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Reform Magazine | December 7, 2023

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Ukraine: What’s the real story?

Ukraine: What’s the real story?

Meic Pearse explains the historical background to the war in Ukraine

This story, like most true stories, is long and complicated. Russia and Ukraine are two modern names for countries that both claim to be the present incarnation of the same medieval ‘ancestor state’: Kievan Rus’. (You see the problem, I suspect, in the two halves of that name.) It existed from the 9th century until the 13th, consisted of eastern Slavs and was ruled by princes descended from the Vikings.

The false insistence that some medieval kingdom was ‘really us, back then’ is hardly unique to the eastern Slavs, of course. It is unwelcome news to some, but people of the distant past were not failed attempts at being you – any more than exotic cultures are in the present. They were themselves. (Try remembering the fact that, until the Elizabethan period, ‘British’, when it meant much at all, meant the Welsh – and specifically not the English.) Nevertheless, when two modern countries converge on the same supposed ancestor, trouble will keep cropping up.

On the Russian side, many have insisted, as does Putin himself, that Ukrainians are ‘really’ Russians. Of an inferior, eternal-little-brother sort, of course. Their language is really just a dialect….

Meic Pearse is Emeritus Professor of History at Houghton College, New York. From this year, he will be permanently resident in Osijek, Croatia, where he will continue to pen historical works designed to put the world finally to rights

This is an extract from an article published in the April 2022 edition of Reform

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