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Ukraine and Russia whose memories of a shared past are not much different…


Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Amid the recent gathering of Russian forces around Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russians and Ukrainians share a common historical and spiritual place has taken the form of a new discussion. In the eyes of the Russian political elite, these countries have similar roots, with some even disputing the legitimacy of an independent Ukrainian state but the two most influential republics of the former Soviet Union since 1991. Have taken different paths. While the Russian elite did not readily accept this separation, Ukrainians embraced their country’s independence with open arms. Over the past decade, Russia and Ukraine have also diverged in how they view their shared past.

‘Ukraine and Russia have similar roots’

For example, in 2015 Kiev passed a law equating communism with Nazism, while in 2014, Russia adopted a law criminalizing criticism of the Soviet Union’s actions in World War II. Today the politicians of both the sides keep hurling rhetoric at each other about the past.
But what are the implications of the complex historical heritage that links the two countries to ordinary Russians and Ukrainians? In early 2021, the Berlin-based Center for East European and International Studies conducted a comparative study of Ukrainian and Russian ideas about history. We surveyed 2,000 individuals in each country. Respondents were between 18 and 65, lived in communities with more than 20,000 residents, and were representative of the population in terms of gender, age and place of residence.

‘Memories of a shared past not much different’

Desire to Share Views on History If Russians and Ukrainians are asked to name another country with which they would like to share similar historical views, Ukrainians mention Russia as their first choice. Whereas for Russians, Ukraine is second only to Belarus. Despite the ongoing geopolitical confrontation between these two states, there remains a desire for historical dialogue at the social level. accept it as a separate nation. Such assessments clearly depict geopolitics and the perceived importance of states. Remarkably, the Russians value the United States and Germany as countries with different historical views and political significance. Similarly, Ukrainians rank Poland high, reflecting past ties with Warsaw but also current regional dynamics.

There is a deep difference in how historical leaders are viewed in these countries. In particular, the memory of Joseph Stalin has been associated with the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany in Russia. As a result, the emphasis has been placed on Stalin’s contribution to the war and the socioeconomic development of the USSR. Meanwhile, the work of underestimating the atrocities committed during his reign is increasingly being done. Our survey identifies a significant divergence of opinion about Stalin. Most Ukrainians hold a clearly negative view, with 60% saying that they should be directly blamed for the deaths of millions of innocent people. In Russia, however, 52% believe they have more merit than demerits. And another 9 percent say that he was an intelligent and capable leader.

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The assessment of historical events is also fundamentally different. For example, the Ukrainian famine of 1932–1933, also known as”holodomor”, has become a central component of Ukrainian identity. Today, 55% of Ukrainians see Holodomor as an artificial famine created by the Soviet authorities. On the other hand, in Russia, famine is seen as a general tragedy of the Soviet people and its onset is attributed to unfavorable natural conditions. As with many positive and negative views about the Soviet period in general, Russians more often noted the universally positive side and Ukrainians noted the negative. For example, the themes of social justice, friendship between peoples and economic stability were presented by Russians as positive aspects of the Soviet era. Conversely the lack of political choice, which Russia does not mention prominently, is prominently raised by Ukrainians.

Ukrainians also mention other negative aspects, such as lack of economic freedom and monitoring of personal life. There is also a generational component to this, with younger Ukrainians being more positive about the disintegration of the Soviet Union than their peers in Russia. Competition and overly emotional perspectives on shared historical heritage fuel the geopolitical conflict we are currently witnessing between Moscow and Kiev and, when these different perspectives on history are so incompatible they become even more difficult to resolve. So the geopolitical conflict comes to the fore.

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