Ticketing Information Update

In the latest update from OGAE INTERNATIONAL, the following

From what we do know, members will probably have to enter their membership card numbers when trying to buy OGAE tickets. The ticket agent has been provided with a list of all card numbers to verify against. For those members where cards have been ordered but they have not yet been produced or delivered, clubs will probably need to provide them with their card number. Most clubs should now have a full list of their card numbers, including cards ordered last month.

R O W is ready, all 59 who want to buy tickets through the OGAE sale, Belinda Conn has made a list of this with the R O W numbers and I am sure all 59 of you have now gotten your number.

A Ukrainian History – (Part 2)

Picking up where we left off, by the end of the 18th century Ukraine has been partitioned: the right bank was annexed by Russia while lands west of the Dnieper River were divided between Russia and Austria. And in 1783 Russia annexed Crimea and resettlement of Russians and Ukrainians to the peninsula followed.

19th century

Tsarism pursued a policy of Russification of the Ukrainian population: strict limits were imposed on the Ukrainian language and culture. As a result of this policy, the number of Ukrainians in the east decreased substantially and many Ukrainian intellectuals moved to Western Ukraine (part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918). Others chose to embrace a Russian identity: many of the great Russian authors and composers of the 19th century – Gogol and Tchaikovsky to name just two - are actually Ukrainian.

Ukraine struggled for its independence throughout this period; culturally, many national liberation ideas were spread through literature and poetry. (Taras Shevchenko is the most revered of the Ukrainian poets whose works exerted unparalleled influence on Ukrainians.) Economic exploitation by the Russian monarchy was met with resistance by peasants and town dwellers and their refusal to work and armed uprisings became widespread. Universities began to churn out intelligentsia and the first political organisations (Marxist groups) appeared in the 1880s and 1890s.

The 20th century began with a marked increase in widespread unrest, culminating in the 1905-1907 revolution throughout the Russian Empire, spreading even to the military, particularly the Black Sea Fleet. (I recommend watching the 1925 movie Battleship Potemkin – several of the chief mutineers were Ukrainians, one a founder of the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party).

Between world wars

The impact of WWI on Ukrainians, caught between major adversaries, was devastating. About 3 million fought in Russia’s armies and over 250,000 served in Austria’s forces. Much of Western Ukraine suffered terribly from repeated offensives and occupations by Russian armies and Austrian armies.

Chaos reigned after the Russian Revolution, although there emerged an internationally-recognised Ukrainian People’s Republic for a brief moment. However, the Ukrainian-Soviet War 1917-1921 and the Ukrainian-Polish War 1918-1919 led to its demise. The Peace Treaty of Riga 1921 legitimised Poland’s annexation of Western Ukraine. The Ukrainian Bolsheviks created the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922; but in reality, the military, state and Party apparatuses were directed from Moscow. Nationalisation and requisitioning of farm produce led to the Famine of 1921-23 where it is estimated 1.5-2 million Ukrainians died. Stalin’s collectivisation policies led to the Famine of 1932-33 (the Holodomor, the anniversary of which is still commemorated each year on 25 November) where an estimated 7-10 million Ukrainians died. (Recommended reading: Harvest of Sorrow by Robert Conquest). This was followed by the Great Terror in Ukraine during which cultural institutions were purged or abolished altogether and Russification was pursued.

World War II and beyond

With Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland and the Soviet Union, Ukrainians initially welcomed the Germans believing they would liberate them from their Polish and Russian oppressors. Ukraine was occupied by Germany from 1941-44; however as the Soviets retreated, Ukraine suffered considerably from the Soviet armies’ retreating ‘scorched earth’ policy where industries, government buildings, food reserves and railroads were destroyed, electricity stations blown up and mines flooded.

As a result of the war, the population of Ukraine had declined by some 10 million (25%): 6-7 million had been killed or died of hunger or disease, and the remainder had either been evacuated or deported as political prisoners to Soviet Asia, or as forced labour to Germany where they remained as displaced persons after the war. In addition, a sizable population of Tatars had been deported to Central Asia by the Stalinist regime in 1944. Smaller populations of Armenians, Bulgarians and Greeks were also deported, completing the ethnic cleansing of the peninsula.

In 1954, Krushchev inexplicably transferred Crimea to Ukraine. At the time it was said that it was to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Ukraine with Russia, a reference to the Treaty of Pereyaslav of 1654 (refer previous blog). [Modern historians dispute this justification on the basis that not only did the 1654 Treaty not bring about reunification, it also had nothing to do with Crimea, which Russia did not annex for another 130 years. Rather, the transfer was more likely about fortifying Soviet control over Ukraine given that some 860,000 ethnic Russians would be joining the already large Russian minority in Ukraine.]

