The breakup of the Soviet Union, the country that for decades was one of the key players in the world arena, today continues to fascinate, puzzle and provoke sharp debates among scholars, politicians and readers, interested in world history.
The tumultuous events of July – December of 1991 that lead up to the disintegration of the USSR, and their lasting impact on the world, we live in now, became the subject of The Last Empire. The Final Days of the Soviet Union by Serhii Plokhy, Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University (Basic Books; May 13, 2014; ISBN: 987-0-465-05696-5; $32.00).
As a kid in public school, I was told repeatedly Ukraine did not exist. "Look at the map", my teachers said: "It’s the Soviet Union", which was basically Russia by another name.
What could I say to a map? I told my teachers and classmates what my parents told me, and what I had read in the books at home: that the two tribes had evolved from the same root in Kyivan Rus, that Russia had grown into the larger society which for hundreds of years had tried to dominate not only Ukraine but all the other tribes in the region. But that was TMI (too much information) for most friends and, alas, teachers.
Maps did not lie.
KGB agents are apparently not taught history, or so it would seem from Vladimir Putin's recent statement that only "God knows" how a portion of southeastern Ukraine ever became part of that country. The Russian president refers to the region as "New Russia," an old idea that has always been — and remains — an aspiration rather than a fact. Luhansk, Donetsk, Odessa and other New Russian cities have been a part of Ukraine for nearly a century. And even before that, they were never truly Russian.
It was Empress Catherine II who first articulated the ambition that this territory, which she acquired from the Ottoman Turks in the latter half of the 18th century, would become "Novorossiia."
Last month, Andrei Kuznetsov left his native St. Petersburg and flew to Ukraine. When he arrived at the Kiev airport, he asked for political asylum. The bemused guards, unaccustomed to any sort of asylum-seekers, let alone Russian asylum-seekers, couldn’t figure out what to do with him. Finally, he told a Radio Liberty reporter, “they let me in as a tourist and gave me the link to a U.N. site with procedures for applying for asylum.”
Since arriving, Kuznetsov has found it easy to adapt: “There’s no prejudice against me as a Russian citizen. There’s much greater room for personal expression here than in Russia. So I can continue to blog much more freely, without censorship, without fear that the FSB [the Russian secret police] is going to call and ask questions.”
March 16, 2014. Prof. Michael S. Flier, Oleksandr Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian Philology, was interviewed by Britt Peterson of the Boston Globe for her article entitled "The Long War over the Ukrainian Language".
December 14, 2013. Appeal to EuroMaidan (in Ukrainian): Григорій Грабович, професор кафедри української літератури Гарвардського університету, головний редактор часопису «Критика» (Київ), голова Наукового товариства Шевченка в Америцї.
May 24, 2014. Prof. Henry Hale (Principle Investigator, George Washington University), Prof. Timothy Colton (Co-Investigator, Harvard University), Dr. Nadiya Kravets (Co-Investigator, HURI, Harvard University) and Dr. Olga Onuch (Co-Investigator, HURI, Harvard University and University of Oxford), have formed a research team studying the politics of the Ukrainian crisis, and have been awarded a large National Science Foundation Grant to conduct a Multi-wave Electoral Panel Survey in Ukraine. Funding for the project has also been provided by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and the Ukrainian Studies Fund.