EA region somewhere in the east that belongs to Russia – this is how one could summarize the knowledge about Ukraine that has long defined the image of Ukraine in the West. This ignorance played into the hands of the Russian President, who denies the existence of a Ukrainian nation and culture. But ignorance has also led western politicians to make fatal misjudgments, not least the German Federal President, who justified the necessity of the North Stream 2 pipeline with the crimes of National Socialist Germany against the Soviet Union, of which he saw Russia as its successor state; There was no mention of the Wehrmacht and SS committing mass crimes on the territory of present-day Ukraine. Not only in politics, but also in science, Ukraine has long been in the shadow of Russia: Ukrainian history has risen – and fallen – in a Russian imperial history. So clarification is necessary.
For some time now, German-speaking readers have had access to two accounts of Ukrainian history by Andreas Kappeler and Kerstin Jobst, both of whom teach in Vienna. It is thanks to the Russian war of aggression that another history of Ukraine has now been translated. Its author is Serhii Plokhy, a professor at Harvard and the best-known Ukrainian historian in the Anglo-Saxon world. The work, published in 2015, was intended to tell the story of a country after the peaceful civil revolution of the Euromaidan (2013/14) and the Russian invasion of Crimea, whose citizens fought with impressive courage for the rule of law and integration into Europe.
Plokhy’s book has become the standard work, dealing with the history of today’s territory of Ukraine from antiquity to the present day in a knowledgeable manner and with an eye on Western readers. Following the latest Ukrainian and international research, the author attaches great importance to the interweaving of Ukrainian with Polish, Russian, German, Austrian and Jewish history. He writes Ukrainian history as one of great regional diversity, and he traces the influence of empires on a territory wrestled over in modern times by Poland-Lithuania, Moscow and the Ottoman Empire, and which after the disappearance of the Polish state (between 1772 and 1773) and 1795) was governed from Saint Petersburg and Vienna, then from Moscow and Warsaw between 1918 and 1939, and finally from Moscow exclusively for several decades after 1945.
One of the central places of the Shoah
Plokhy makes two basic observations: Ukraine lies at the crossroads of two large natural areas, the steppe and the Eastern European agricultural and forest areas, and it is located in the border area of the Catholic and Orthodox world. Only the conquest of Crimea in 1783 put an end to the steppe society that had shaped the south of what is now Ukraine for around three centuries: Cossacks, Crimean Tatars and Nogay.