As the Soviet Union slowly edged towards bankruptcy, Gorbachev’s economic reforms made it clear that political reforms would need to follow. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and its mishandling by the authorities further undermined public confidence in everything Soviet: the disaster convinced even members of the Soviet elite that the existing political system and its corrupt leadership endangered the very survival of people.

Ukraine became independent again when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

There is much more that can be said about Ukraine’s more recent history, in particular the Maidan revolution of 2013 which followed when then-president Victor Yanukovych suspended preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the EU. This decision triggered mass protests which resulted in the president’s ousting in 2014. In response, Russia annexed Crimea and now supports an evolving war between the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government and pro-Russian insurgents in the east of Ukraine.

But I won’t go down that path …..

I did warn you in the History Blog Part 1 that this was being written by a nationalist. But don’t just take my word for it. I recommend Charles Emmerson’s take on the Ukraine/Russia History Wars.


A Ukrainian History – (Part 1)

Confucius said "Study the past if you would define the future", so in our latest installment from Lydia we have part 1 of our Ukrainian history lessons - hopefully learning the history of the place we will be visiting in May will help us all make the most of our trip.

Given that the history of a country is not easily covered in 500 words or less, I thought I would do this in two parts. Part 1 covers up to the 19th century and Part 2 will cover modern political history. Please keep in mind that this history is being written by a Ukrainian, not a Russian. (Not only is history written by the victors, it is also written by nationalists!)

Pre-Christian History

Modern human settlement in Ukraine dates back to 32,000 BC. Trypillians introduced grain farming (and we all know how important that is in Ukraine, right?!) as early as 4,500 BC. Horses were domesticated on the Eurasian Steppes of Ukraine around the same time. Ukrainian soil hosted kingdoms, invasions and settlements of Scythians, Goths, Huns and Bulgars. The northern shores of the Black Sea were settled by colonies from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Byzantine Empire. By the 7th century AD, the Khazars (a Turkic people) took over the southern regions of Ukraine and developed major commercial routes: Khazaria became one of the foremost trading emporia of the medieval world, commanding the Silk Road and the crossroad between China, the Middle East and Kievan Rus for almost 3 centuries.

Kievan Rus

In the meantime, Kievan Rus, a loose federation of East Slavic tribes, had established itself by the late 9th century and became the major political and cultural centre of Eastern Europe. Then, between 965 and 969, the Kievan Rus’ ruler Svyatoslav I conquered Khazaria. In 988 Vladimir the Great adopted Byzantine Christianity for the kingdom (that’s basically the Orthodox religion from Greece). At its height in the mid-11th century, Kievan Rus’ territory extended from the Black Sea in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north. The state weakened in the 12th century after the death of Yaroslav the Wise and the collapse of Constantinople.

The Mongols (and the Tartars)

Kievan Rus collapsed totally when the Mongols invaded in the 1230s, finally storming Kiev in 1240. Principalities were forced to submit to the Golden Horde (as the western section of the Mongol empire was known), some up until 1480. It was this invasion – and the subsequent breakup of Kievan Rus – which divided the East Slavic people into 3 separate nations: modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

It was also this invasion which contributed to the long-term establishment of the Tatars in Ukraine. However, this term requires some unpacking. Tartars themselves were a nomadic confederation in the north-eastern Gobi desert in the 5th century. They were subjugated by the Mongols and then moved westward as the Mongol Empire expanded. The Tartar clan (in its purist form) still exists among the Mongols and Hazaras (Persian speaking people in Afghanistan and Pakistan).

The Crimean Tartars coalesced as an ethnic group in the 15th century, possibly as a merger of descendants of any or all of the pre-15th century inhabitants of Crimea and the Crimean steppes - Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Scythians, Goths, Khazars – with the incoming people of the Golden Horde.

But Russians and Europeans began using the term “Tartar” when referring to Turkic peoples under Mongol rule. Later the term came to be associated with the Turkic Muslims of Ukraine and Russia. There are many Turkic peoples residing in both Russia and Ukraine, some of whom still use “Tartar” to self-identify, such as the Crimean Tartars.

Foreign domination

After the devastation of the Mongol invasion, several principalities of south-west Rus managed to unite under the capital Kiev and the freshly-crowned King Danylo I of Galicia; and for awhile it was a powerful state in east central Europe.

