«On the battlefield, we destroyed Russia’s narrative that Ukraine doesn’t exist as a state,» – Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy

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photo: censor.net

photo: censor.net

Negotiations will help reach some key formal agreements, but the situation will be fully resolved only on the battlefield.

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We are now experiencing a truly historic moment in the formation of a new Ukrainian nation that not only realised its own identity but also showed the world that Ukraine exists and is not a failed state. This opinion was expressed by the director of the Institute of Ukrainian Studies at Harvard University, Serhii Plokhy, during the broadcast of media hub «Tvoe Misto», adding that under the bombs, our country is functioning even better than it seemed before.

This is not a fictional nation without historical rights, as Putin wrote in his «scientific» articles. And it is changing the world, despite the numerous sacrifices.

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Until 2004, very little was known about Ukraine in the world, except for the tragic events of World War II or the Holocaust. After the Orange Revolution, according to Serhii Plokhy, Ukraine entered the Western media space in a very positive way, proving itself as a young nation, ready to stand for democracy and oppose elections that the authorities had stolen from citizens to use in their own interests.

«Those were peaceful protests, very colourful ones. I remember in DC, people were asking half-jokingly: «What is wrong with you, Ukrainians? You can’t have a revolution that wouldn’t look like a street party. That was the Ukrainian introduction into the international media, the international sphere, as far as the general public was concerned. Then, came 2013, which was not as colourful, but it was reinforcing the same message: that Ukraine was about freedom, Ukraine was about democracy. And then, when the war started in 2014 and the later dramatic, tragic escalation in February this year, Ukraine revealed itself also in a different way. There was nothing on which Washington and Moscow could agree before the tensions became extremely high, except for one thing: in Washington and Moscow, no one counted that Ukraine would resist more than a couple of days. And Ukraine has surprised everyone,» – the Harvard professor said.

The value of dignity has also transformed over the past eight years, the historian adds. Euromaidan turned into a Revolution of Dignity at a time when Kyiv residents came to the main square to protect students who had been beaten by police. This was the dignity to oppose the authoritarian regime, which decided against the people’s will to build closer relations with Russia and believed that it had the right to beat its own citizens.

«There was a very specific understanding of dignity in November-December 2013. It has been changing now, in the context of this war, this is about the dignity of the individual, the dignity of the nation, and the dignity of democracy, which is defending itself against an autocratic regime. I am not a military expert, but what I understand about the successes of the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian people today, I can say that they are individuals. A Ukrainian soldier or sergeant has much more freedom in deciding what to do and how to do, than a Russian sergeant, where it’s all top-down,» – Serhii Plokhy said.

The historian stressed that today, we are holding back the army that made Europe and the world afraid, given the events of the last century in Czechoslovakia, the beginning of World War Two, or the Soviet occupation of the Baltics without much effort in 1940. Until now, the world believed that maintaining good relations with such a strong state would help maintain a certain modus vivendi. Earlier, regarding the relations between Ukraine and Russia, people were ready to accept the Russian narrative that Ukraine was a non-existent state ruled by Nazis or nationalists. However, this narrative was finally destroyed now on the battlefield.

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Nevertheless, Serhii Plokhy believes that it is too early to assess the results of the confrontation. Negotiations will help reach some key formal agreements, but the situation will be fully resolved only on the battlefield. As for the unity of society in the issue of negotiations, the historian claims that during the last month, Zelenskyi has really demonstrated his connection with the audience and the ability to convey meaning in a way that is understandable to him. He was able to unite Ukrainians, after which 90% of them recently expressed hope that Ukraine would win.

Regarding Ukrainian nationalism, the historian emphasizes that it went through the same normal stages as European – from romantic nationalism of the XIX century with the collection of folklore about the glorious past of the people, to the political stage with the growth of radical nationalism in the interwar period and during World War II. However, according to Serhii Plokhy, the only abnormal fact is that even during the war lasting since 2014, nationalist parties are not represented in the Ukrainian parliament. At the same time, in European and especially Central-European countries, these political forces are extremely important, so Western politicians pay close attention to nationalism and tend to seek it everywhere.

«My question to people who talk about Ukrainian nationalism and people who look for it is just to think about two things and try to explain it to yourself, to your readers, and to myself because I do not have clear answers to those questions as well. The first issue would be about the only president of Jewish background outside of Israel, who became very popular in Ukraine and was elected by 73% of the votes. Before, there were two Prime Ministers with a Jewish background, one of whom was the head of the Verkhovna Rada. This was extremely unique, so try to think what is behind it. One main thing is a strong sense of civic identity, so please, focus on that. 

The second question is why Ukrainian nationalists are not in Parliament and why they cannot cross the 5% threshold. My guess is that the answer is the same as to the first question – the strength of civic identity. Look at the footage that comes from Melitopol, Kherson, Russian-speaking cities in southern Ukraine, where people are marching with the Ukrainian banners against tanks. That’s what Ukraine is about. You have questions about nationalism? Try to answer those that I posed in front of you.» – the Harvard professor summed up.

By Vitalii Holich

Follow us on Facebook. Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.


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