History, as we see in the times we’re living in, is often as much a political propaganda tool as an objective story about what happened and why it happened. That is not to say that there isn’t more insightful and less insightful history out there, but the enterprise of creating and writing history can be as fraught, prejudiced and sometimes mad as any other human endeavor.
Take the history of Ukraine in the last hundred years or so. Seventy-nine years ago, on a hot August night, the families of my grandmother and grandfather, including all the children and babies, were marched to the edge of the Ukrainian town where they had lived for generations and were not to live anymore. Under the supervision of the SS, Ukrainians killed them, along with a couple thousand other Jews, in a massacre that’s not even recorded in the annals of such atrocities. My grandmother and grandfather, who left twenty years earlier, were the only survivors of their once large families. It left me with a bad impression of Ukrainians, but there was a big piece of the story I didn’t know.
Twenty years or so earlier the Red Army, which included a young chronicler named Isaac Babel who perfectly recorded the cadences of my grandparents’ neighborhood, liberated the downtrodden of the Ukraine including its Jews. My grandmother, being an idealistic teenager, immediately embraced the international vision of workers overthrowing centuries of ignorance, superstition and hatred and working as one toward a more just future. She left for the US a few years later, and two decades later Ukrainian reactionaries killed everyone in her family.
There had always been anti-Semitism in Ukraine, as in most parts of Europe, Khmelnitsky, Ukrainian nationalist hero, was also infamous among the Jews for leading horseback slaughters of Jews. There is a town named after him, not far from the little town my grandparents lived in. But here’s the piece of the story I didn’t have until recently.
Josef Stalin, psychopath and father of socialism in one country, the Union of Soviet Republics (Russia and basically colonies of Stalin’s Russia), deliberately starved several million Ukrainians to death just a few years before the Nazi invasion of that part of the world. Ukrainian nationalists naturally took the side of the Nazi liberators over fucking Stalin, which likely accelerated their hatred and made many of them even more willing to slaughter communist dupes en masse. Jews and Communists were at that point inseparable in their minds.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, oligarchs stepped in to rule over the populations of the various new states. One of the preferred candidates of the Russian-favoring oligarchs in Ukraine, a brute named Viktor Yanukovych, was groomed by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort (who went on to work closely with an agent of Putin’s named Kilimnik to help get Trump elected). The corrupt Yanukovych was forced from power in 2014 by a spontaneous revolution of Ukrainians. He fled to Russia for the protection of his Russian oligarch sponsors. Four years later, Ukrainians elected a young Jewish comedian with a law degree, the new president Trump tried to shake down for some dirt on Biden in that perfect phone call.
How my grandmother would have laughed celebrating the inauguration of Volodymyr Zelensky, on what would have been her daughter’s 91st birthday!
So now Trump’s backer, former KGB spook and Russian oligarch, Vladimir Putin, is poised to invade Ukraine again, hopefully put his boy Yanukovych back in power. Read the recent history, if you have the stomach for it. That Mudoch’s FOX and the American right is pretty much backing Trumpie’s mentor Putin in this dispute among strangers should tell you all you need to know as you open the pages of a reputable history book.
And let us hope an old-fashioned style bloody war does not sweep across that long suffering stretch known as Europe’s Breadbasket, or anywhere else.