by: Howard Cooper on April 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment »
If you’ve been watching the TV news these last few weeks the scene will have become familiar: around a Soviet-era town hall you see a group of armed men in military fatigues and flak jackets, weapons in hand, cell-phones, walkie-talkies. Smiles for the cameras. And always ready to explain themselves to Western journalists.
The situation in eastern Ukraine seems to change from day to day, and this last ten days has seen an accelerating drama unfold, almost by the hour; but what really caught my attention was a newspaper report from Luke Harding, a British journalist who approached the group surrounding the town hall in Slavyansk, and asked the men who they were. Here’s what Harding reported April 15 in The Guardian:
“We’re Cossacks”, one of the group explained. “It doesn’t matter where we are from.” ‘He declined to give his name’ – the article continues – ‘Instead, he offered a quick history lesson, stretching back a thousand years, to when Slavic tribes banded together to form Kievan Rus – the dynasty that eventually flourished into modern day Ukraine and its big neighbour Russia. “We don’t want Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t exist for us. There are no people called Ukrainians”, he declared. “there are just Slav people who used to be in Kievan Rus, before Jews like Trotsky divided us. We should all be together again”.
“We should all be together again” presumably means ‘all of us, except the Jews’. Three hundred and fifty years ago, in the mid 17th century, a Cossack rebellion against Polish and Lithuanian rule in these lands, a rebellion led by the infamous Khmelnitsky, generated some of the worst pogroms against Jews since the medieval Crusades. It’s estimated that 100,000 Jews were massacred in 1648-9 alone, at the height of Khmelnitsky’s revolt.