March 1, 2024

To end Russia’s influence over Ukraine, we must learn from the past

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Mariia Sydorenko in Kyiv, Ukraine

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February 26, 2022. People protesting against Russian invasion of Ukraine, The White House, Washington.

Picture by: Ted Eytan

Many of my people still do not understand the pervasive influence that Russia has over Ukraine, which it has been exerting for centuries now. If we want a truly independent Ukraine, we must assert our own cultural identity.

I had my eyes opened two years ago when the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine took place on February 24, 2022.

Before that I used to watch Russian films and TV series and enjoyed them without a second thought. But, now I consider it all to be propaganda and I’m trying to convince other people to better understand the influence of Russia.
We cannot change history, but we can learn from the past and start acting in another way. Ukraine gained independence over 30 years ago, but Russian Imperial ambitions still seem to be present.

Cultural colonisation still exists and I can’t see an end to it.

Before the full-scale invasion, what was Ukraine known for? Many people did not know about my country and perhaps only knew it as the place “where borsch [beetroot soup] is made.” Such common misconceptions seem offensive and ridiculous to many Ukrainians like myself.

Ukraine has a deeper history and wider culture than it first seems. Unfortunately, many people don’t know this due to the global influence of Russia or as it calls itself “the elder sister.”

For hundreds of years, Ukraine was an independent country. But, in the mid 1770s, this changed when it forcefully became a part of the Russian Empire. This gave way to policies that started erasing Ukrainian identity, such as in Russification.

This banned the use and study of the Ukrainian language because Ukrainian culture and language were considered secondary to Russian. Removing our language removes our very identity.

In recent years there has been more information on social media for Ukrainians to understand the cultural hold that Russia has over Ukraine and to establish a stronger Ukrainian national identity.

However, if perceptions do not change, everything will remain the same. One of the main issues I can see is that Ukraine is considered a part of Russia’s sphere of influence, and as a territory rather than an independent state.

Russian president Vladimir Putin claims that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people – a single whole” – but he forgot to say that most Ukrainians never wanted to be near their eternal enemy.

Apart from using force, Russia has other methods of colonising other nations, by bombarding them with non-stop and sophisticated propaganda.

Both the older and younger generations of Ukraine seem mostly oblivious to the far-reaching consequences of Russian propaganda in shaping their perceptions of current and historic events. This leads some members of older generations to romanticise life under the Soviet Union, undermining Ukrainian nationhood.

We should try to improve our government to let people see that our country does not need the USSR to prosper. If more money is put into improving the Ukrainian government, more people are likely to trust our own leadership without looking elsewhere.

In order to help younger people understand the problem of Russian influence, we should start by changing their attitudes to what they consume on social media, in books and films.

Due to today’s war, the process of decolonisation has sped up, but I fear that Russia will continue to have a hold over Ukraine and its culture.

That is why it is vitally important for the international community to stand up for Ukraine and its people, to defend their nation both on the ground and in people’s hearts.

Written by:

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Mariia Sydorenko

Contributor

Kyiv, Ukraine

Born in 2006, It is hard for Mariia to imagine her life without exploring Ukrainian culture in its different manifestations, for instance, analysing and comparing classic literature with modern pieces of art or discovering societal changes following Russia’s invasion.

She is a passionate beginner, who makes small, but confident steps in achieving her dreams in the field of journalism.

In her free time, Mariia enjoys visiting theatres, museums and reading poetry. She speaks fluent English and Ukrainian.

Edited by:

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Sofiya Suleimenova

International Affairs Section Editor

Geneva, Switzerland

war in ukraine