On July 12, Vladimir Putin’s article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” appeared on the Kremlin’s website in Russian and Ukrainian. This huge article of nearly 5.5 thousand words or 33.2 thousand characters is a solid mixture of historical myths, lies about Crimea and Donbas and manipulation of Ukrainian economic data.
We have divided the text into four blocks: Economy, Governance, Crimea & Donbas, History. In each block, we collected factual statements from the column and fact-checked them. In short: none are true.
“In the difficult 90s and the new millennium, we provided substantial support to Ukraine. Kyiv uses its political arithmetic, but in 1991-2013, Ukraine saved more than $82 billion in its budget solely thanks to low gas prices, and it literally “clings” to the $1.5 billion in Russian payments for the transit of our gas to Europe today. Yet, with the economic ties between our countries in place, the positive effects for Ukraine would amount to tens of billions of dollars.”
Just a quick reminder that due to Russia’s aggression, i.e., the war in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine lost about $100 billion. It is partly a consequence of the “cheap gas” since the price of Russian gas for Ukraine has always been politically motivated. Russia raised the price or even cut off gas supplies to force Ukrainian politicians to act in Russia’s interests. For instance, in 2010, when for a discount on gas prices, the stay of the Black Sea fleet in Crimea was extended until 2047. As a result, Russia was able to increase its troop numbers and the presence of military equipment on the peninsula until the occupation.
Putin also distorts the essence of the Stockholm arbitration. In 2014, Naftogaz appealed to the Stockholm Court to review the terms of the 2009 contracts.
The take-or-pay principle, which differs from the standard provisions for this type in Gazprom’s European contracts, caused Ukraine losses of $32.1 billion. The Stockholm Arbitration Court ordered Gazprom to compensate Naftogaz for losses in the amount of $4.6 billion.
It is objectively impossible to calculate how much Ukraine saved due to low gas prices. After all, gas transit fees were also lower during the period of the lower gas prices. The rents for the stay of the Black Sea fleet in Crimea were hardly market-level. In addition, not only does the price play a role but also gas consumption levels. As shown in Figure 1, Ukraine consumed much more gas in the 1990s than it does now, spending significant amounts of money despite the low prices. In 2015-2018, Ukraine spent an average of $3 billion on imported gas annually compared to $3.4 billion in 1992-2000. In 2006-2015 (for which data is available), Ukraine paid Russia $61 billion for gas, with peak amounts spent in 2011 and 2012 ($12.5 and $14 billion respectively).
“Today, the high-tech industrial giants that Ukraine and the whole country used to be proud of are sitting idle. Over the past ten years, output in mechanical engineering has fallen by 42%. The scale of deindustrialization and overall economic degradation can be seen by looking at such an indicator as electricity production, which has almost halved in Ukraine over the past 30 years.”
Putin misses the reasons for the decline of Ukrainian industry. The reasons for its decline after the collapse of the USSR is the inefficient Soviet economy and the inability of Soviet enterprises to adapt to market conditions. Talking about the last ten years, the overall decline in industry in 2011-2020 was 33%, not 42% (see the table below). It was mainly caused by the 2013-2015 economic crisis stemming, in particular, from the Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. In addition to the physical destruction of enterprises, a ban on the purchase of Ukrainian products by Russian enterprises dealt a blow to Ukrainian industry.
|Mechanical engineering products index||115.4||96.7||86.4||79.4||85.2||101.8||111.7||112.4||97.8||82.4|
*NB: The State Statistics Service updated its methodology in March 2020, making 2016 the base year to calculate the industrial production indices.
Electricity production decreased by 18% from 2006 to 2020 (data for 1991-2006 are not publicly available). The reasons for the decline in electricity production were industrial decline, a decrease in population (with the population now consuming less energy), and increased energy efficiency (the USSR economy was very energy-intensive). Therefore, a reduction in electricity consumption may well indicate not an economic downturn but the introduction of new technologies. For example, during the 2005 economic boom, Ukraine consumed 3.2 kWh per capita compared to nearly 4 kWh during the 1993 crisis.
|Electrical energy production||102.2||97.9||88.6||110.2||105.6||102.8||100.2||93.7||86.2||104||91.4||104.0||99.8||96.4|
“And finally, according to the IMF, in 2019, before the coronavirus epidemic, per capita GDP for Ukraine was less than $4,000. It is below the Republic of Albania, the Republic of Moldova and unrecognized Kosovo. Today, Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe.”
