If you have two ears, a television, and the ability to read, you probably have an idea of what is happening in Ukraine at the moment. The present tumult has resulted in more awareness for the nation than it has ever seen; surprising, given that Ukraine is the largest country that exists within Europe’s boundaries. For centuries, Ukraine has fallen prey to Russia’s imperialistic actions, and, for centuries, Ukraine has maintained a sense of nationalism that cannot be smothered.
When learning about European history, how often did you even hear about Ukraine? Have you heard of the Holodomor? Likely you haven’t. The Holodomor was a massive genocide instituted by Joseph Stalin in 1932 in which he ordered Russian soldiers to move from village to village, collecting food supplies so that the Ukrainians would starve. It worked. At least three million Ukrainians starved to death in the year that the famine lasted. Current numbers estimate Ukrainian losses in World War II to be at upwards of eight million soldiers and civilians. One may argue: at the time of these atrocities, Ukraine was a part of Russia. While it is true that Russia at the time claimed Ukrainian land as its own, Ukraine has maintained a national identity distinct from Russia since the beginning of its existence. The point is that before Putin’s current reign, Ukraine as a nation has survived, with little recognition, more atrocities than the modern world is aware of.
Ukraine’s predicament parallels that of the Melians in Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue. The Melians refused to bow to the Athenians’ wish that the Melians would hand over their land, culture and people without a fight. The Melians proudly say that it would be a display of “cowardice in us who are still free not to try everything that can be tried, before submitting to your yoke…action still preserves for us a hope that we may stand erect.” What the world does not realize is that since its inception Ukraine and its people have been surviving on hope, on the notion that one day an autonomous Ukraine may be recognized for its resources, culture, and language separate form any connection with Russia. At the moment, debate has been ignited over whether Russia has violated the Budapest Memorandum, in which case the United States among other nations is obligated to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine. When in crisis, sometimes a state—in this case, both the Melian state and Ukraine—has no choice but to hope against hope, to use every resource available to them to maintain the dignity of their homeland.
A nation could have an army full of hundreds of thousands of soldiers ready to mobilize at any moment. But what truly gives a nation a fighting chance is heart. This sounds cliché, I know, but it’s true—the Melians knew that they were facing widespread destruction and casualties but they agreed to fight to defend their honor. Ukrainians feel the same. Too much Ukrainian blood has been shed on Ukrainian soil to let Putin’s current crimes be validated. The spirit of Euromaidan, the central setting for the battles that Ukraine has faced in the past year, must inspire all of us to never settle for what is unjust. If it comes down to one Ukrainian against the entire Russian army, he will fight.
Ukrainian culture has thrived in the States since the first diaspora arrived on Ukrainian soil, and those of us here today will not stop fighting until Ukrainian independence is respected by neighboring Russia and all may know peace. Part of the solution is to understand the problem, and in this case, understanding the problem means digging deeper into Ukraine’s history than textbooks will ever permit. As Ukrainians everywhere say, Слава Україні! Героям слава! Or, Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Our Heroes! May we always remember to honor those who have given their all to fight evil and bring peace to our global community, and above all, may we always find it within ourselves to stand up for that which is right.