Putin is bombing the Russian world he claims to protect
By Annabelle Timsit and Dalton Bennett
March 8, 2022 at 7:16 a.m. EST
The aftermath of shelling in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 3. (Sergey Kozlov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Russias invasion of Ukraine has damaged landmarks across the historic center of the mostly Russian-speaking city Kharkiv, including an opera house, and threatened the Derzhprom building, a classic example of constructivist architecture that was the tallest skyscraper in the Soviet Union when it opened in 1928.
Ukrainian officials said Russian air raids also damaged the Assumption Cathedral, an Orthodox church that was built in the late 1700s during the Russian Empire and rebuilt after a fire in a style inspired by St. Clements Church in Moscow. It had a bell tower commemorating< /a> Czar Alexander Is victory over Napoleon.
In footage of the aftermath of Russian strikes, people can be heard saying Russkiy mir, or Russian world, as they survey the damage. Its a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putins often repeated assertion: that all Russian speakers belong to Russia, which has a responsibility to defend them. It became his pretext to invade Ukraine.
While the theory does not have much traction beyond Putin and other hard- liners in Russia, the damage his troops are inflicting on Russian- speaking civilians in eastern Ukraine, as well as to the cities and institutions that are a testament to their intertwined history, highlights the contradiction.
Putins attacks undermine his ideology that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, said Ronald G. Suny, a history professor at the University of Michigan.
Russias invasion and destruction of parts of Kharkiv and other cities limits or at least contradicts the idea that Ukraine and Russia are part of a shared Russian world, said Suny, an expert on nationalism and the formation of national identity in the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union.
Putin has employed many controversial arguments to justify his invasion. He has charged that the West turned Ukraine into an anti-Russia and that Kyivs goal of joining NATO was a red line. And he has accused Ukraine of committing genocide against the Russian-speaking people of the eastern Donbas region. While never producing evidence for his claim, Putin cited his need to defend them underpinned by his revanchist view that much of Ukraine exists on territory that is historically Russias.
Buildings damaged by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, shown on March 4. (Oleksandr Lapshyn/Reuters)
Putin claimed Ukraine as an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space in a speech on Feb. 21, before the invasion. He formally recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic, Moscow-backed separatist enclaves in the Donbas, and claimed against historical evidence that Ukraine never had stable traditions of real statehood, saying, Modern Ukraine was entirely created by
Bolshevik, Communist Russia.
Why are Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraines Donbas region a flash point for Putin?
Yet Putins invasion has not spared the Russian-speaking areas and historical links to Russia. In Kharkiv, Ukraines second-largest city, near the Russian border, Russian forces have bombed several cultural sites, according to Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraines culture minister, including the Assumption Cathedral and parts of the Kharkiv National University of Arts and the Kharkiv State Academy of Culture.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky touched on the tragic irony of the destruction in Kharkiv in a speech on Thursday. Putin said that there are many challenges in Ukraine, including nationalism, said Zelensky, according to an English-language translation by Ukrinform. Now theres a bombing outside the Assumption Cathedral. A Russian bomb was launched on the Moscow Patriarchate Church. So much for Putin defending his church.
Kharkivs historic center battered by Russian attacks
Video taken on March 3 shows the historic center of Ukraines second- largest city, Kharkiv, heavily damaged by repeated bombardment. (Video: Maria Avdeeva via Storyful)
Kharkiv holds a special place in both Russian and Ukrainian history.
Scholars Natalia Shapovalova and Balazs Jarabik wrote in 2018 for the Carnegie Center think tank that the city was established in 1654, the same year that Russias colonization of Ukraine began following the Treaty of Pereyaslav between the Russian tsar and the Cossack hetman, Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
It became a Ukrainian intellectual, cultural, and industrial urban center in the Russian Empire and later served as the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic between 1919 and 1934, they wrote.
Kharkiv was then occupied by the Nazis during World War II and rebuilt under the Soviet Union in its aftermath. Russian forces are destroying that as well, said the University of Michigans Suny. All the past is in some ways being obliterated, and that totally undermines this idea that were one people.
Video at source.