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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


On Poland's Border

In response to "Tragic History of the Borderland," Jan. 12:


I read Philip Marsden's review of Anna Reid's book, "Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine," with the interest of someone whose vocation is the study of the Slavic Middle Ages and whose avocations include Ukrainian language and literature. A few inaccuracies of fact and interpretation appear in Mr. Marsden's review, which may in fact be owing to Reid's book (which I have not read).

The name Ukraine, or borderland, refers to the land's status vis-?-vis Poland-Lithuania, not Russia. The word Ukraine was already current in the 16th century -- thus long before Ukraine came under the protectorate, and later the rule, of Muscovy.

Ukraine was, of course, under Polish domination for centuries -- the western part since the fall of the Galician-Volhynian kingdom (1340), and the rest since the union of Poland with Lithuania (1569), which had controlled the eastern Ukrainian lands since the fall of Kievan Rus. Following the absorption of Ukraine by the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, Polish culture retained its dominance, even in eastern Ukraine, until the industrial revolution in the late 19th century.

Further, the situation of eastern Ukraine under Imperial Russia can be considered "relatively calm," as the reviewer writes, only if one has a very peculiar interpretation of events such as Catherine's introduction of serfdom into "New Russia" and the increasingly frequent and severe prohibitions against Ukrainian language and literature.

Ukrainian culture was able to develop more freely in the west under the Hapsburgs, while under reconstituted Poland, brutality did indeed take place, as noted by Mr. Marsden.

I should hope that all of this is not construed as nitpicking, particularly given that Mr. Marsden shows a genuine interest in the subject of his article. It is nonetheless vital -- especially given the current political situation, with "European" and "Eurasian" tendencies battling for hegemony in Ukraine as well as in Russia -- to keep in mind that although history has often brought the two nations together, statements such as "Ukraine cannot be considered without Russia" (considered what?!) are historically short-sighted and, objectively, make little sense. More often than not, they are used by demagogues in order to justify the maintenance of a colonial system of dependence or, in the worst case, to absolve outright imperialism.

Robert Romanchuk

University of California,

Los Angeles

Institute of Russian Literature