Ukraine’s National Identity is Now Clear. The People Who Stood Up to Putin.
In his hour-long rambling, ahistorical, and at times visibly angry speech, that served as the prelude to ordering an invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated something he clearly believes to the depth of whatever passes for his soul. Again and again, he declared that Russia was the one, true country, and Ukraine was merely an ungrateful group of people who needed to be reminded of it.
“Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia.”
“Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”
“From the very first steps, they began to build their statehood on the denial of everything that unites us. They (Ukraine) tried to distort the consciousness, the historical memory of millions of people, entire generations living in Ukraine.”
Попадання в апаратну мовника на телевежі.
Якийсь час, канали не будуть працювати.
Найближчим часом буде включено резервне мовлення частини каналів.
Ворог може поширювати фейки з метою дестабілізації ситуації. Знайте, Україна бореться і вистоїть!#stoprussia pic.twitter.com/WE5iQAJG0z
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) March 1, 2022
Like all good manipulators, Vladimir Putin mixes a little truth with a whole lot of falsehoods, stirs in his own emotions and motivations aimed at like-minded listeners, and tries to bake a cake of Russia dominance on top of which all the rest of the world should be the grateful icing. It is the classic language of the dictator, a tone of self-righteousness and absolute authority, of projecting power and strength to keep those not as powerful or strong in line and under control.
It is also the classic language of an abuser:
“Don’t you know how much I’ve done for you?”
“Your actions are dividing us, I’m trying to unite us.”
“You’re making me do this, why are you making me do this?”
“You were never any good from the start, only I give you meaning.”
And like all abusers, the mixture of threat and innuendo, of manipulation and control, is intended to build not only power for the abuser, but perpetual doubt and submission into the abused. These tactics usually work as long as control is maintained, and the bubble of information from outside is maintained, and the abused stay within the lines the abuser draws around them to govern their movements.
As soon as the abused push back, however, things start to change.
Putin was right that Russia and Ukraine have a long and intertwined history, one that goes back far before the current Russian Federation, before the USSR, before the aforementioned Bolsheviks, back to the Russian Empire and long before. The people of the land now known as Ukraine have fallen under many names down through history, like many other people groups. The current nation truly is “new” by most measures, coming out of the collapsed Soviet Union and trying to find a place in the world for the 44 million people who inhabit this large, strategically positioned land. Such a place would naturally have questions about national identity, what their country is, and means, and should aspire to be.
Vladimir Putin used that as an excuse to invade, to try and conquer and control a place he has long sought to bring to heel under the flag of a renewed and powerful Russia. He said so, in plain language: “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood,” he all but spit in his speech before launching his war of aggression against them.
But in that act of savagery, in launching a war of aggression against a sovereign country he has no right or claims to, Vladimir Putin gave Ukraine exactly what he accused them of not having: a strong, united national identity.
Ukraine is the place that fought back.
The images and stories of the Ukrainian people bravely resisting is epic, historical stuff. Mothers taking up the distinctive Kalashnikov rifle with their children at their side, swearing to defend them. Teachers arming up, donning kit, and loading into a personnel carrier to fight the invaders instead of tending to their students. The Ukrainian leadership from President Volodymyr Zelensky to Vitali Klitschko, the Mayor of Kyiv, and others visible on the streets and all over social media to be inspiration to resist, to fight, to endure.
These are more than just images, or social media postings, or a PR campaign. This is ethos-building, mythmaking, legend-forming stuff that gives Ukrainians pride, purpose, and a basis for an identity that dovetails with hundreds of years of existing history.
In his blood lust and arrogant quest to subjugate the Ukrainian people, Vladimir Putin unwittingly gave them the focused, permanent identity he falsely claimed they never had. From now on, Ukraine is the nation that stood up to a dictator.