A foreigner will most likely fail to differentiate between a Ukrainian and a Russian. They themselves will also most likely fail to differentiate between one another.
After all, they are both people of Slavic origins with similar languages. Not to mention that up until recently, Russia politically dominated most of eastern and central Ukraine.
There were periods when Ukraine and Russia were one entity, while parts of present-day Ukraine had partial independence throughout the two peoples’ shared history.
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, for example, was a Ukrainian-born Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union as General Secretary until 1982.
Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kyiv, ruled over territory that included parts of present-day Ukraine and Russia. He is also the namesake of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.
So is Putin right? Are Russians and Ukrainians parts of one nation? After all, they share a religion, ethnicity, and a language that is almost identical. Maybe they should be part of a political entity after all?
Nationality is a deceptive trait. The Kurds are scattered among four countries, but they cannot exercise their right to self-determination due to geo-political circumstances.
The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have gained an independent state, and they deserve self-determination: They chose to be a people unto themselves, even if they weren’t an independent nation some 300 or 500 years ago.
Like many other countries, Ukraine and its people went through a process of “Ukrainianization” from the moment they gained independence – including making Ukrainian the official state language, even though the Russian-speaking public dominated many parts of the country, including in Kyiv.
Wars that are meant to destroy unity sometimes lead to the opposite result. Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 – started by several Arab states bent on destroying the Jewish state – caused the Palestinian Nakba (the Catastrophe) and the displacement and exile of some 700,000 Palestinians – and the exile of some 850,000 Jews from Muslim states, with many fleeing to Israel.
Israel emerged as something of a bi-national state, but became a wholly Jewish one due to Arab aggression.
A similar scenario is currently unfolding in Ukraine. Even those who had some semblance of a doubt regarding Ukraine’s independence are now adamant that it must be its own entity, away from Moscow’s sphere of influence.
There is no war between Russians and Ukrainians even today. They don’t harbor obsessive hostility toward one another.
Even Ukraine’s Great Famine (Holodomor) – brought upon by Joseph Stalin in the early 1930s – which killed millions of Ukrainians – did not cause an unbridgeable rift between the two people. After all, Stalin executed millions of Russians as well.
The war in Ukraine is being waged by Putin, not by the Russians. Even those among them who continue to believe that Putin is transcendent and that Ukraine plotted to harm Russia, are nothing but brainwashed victims.
The war in Ukraine is not being waged due to hate or pure racism. No, the war tearing Ukraine apart is being waged due to the whims of an imperialistic dictator who opposes the very idea of Ukraine’s independence.
Putin is marching in the opposite direction of history. Someone should have reminded him that until World War I large parts of the world were ruled by empires and people became fed up with colonialist and imperial rule. They fought for liberation, freedom and independence. They demanded the right to self-determination. This is how the majority of nation states were created in the last century.
The Balfour Declaration in 1917 granted a similar right to the Jewish people. It was preceded by former United States President Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point speech that effectively anchored the right to self-determination – and heralded the formation of more and more nation states.
You would think Putin would be among the first to understand the direction in which the wind is blowing. After all, the former Soviet Union disintegrated into 14 new national entities, because from Estonia in the north to Tajikistan in the south – the peoples there wanted self-determination. The same thing happened in the former Yugoslavia, which disintegrated into seven nation states.
So, did Putin really think he could force the wheels of history to spin backwards?
Waves of millions of migrants, the formation of the European Union and the policy of open borders between some countries have created an illusion – nurtured by some in the global academia – that the age of nationalism has come to an end. Turns out it’s alive and kicking.
The whole world is supporting the Ukrainians waving the national flag, all while – literally and figuratively – booing Putin who is trying to suppress it.
And here’s the paradox: Those among us who reject the idea of nationality, are those who are in favor of Israel opening its gates completely and welcoming as many Ukrainian refugees as possible. But these Ukrainians are refugees only because their people back home are fighting for their right to self-determination and their right to maintain their nationality.
Israel, on its part, must open its doors to refugees and let them stay until hostilities subside, without relinquishing even a hint of its own nationalistic ideals.
And the Palestinians? There are those among us who deny their right to self-determination. This, too, is nonsense.
The problem is that the Palestinians are not fighting for themselves, to the contrary. Like Putin, they are fighting against the right of Jews to self-determination. And like Putin, they insist on being on the losing side.