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This webpage reproduces a chapter of

in Foreign Comments
and Descriptions

by Volodymyr Sichynsky

published by
Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Inc.
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  Foreword

The American people and the entire Western democratic world are slowly but surely becoming aware of the significance of the Ukrainian problem for the future of Eastern Europe and for the entire civilized world. The growing menace of Russian Communist imperialism is opening the eyes of the world to the real situation as it exists within that prison of nations which was once called the Russian Empire and which now embraces even more territory as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics devoted to the glorification and aggrandizement of the "elder brothers," the Great Russians.

Who then are the Ukrainians? They are a nation of some forty‑two million people living in a strategic position on the north shore of the Black Sea and across many of the great routes of Europe between east and west and between north and south. They have had their own culture, their own psychology, their own language, their own history for more than a thousand years. They have had their periods of greatness and of decline but it was only after they passed under the domination of Moscow that the Russian Empire was able to begin its march of conquest into Europe.

Russians of every school of thought from tsarists to Communist realize that the aggressive designs of Moscow and St. Petersburg can only flourish through their control of the wealth of Ukraine. They have spared no opportunity not only to subjugate the land but to deny the very existence of the people and they have capitalized on the ignorance and neglect of the West during the past two centuries to endeavor to prove their point. They have preempted the name of Rus‑Ukraine, they have adopted and falsified its history. They have renamed its people Little Russians. They have labelled the country West Russia or  p10 South Russia. They have denounced its language as a "peasant dialect" unfit for literary use. Finally when they saw themselves unable to deny the truth, they placed in the United Nations hand-picked representatives of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, while they still refuse to allow Western diplomats to establish relations with a supposedly independent state. At every stage of the game they protest against Ukrainian "bourgeois nationalism," the Ukrainian desires for separatism and independence, and there are still too many scholars and statesmen trained in the school of single, indivisible, monolithic Russia willing to second their efforts.

It was the misfortune of the Ukrainians as of the other non‑Russian peoples of Europe that the great ideal of self-determination was not applied to them during the period of World War I and the Russian Revolution, when they were struggling amid the chaos to establish their own democratic governments. The Western allies were so startled by the downfall of tsarism that they fell an easy prey to the idea of a democratic centralization for the whole of the Russian Empire and with good intentions they created the situation whereby the Bolsheviks came into power and the Western world supported halfheartedly the White Russian armies which were fighting against the local populations even as they were against the Bolsheviks. The result is the menace of today and a menace which will not be ended until self-determination and democratic institutions are established as the rule in Eastern Europe.

Under such conditions only a careful statement of the truth can serve to make known and clear the nature of the Ukrainian claims, which have been systematically distorted for nearly five hundred years by Moscow. Long before the appearance of the modern propaganda schools, Moscow began its campaign to establish itself as supreme and to tarnish the reputation of Kiev. With each century the Great Russians have changed their arguments, they have denied what they had previously asserted but always for the sole purpose of extending their own power and of changing the course of history.

 p11  Let us look at this for a moment. From the ninth century at least, Kiev was the capital of a power­ful Slavic state named Rus or at times Ukraine. That state was strong enough even to menace Constantinople and after its acceptance of Christianity, it entered into close contacts not only with the imperial city on the Bosporus but with all the new lands of northern and western Europe. The Grand Prince of Kiev was one of the great figures of Europe and his capital city attracted the attention of Western travellers for its wealth, its culture and the beauty of its churches and other buildings.

Yet this state of Rus‑Ukraine, known to the Western Latin writers as Ruthenia, was not to enjoy prosperity for too long a period. Like all the states of western Europe, it was harassed by discords between the members of the ruling dynasty and when one of these, Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky of Suzdal in the north, seized Kiev in 1169, he plundered it and moved the wealth of the city to his own abode and then the new capital was soon removed to Moscow, a far younger and more primitive city than was Kiev. In the golden age of monarchy, it was this circumstance that gave the northern isolated community its first claim to Kiev.

A worse misfortune came with the Mongol invasion. Rus‑Ukraine had long been the cover for western Europe against the nomadic hordes of the east and when in 1240 Batu Khan at the head of his Mongols broke through the barrier, the princes of Kiev and of Halych did their best to stem the tide. They were overwhelmed, but unlike the princes of Moscow they did not make terms with the invader or rest content under his harsh rule. Ukraine as a whole passed within that conglomerate state which comprised the Poles, the Lithuanians and the Byelorussians and continued the struggle, while the prince of Moscow dropped their relations with the West and cultivated only those with the East. They adopted the Mongol customs, the Mongol mode of thinking, they married Mongol and Tatar princesses. Step by step whatever connections had existed between Kiev and Moscow and between Moscow and Europe withered away and Moscow and Rus‑Ukraine or Ruthenia became fully separate.

 p12  It was unfortunate for the peace of eastern Europe that the rulers of Moscow felt themselves strong enough to throw off the yoke of the weakening Golden Horde at almost the same period when the Turks captured Constantinople and put an end to the Byzantine Empire. It was still more unfortunate that Ivan III, now calling himself tsar and autocrat, married Sofia, a member of the family of the Palaeologi, the last dynasty of Constantinople, and adopted the double-headed eagles of Byzantium. Within a century his descendants developed the theory that Moscow was the Third Rome, the centre of Christian civilization and the infallible guide to the entire world. The tsars saw themselves as the only Orthodox Christian rulers on earth and haughtily expected all to obey them, this at a time when their country was still untouched by the revival of learning and when the Russian people were as ready to condemn the Orthodox of the East as the Latin Catholics of the West.

