Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Ukraine: a strategic battlefield then and now

Soviet forces in Ukraine in 1944

By Borys Humeniuk

DURING the years of independence a lot of changes of crucial importance occurred in Ukraine. Among these changes was a new vision and a true look at Ukrainian history. The soviet interpretation of history in general, and Ukraine’s history in particular, was badly affected by Soviet ideological precepts.

History was rewritten many times and adapted to the soviet view on how things should have been rather than what they actually were.

As a person who lived in the Soviet Union I remember the times when all books about WWII were hailing Stalin as the main hero in beating out fascist forces. After his death all these books were immediately withdrawn from circulation and he was replaced as the hero by the then leader Mr Khrushev.

After his passing the same fate happened to his “enormous contribution to the victory” and the Soviet people at last “faced the truth”, the war was won due to the “guidance and military talent of Mr. Brezhnev”.

It could sound funny, if it was not so pitiful because at the same time millions of Soviet soldiers and middle-rank officers – the real heroes and winners over fascism – were suffering from their injuries, lack of treatment and small pensions.

If one were to compare how WWII veterans were socially protected by their governments in France, Italy, the US and other anti-fascist countries of the non-Soviet block, we will depict a very poor picture.

Why do you think all veterans of WWII who were of Jewish nationality immediately rushed to Israel, Austria, Canada and even Germany, when the Soviet borders opened somewhat after the Helsinki Act of 1975? The answer is simple… decent medical care, food, pensions, respect and real everyday care, not only on the 9th of May, as it was in the Soviet Union.

Nowadays, Ukraine has again became a battlefield, but this time – of Russia’s “hybrid war”. The military support Russia provided to separatists and rebels in eastern parts of Ukraine was proven by NATO, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and others.

In spite of ceasefire agreements reached in Minsk, Russia does not abide by the deal for the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.

Ukraine has always been important because of its strategic geopolitical position and its rich natural resources. Ukrainian people for hundreds of years were persecuted by invaders, who wanted to seize their lands.

It is often said that the devastating and merciless hurricane of WWII swept across Ukraine twice – first from west to east, and then from east to west. It was on the battlefields of Ukraine that about 60 per cent of the Wermacht (Germany’s armed forces) divisions were deployed and almost half of the Red Army divisions.

It was in Ukraine that many battles of strategic importance were fought. It was from Ukraine that the Red Army troops marched into Central Europe and the Balkans in pursuit of the retreating Nazi forces. Ukrainians themselves showed that they knew how to fight the enemy well.

Ukraine had a special place in Hitler’s plans. In fact, the occupation of Ukraine was a priority. The same applied to Joseph Stalin.

The current leadership of the Russian Federation seems to be following the same ambitions. The Kremlin is always advising us or imposing something, such as customs unions, federalisation, language and cultural policies, and finally refusal to cooperate with the EU, and the prospects for Ukraine’s integration to the bloc.

Isn’t all this a reminder of the Soviet Union’s policy towards its Republics?

The most important message, that I want to convey during these celebrative days of May, when 70 years ago Nazi Germany in Europe was broken, is that we should not allow politicising and monopolising the outcome of the Second World War. We need to honor the memory of all those who struggled against fascism and not only one day per year, but always.

Recently the President of Russia Vladimir Putin made a statement regarding the results of the bloodiest war in human history, that the Russia in 1941-1945 defeated fascism, while not mentioning the contribution of other peoples – representatives of other former Soviet Union, European countries, the Caucasus, Central Asia and others. The official figures for Ukraine’s losses in the war come up to 10 million people, with the whole of the Soviet Union losing 27 million.

Among them were people of various ethnic backgrounds – but like the Soviet dictators, the current Russian president emphasised only the role of the Russian people. It is not only insulting the memory of all heroes, but a distortion of historical realities, a kind of ideological pretence, which is taken as the basis of current historical doctrine in the Russian Federation.

Borys Humeniuk is the Ambassador of Ukraine to Cyprus

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