On Independence Day, Ukraine's Existence Questioned
Published: August 25, 2014 (Issue # 1825)
On Sunday, Independence Day was celebrated for the 24th time in Ukraine — a nation that, in the eyes of many Russians, does not exist at all.
The decades-old question of Ukrainian national identity has reached a fever pitch in recent months thanks to the pro-Russian insurgency's capacity to exacerbate patriotic sentiments in both Ukraine and Russia.
Russian nationalists see Ukraine as a renegade province misled by a handful of Russophobes into viewing itself as an independent nation, distinct from Russia.
"There never was … a Ukrainian ethnicity, a Ukrainian nation, a Ukrainian civilization. Just western Russian lands," Alexander Dugin, an ultraconservative Russian philosopher, wrote on his website Evrazia.org in February.
Having long been relegated to the fringes of society, Dugin's ideas were recently co-opted by Kremlin ideologues, and now enjoy mainstream popularity in Russia.
But historians, even those in Russia, argue that Ukraine is a nation — albeit one that is very young, and very closely intertwined with its former mainland.
"The Ukrainian nation doubtless exists," said Maria Falina, an expert on Eastern European history with University College Dublin. "They're just still working out their own historical narrative."
The Long Road to Independence
In medieval times, the Eastern European Plain housed a tumble of ever-morphing feudal principalities kept in constant upheaval by internal strife and foreign invasion, most notably the German crusaders and the cataclysmic Mongol forces.
"Ukraine" as a distinct region emerged in the 16th century, when the term was used to define the mostly Orthodox Christian territories controlled at the time by the Catholic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
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