GDP in current dollars was indeed lower in 2019 in Ukraine than in the countries mentioned above (see Figure 2). However, it is correct to compare GDP per capita in dollars adjusted by PPP to take into account price differences between the countries. Based on this indicator, in 2019 and 2020 (preliminary estimates), Ukraine did better than Moldova and Kosovo but worse than Albania and other developing European countries.
PPP should be used because money has different purchasing power in different countries due to differences in price levels. For example, you can buy significantly more goods and services for $1,000 in Ukraine than in the United States, even if those goods and services are of the same quality. Accordingly, other things being equal, if someone earns $1,000, their consumption level can be much higher in Ukraine than in the United States. In the United States, someone making $1,000 per month is very poor, while in Ukraine, such people belong to the middle class.
We must also remember that Russia and Putin started the war against Ukraine and that we lost about 20% of GDP.
“…Russia is still one of Ukraine’s three main trading partners, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians come to us to earn money and are met here with kindness and support. This is what the “aggressor country” is like <…> Quite a while ago, long before 2014, the United States and the EU consistently and persistently pushed Ukraine to curtail and limit economic cooperation with Russia. As Ukraine’s largest trade and economic partner, we offered to discuss the problems that arose in the Ukraine-Russia-EU format. But we were told every time that Russia had nothing to do with it and that it only concerned the EU and Ukraine. Western countries de facto declined Russia’s repeated proposals of dialogue.”
|Country||Turnover, $ billion (2020)|
However, compared to 2012 (excluding the Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas), trade fell fivefold.
|Volumes, $ billion||50.824||44.375||26,922||16.014||12.320||14.986||15.533||16.732||10.062|
|Change, $ billion||–||-6.449||-17.453||-10.908||-3.694||2.666||0.547||1.199||-6.67|
It is primarily the fault of Russia that attacked Ukraine in 2014 and occupied part of our territory. It is what made it our enemy, not “instructions from the West.” However, until 2014, Russia had occasionally waged trade wars against Ukraine. For example, in 2012, it limited exports of our cheese. Therefore, it cannot be called a reliable trading partner.
Since the Russian aggression began, the European Union has indeed become Ukraine’s key foreign trade partner. Its share is now 40.7% compared to 25% in 2013. Ukraine and the EU are currently working to create a free trade area, which will allow us to become even closer to European markets. It will bring huge advantages to Ukraine, including duty-free access to one of the world’s most powerful and largest markets, raising the quality standards for Ukrainian products and obtaining additional foreign investment.
Russia did not offer Ukraine cooperation but tried to get it to join the Customs Union, forcing it to abandon the Association Agreement with the EU. For example, these words said by Dmitry Medvedev sound more like blackmail than a proposal for cooperation. The difference between a customs union and a free trade area is that the former restricts trade with other countries, while the latter only facilitates trade between the members of a free trade area.
According to the State Statistics Service surveys, there were 342 thousand (26%) labor migrants working in Russia in 2015-2017 (these are those who went abroad to earn money at least once during this period). It is less than in 2010-2012 when they were 511 thousand (43% of all migrant workers). Poland replaced Russia as the primary labor migration destination for Ukrainians with the beginning of armed aggression.
“Agricultural land sales are around the corner, and it’s obvious who’ll buy it all.”
This “horror story” has been told to us many times by both Russian and Ukrainian politicians. But we want to remind Putin that the land market in Russia has been in operation since 2003. Like in Ukraine, it is closed to foreigners (although this impairs the economic effect). Foreigners will be able to buy land in Ukraine only if such an opportunity is voted for in an all-Ukrainian referendum in 2024.
Opening the land market does not mean agricultural land sales. The market will give those owning land the right and opportunity to dispose of their property as they see fit. It can be sold if so desired, or it can be further cultivated or leased. The main thing is that it can be sold legally and not “in the shadows” as now.
Despite the moratorium on sales of agricultural land, the market existed in the shadows. And it is the lack of a free market and a right to acquire land legally that gave rise to numerous corruption schemes. The National Agency on Corruption Prevention identified the most commonly used corruption schemes, under which both large agricultural holdings and individuals illegally obtained land plots. Among them are the unauthorized occupation of state and communal land “with consent” from officials, concluding agreements on joint use of state and communal land, etc.
Land reform aims to streamline land market operations and prevent corruption by developing transparent land management.
