies in support of Ukraine organized by local churches and NGO’s.

It is obvious that knowledge about Ukraine and its history is emerging from a several centuries long “dark ages” and the Russian manipulation of historical truths is finally being exposed for the deception that it is. One cannot truly appreciate the context and the reasons for Russia’s almost pathological hatred of Ukraine and the irrational desire to erase Ukrainian language and identity, without understanding the long and complicated history of this corner of the world. Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine is nothing new. It is but the continuation of a centuries old effort to destroy Ukraine and assimilate it and its people into the “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World). It has not succeeded in the past, nor will it succeed now.

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