Saturday, February 22, 2014

A reprieve for Ukaine

Congratulations to the brave people of Kiev and western Ukraine, who with their blood and determination seem to have checked Vladimir Putin's drive to reclaim their country for his new Russian empire.

The irony of this new revolution is that it wouldn't have been possible if Putin's predecessor, Joseph Stalin, hadn't overreached in 1939 and again in 1945. What we know as western Ukraine -- the pro-European party of the country -- was part of Poland between the first and second World Wars. Stalin invaded Poland in 1939, in concert with Adolf Hitler, and sliced off half the country for the Soviet Union. When the Red Army reoccupied those lands toward the end of World War Two, he made sure that they were ethnically cleansed, with native Polish speakers driven out. Yet even the ethnic Ukrainians seem to have retained the Polish yearning to be part of Europe rather than the totalitarian empire that Tsar Nikolas lost in 1918, that Stalin spent his life refashioning, and that Putin is doing his best to build again.

One of the interwar residents of eastern Poland -- now western Ukraine -- was Basia Deszberg, whom I knew when we were students together at the University of Manchester. Her story is told in Poland's Daughter, published last month.

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