Shadows of Invasions Past

Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine is sadly just the latest in a painfully long list of aggressions that it has suffered over the past millennia. In fact, there have been few periods in its history that Ukraine has not been fending off some foreign predator keen on taking over its lands and the natural wealth that it has been blessed with.
It all started some 1,100 years ago when the various Slavic tribes that populated the area centered around Kyiv, namely the Polianians, Derevlianians Drehovichians, Siverianians and Viatichians were conquered by the Vikings. Their leader Helgi (Oleh in Slavic) created the Kyivan Rus state which was the largest and debatably the strongest in Europe at that time. That state endured about three hundred years under the rule of some eminently capable rulers including Volodymyr the Great, Yaroslav the Wise and Volodymyr Monomakh.
But even during this golden period in Ukraine’s history, the lands were constantly under attack by nomadic tribes from the Asian steppes, the most prominent of which were the Khazars, the Cumans, the Pechenegs and the Magyars. In 972 AD, the Pechenegs even managed to kill Sviatoslav I, then the ruler of Kyivan Rus.
The biggest blow though, came in 1240 AD when the infamous Mongol Horde under Batu Khan stormed through the steppes and utterly destroyed the Kyivan Rus state and placed most of what is now Ukraine and Western Russia under vassalage. There followed some three centuries of Mongol or Tatar rule, the Tatars being the name given to the descendants of those Mongols that settled in what is now Crimea and Southern Ukraine.
As the Tatar rule began to wane, several neighbouring powers stepped into the fray, eager to take over the rich Ukrainian lands. From the 14th to the 17th centuries in the western part of Ukraine, the Poles and the Lithuanians, both separately and then jointly, carved out huge swathes of Ukrainian territory, bringing their inhabitants under feudal rule. Despite numerous uprisings and rebellions, the most notable being the Khmelnitsky Uprising in the middle of the 17th century, the Kozak state was ultimately crushed, being squeezed by the Poles in west, and the Russians in the north and east.
In the southern part of Ukraine, the Ottoman Turks first brought the Tatars under their control and then made frequent incursions onto Ukrainian lands. Even the Venetians and Genoese got into the act, establishing colonies and trading posts on the shores of Crimea and the Black Sea where they engaged in a profitable trade in Ukrainian goods as well as Ukrainian slaves captured by the Tatars in their frequent raids into Ukrainian territory.
In the Eastern part of Ukraine, the growing might of the Russians and their imperialistic ambitions made itself felt, and by the 19th century they had most of Eastern Ukraine as well as Crimea under their control.
The 19th and 20th centuries were full of unceasing and mostly unsuccessful struggle for Ukrainians to re-establish themselves as a sovereign nation. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 provided an opportunity for a short-lived Ukrainian National Republic to be formed, but it was quickly crushed by the Red Army, which absorbed Eastern Ukraine, while the resurgent Polish state took control of Western Ukraine.
World War II brought a new and brutal invader, namely Nazi Germany who wrought devastation on Ukrainian lands before finally being evicted by the Soviet armies who now also brought Western Ukraine under their oppressive rule. Many millions of lives and harsh decades later, the USSR collapsed and Ukraine finally once again became a free nation.
The struggle, however, was not over. A new insidious invader came, though this time from within. A corrupt oligarchy ate away at the nation’s wealth and dignity, until finally last year, Ukrainians had had enough and ousted the cancer. Even so, Ukraine was not destined to enjoy peace for long. The latest psychotic Russian autocrat, Vladimir Putin, is trying to destroy the Ukrainian state. And so the struggle continues. What also continues is the Ukrainian people’s strength, courage and determination to defend their freedoms and culture. Whoever the invader is, they will not succeed.