The law On the Circulation of Agricultural Land prohibits selling land to legal entities whose participants are citizens of the aggressor state or to individuals under sanctions, even if Ukrainians allow sales of land to foreigners in a referendum. Also, regardless of the referendum’s decision, foreigners are prohibited from buying land located closer than 50 kilometers from the state border of Ukraine.
Because foreigners cannot be participants in the land market, Ukraine is blocking the inflow of foreign investment. With the full implementation of land reform, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) plans on investing about $3 billion in Ukraine’s economy by 2024.
Also, foreign ownership of land can have several advantages, e.g., the ability to use capital, technological know-how and access to supply chains, and creating added value. Ukraine will also be able to receive investments from the EU, and they will be more transparent due to the strict rules of the countries from which investment will be coming.
Land reform states that land plots will be used more productively since farmers will invest in their own land (buying machinery, investing in land improvement, and using new technologies). The land market will also promote longer-term production, such as horticulture or growing berries.
To see how politicians lie about the land market, watch our fact-checking video on YouTube. You can also read VoxCheck’s articles debunking myths about the land market, e.g., “Moratorium lifted, myths lingering on. What fake land market news is spread in social networks” and ”They will split Ukraine between oligarchs and agro-holdings!” and other manipulations“.
“Finally, this year, in May, the incumbent President submitted a bill on the “indigenous peoples” to the Verkhovna Rada. These are only those who are an ethnic minority and don’t have their own state formation outside Ukraine. The law has been passed. New seeds of discord have been sown. All this in a country, as I’ve already said it, that’s very complex in terms of territorial, national, linguistic composition, in the history of its formation.”
It is not the first time Putin lied about the law on “indigenous peoples”. He said that the law would divide people into “sorts”, called it a Nazi law contradicting international law. All of it is an outright delusion that we have already fact-checked.
“Along with this not just complete dependence, but direct external management, including foreign advisers’ supervision on Ukrainian authorities, special services and the armed forces, a military “takeover” of the territory of Ukraine, the deployment of NATO infrastructure. It’s no coincidence that the aforementioned scandalous law on the “indigenous peoples” was adopted under the guise of large-scale NATO military exercises in Ukraine.”
Foreign advisers are not leaders or “curators”. They do not make government decisions but only give advice. For example, foreign advisers are members of the Advisory Expert Group of the Reform Committee of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of Ukraine and provide support for defense reform.
As for NATO’s infrastructure and troops in Ukraine, every country in the world has sovereignty, including the right to allow or prohibit foreign troops from staying on its territory. Russia, too, conducts joint military exercises in Belarus and Kazakhstan, but for some reason, it does not believe that these countries are under “external control.”
The President of Ukraine initiated Bill #5506 on the indigenous peoples on May 18, 2021. The Verkhovna Rada passed it on July 1, and on July 8, the law was presented for the President’s signature. And the Ukraine-U.S. Sea Breeze 2021 exercises began in Ukraine on June 28. They have been held regularly since 1997. Therefore, the connection between the “criminal” indigenous law and the joint exercises is entirely far-fetched.
“I think it’s natural that the representatives of Ukraine repeatedly vote against the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism.”
The statement refers to the UN resolution on combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Ukraine has indeed voted against this resolution in recent years (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020). The United States also votes against the resolution together with Ukraine. European countries abstain from voting.
The problem is that Russia is the main initiator of this resolution submitting it each year to the UN General Assembly. The document features Russian interpretation of the events of the Second World War, specifically:
- keeps silent about the crimes of the Soviet regime, which also resulted from intolerance and xenophobia;
- expresses “serious concern” about the ban on symbols associated with the victory over Nazism (i.e., Soviet symbols banned in Ukraine);
- condemns the demolition of monuments erected in honor of the fighters against Nazism (while in the eyes of many Eastern European countries, these characters were also opponents of the countries’ independence, and so they cannot be considered national heroes).
In Ukraine, both Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes are condemned, and their symbols are banned at the legislative level.
Crimea and Donbas
In 1783, Crimea became part of Russia
“In the second half of the XVIII century, after the wars with the Ottoman Empire, Crimea became part of Russia.”
This myth is an integral part of the concept of the “originally Russian” Crimea. In this way, Russian propaganda justifies the conquest of foreign territories – it is allegedly the “return” of their own lands. However, it is indeed difficult to refer to the annexation of Crimea in 1783 as a voluntary or peaceful accession.
