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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

the tale of ukraine

"A long, long time ago in ancient times, the land we live on now was called Halychyna and was home to a people called the Red Rus’. That’s as far back as we can remember, when we were still called Rusyns. Then there came a Prince called Vladymyr the Great, he was one of the greatest of the Kievan Rus’ people. His people came and took over the big Red Rus cities while fighting with the Poles. And so we became part of the great Kievan Rus. Their empire was so large it reached as far as Moscow and beyond! Just imagine, Moscow was once ruled by Kiev! Prince Vladymyr the Great, and Prince Yaroslav the Wise ruled for a long, long time and the Kievan Rus’ grew and grew. With them they brought Christianity, our Cyrillic writing and the freedom to develop our own cultures. But this was a long, long time ago, much before anyone now alive was born...”
“The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria came much later, when we were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In those times, we Ruthenians (as the Austrians called us) were peasants much the same as we are now and we were ruled by Polish aristocracy and gentry, although some Poles were poor peasants like us too. But the Polish landlords didn’t like us very much. Because they in turn had to answer to the Austrians, who cut back their rights and dues. We peasants no longer belonged totally to our Polish masters and we had more personal freedoms. We owed them much less work and we could even get married without our Lord’s permission. Ha! And what’s more, we could go over the heads of our Polish Lords and appeal to the Imperial Courts, whatever they were. I never heard of anyone who did such a thing, but maybe we didn’t need to - the idea that we could if we needed to seemed to be enough for everyone. All the common folk; be we Poles, Jews, Ruthenians, we all loved the Austrian Emperor. Although in some ways we paid for it too. The Austrians took lots of our people away and made them fight in their armies. But they were our masters, and we were mostly left in peace so we weren’t so badly off.”
“But for a long time there had been a problem. The Poles were not content with what they had. They wanted The Kingdom of Galicia to be their own, and didn’t want to belong to the Austrians. We, the Ruthenians, just wanted to be equal with the Poles. We wanted to keep our own language, our culture, stories and folk songs. The Polish Lords tried to turn us into Poles! Us! But they failed to make our Church change to their funny calendar or to replace our letters with their horrid Latin ones. The answer to us was always obvious, yet the problem has caused so much trouble. People seemingly will only be happy in a country which is truly their own. So divide Galicia - the Poles can live in the West and the Ruthenians in the East, united with the rest of our beloved Ukraine.”
“These peaceful times ended with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrian Emperor had to abandon us back to our Polish Lords and what about us? We were not happy. But we couldn’t decide together what to do and split up into groups such as the Russian-lovers, and the Ukrainians - they were the main group. They were linked to the common people, peasants like you and me. Ukrainians still wanted equality with the Poles and to cut up Galicia into a Polish West and a Ruthenian East. But the Poles were still saying that Galicia was once upon a time theirs, and should still be so, because the Austrians had taken it away from them one hundred and fifty years before...”
“But then there were great wars, with much heavy fighting and so many men dying all around here, so terrible were the battles. We were caught in the middle of everyone else’s wars and revolutions, such as mess! Austrians, Russians, Germans, Poles, Romanians, Ukrainian republicans and anarchists marching throughout our lands. A Red Army, a White Army and a Green Army. And we Ukrainians, in our country which isn’t even our own, what could we do?”“We had the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsing on our West, and the Imperial Russians falling apart on our Eastern flank. Here in Galicia we were stuck right in the middle of these two battling giants. And our villages were forever being destroyed in their crossfire. When the Great War started in 1914, we were split up into the two opposing armies. Lots of our men fought with the Imperial Russian Army, while others fought for the Austro-Hungarian Army. Many ended up fighting each with one another, on other peoples’ behalf! Even worse, those of us not fighting also suffered as both armies killed people thought to be collaborating with the enemy. First the Russian troops came and took over, forcing the Austrians out of our Galicia. The Russians then immediately started to stamp out all Ukrainian ways of life. They arrested many of our leading people: politicians, lawyers, writers, teachers, and sent them away to Siberia never to be heard of again. The next year, the Austrians came and took back Galicia and they promised us many things, trying to buy our support because things were going badly for them on other fronts. But we were not satisfied, we strived for complete independence. Because you couldn’t win with either side, or neither. It was turmoil. Anyone suspected by the Austrians of being sympathetic to the Russians was taken away never to be seen again. Then the Russians had their revolution and their civil war and it got even worse. A lot of their fighting took place here. And by the end of all these wars, more than a million Ukrainians had died, and those of us who had miraculously survived saw all of our land given to other countries. And we vowed once again that we should be our own country, independent of all these others."

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