Russia's Invasion is Targeting Ukraine's History Too

tags: Russia, Ukraine, archives

Alexandra Sukalo is a historian of Russia and Eastern Europe and a postdoctoral fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. Her current book project is a history of the Soviet political police under Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union’s western republics.

Over the past few weeks, the Russian military has conducted a multipronged assault against Ukraine, striking military targets, airports and hospitals and leveling towns and apartment buildings across the country.

Vladimir Putin precipitated his invasion of Ukraine with a fiery speech televised to the Russian population, during which he contested the very existence of Ukraine and charged that the state was an artificial creation. Such a claim, of course, rewrites history, something that Putin has done repeatedly when explaining the origins of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Now the stakes are even higher. With Russian forces shelling Ukraine’s major cities and the threat of drawn-out urban warfare looming on the horizon, the war is having dire consequences for the Ukrainian people. A less immediate but important consequence of the war is that the invasion may also destroy historical archives that will limit what historians and others can learn about Ukraine’s past.

On Feb. 27 in Chernihiv oblast, Russian shelling severely damaged the regional headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine, or Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy (SBU), which houses important archival materials including documentation of Nazi atrocities in Ukraine. If Putin succeeds in destroying or removing critical records like those in the SBU archive, it could erase Ukrainians’ distinct experiences and buttress Putin’s view of history, in which, among many other things, he sees Ukrainians and Russians as one people.

The destruction of books, documents and art is a centuries-old practice of aggressors to control or annihilate the cultural legacy of their victims. In 391 A.D., Roman Emperor Theodosius I outlawed all religions other than Christianity. As part of this decree, he ordered the leveling of the pagan Temple of Serapis and the elimination of the records housed within. These records had survived the Library of Alexandria’s first fire, but he viewed their continued existence as “the cause of evils.”

More recently, during the Second World War, the Nazis destroyed records as well as religious and historic artifacts as part of their genocidal campaign. In addition to the decimation of sacred texts, the Nazis burned 70 percent of Jewish books in Poland and looted many more, sending them back to Germany. The Nazis then used these stolen books to support their allegedly objective, scientific research into the “Jewish Question,” perverting the books’ contents to legitimize their racial theories.

Read entire article at Made By History at the Washington Post

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