In his book “250 Years of Untruth: Russian Myths in the History of Crimea,” Crimean historian Serhiy Hromenko explains that in the early Soviet era, the word “takeover” was used as an official term to describe Russia’s policy toward Crimea. While in reality, Russia’s conquest of the peninsula took place even earlier. In 1783, Empress Catherine II simply signed the Manifesto for the Acceptance of the Crimean Peninsula, whereby she acknowledged that Russian troops already occupied Crimea at the time of the “takeover”.
After 1783, the local deportations of Crimean Tatars began. The Russian administration sought to “liberate” Crimea from the Tatar population as soon as possible.
In 1954, Crimea was handed over to Ukraine unlawfully
“In 1954, the Crimean region of the RSFSR was handed over to the USSR, in gross violation of the legal norms in force at the time.”
Serhiy Hromenko explains that there are several propaganda theories as to why Crimea became part of Ukraine “unlawfully”. One of them is that there was no quorum in the Russian parliament during the handing over of Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR. This myth is debunked by simply looking at the documents. According to the minutes of the sitting of the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada of the RSFSR, 15 of its 27 members took part in the sitting to vote for the handing over of the Crimean region. That was enough to make a decision.
Another myth is that Russia never agreed to change “its” territory. In reality, the Russian parliament as the supreme authority representing the RSFSR amended Article 14 of the republic’s Constitution in 1954, which determined the composition of the RSFSR. That is, parliament agreed to change the territory of the Russian Republic.
Crimeans and residents of Sevastopol made their “historic choice” in a pseudo-referendum
“The “anti-Russia” project was rejected by millions of Ukrainians. Crimeans and residents of Sevastopol made a historic choice. And the people in the Southeast tried to defend their position peacefully. However, all of them, including children, were included among separatists and terrorists.”
The decision to hold a so-called “referendum” was made at a session of the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea on February 27, 2014. The parliament building had already been seized by unidentified military forces. According to Krym.Realii, journalists were not allowed into the session hall, so it is not known whether there was a quorum for such a decision and how MPs voted under the muzzles of Tommy guns.
In 2015, one of the operation leaders to take over Crimea, Igor Strelkov (Girkin), admitted that deputies had to be “herded” into the Parliament to vote on February 27.
Two questions were put to the “referendum”: “Do you support the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?” and “Do you support the restoration of the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea as of 1992 and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?”. None of them provided for the possibility of maintaining the status quo.
Crimea’s Constitution as of 1992 provided for the peninsula’s broad autonomy. As if it were a separate state with its own government bodies “exercising on its territory all of the powers except those voluntarily delegated to Ukraine.”
In addition, the Crimean “referendum” took place without international observers who could record violations. At the same time, Crimean journalists and voters repeatedly stated that ballots were handed out massively to the same people. They were also handed out to people with Russian passports.
Neither Ukraine nor the European Union or the United States recognized Crimea’s “referendum” results.
Donbas and Crimea were threatened with ethnic cleansing – like in Odesa, where “neo-Nazis burned people alive”
“They began to threaten with ethnic cleansing and the use of military force. And the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk took up arms to protect their homes, their language, their lives. Were they left with another option after the riots swept the cities of Ukraine, after the horror and tragedy in Odesa on May 2, 2014, where Ukrainian neo-Nazis burned people alive, committing a new Khatyn? The followers of Bandera were ready to commit the same massacres in Crimea, Sevastopol, Donetsk and Luhansk.”
It is how Putin describes the Odesa tragedy of May 2, 2014, which killed 48 people. That day’s events constitute one of the main highlights of Russian propaganda. A need to “protect” the population of Crimea and Donbas from imaginary “neo-Nazis” has justified Russian aggression all these years.
On that day, clashes broke out in the downtown between those supporting the federalization of Ukraine and opposing the new government and the supporters of Euromaidan and unity. Both groups used firearms, killing six people. The police were rather passive.
The “supporters of federalization” fled and barricaded themselves in the House of Trade Unions. Matilda Bogner, Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, wrote that stones and Molotov cocktails were then flying from both sides. Then a fire broke out in the House of Trade Unions, whose circumstances are still not known. Investigations into this incident are ongoing.
