The true atrocity that separates Russia and Ukraine
While the present Russian forces kill, maim, and attempt to destroy a people along with their culture, they argue that the Ukrainians are nothing more than Slavic Russians with an accent and that Ukraine has always been "part" of greater Russia.
While it's true that many historical and cultural ties (ethnic, religious, musical...) do link these two peoples, there are modern convulsions that have divided and destroyed any feelings of close brotherhood. The main act of barbary, which classifies as genocide, was the 1930s Stalinist purge of the farming class of Ukraine in what was an engineered famine that snuffed out the lives of more than 5 million Ukrainians (some say up to 10 million).
Previous to this horror, the nation of Ukraine had resisted the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918; they fought three years against being incorporated into the Soviet Union. Lenin eventually gave the Ukrainians a certain latitude to maintain their language and cultural identity, and even continue their farming system in what was the breadbasket of Europe.
Stalin was not at all in favor of this policy. No sooner had he consolidated power than he set out to destroy anything that would set the Ukrainians apart from the Soviet collectivist system. Stalin targeted the well-to-do farmers of Ukraine, known as kulaks — this after the nation's leadership, intellectuals, and religious leaders had been mostly annihilated or sent off to Siberia. This was also the time that ethnic Russians began to be brought into Ukraine in a separate attempt to destroy any Ukrainian self-identity.
The story of the Holodomor, literally meaning "death by starvation," is one of the most grim and cruel oppressions of the 20th century. Stalin put his lieutenant, Khrushchev, in charge of the systematic destruction of a people. All food and grain were confiscated to satisfy a requisition quota, and bands of soldiers and commissars raided villages and homes breaking into walls, searching in ovens, and even digging in gardens to find any hidden food. While millions starved in Ukraine, the Soviet Union exported from the same region enough grain to feed over 10 million people.
The clouds of evil and darkness that settle over Mordor in the series The Lord of the Rings is a fitting literary backdrop for the terror that reigned in the Ukrainian Holodomor. At the height of the Holodomor in 1932, 28,000 people were dying from starvation each day. A system of internal passports was enforced along with draconian travel restrictions in order to keep the villagers from fleeing to the cities in search of food. Troops and commissars surrounded villages where food had long since disappeared, not allowing anyone to escape while all died a slow and cruel death.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian people and the country's leaders have unearthed much of the actual data of a legacy of one of humanity's darkest hours. While Russia itself has attempted to deny the breadth of the destruction during the Holodomor, many nations around the world, including most historians, have accepted that what Ukraine suffered was a case of classic genocide.
For Putin to say Ukraine is an integral part of greater Russia is to ignore the identity of a people. Worse, it's an attempt to deny that such a great evil was visited on the Ukrainians. Knowing even a small portion of the history of the Holodomor will give anyone an understanding of what fuels the present decided resistance of the people of Ukraine as Russia attempts to subjugate them anew.
Image via Public Domain Pictures.