The religious ferment of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries subjected the Ukrainians to new difficulties. While their wiser leaders sought to apply to their church and schools the new learning of the West, the dominant Polish magnates endeavored to force them to accept Latin Catholicism, while the tsars of Moscow endeavored to extend their power from the east and make them accept Orthodoxy in its Russian form. The immediate result was the establishment among a large part of the population of Catholicism of the Byzantine rite which aimed to combine the best features of the Eastern and Western Churches but which brought with it also a bloody civil war which could not fail to have disastrous effects.

It was the period too of the rise of the Zaporozhian Kozaks, hardy warriors who went out into the steppes to seek there the freedom and the liberty which they could not obtain under the rule of the Polish magnates. The Zaporozhians for nearly a century were the most famous soldiers of eastern Europe. In their light boats they raided the suburbs of Constantinople; they became the terror of the Turks and Tatars and on land and sea they played the same role as the English seafarers and the Spanish conquerors of the New World.

 p13  So strong did they become that their greatest hetman, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, was able to shake off his allegiance to Poland and recreate an almost independent Ukrainian-Zaporozhian state. Then in an evil hour he made an alliance in 1654 with Tsar Alexis of Moscow for aid against the Poles. It was the moment for which the tsars had long been waiting and with their cold autocratic determination and patience, they broke every term of the agreement and never paused until they had crushed the Zaporozhian Host. It was in vain that various hetmans sought for aid abroad. It was in vain that Ivan Mazepa made an alliance with Charles XII of Sweden in the Northern War. The defeat of the Swedes at Poltava in 1709 carried Ukraine to still deeper depths of misery.

Finally Catherine II completed the ruin. She abolished the post of hetman, treacherously attacked and annihilated the Zaporozhian centre beyond the Dnieper rapids, abolished the Zaporozhian Kozaks even as military units, divided their country into typical Russian gubernias and introduced Russian law in its entirety. She and her successors did everything that was formally possible to wipe out all memory of the Ukrainian past and to present the rest in a true Muscovite guise. She forbade the use of the name Ukraine. Later under the reign of Alexander II it was forbidden to print books in Ukrainian or Little Russian as it was called and the tsars fondly believed that they had taken the Ukrainians out of history.

Their hopes were in vain, for under enormous difficulties the Ukrainians kept their traditions and slowly but surely deepened them and modernized them. When tsarism fell in 1917, they reasserted their independence and again sought their own state.

Again the Ukrainian hopes were cruelly disappointed. The Western powers did not understand their aspirations and help them. Russians of every school united against them and finally Bolshevik rule was established in Ukraine and the Russian attempts to dominate the country were resumed against the opposition of the people.

Thus throughout the ages Moscow has spared no weapon which might aid it in dominating Ukraine and in presenting the  p14 outside world with arguments why the two peoples should be united under the rule of Moscow and the Great Russians. It has utilized the dynastic principle, the appeal of the Orthodox religion, the Slavic brotherhood, the identification of East Slavic and Russian, and Russian Bolshevism. By force and by rewards, by corruption and brutality they have tried to wipe out the Ukrainian traditions and feeling, to Russianize the population, to introduce the full Muscovite system of thought — but always in vain. The old difference between the spirit of Kiev with its European contacts and sympathies and of Moscow with its autocracy and brutal control will not down and each time the Ukrainian spirit has risen again from almost certain annihilation.

Abroad they have had more success. The Russian Empire as now the Soviet Union was off the regular tourist routes and the police system rendered it difficult for anyone except a few officials to secure a personal knowledge of the country and those few were courted until they became active Russophiles. The Western neglect of Byzantine and East European history worked in the same direction and when the Great Russians succeeded in wiping Ukraine from the map, it seemed as if they had finally achieved their goal and that Ukraine could find no friends abroad.

Yet even that hope proved deceptive, because the rise of the democratic movement in Europe and America has reawakened an interest in the fate of those peoples who seemed to have vanished completely. It has destroyed the great empires of the past which were founded on the denial of human rights, and the growing awareness of the Russian Bolshevik peril will ultimately doom the last bulwark of oppression and tyranny.

Truth will ultimately triumph, truth not only about the present but about the past. Nowhere is that more true than in the case of Ukraine which has played its part in so many periods of human history. We therefore owe a debt of gratitude to Prof. Sichynsky who has culled from the pages of the past the opinions of travellers from all the European countries who have made themselves acquainted with the details of Ukrainian life for over a thousand years. One and all from the earliest times, these men have noted the difference between Ukrainian and Muscovy. They  p15 have contrasted the two modes of life, the two national psychologies, and if their remarks prove anything, it is the permanence and the vitality of Ukrainian democracy and culture.

The collection of this material and its publication in an accessible form is a task that is long overdue, for it finally demolishes the false notion which has been so assiduously spread by the enemies of the Ukrainians that their efforts for liberation are the work of the present without foundation in the past. This book presents a diametrically opposite picture, for we see in it a brave, sturdy, democratic people fighting for over a thousand years for their right to live on their own land and to develop themselves in their own way but in close contact with the highest ideals of European and Christian civilization. May that struggle soon meet with the success that it deserves!

Clarence A. Manning

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Page updated: 19 Jul 22