“The coup d’état, followed by the actions of the Kyiv authorities, inevitably provoked confrontation and civil war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that the total number of victims of the conflict in Donbas has exceeded 13,000. Among them, elderly and children. Russia has done everything to stop the “fratricide”. The Minsk agreements were signed aiming at a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbas.
“… Kyiv simply doesn’t need Donbas. Why? Because, for starters, the inhabitants of these regions will never accept the orders that have been and are being imposed on them by force, blockade, threats. And secondly, the results of both Minsk-1 and Minsk-2, which give a real chance to peacefully restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine by coming to terms directly with the DPR and LPR through the mediation of Russia, Germany and France, contradict the whole logic of the “anti-Russia” project”.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the total death toll from the conflict amounted to 13,100-13,300 as of January 31, 2021. At the same time, the total number of conflict victims is 42-44 thousand people, including the wounded.
Yet Vladimir Putin broke the causal link. These casualties are a direct result of the aggression of Russia that began occupying Crimea on February 20, 2014, and then invaded eastern Ukraine with the help of “volunteers” such as Igor Girkin and the regular army. Pro-Russian militants who Russia fully controls do not adhere to the first clause of the Minsk agreements – a ceasefire. Over nearly a year since the last “ceasefire” (July 27, 2020 – July 12, 2021), the OSCE mission recorded 42.8 thousand violations of the regime of silence.
Russia does not recognize itself as a party to the conflict, continuing to destabilize the situation by providing support to the militants, issuing passports to Ukrainian citizens in the temporarily occupied territories and creating provocations near the Russian-Ukrainian border.
As for the Minsk agreements, Ukraine and Russia have different interpretations of how to implement them. Ukraine insists that the restoration of border control and the withdrawal of foreign troops should take place before local elections. Russia believes that these steps should be implemented after the elections and that Ukraine should negotiate with the “DPR” and “LPR”, which are fully controlled by Moscow. If one follows the Russian scenario, a “peaceful settlement” will lead to election fraud and the victory of pro-Russian forces that will continue destabilizing Ukraine’s domestic policy.
Of course, the Minsk agreements are not perfect, but they were adopted during the bloody battles of the Ukrainian army with Russian troops near Debaltseve. Implementing the Minsk in Russia’s interpretation will, in effect, become Russia’s political occupation of all of Ukraine.
Putin on “historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”
“We know and remember that it was largely created at the expense of historical Russia. Suffice it to compare which lands which were reunited with the Russian state in the XVII century and with which territories the Ukrainian SSR withdrew from the Soviet Union. Both Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are the heirs of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes over a vast area – from Ladoga, Novgorod, Pskov to Kyiv and Chernihiv – were united by one language (now we call it Old Russian), economic ties, and the power of the Rurik dynasty. And after Russia was baptized – also by the same Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kyiv, largely determines our kinship still today.”
Putin routinely ascribes to Russia the history of Kievan Rus and continues the hackneyed topic that today’s southern Ukraine lands, i.e., Sloboda Ukraine and Donbas, are “historically Russian”. However, this is not in line with historical reality. Here we explain why. For a considerable period, the region comprising these lands was called the Wild Fields. It was a vast, almost uninhabited area. There was virtually no political power here. Poland (and before it, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) and the Tsardom of Muscovy considered the southwestern and northeastern parts of the Wild Fields respectively to be their own only nominally.
However, in practice, one should always distinguish between possessing something “on paper” (in this case, it would be more accurate to say “in one’s head”) and reality. Since the end of the Middle Ages, these lands’ settlement and economic development were carried out by representatives of different ethnic groups and peoples, including Ukrainians. By the way, interestingly, on a 1720 map, Putin’s “historically Russian lands” belong to either Ukraine or the Crimean Khanate. Later, Sloboda Ukraine emerged in the part of the Wild Fields inhabited by Ukrainians.
One can also refer to more up-to-date data. Take the 1897 census of the Russian Empire. Its results show that the so-called “Little Russian” (i.e. Ukrainian) language prevails not only in modern Ukraine (particularly in the “historically Russian lands” mentioned by Putin) but also extends beyond modern Ukraine.
