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This webpage reproduces a chapter of

The Story of the Ukraine
by Clarence Manning

published by
Philosophical Library
New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 1

 p9  Introduction

In the spring of 1945, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was formally accepted at the Conference in San Francisco as a member of the United Nations Organization. This could not satisfy the aspirations of the forty million Ukrainians who were suffering under Communist yoke and were witnessing the attempt to eradicate from their country all those principles of freedom and democracy for which they had so long been struggling, but it did bring prominently before the public opinion of the world that Ukraine was not the creation of a series of propagandists but a nation with its own geographical area, its own population, and its own history. The rulers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had thought fit to bring before the representatives of the United Nations a situation that had been denied for centuries by Russian officials and scholars. After long denying its existence, the world was forced to acknowledge that Ukraine really did exist and it will be impossible for students in the future to take again the old widespread attitude that Ukraine is only a figment of the imagination. It will be impossible in the future to write European and world history, without taking account of this people which for good or ill have inhabited their homeland for over one thousand years and have taken part in nearly all the great movements of thought and action that have swept over Europe.

There is no need to delve into prehistoric times and to endeavor to identify the various tribes and cultures that have passed forgotten into the composition of Ukraine. It is over one thousand years since the first known dynasty was established at Kiev on the Dnyeper River and the country  p10 was launched upon its historic course. It is nearly one thousand years since monks from Constantinople, the imperial city on the Bosphorus, were invited to Kiev and baptized the sovereign, Saint Volodymyr, and his court and made Kiev one of the civilized capitals of Christendom.

For two centuries the Grand Prince of Kiev was known and respected throughout Europe, even though that Europe was very different politically from what it is today. Constantinople which had given richly of its culture to the new state in the east of Europe was then the great centre of Christian civilization. All nations in the West were looking at its wealth and power with admiration and with envy, for there was none that could compare with it. The Western Holy Roman Empire had just struggled to its feet under the rule of the Emperor Otto I. Hugh Capet had just been crowned King of France and was struggling to make his title valuable. The Norman conquest of England had not yet taken place and the last Saxon rulers were trying to hold their crown and to unify the country. Paganism still was rife in large sections of Germany. The reforms of Pope Gregory VII in the Roman Catholic Church were still in the future. All of western Europe was slowly recovering from the Dark Ages which had prevailed since the barbarian invasions of the fifth century.

Against this background Kiev shines as a great and progressive state. Its early rulers represented culture and civilization. It is small wonder that Princesses of Kiev married into all the royal houses of Europe, that the struggling princes and kings and emperors of the West were only too proud and happy to be connected by ties of marriage and of blood to the Grand Princes of Kiev, their superiors in wealth and culture and enlightenment. Unless we realize this fact, we cannot hope to understand the tragedy that swept over Ukraine when internal dissension and the overwhelming attacks of the nomads of the steppes and then of  p11 the Mongols weakened and destroyed a state that had seemed secure and permanent but a short time before. We cannot understand otherwise the political vacuum that developed in eastern Europe, when early in the thirteenth century Rus′-Ukraine ceased to be the dominant force along the great river valleys of the east and left its lands and people to be the prey of one nation after another which for centuries had not dared to question their will.

It was the tragedy of Ukraine that this collapse came at the very period when the countries of the Roman Catholic West were struggling to their feet. Those years when the Middle Ages were at their height formed the darkest and most hopeless years in Ukrainian history. It was the time when the old nobility were largely lost to the life of the people and when in large numbers they accepted the Polish language and Polish customs. The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 deprived the people and their Orthodox Church of all contact with Eastern Christian culture and left them helpless, with their educational system in ruins, their political organization shattered, and their economic life in chaos. Then, if ever, it seemed likely that the country would be reduced to ignorant peasants destined to be absorbed by their conquerors and to pass away among the forgotten peoples of the world. The great movements of chivalry and the Renaissance which prepared the way for modern Europe could have no meaning for the helpless serfs and uneducated city people who formed almost all that was left of the once proud state of Kiev.

