We have all heard Vladimir Putin’s repeated claims to Ukraine’s land. In his now-infamous essay, “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” published in July 2021, Putin goes so far to deny Ukraine any claim to nationhood and makes his intentions to integrate Ukraine into Russia very clear.
It is now even more relevant to make this case for Ukrainian sovereignty, as pundits like Candace Owens, among others, have been swallowing Putin’s propaganda and proclaiming it to millions of keen listeners.
To be fair, maybe some of us have also wondered whether Putin’s claims are, at least partially, correct. We remember stories of the Kievan Rus and how empires collided on Ukrainian territory. When we hear the Ukrainian language in the news, we hear its phonetic similarity to Russian. They share the Cyrillic alphabet, Azbuka. Their economies are integrated. Many Russians have families in Ukraine. So, we may wonder to ourselves, to what extent are Ukraine and Russia historically linked?
Putting aside questions of language, in this article, I would like to focus on a brief historical retelling of Ukrainian’s recent history and why Putin is horribly wrong in his historical revisionism.
Ukraine and Russia indeed share a history. But their history is not as unique as Putin implies. In fact, Ukraine also shares an extensive history with Poland. And few are suggesting that Poland has a right to take back Lviv, for example, a city that was once a part of its empire.
Putin starts his historical revisionism with The Kievan Rus (862–1242), a loosely-collected political federation in modern-day Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russia. Its capital, Kyiv, finally fell to the Mongol Invasion which crippled much of Eastern Europe in the 13th century. Putin claims that this heritage is shared and binds the nations together. This may be somewhat true, but it oversimplifies a complex past. Indeed, in the words of the historian Matthew E. Lenoe, “there’s no continuous line to be traced from this loose river confederation to the Russian state.” The many empires that collided over the centuries that followed made that historical lineage nearly impossible to delineate.
It may be true that both Russia and Ukraine are predominantly Slavic nations located east of…