1000 Years of Sovereignty

24 February 2022 will go down in future history books as the day Russia began its military offensive against Ukraine, the story however is much older, and even more complicated.  

Over 1,000 years ago, back in the 9th century, history records the founding of the first major Eastern Slavonic state, the Kyivan Rus, a loose federation of East Slavic, Baltic, and Finnic people under Prince Rurik.  By the 10th century, under Prince Vladimir the Great we see this new nation adopting Orthodox Christianity, and by the 11th century the city of Kyiv had become eastern Europe’s foremost political and cultural centre. The tide then turns; in 1237 the Tatars from Mongolia invade as they establish the empire of the Golden Horde, a territory which at one point stretched from northeast China to the Caspian Sea. A hundred years on, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth annexes much of the north and west of what is today’s state of Ukraine.  And then in the 1600s the Cossacks rose up, establishing the Cossack Hetmanate or Zaporizhian, in 1654 they in turn pledged allegiance to the Tsar of Russia. While the Pereyaslavl Treaty limited Ukrainian/Cossack autonomy it was also proved to be the trigger for the thirteen-year Russo-Polish War of 1654–67 over control of Ukraine.  In 1708-09 in the “Mazepa uprising” witnessed around 3000 Cossacks from the eastern Hetmanate joining Poland with Sweden and the fought Russia, but with most Cossacks staying loyal to the Tsar. After the battle of the battle of Poltava in 1709 Russian forces ultimately recaptured all of Ukraine, even annexing the Crimean Khanatec, the last remnant of the Golden Horde.

In more modern times: the Crimean War of 1853–1856 was fought between Russia, the British, French and the Ottoman Turks.  A war fought in part to exercise protection over Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman Sultan, and a dispute between Russia and France regarding access to Holy Sites in Palestine.  More recently in 1917, a year after the collapse of the Russian Empire, Ukraine declared independence, an action that led to invasion by the Russian Red Army and the loss of about a third of the country to Poland.  In 1939 Ukraine once again found itself under attack, this time from Nazi Germany who, almost before the ink had dried, had torn up the German-Soviet Pact and sent some 3 million troops to occupy the Ukrainian territory as a staging post for what became an ignominious and ultimately disastrous war for Germany with Russia. 

Following the Second World War, in June 1945 the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine was one of the 51 founder members of the United Nations; but even so, as a Soviet Republic it was very much under the watchful eye of its neighbour to the east.  However back in 1945 the Crimean Peninsula was not part of Ukraine, and under Russian occupation Joseph Stalin (Premier of the Soviet Union) ordered some 200,000 Crimean Tatars to be deported, many ending up in Siberia; under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s the newly established Russian Federation allowed an estimated 250,000 descendants of those displaced Tatars to return, but by this time the Peninsula had itself been transferred by Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine (1954) as a “noble act on the part of the Russian people” to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the “reunification of Ukraine with Russia”, a reference to the Treaty of Pereyaslav.  A struggle nevertheless existed over the division of powers between the Crimean and Ukrainian authorities, so in June of 1992 the Crimean Peninsula was allowed to become an autonomous Republic with special economic status; autonomous, yet still seen by all parties as an integral part of Ukraine

In 1991, following a failed coup d’état in Moscow, Ukraine once again declared independence and in 1996 a new democratic constitution was adopted.  In 2002 the Ukrainian Government even went so far as to make a formal proposal to join NATO, but in November 2013 the decision was ultimately taken to abandon plans to associate with the European Union – and in the following months of violence the Yanukovych government collapsed in what is now known as the Maidan Revolution.  While Yanukovych was free to retreat to Russia, within months the Russian military had entered and seized the Republic of Crimea, an action promptly followed-up by pro-Moscow militia who quickly snatched almost a third of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.  The stage it would appear was being set for the fighting that has since broken out, an offensive which is once again bringing pain, death and suffering to the people of Ukraine.

When this horrific and shocking war is over it will be recorded as another deep scar in the relationships of these two nations, one which sadly is not likely to heal for generations, if ever.

Matthew 24:6: You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.