In the mid-14th century, Poland’s King Casimir III decided it would be a good idea to take King Danylo’s territory while the heartland of Rus, including Kiev, became the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Meanwhile, in 1441, a Genghisid prince Haci I Giray founded the Crimean Khanate, a Turkic vassal state of the Ottoman Empire that succeeded the Golden Horde, in southern Ukraine which lasted until the 18th century. (At one point it even captured and devastated Moscow).

In 1569 a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth transferred much Ukrainian territory from Lithuania to Poland. It was during this period that many of the landed gentry in this region converted to Catholicism and became indistinguishable from the Polish nobility. This was formalised in the Union of Brest-Litovsk of 1596 which broke the western part of Ukraine away from the Eastern Orthodox Church and divided Ukrainians into Orthodox and Catholics. The peasants, deprived of their native protectors, turned to the emerging Cossacks who proceeded to take up arms against Poland over the next hundred or so years.

A Cossack military quasi-state formed in conjunction with the peasants who had fled Polish serfdom. In 1648, Bohdan Khmelnytsky led the largest of the Cossack uprisings against Poland. He then entered Kiev where he was hailed as a liberator and founded the Cossack Hetmanate. However, he suffered a crushing defeat in 1651 and turned to the Russian tsar for help. The Treaty of Pereyasav of 1654 formed a military and political alliance with Russia that acknowledged loyalty to the Russian tsar but which Russia interpreted to mean they could just move on in.

From 1657-1686, a devastating 30-year war amongst Russia, Poland, the Crimean Khanate and Cossacks for control of Ukraine ensued. Eventually, Russia and Poland divided Ukrainian lands between them. The Cossack hetmanate continued in some form until 1764 when Russia decided Cossacks had too much autonomy and abolished it.

As part of partitioning Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper River were divided between Russia and Austria and parts of western Ukraine entered the Austro-Hungarian Empire (until 1918). Then in 1783 Russia annexed Crimea and resettlement of Russians and Ukrainians to the peninsula followed. At a later period, tsarists established a policy of Russification, suppressing the use of the Ukrainian language in print and in public.

n interesting footnote to the Cossack Hetmanate history is the 1710 Constitution of Rights and Freedoms which established a standard for the separation of powers: it limited the executive authority of the hetman and established a democratically elected Cossack parliament. The Constitution was one of the first state constitutions in Europe.



Fashion Statements

Tell the truth now – what do you really think when someone mentions Ukraine (apart from the drunkenness and stodgy food, stereotypes which I have hopefully dispelled)? Is it the ‘babushka’ a la Russia’s Eurovision entry in 2012? A bit dowdy, a bit dumpy, scarves, thick socks and choboty or boots (though, admittedly, those babes had awesome jewellery).

As far as I can tell, a Ukrainian performer has yet to enter Eurovision wearing the national vyshyvanka. (I will confess I have not done an exhaustive search). Vyshyvanka literally means embroidery and refers to the embroidered shirts worn by both men and women.

Traditionally, the embroidery design is region-specific and reflects different techniques and colours as, in days of yore, thread would have to be dyed using local plant materials. For example: the Hutsuls who live in the Carpathians decorate their shirts with floral patterns; residents of Sloboda in the east embroider only geometric patterns with white threads; and vyshyvanky from the Borshchiv region in Western Ukraine are known for their dramatic shirts of black thread, as a symbol of mourning in response to the killing of local men by Turks and Tartars somewhere in the historical annals.

The history of these vibrantly coloured pieces of clothing is actually more sombre and pre-dates Christianity. The embroidered patterns, usually found at the end of sleeves, collars, hems, necklines, buttonholes – in other words, vulnerable places on the garment where evil spirits could enter the body – were there to protect the wearer from evil. Even children were given an embroidered shirt after birth to protect them from evil spirits. As the embroidery was always done by women, it symbolised goodness, love and loyalty. Girls often had to embroider shirts for their fiancés before their wedding.

In more recent times, Ukrainians have started celebrating Vyshyvanka Day on the third Thursday of May each year. (Could be worth hanging around Kiev for!) This is not an official public holiday or feast day of any sort – more a flash mob holiday where Ukrainians wear vyshyvankas to demonstrate adherence to the idea of national identity and unity.

