At a recent meeting of the Six and Twenty Club, president Patti Cook turned the meeting over to Karen Buckley for her program on the history of Ukraine. She is passing “The Last Green Valley” by Mark Sullivan, based on the true story of WWII Ukrainian family caught between Hitler and Stalin.

Buckley discussed the history of Ukraine from the founding of Kyiv and the country of Kievan Rus by Vikings in the 800’s. Orthodox Christian missionaries created a written language and the region developed a distinct culture. However, it has long suffered from aggressive neighbors who coveted its rich farm land and the mineral wealth. First came the Mongols in the 1200’s and later the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation.

Early Moscow was on the eastern frontier of Kievan Rus and the Mongols kept a direct rule there for many years. Moscow developed under an authoritarian model of government. Ukraine, however, had more contact with general European ideas, peoples and religious debate. By the 1600’s, much of Ukraine was owned by a Lutheran Polish aristocracy. The weak Polish King granted limited rights (representative government, property rights and Habeas corpus) for the Polish upper class. The peasants were Ukrainian speaking Orthodox Christians and Jews ran the taverns, mills and stores as agents for the Poles. In Moscow, however, the Tsar owned all the land and kept tight control over church and the aristocracy. In the 1500’s, the Tsar began empire building and Ukraine was one target of conquest. Tsarina Catherine the Great renamed Ukrainian cities, discouraged Ukrainian language and customs, deported Crimean Tatars to Turkey, gave ethnic Germans and Muscovites land, and called the place ALittle Russia@.

In the 20th century, the Bolsheviks stepped up the genocide of native Ukrainians with a manufactured famine that starved over 4 million Ukrainians in the 1930’s. Thousands were sent to the Gulag. The Germans also wanted to take over Ukraine and on the WWII Eastern Front, Ukrainians had the heaviest casualties of all the Soviet citizens. After the war, Soviet leaders continued to discourage Ukrainian language and culture and force Russian on its people.

In 1991, Ukraine became independent but it was still controlled by Moscow-influenced apparatchiks. In 2014, Ukrainians protested the obviously rigged election of a corrupt Putin crony. The protest grew into the movement AEurope Maidan@. With Polish help and mediation, the Putin candidate was ousted. In revenge, Putin annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Since 2014, Ukraine has unified as a nation. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural nation of choice. They have the Soviet era style corruption to overcome. Ukrainian president Volodomir Zelensky is Jewish and a native Russian speaker from eastern Ukraine. Zelensky stayed in Kyiv when the Russians invaded and rallied his country. His Ukrainian is improving.