Ukraine has had a troubled history. From the mid-16th century until 1775, Ukraine was a Cossack state governed by democratic military communities, and led by a hetman. The Hetmanate’s existence was a near-constant struggle to resist subjugation by neighboring empires.
The country’s wars and strife over several centuries shaped the national identity, and the Ukrainians became a nation of fighters early in their history. The Russian Empire ultimately crushed and abolished the Hetmanate. It reappeared in 1918 as a modernized Cossack monarchy before the Bolshevik regime overran most of today’s Ukraine and incorporated it into the Soviet Union in 1921.
In the 21st century, Ukraine is again struggling to break free of Moscow’s grip. A revanchist Russia has annexed Ukrainian territory and fomented a separatist war in the east. Under these circumstances, a young Ukrainian government is trying to resist outside destabilization, reform the institutions of state and government, and build a lasting democracy.
This site will be updated as often as possible with stories, photos and other materials to convey – hopefully – not only the trauma but also the beauty of this troubled country.
My interest in what was once called the Soviet Union dates to my teen years in the early 1980s, when I began my formal study of the region. After reading many histories of the Soviet period, I visited the USSR for the first and only time in my life in 1988, on a tour organized by the Soviet Intourist agency to different cities in the European part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic or RSFSR (Soviet Russia). By the time I returned to the area, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, and I saw up close the social catastrophe that remained in its wake while visiting the ex-Soviet republics as a market research consultant.
Six months after the disintegration of the USSR, I made my first visit to Ukraine, a republic that had suffered perhaps more than any other in the ex-Soviet space over a period of seven decades. The slaughter and terror of 1918-1921, the state-sponsored famine of 1932-33, the Purges and mass executions in Ukraine by Soviet forces during and after WWII – all of these atrocities exceeded anything I had read or heard of anywhere else, and the human rights situation was appalling throughout the USSR’s vast expanse. The ghastly degradation and suffering I witnessed after the Soviet collapse permanently impressed me, as I watched educated, highly literate people forced to work menial jobs to survive under conditions of extreme corruption, crime, poverty and the indifference of their society’s elites.
Over the next twenty years, I would return to Ukraine often, ultimately concluding that the country’s artificial sovereignty – its existence as a de facto ‘autonomy’ of Russia in the post-Soviet era – was more detrimental to the development of the rule of law than even the status of outright colony would have been. The rebellions and popular upheavals in Ukraine in the quarter-century of post-Soviet ‘independence’ were symptomatic of deep, systemic problems: the situation was untenable for thinking Ukrainians, who yearned to be free of the Muscovite yoke. As it had been in 1918, so it was in 1991, 2004 and 2014. This web log – started in October 2014 – is a tribute to Ukraine’s struggle for freedom.
Since my first article was published, a review of Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow (an account of the Stalinist famine in Ukraine in the 1930s), I have written and published on issues in the former Soviet union in a wide range of publications, including op-eds and articles in The Wall Street Journal Europe, The Salisbury Review, Conservative Review, CounterPunch, The New York Press, The American Conservative, Turkish Policy Quarterly and Hürriyet Daily News. I hold a B.A. and an M.A. in Russian and East European Studies from the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and a J.D. from Emory University School of Law. I am fluent in Russian.