The stakes are high, but Ukrainians refuse to back down.
For almost a year, the world has witnessed a devastating struggle between Ukrainians and Russian invaders who continue their attacks on Ukrainian territory.
The death toll is rising. The senseless destruction of cities and towns continues, yet Ukrainians fight onward. This is because the threat is not just about a border dispute or politics. There is a deeper cultural conflict at play, one that puts the very existence of the Ukrainian people at risk.
To understand what a loss for Ukraine would mean, it’s important to understand the history and people of this unique land.
Who are Ukrainians?
Ukrainians inhabit the second-largest country in Europe. Home to over 43 million, Ukraine is rich and vibrant with an ancient past and promising future, should it prevail against Russia.
Many aspects of Ukrainian culture are folk-based, stemming from the ancient Slavic lore, traditions, and beliefs of Kyivan Rus, an empire that is the cultural ancestor of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Other aspects of Ukrainian culture are heavily influenced by their Christian faith.
Ukraine’s closeness to both western Europe and Russia has resulted in a blend of cultures. The bandura, for example, is a musical instrument that is popular in both Poland and Ukraine. Ukrainian cuisine also inspires many recipes throughout the rest of Europe such as borscht (or beet soup), Ukrainian mushroom soup, and banosh, a corn porridge popular amongst Ukrainians that live near or in the mountains.
No such thing as “Little Russia”
Despite Ukraine’s size and influence, much of the western world remains largely unaware of the battle Ukrainians are facing to keep their customs, language, and history alive.
Russian President Vladmir Putin does not see Ukrainians as independent people. Referring to them as “little Russians,” Putin has tried to erase Ukraine’s national identity by:
- Viewing Ukraine as Russian territory
- Asserting that the Ukrainian language is merely a dialect of Russian
- Generally enforcing the concept that Russian and Ukrainian people are one and the same
Although some Ukrainians indeed have dual heritage and have adopted a Russian cultural identity, most resist the view that Ukraine is a lesser Russia.
The fight to be Ukrainian
Imagine living in your own country and not being allowed to speak your native tongue in public or being taught another country’s history in school as though it was your own. This is what Ukraine has faced for generations.
But it hasn’t just been about erasing a culture. Ukrainians have known torture, despair, and suffering long before the invasion last February. Ukrainians endured mass starvation, forced assimilation and dangerous propaganda that turned families against each other during Stalin’s reign of terror in 1932 and 1933.
Russia has consistently attacked residential areas of Ukraine, specifically targeting schools, hospitals and apartment buildings. In Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine today, civilians are being attacked, tortured, and even executed by pro-Russian insurgents and the Russian military.
Should Russia succeed in this war, the end result will be an end to Ukraine. They will be forced to once again give up their way of life and be ruled by Russia.
In our modern world, it is sometimes hard to understand how something like this could still be going on. How many more Ukrainian families will be separated, innocents tortured, and lives lost?
Americans and Ukrainians have a shared cause
Freedom — the freedom to speak your language, practice your religion, celebrate your culture, and live in peace — is something precious we all value. Sometimes it takes an unspeakable tragedy to remind us just how precious our freedoms really are.
Ukrainians, like Americans, are proud of their families, country, and way of life. They will do anything to defend it.
Though they may seem a world away, ask yourself: are we so very different from Ukrainians who continue to fight for their families, country, and way of life? Wouldn’t we want those beyond our borders, maybe even half a world away, to stand with us and remind us we are not alone in the fight?
The war may seem like it has gone on forever and that we are in a hopeless situation, but there is something you can do. Every voice that is raised on social media is a voice heard for freedom. Share this article and help call for an end to the occupation.
Sources: NorthJersey.com; EncyclopediaOfUkraine.com; NYTimes; Brittanica