Originally published in What’s On, July 2012, unedited from then – Graham
It became clear on the first day of the EURO here in Kyiv that there were some Ukrainians for Russia, and an equal number against. Someone in the know, and who knows me, likened the situation to that between Scotland and England, for my ease of understanding. This did give me cause to ponder the subject, more relevant in light of the debate about whether Wimbledon finalist Andy Murray is Scottish, or British, and to what extent the English should or would support him.
There is, indeed, some dislike among the Scots for England to different degrees. Is it the same for Ukrainians and Russians? Well, that kind of depends on which part of Ukraine you are from. Ukraine’s record during WWII is hugely controversial and the subject of heated dispute, denials and, to the minds of many, inaccurate education of Ukrainian schoolchildren on the subject.
There is strong evidence that large contingents of the west of Ukraine were involved in pro-Nazi activity, viewing the Nazis as liberators from the Soviets. The Soviets were of course held, by much of western Ukraine, as tyrannical and intent on domination and oppression, while the Nazis were regarded by many as, if not exactly liberators then, the lesser of two evils. The decision of some in western Ukraine to align themselves with the Axis forces saw some episodes that any right-minded person would wish had never happened. To what extent the Ukrainians were complicit, tacit, diffident or perhaps oblivious to such atrocities – the Massacre of Lviv professors, the number of Jews killed by the 201st Schutzmannschaft Battalion, or Stepan Bandera’s collaboration with the Nazis – there will never be a definitive answer.
There is certainly solid historical fact that many in the east of Ukraine played strong roles in fighting for the Soviets against Nazi forces. That there were those in the west of Ukraine who sided for the Soviets, particularly after the Nazis revealed their true intentions, is also as undeniable as that during WWII there were Ukrainians who killed their own countrymen in conflict.
So I’m not sure how accurate this analogy of the Scots/English and Ukrainians/Russians is. When it comes to the real causes, wars and so on, the Scots and the English get together as one – you will find fallen Scots and English lying side by side in theatres of war across Europe and as far afield as Africa.
There are those in Ukraine who hate Russia and most likely always will, and they will find their reasons for that – present or historical. Equally there are those here with Ukrainian passports who consider themselves Russian. Of course, there are many in between, but it’s a more extreme situation than that of Britain. Ukraine is a beautiful country, with many wonderful people in both east and west. It just happens to be the case that many of them are on different sides, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.