The idea seems to have really caught on! Vyshyvanky have become a feature of the global fashion catwalk in recent years. Jean Paul Gaultier was inspired by the Ukrainian vyshyvanka as far back as 2005. During Paris Fashion Week in 2015, Ukrainian fashion designer Vita Kin was featured in Vogue Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar for introducing vyshyvankas as modern Bohemian designs. The Times of London then declared vyshyvanka “this summer’s [2016] most sought-after item of clothing” and the New York Time’ advised readers to stock up on this “top summer fashion”. Suddenly it was everywhere – actresses and royalty wore vyshyvanky to the Cannes Film Festival and the Olympics.

Eurovision 2017 could be the next step in the fashion world takeover!



Ukrainian Soul Food

People tend to think of Ukrainian food as being fatty and starchy, with dishes based on meat, potatoes, cabbage and beetroot. OK, that may not be so far from the truth – but is that necessarily a bad thing?

The cuisine stems from peasant dishes based on grains and staple vegetables grown on some of the most fertile soil in the world known as “black earth” or chorno zemlya found on the steppes of Ukraine. The earliest known farmers in Ukraine go back more than 6,000 years and grew barley, rye, wheat and millet and herded sheep, pigs and cattle. Life depended on agricultural activities to the point that seasonal holidays and festivals celebrated transition times from one agricultural activity to another, many of which were later incorporated into the Christian calendar. The traditional Christmas dish of kutya (cooked wheat, honey, poppy seeds, nuts and fruit) was around long before Christianity.

Extensive trade routes and foreign invaders have meant that Ukraine’s cuisine has also borrowed from other countries: for example, sauerkraut (kapusta) has Polish origins, dumplings (varenyky) and cabbage rolls (holubsti) were imported from Turkey, while strudels and many other desserts were carried over from the Austro-Hungarian empire times.

For Ukrainians, a meaningful life is focused on hospitality (along with a few other incidentals such as family, faith and poetry). Food ranks up there with drink in terms of compulsory hosting practices. When visitors arrive food is immediately placed on the table. It is so integral to showing good hospitality that major offence will be taken if a guest does not eat, preferably in copious amounts. No matter how many meals you have had that day, a good host will not take no for an answer. I ought to know – I stayed with my farming family in a village in west Ukraine for a week so they were intimately aware of every meal I had with every friend and relative in the vicinity; yet, when invited inside for “a cup of tea” in between meals, my husband and I were presented with a food-laden table. We were constantly being derided for being “scary skinny” and not having an appetite for life.

So what will you find on a Ukrainian dinner table (or menu)?

Probably the national food, we love our borshch with all our Ukrainian hearts. I have second generation nephews and nieces in Australia who beg their grandmother to make borshch when they are visiting, proving that our love of borshch is passed down through the genes. The best borshch is always made by someone’s mother or grandmother. It is said that no Ukrainian girl will be able to get married unless she knows how to make borshch. (Gender equality in the kitchen has a bit of catching up to do). Made with a meat stock it contains beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onion, beans and dill and is accompanied by good bread. A dollop of sour cream (smetana) in the soup completes the meal. There are as many variations as there are mothers and grandmothers and arguing over what should or shouldn’t be in a borshch is a national pastime.

You will never have potato salad like you will have in Ukraine. The kartoplya comes complete with onion, peas, dill gherkin and hard-boiled egg, coated in mayonnaise (using smetana).

Kapusta is basically shredded cabbage cooked to within an inch of its life, possibly with some shredded carrot and bacon added. Throwing in a handful of poppy seeds makes for a great visual, particularly as the dinner guests smile at each other all evening.

Varenyky are sometimes called pyrohy. These boiled dumplings can be savoury - stuffed with a variety of fillings such as potatoes and meat, kapusta, cottage cheese or mushrooms and served with fried onions and a dollop of smetana – or they can be sweet – stuffed with whatever fruit is in season.

Holubtsi are cabbage leaves rolled with rice filling and may contain meat, baked in a tomato sauce, topped with caramelised onions and/or roasted bacon strips and – you guessed it – smetana. I have seen my very talented cousin make these rolls into tiny cone shapes.

There are so many more dishes that could be included: cutlets and meatballs, sausages, chicken Kyiv, goulash, various ways of cooking fish, blini, honey cakes, poppy seed cakes – the list is endless.

You will have noted the preponderance of smetana as an accompaniment. The best smetana comes from a subsistence farmer who owns a cow or two and escapes government inspection where they make it from unpasteurised milk. It is so fresh and so creamy, if you have to, milk the cow yourself, sing to her and offer the farmer your first born. For all you people worried about the risk of disease from unpasteurised milk, my mother and all of her siblings are in their 90s. The milk hasn’t killed them yet!