GUARDIAN: ‘Russia stole our history’: Ukraine’s bitter struggle to keep the truth alive

Beyond the frontlines, academics are fighting to counter the fake tales of their country’s past that are peddled by the Kremlin

Peter Beaumont
Sunday, 17 July 2022 21:16

At the entrance to Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, a bronze relief of the face of Mykhailo Hrushevsky stares out towards the red-painted portico. A historian by training, and a key figure in Ukraine’s national revival in the early 20th century, Hrushevsky served briefly as the head of Ukraine’s revolutionary rada – or parliament – in 1918.

Taras Pshenychnyi, deputy dean of the history department, pauses to examine the image of his distinguished forebear, and to reflect on the extraordinary times the university is seeing since the Russian invasion.

The dean of history and five other professors from his department are serving in the military, he says, along with 15 students, one of whom has been killed in the fighting.

But for people like Pshenychnyi, another, subtler, battle is being fought away from the artillery exchanges on the frontlines. It is a bitter war of memory between two versions of Ukraine’s past and its relationship to Russia, of which Ukraine was a part for centuries until it gained independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed.

On one side, as Mark Galeotti writes in his recent book A Short History of Russia, is a “crude cut-and-stitched” version of history promoted by Vladimir Putin. Galeotti describes the Russian president as “unwisely considering himself an amateur historian of note” who has used history both to justify his war against Ukraine and to make his “own battle plans on the basis of his misunderstanding of it”.


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