Putin thinks that the accession to Ukraine of its modern western territories was a merit of Russia. It is not true either. It is enough to look at the aforementioned map of Ukrainian lands of the beginning of the 18th century to see that Podillya, Volyn, Galicia (Halychyna), and even Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) are part of Ukraine. In the early 20th century, among the population of Eastern Galicia, which is now part of our country, 63.4% were Ukrainians. The Russian Empire’s invasion of these lands does not mean that it annexed them to Ukraine. The ancestors of Ukrainians had already lived there. The case is even more straightforward for Western Ukraine than for the Wild Fields because the lands of the historic Right Bank of Ukraine were under the rule of Cossack hetmans. Therefore, it would be correct to say that Russia did not give these lands to Ukrainians but simply occupied them.
Manipulating with the word “Russian”
“Southern and western Russian lands were mostly part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which, I want to draw attention to this, was referred to as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Rus in historical documents.”
The full name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus, Samogitia, etc. Putin should also know that in the historiography of the time, the terms “Rus” and “Rus land” were used to refer to modern Ukraine territories. The modern Russian Federation was referred to by a different name back then – Muscovy. Interestingly the chronicles of north Slavic cities, specifically Rostov, Suzdal, Ryazan, contain accounts of trips “to Rus”, i.e., the lands of modern Ukraine.
In his letter of 1654 to Moscow, B. Khmelnytsky thanked Tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich for “allowing the entire Zaporozhian Sich and the entire Orthodox Russian world to be taken under his tsarist strong and high hand.” That is, in their appeals to both the Polish king and the Russian tsar, the Cossacks called and identified themselves as Russian Orthodox people.”
After a tour of Ukrainian cities by a Moscow delegation accompanied by some higher Cossack officers, more than 100,000 people swore allegiance. However, we only know about it from data of the Muscovites themselves. However, it is known that the March Articles (the agreement formed after the Pereyaslav Council) were not ratified by the Cossacks’ representative body – the Cossack Rada. Neither was it supported by the Bratslav, Poltava, and Uman regiments, the Zaporizhian Sich, the clergy led by Bishop Sylvester Kosiv, and many Cossack officers, including Ivan Bohun, Petro Doroshenko, and Ivan Sirko.
Besides, during the National Liberation War, Bohdan Khmelnytsky negotiated not only with Moscow. The hetman sent diplomatic missions to the Ottoman Empire and Transylvania. According to unconfirmed reports, he also corresponded with the then ruler of England, Oliver Cromwell.
The manipulation is that the opinion of Khmelnytsky and part of the Cossacks are passed off as the opinion of the whole state. Also, in this quote, the terms “Rus” and “Russian” are mixed up again while not being identical at all.
“It is important to note that in both the western and eastern lands the same language was spoken. Their faith was Orthodox. Until the middle of the XV century, there was a single church leadership.
Not the same language, no. During the Middle Ages and partly in modern times, Old Ukrainian or Old Belarusian, also known as Ruthenian, was spoken on the territory of Ukraine. It was not just a spoken, “folk” vernacular but one of the official languages of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in which the legal documents of this state were written.
We have already seen that Putin knows very little about the history of Ukraine. However, it looks like he should also learn the history of his own country. If “everyone spoke the same language”, then why did Russian tsar Peter I issued a decree in 1720 ordering that books in Chernihiv and Kyiv be published exclusively in Russian? If they “spoke the same language,” why did Pyotr Valuev, the minister of interior of the Russian Empire, issue a circular in 1863 banning almost all printed material in Ukrainian except for “fine literature”, which will be discussed in more detail below? So, more than one language was spoken.
In the context of the church, Putin should know that Ukrainians tried to create their own church, as evidenced by the Metropolis of Halych established in 1302 and abolished in 1347 under pressure from Moscow’s Prince Simeon the Proud. The history of this metropolis clearly shows that the “unity” of Ukrainians and Russians in the church took place in the same way as the territorial “unity”, i.e., through force and usurpation by Russia.
Ukraine = “outskirts”
The name “Ukraine” was then used more often in the sense, in which the ancient Rus word “outskirts” occurs in written sources since the twelfth century to describe various border areas. And the word “Ukrainian”, judging also from archival documents, originally meant border guards securing the external borders.”
The source for citing the Kievan Chronicle, where the word Ukraine was first mentioned, was the Hypatian Codex, compiled only in the first quarter of the 15th, not the 12th century. Besides, of the three uses of the word “Ukraine” in the Hypatian Codex, two unambiguously mean “land”, not border.
