This a personal perspective by a Ukrainian- American born in the United States of immigrant Ukrainian parents, educated in the American system and grounded in American culture of splendid democratic values, an appetite for capitalist gains aka the American dream and an erroneous belief in American exceptionalism. To address the last, neither America nor Americans are exceptional. The founding fathers were not. There were both good and bad.
America is responsible for much good. It is equally responsible for much bad. Today’s culture of coming to terms with evil is the appropriate approach. Blindness in this regard can only result in more evil. Nevertheless this is not about American culture or its soul but about two neighboring nations which are today very much on the American mind as well as that of the global community.
The aforesaid comment on America is intended to raise consciousness in every society that introspection of one’s culture and soul is a necessary albeit complex process for all peoples. Ukrainian and Russian cultures despite geographical proximity and a mutual albeit unfortunate history are striking examples of how two cultures and resultingly two souls can be very different.
Russian Czar Peter I was dissatisfied with the history of the Moscow state so he changed the name of Moscow to Russia since Kyiv had been known as the capital of Rus’.
Later Czarina Catherine II decided that changing a name was inadequate. She commissioned Russian historians to compile or compose historiography.
One of them, Russian writer and historian Nikolai Karamzin wrote critically about Russian historiography, stressing that it is based on lies. Precisely this is the basis for the Russian soul.
It has been said that a Russian mother who feels intensely for her Russian son the soldier, feels more intensely for the Russian empire. The son is brought up to be willing to die for that empire, right or wrong.
That culture as well as severe penalties for public assembly in Russia against the war are the reasons why Russian mothers today who have suffered tremendous losses fail to manifest their sorrow through civil disobedience.
Russian historiography which feeds the Russian culture is predicated on the idea of Russia as a great power, an empire, a third Rome. That mandates much theft in terms of history and aggression in politics. Let’s consider only two examples according to the Russians: Kyiv is the mother of Russian cities and the symbol of Russia is the two headed eagle since Russia is the third Rome. Presenting a false narrative of history requires victories on the field of battle as the victors become the next historians. For that reason victory on the battlefield, irrespective of human cost, is mandated for the empire to persevere.
The real facts are very different. Kyiv was founded in the V century. Moscow as an entity was founded in the XII by a Kyivan who were deprived of the Kyiv throne essentially by the rules of primogenitor. Russia’s representation of itself as the bulwark of Christian Orthodoxy is also entirely false. The Holy Roman Empire in Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. In this vacuum Moscow assumed the mantle and at gunpoint forced the Patriarchy in Constantinople to recognise a Moscow Patriarchate.
Ukraine and its soul are essentially different. Ukrainian history is some half a millennium older. More importantly excepting the Middle Ages when might was considered right and conquerors were glorified, Ukraine has a tragic history, and even at times of glory, Ukraine has always manifested a satisfaction with its own and a reluctance to conquer that which belongs to others. Examples abound but a most striking one is that of the Cossack uprising against Poland in 1648. The Cossacks under the leader Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky arrived at the gates of Warsaw but then withdrew deciding that they were free men, protectors of their own and not conquerors of others.
Both Ukrainians and Russians are born children of God if you are a believer, and simply children of their parents by science. What distinguishes them is the culture wherein they are raised. Russians are reared to believe in an undying empire. Ukrainians are brought up to protect their own. These are two very different cultural underpinnings.
I began this piece with a brief overview of American exceptionalism. Russians believe in their own exceptionalism. The difference is that in America reason prevails or at least the ability to express one’s views and to assemble publicly in order to share that view. In Russia the rule is to remain silent with the hope of triumph so that the empire may go forth and prosper. The choice for the global community is very clear. Ultimately, perhaps good will never absolutely triumph over evil, but at least effort may lessen the suffering of those exposed to evil. Ukraine is commencing a counteroffensive. All hands on board.