It was then that out of these masses and the few nobles who still retained the national spirit and tradition there grew the surprising movement which revived the spirit of Ukrainian culture. It was then that the unsettled conditions on the frontier, the bold and hazardous life of opposition to the Asiatic invaders developed the Kozaks. On land and sea they fought and the exploits of the heroes of the  p12 Zaporozhian Sich with their wild and untamed democracy in the sixteenth century fitted in well with the sturdy sea‑dogs of England who were proud to singe the beard of the King of Spain on all of the seven seas. The era of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, of the English fight against the Spanish Armada in the reign of Queen Elizabeth coincided exactly with the years when the Kozaks made their raids against the Turks and the Tatars, when they dared to burn and plunder the suburbs of Constantinople itself, and when the cry that the Kozaks were coming was enough to spread the alarm through all eastern Europe, wherever there was oppression and evil.

The sixteenth century was an era all over Europe when men dared to fight and risk their lives for the religious and political ideas which they respected and in which they believed. It was an era of religious confusion and of change and although the problem in Ukraine was different, the same spirit that a little earlier had sent Christopher Columbus across the ocean, that inspired Cortez and Pizarro to conquer the Aztecs and the Incas, that explored the New World under terrific odds, saw the development of the democratic Kozak Host.

It was a glorious and a heroic period but it was costly in the blood of Ukraine's sons. They had no base of supplies, no formal government on which they could lean, no resources behind them. They followed their love of liberty, their disregard for death, their own elected leaders and made their names forever memorable in the books of heroes and of men of action. It was a true revolt of the human spirit against oppression and tyranny. It was a time when men were so busy acting that they had no inclination to think and reflect. They were so conscious of the need of winning freedom and of gaining wealth and power by their heroism that they neglected much that would have helped them later.

 p13  So the struggle continued until in the seventeenth century Bohdan Khmelnitsky, the greatest of the hetmans, endeavored to organize the Host and Ukraine on a national basis. He exchanged letters with Oliver Cromwell. He lived and worked at the time when the Puritans were mastering the New England wilderness, when the Thirty Years War was decimating Germany, when the first seeds of modern thought were sprouting all over Europe.

Had he won his fight, had he lived a little longer to make Ukraine really free, a restored Ukraine and the Thirteen American Colonies would have appeared in history at one and the same time. The ideals of popular rule would have taken root in two widely separated parts of the world. There would have been in Europe a free republic set up in a strategic part of the continent, and the history of Europe would have been changed.

It was not to be. In an evil moment, Khmelnitsky put the Kozak Host under the jurisdiction of the Tsar of Moscow and from that moment on, it was torn to pieces by the mutual efforts of Moscow and Poland. Step by step, as the New World went on to increasing power and unanimity, as the American colonies became conscious of their mutual interests and of their growing strength, Ukraine fell into greater and greater chaos. Hetman fought against hetman, instigated by foreign rulers, and the great masses of the Kozaks, losing their own ideals, again reverted to dissatisfied and impoverished peasants while their officers tried to become aristocrats like the nobles around them. It was in vain that Mazepa tried to rouse the Kozaks to revolt for Ukrainian independence. It was in vain that one leader after another endeavored to bring back the old spirit of unity and of cooperation. The power of Moscow increased over the Kozak Host. More of the leaders were lost to the popular cause and despair reigned throughout  p14 the land as Peter the Great and Catherine tore away and abrogated the last of the Kozak rights.

It is striking and significant that it was in 1775, the very year when the Americans rose in revolt against the British Crown in defence of their liberties, that the armed forces of Catherine the Great destroyed the Zaporozhian Sich and ended once and for all the old institution that had carried Ukraine in the preceding century to a height unparalleled since the early days of Kiev. When we compare the power and population of the American colonies and of the Kozak Host in the days of Khmelnitsky and then again in 1775, we shall see how the ideas of liberty brought rich dividends to America and how the obscuring of them by the actions of foreign rulers and internal discord wrought havoc in Ukraine.

The old system perished just at the very moment when in the New World those principles of individual initiative and of political liberty for which the Sich and the Kozak Host had always stood were winning their great triumph. It came to its end just as the American Revolution was breaking out, just when the "shot heard round the world" at Concord Bridge was ringing out a new appeal to mankind to fight and die for liberty and for freedom. It came to its end just as the thinkers of Western Europe dared to proclaim again the rights of man and the eternal principles of justice and of law.