More importantly, in the ancient Slavic languages, the prefixes “o” (hence the word “okrayina”, i.e., outskirts) and “ou” (hence the term “Oukrayina”) were antonyms, not interchangeable words. The terms have the opposite meaning. Even in modern East Slavic languages, there is not a single word in which the prefixes “o” and “u” are interchangeable. Therefore, the modern word “Ukraine” cannot even theoretically stem from the word “outskirts”. They are antonyms.
Ukrainians did not support Mazepa when he sided with Sweden
“During the Northern War with Sweden, the people of Little Russia had no choice of who to be with. Only a small part of the Cossacks supported Mazepa’s revolt. People of different classes considered themselves Russian and Orthodox.”
There are many events in the history of Ukraine confirming that the Ukrainian peasantry did not care whose rule they had to recognize. For example, in 1700, a retainer of the Kyiv colonel claimed that their colonel was the same ruler in power as the Moscow tsar. There were many cases when Ukrainians did not understand why they had to be subjects of the Moscow throne or openly despised it. It, therefore, makes no sense to talk about the Ukrainian petty bourgeoisie and especially the peasantry of the 17-18 centuries as having a clear political position.
It should be mentioned that Mazepa was not supported not by the inhabitants of Little Russia but by the inhabitants of the Hetmanate, a Cossack state also known as the Zaporozhian Sich. Mazepa’s uprising was motivated by a desire to get rid of Moscow’s tyrannical power over Ukrainian lands. We mentioned above the March Articles accepted by Khmelnytsky. There was no talk of Ukraine’s dependence on Muscovy, let alone accession. However, taking advantage of Ukraine’s difficult situation, Muscovy had already almost wholly absorbed it by the beginning of the 18th century.
By the way, “brotherly Russia” responded to the news of Mazepa’s uprising in a very peculiar way. At the end of 1708, a 10,000 strong Moscow army under the command of Aleksandr Menshikov surrounded the hetman’s capital, Baturyn, and began storming it. In the early hours of November 2, the city was captured and destroyed, and its defenders and all civilians were killed.
“…During the many centuries of fragmentation, life in different countries, regional language features, and vernaculars emerged. The literary language was enriched at the expense of folk speech. Ivan Kotliarevsky, Hryhoriy Skovoroda, and Taras Shevchenko played a huge role here. Their works are our common literary and cultural heritage. Taras Shevchenko’s poems are written in Ukrainian, and prose mostly in Russian.”
Have you seen government documents written in vernacular? And a regional dialect enshrined as the official language of the state? We have already written about the status of the Ruthenian language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, aAnd it was not a regional dialect. It was the literary language of Ukrainians, a separate language developed from the language once spoken in Kievan Rus.
The works of Skovoroda, Shevchenko and Kotliarevsky are part of the Ukrainian culture, not Russian. Kotliarevsky’s works are especially important because they helped start the formation of the modern Ukrainian language, while the Old Ukrainian language was in decline due to Russia’s efforts.
What were the real consequences of the Ems Ukaz and the Valuev Circular for the Ukrainian language?
“Both the Valuev Circular of 1863 and the Ems Ukaz of 1872 are known to have restricted publishing and importing religious and social and political literature from abroad in Ukrainian. But here, the historical context is important. These decisions were made against the background of dramatic events in Poland, the desire of the leaders of the Polish national movement to use the “Ukrainian question” to their advantage. I’d like to add that works of art, collections of Ukrainian poems and folk songs continued to be published.”
Putin justifies the official policy of the Russian Empire, which suppressed the languages of all the peoples inhabiting it, except the Russians. He considers it normal to bring a language to a primitive state when all that can be published in it is, in modern terms, entertaining content. Virtually, it is the support of the “sharovarshchyna” into which Ukrainian culture and other national cultures in the USSR were transformed.
“Dramatic events in Poland” is how the Russian President refers to the national liberation struggle of Poles for their country’s independence. No matter what Putin said, the Valuev Circular was not directed against Poles. It was directed against the patriotic movement of Ukrainians, i.e. the Ukrainophiles working to revive the culture of their people.
And while the Valuev Circular did give some freedom to the artistic sphere, the Ems Ukaz limited it. Until 1881, it was forbidden to stage theatrical performances in Ukrainian. A publication ban was imposed on books in Ukrainian. Contrary to what Putin says, the works of art were not published freely but only with consent from the imperial administration. Even public performances in Ukrainian and concerts featuring Ukrainian songs were banned.
Belonging to the Slavs
“…the conclusions were based on a variety of tall tales. Up to the point that Ukrainians are not Slavs at all, or, conversely, that Ukrainians are real Slavs, and Russians, the “Muscovites”, are not.”
