Throughout its thousand-year history, Ukraine has had to fend off many powerful and brutal enemies. The country first emerged around 900 AD after Prince Oleh, descendant of a Viking conqueror by the name of Rurik, managed to unite a bunch of Slavic tribes into a substantial Eastern European power centered around the strategic city of Kyiv on the Dnieper River. From the beginning, the Kyiv Rus empire that emerged in the rich steppe lands north of the Black Sea, enjoyed very little peace. For the first several centuries of its existence, it was constantly beset by raiders and invaders from the east – the Khazars, the Pechenegs and Magyars. There was also no shortage of conflict with the Byzantine empire to the south and the Bulgars to the southwest. Nonetheless Kyivan Rus prevailed and for several centuries was one of the largest and most powerful states in Europe.
It is conventionally thought that the Kyivan Rus empire collapsed as a result of the invasion of the powerful Mongols in the thirteenth century, but by then it was already in steep decline due, not to any foreign enemies, but to more familiar internal ones. After the death of Yaroslav the Wise in 1054, a succession struggle ensued between his sons and heirs, leading to a series of civil wars that fractured the Rus state so that by the time Batu Khan and the Mongols invaded around 1240 AD, the Rus empire was so divided and weakened, it could no longer effectively defend itself. As has been the case with most empires in mankind’s history, they are defeated not so much by foreign enemies as by dissension and erosion from within. As the well-known truism states, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
After their subjugation by the Mongols, the lands and people of Ukraine endured continued predation and oppression by foreign rulers, first by the Golden Horde, then their successors the Tatars, then the Poles and Lithuanians, the Ottoman Turks, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany and of course, most brutally, the Russians. For the past eight hundred years Ukrainians have been struggling to recoup their land and their freedom. They have suffered slavery, serfdom, exile, never-ending wars, starvation, as well as repeated attempts at cultural and linguistic genocide. Despite the best efforts of some of the most cruel and evil despots that history has ever produced, Ukrainians have survived and persist in trying to preserve their identity and their right to be masters in their own house.
There was great hope raised in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed that Ukraine would finally achieve its long-held dreams of freedom and independence. Ukrainians finally, after all those centuries of struggle, had the opportunity to form an independent state and chart their own course towards the future. Alas, the events of the past twenty-seven years since then have made it clear that the same disease that afflicted Kyiv Rus after the death of Yaroslav the Wise, is alive and well in Ukraine today.
While it is true that much of Ukraine’s current troubles stem from the continuing efforts of the Russians to subvert and reconquer Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly obvious that internal threats pose a much greater danger to Ukraine’s future than any external enemy. Ukrainians biggest enemies are other Ukrainians, specifically a corrupt and amoral oligarchic elite that has managed to take control of Ukraine’s government and economy and is eating away at the heart and soul of this proud people. This elite clique foments division and manipulates politics for self-serving purposes. Their greed keeps the struggling populace impoverished and motivates many of the young and brightest to leave the country to build their futures elsewhere. They stifle any real efforts at rooting out endemic corruption or imposing an honest and fair system of justice. While publicly espousing support for a free enterprise economic system, they skillfully engineer to steer most of the country’s wealth into a few well-lined pockets. While professing strong commitment to democracy, they buy their way into Parliament and political power.
With elections coming up in the next year, Ukrainians desperately need to find a way out of this existential morass and break the power of the current ruling class. They need to break the cycle of electing yet another oligarch dominated party that professes progress and reform, but in reality is only committed to preserving their status quo. No more oligarchs for President. No more political parties funded and controlled by oligarchs. There are honest and dedicated political leaders in Ukraine that are committed to real reform. Hopefully, Ukrainians will have learned the lessons from the last twenty-seven years and stop believing the slick money-fueled propaganda of those who seek their votes to stay in power.