The old Ukraine disappeared just at the moment when conditions were becoming favorable for its continuation, when the power of public opinion was again being invoked to justify a struggle against tyranny and oppression. It was only fourteen years before the French Revolution was to carry into Europe itself those ideals and principles that men had fought to win in the New World. It was by such a narrow margin the Ukraine failed to be one of the states which could aspire to political continuity, to the passing  p15 from autocratic domination to liberty with its old forms preserved, with old traditions living in written statute as well as in the memory of the people.

Then came the revival, but it was a slow and painful process, for the Ukrainian leaders had to struggle for every concession from the autocratic rulers who held the country. The very existence of the country was denied, the name was abolished, the language was mocked as an uncouth peasant dialect. Such a seer and a prophet as Shevchenko had to pay for his devotion to his country with years of exile and imprisonment in the Russian army. Yet step by step the struggle went on. All through the nineteenth century, the demand for a true Ukrainian solution of the Ukrainian question gained strength in the under­ground of the consciousness of the people. The sense of unity in all branches of the Ukrainian people, whether in Russia or in Austria-Hungary, grew and spread. It was not spectacular. There could not be any open proclamation of its hopes and its aspirations. There could be no open economic strengthening of the people for their own good. Yet they continued to work, to hope and to pray.

The First World War broke out and it ruined the two empires that controlled Ukraine. The principles of the United States, the Fourteen Points of Wilson, the message of self-determination for all peoples, resounded through Ukraine and once more there was proclaimed in 1919 a united sovereign Ukrainian Republic. The ideals that the Kozaks had in common with the Americans two and a half centuries earlier once again found their voice on Ukrainian territory and for a while it seemed as if a final solution of the future of Ukraine had been reached.

Again there came disaster. The democratic powers could never make up their minds as to their course of action. A century and a half of absence from the councils of the world, a century and a half of hostile propaganda denying  p16 the very existence of Ukraine was too heavy a burden for the restored Ukrainian Republic to carry. Ukraine found an inadequate and biassed hearing abroad. The ghosts of the past were present everywhere. The country had no influential friends. There was no one to supply her with sufficient arms and ammunition. There was no one to extend diplomatic support and Ukraine fell.

Communism backed by Moscow conquered the country and Ukraine became the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, included in the Soviet Union and ruled by Russian Communists. The national spirit did not die. Millions of the population perished in famines artificially created to break their spirit. Those of the cultural leaders who remained loyal to their belief and their traditions were executed or died by their own hand to escape a worse fate. Millions of people were deported for no other reason than their belief in their rights as human beings. Everything was done to eat out the heart of the Ukrainian spirit and to give it a Russian Communist aspect.

Then came the Second World War and Ukraine became a battleground to be swept over by the German and the Red Armies. Again there came devastation, deportations and executions. Both armies acted to eliminate the native population and to stifle all national life and thought. No one has yet estimated the cost in Ukrainian lives and wealth but enough is known now to show that the old spirit of Ukraine has not been eliminated. There are still people who live and hope that Ukraine can be restored to its people. It makes no difference if all the forces of propaganda are mobilized to call the patrons bandits. Their struggle still goes on and even if it seems hopeless, it can hardly be more so than many times in the past.

It is under such conditions that the world has accepted the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic into the United Nations Organization. There may be questions as to the  p17 motives that inspired this demand of the Soviet Union. Yet once and for all it has answered the old charge iterated and reiterated so often during the past centuries that there is no Ukraine. Henceforth no historian will be brought to accept the old thesis that Ukraine is only a rough name for some Russian or Polish provinces, that Ukraine was invented as a convenient tool for the destruction of two empires and that it has no existence in fact, in history, or in reality.

What of the future? That is dark and uncertain but the trend of humanity toward the winning of freedom can hardly be stopped for long. For a thousand years Ukraine has shared in the vicissitudes of European and Christian civilization. It will continue to do so and if in the future Ukraine does not receive its just dues, if the Ukrainians fail to win the benefits of the Four Freedoms, it will be only because history has reversed itself and mankind in the midst of unparalleled scientific development has lost its hopes, its aspirations, and its power of moral advancement.

Today the name of Ukraine is once again upon the map of Europe. There it will stay. The Ukrainian spirit is not yet free but it has proved itself imperishable in the past and it will continue to remain so in the future. That is the point of the study of Ukrainian history and of this attempt to picture the past and the present of the country's life, in the hope that it may throw some light upon the future.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22