by Wes Kawato
The current crisis in Ukraine has roots that go back deep into the history of the country. The Ukrainians are a Slavic people who speak a language similar to Russian, but not all Ukrainians belong to the Ukrainian ethnic group. Several Muslim people groups also settled within the area that would later become the Ukraine. Jews also settled in this land, after fleeing from places where they were being persecuted.
There is much that is unknown about the early history of Ukraine. By the Middle Ages this land had been settled by Slavic people groups that usually practiced an Orthodox form of Christianity. In those days Ukraine was divided into many petty states.
In 1386 the Union of Krevno merged Poland and Lithuania. The newly unified country ruled a large part of what is now the northern part of Ukraine. But Poland and Lithuania eventually went their separate ways. In 1569 the Union of Lublin brought much of Ukraine under Polish rule. By then the Muslim Tatars had begun attacking Ukraine. Many smaller states in Ukraine merged with Poland to seek protection from the Tatars.
By 1500 A.D. the Tatars were already Muslim. The Tatars would eventually conquer Crimea. Historians don’t agree on where the Tatars came from. Some believe they originated in Central Asia. Others believe the Tatars were formed by the intermarriage of several local people groups. What we do know is that the Tatars speak a non-Slavic Turkic language, very different from Ukrainian.
During the 1600s Russia began to dominate Ukrainian politics, changing the balance of power in the region. That led to a period of time Ukrainians call “The Ruin.” This was a 30-year war for control of Ukraine that began in 1657 and ended in 1686. Russia, Poland, the Turks, and the Cossacks were the main combatants. Russia and Poland eventually allied to defeat the other nations. In 1686 they divided Ukraine amongst themselves. This war left much of Ukraine in ruins.
The Ottoman Turks never accepted Russian control of Ukraine. Poland grew weak and was partitioned by her neighbors. The collapse of Poland tempted the Turks to take over the part of Ukraine that the Poles had once controlled. This led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1768. By 1774 Russia controlled all of Ukraine.
In 1774 Ukraine, after much strife, was finally unified under the rule of a single nation Russia. In those days Crimea wasn’t administered as part of the Russian province of Ukraine. During the 1800s various leaders tried to develop a sense of national identity for Ukraine. Their efforts didn’t gain much popular support. By this time many Russians had settled in Ukraine. Many Jews had also settled in the major cities.
Russia entered World War I in 1914. Losses on the battlefield helped lead to the Russian Revolution in 1917, which shattered both Russia and Ukraine. The Russian Revolution left 1.5 million people dead in Ukraine. Three independent states emerged within Ukraine, and they fought each other rather than the communists. By 1919 the communists had conquered all three states, but resistance continued for another year. In 1920 Soviet Russia was in complete control of Ukraine.
Things became even worse during communist rule. Soviet efforts and experiments to industrialize Ukraine diverted many workers out of farming. The new Soviet collective farms which they set up were very inefficient. Poor government farming practices caused the Great Starvation of 1932-33. Food shortages killed 10 million Ukrainians.
Then in 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. By then one third of Ukraine’s urban population was Jewish. The Germans captured many Ukrainian cities during the war. Many Jews were deported to concentration camps.
At first a few Ukrainians welcomed the Germans as liberators, but they quickly learned that the Germans were no better than the Russians. A resistance movement soon developed against the German aggressors.
By the end of 1944 all of Ukraine had been liberated from German rule, but the resistance groups didn’t disband. They began fighting the Russians for independence. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that the Soviet armies pacified Ukraine.
The return of peace led to an economic boom in Ukraine. That’s when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev planted the seeds of the current Ukrainian crisis. In 1956 he placed the Crimea under the control of the Ukrainian Republic. The Tatars were the largest people group in Crimea, and they had no wish to be part of Ukraine.
Things remained peaceful in Ukraine only as long as Soviet police and armies kept the two people groups from attacking each other. That ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. All Soviet troops and police withdrew from Ukraine. Shortly after that Ukraine declared independence.
On the day Ukraine became independent the Ukrainians were a minority in their own country. Ethnic Russians slightly outnumbered ethnic Ukrainians. In 1991 Russia still entertained the hope of one day absorbing Ukraine. Doing that would be as easy as holding a referendum, provided the ethnic Russian population remained united on this issue.
In 2004 Russia considered Viktor Yanukov, the Ukrainian prime minister, to be their ally. He was an ethnic Russian who championed the cause of union with Russia. During the 2004 election for president, Yanukov was at first declared the winner. Protests erupted when it was learned that the election had been rigged. Popular protests put in power Viktor Yushenko, Yanukov’s opponent. This event came to be known as the Orange Revolution.
In 2010 Yanukov was elected president and began moving Ukraine toward union with Russia. Such policies alienated the Ukrainian parliament. They impeached Yanukov in 2014.
The removal of Yanukov from power dashed any hope Russia had of a union with Ukraine, so the Russians switched to a back-up plan. They encouraged separatist rebellions all over Ukraine. The Tatars declared Crimea to be independent, and Crimea then merged with Russia. Separatist groups also declared parts of the Eastern Ukraine independent. Heavy fighting continues in this region today, as the Ukrainian army fights to crush these rebellions. Russian troops have crossed into Ukraine in support of the separatists.
The Ukrainians and the Russians are by far the two largest people groups in Ukraine. The Orthodox Church has a strong presence within both of these groups. However, there are also some small unreached people groups in Ukraine. For example, there are unreached Muslim and Jewish groups that we will pray for this month. The number of Jews in Ukraine was reduced significantly during World War II by German persecution. Many others left for Israel after 1945. But the Jews are still a significant minority within Ukraine.
Among the Muslim people groups living there are the Crimean Tatars. A recent census counted 248,000 Crimean Tatars. There are also Azeris, Uzbeks, Turks, Arabs, and other prominent Muslim Central Asian peoples living in Ukraine that we will pray for this month.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
Ukrainians have a language, culture, and heritage that is strongly tied to Russia; in fact, Russian civilization did not begin in Moscow, but in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city! This situation comes back to haunt Ukrainians periodically as you can see from recent news.
One of the things that Russia and Ukraine share is many of the same unreached Muslim and Jewish people groups. This month we will pray for these unreached people groups in Ukraine, but while you are at it, pray for those that are in Russia too.
For a country in Eastern Europe, Ukraine has a strong evangelical presence that can potentially reach many of these people groups. Though it is very difficult for ideas to spread during times of war, people who live in a crisis are often open to new answers. When you see headlines about the tragic situation in Ukraine, pray not only for God to comfort the innocent, but also that He will use this situation to extend His fame to the unreached Muslims and Jewish peoples living there.
PS—One of the things that comes up from time to time has to do with our daily entries. Are they fictional or factual? Many of our stories are realistic fiction that are written to illustrate the attitudes and believes of the people group.