In Ukraine, no one officially denies that Ukrainians or Russians belong to the Slavic peoples. However, it is not entirely clear why Putin views belonging to one group of peoples as a basis for the existence of one state, or even more so – of one people. Are Poles and Czechs one people? In Putin’s logic, probably yes. In reality, no. However, none of the reputable scholars denies the fact of their kinship and belonging to the Slavs.
About fake Ukrainization
“In the 20s and 30s of the past century, the Bolsheviks actively promoted the policy of “indigenization”, which was pursued as Ukrainization in the Ukrainian SSR… No doubt, “indigenization” did play a major role in the development and strengthening of Ukrainian culture, language, identity.”
Putin again keeps his eyes on all things good, ignoring all things bad. Ukrainization was not launched to revive Ukrainian culture. The Soviet government needed to maintain control over the recently “annexed” territories to establish communist ideas in them. To this end, it was decided to provide specific benefits for the languages of some peoples of the USSR.
Secondly, have you ever wondered why Ukrainization lasted less than ten years? Was this time enough to Ukrainianize everyone? No. The leadership had changed in Moscow. Lenin, who favored the idea of Soviet autonomy and wrote about the Great Russian chauvinism, was replaced by Stalin, who had plans for centralization. He saw a threat in national movements. This problem was resolved in a traditional way: some Ukrainian patriots were shot dead, while the rest were sent to Siberia “to build a common state”. Along with Ukrainization, Stalin curtailed other indigenization policies.
Transcarpathia wanted separation
“Little is said about it now, but after the liberation of Transcarpathia by Soviet troops, the congress of the Orthodox population of the region called for the inclusion of Subcarpathian Rus in the RSFSR or directly into the USSR as a separate Carpathian republic. But this opinion was ignored. And in the summer of 1945, according to the newspaper “Pravda”, it was announced about the historic act of reunification of Transcarpathian Ukraine “with its ancient homeland – Ukraine”.
Putin fails to mention that the idea of including Transcarpathia in the RSFSR does not belong to the region’s Orthodox residents but to party workers of the 4th Ukrainian Front, involved in campaigns in Mukachevo aimed at the region’s future ascension to the USSR after the liberation of Transcarpathia. That is, Putin repeats the myth that since the Russian people live in Transcarpathia and not the Ukrainian people, it was necessary to include the Transcarpathian region in the RSFSR as an autonomy. Putin also forgot that atheism prevailed in the USSR, so the party members were not Orthodox.
Crimes: dekulakization, Holodomor, deportations
“…for various reasons, both appropriate and inappropriate, including abroad, it’s common today to condemn the “crimes of the Soviet regime”, including even those events to which the CPSU, the USSR or even modern Russia have no connection.”
The modern Russian Federation is the official successor to the USSR, which in turn was the successor to the Russian Empire. It is, therefore, at least morally responsible for its crimes against Ukraine. Besides, Russia already has a number of its own “merits”. For example, violations of international law and the attack on Ukraine with the subsequent occupation of its territories and murdering thousands of Ukrainians. Moscow can also “boast” of crimes against human rights, e.g. repressions against Crimean Tatars and mass arrests.
“Our common tragedy of collectivization, the famine of the early 30s was passed off as genocide against the Ukrainian people.”
It is traditional Russian rhetoric that the Holodomor was not a campaign against Ukrainians but a consequence of collectivization, from which everyone suffered – Ukrainians and other peoples of the USSR alike. It is not true, however, because Ukraine suffered from famine the most in absolute terms. Kazakhstan suffered the most considerable relative losses and uses their own term for the terror famine – “asharshilyk”. Having other victims does not justify the perpetrator. The Holodomor was recognized as genocide in 2010 by the Kyiv Court of Appeal after reviewing the documents and testimonies of witnesses and 16 countries, besides Ukraine.
Russian propaganda’s myth about alleged “defarming” in the United States in the 1930s also spread throughout Facebook, which, unlike the Holodomor in Ukraine, was quite real. However, we found no proof of defarming in the United States.
Authors: Myroslava Markova, Svitlana Slipchenko, Kyrylo Perevoshchykov, Eduard Dudka
We thank Yevhen Monastyrsky, a historian and leading researcher at the Museum of Military Childhood, for the scientific editing of the History block.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations