It is rare to hear news about Ukraine on the radio and rarer still hear a report that evinces an understanding of Ukraine’s history, so I was encouraged by this story on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” yesterday:
The report explains why many Ukrainians do not have a positive view of World War II and Victory Day, the Soviet holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany that is still observed in many former Soviet states. The day has historically included massive military parades through Moscow and Kyiv and was a centerpiece to Stalin’s myth-making about the “Great Patriotic War”: the idea that the Soviets alone saved the world from fascism, the efforts to erase from history the Soviets’ pre-war pact with Nazi Germany, the denial of Soviet crimes like the massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals at Katyn.
Public Radio International journalist Brigid McCarthy provides the Ukrainian context for the war. Before the Nazis entered Ukrainian territory, millions of Ukrainians had died under Stalin’s rule. The Stalinist propaganda, which persists to this day, that many Ukrainians were Nazi-sympathizers emerged from the fact that Ukrainians hoped Nazi Germany would deliver them from Soviet oppression. This, of course, turned out not to be the case and the true nature of Hitler’s Germany was revealed. But for too long Ukrainians and other Eastern European nations have had their actions during the war judged through the lens of post-war knowledge. (I tried to make a similar distinction in this post.)
Give the NPR report a listen. Much of it will be familiar to those who have studied Ukrainian history, but it is a more nuanced treatment of this history than one usually finds in the mainstream media.
Please subscribe to my email list for updates on the blog and my book in progress, Scattered Graves, which tells the story of a family’s struggle to survive WWII in Ukraine.