One of the nicest guys I knew growing up was Danny Sullivan who was born four months to the day after me. He lived around the corner in a three decker. We were friends. One year we played on the same Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team. We did all right. Both Danny and I played under the basket at both ends. Our job was to block anyone driving at the basket. Danny was bigger and tougher than the rest of us so he did much better at intimidating the opposing players especially since fouls were rarely called. He would go on to play college football at Boston College and professional football as a lineman in the NFL for several years protecting Johnny Unitas.
There was something different about Danny. He had a last name that was Irish, like many of us, but it was rumored that he wasn’t completely Irish. That was not unusual because there were many mixed marriages in our neighborhood between Irish and Italian. Irish and Polish, etc. What was different about Danny was that rumor had it that he was White Russian which was something that intrigued us. We knew no others of that background. I’d learn many years later when I met a cousin of his at a Ukrainian event that Danny was in fact half Ukrainian.
Ukrainian, what was that? The first Ukrainian I met was when I worked as an assistant clerk of court at the Dorchester District court during the summers going to law school. My dad was the chief probation officer and the clerk was his friend John “Snappy” Holland. Through some strange coincidence I got a job there. It was good for me since I had a chance to see how the court operated and watch some of the old-time lawyers who’d talk about how their witness “Mr. Green” did not show up and they needed a continuance or who when given an answer that was not liked would exclaim to the witness: “you think I fell off a turnip truck!”
I’d listen how one clerk would ask the person in the dock if he was “indignant” rather than indigent. The defendant was both most of the time. I’d also hear a defendant tell his lawyer he owed him nothing because the judge found him not guilty after a trial. Why should he pay if he did nothing?
One fellow working in the clerk’s office was always being called Vitali by the other workers. I liked him but felt uncomfortable calling him by what I thought was his last name when everyone else was Ed, Bob, Al, Jim, etc. So I approached him and said: “Hey, Vitali, what’s your first name?” He looked at me as if I had two heads and said: “What?” I repeated the question only to learn that Vitaly was his first name. It was a common Ukrainian name.
That summer I met a girl at a beach in Dennis who would later become my wife. She was Ukrainian. I’d learn a lot more about “the Ukraine” as most called it after that. One thing I learned is that most non-Ukrainian people knew very little about it. Most of those who knew about it considered it to be part of Russia. That was natural. I was not from “the Ireland” nor were my friends from “the Italy” but Ukraine always had “the” in front of it as if it were part of another country.
It was hard for Ukrainians to make people aware that they were as different from the Russians as the Irish from the Scottish. Their languages were different; their customs were different. They did, though, have a lot of Russian influence over their country having been under the Tsars and Soviet thumbs for centuries. They also had parts of its east settled by many from Russia in the same way the United States has parts of its west settled by Mexicans. The Russian language existed in the country along with the Ukrainian, sometimes to the exclusion of it.
Then along came Vladimir Putin with his idea of a Greater Russia, similar to that of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, where in conjunction with the Russian Orthodox Church he sought to again put Ukraine under Russia’s thumb. This led to something quite unusual: two relatively peaceful revolutions. The first, the Orange Revolution, 2004 – 2005, which caused the election of Russian connected Viktor Yanukovych to be overthrown; and then the Maidan Revolution that ousted Yanukovych from the presidency when he tried to hand Ukraine over to Putin.
The latter succeeded because Putin dared not take more repressive measures in suppressing the will of the Ukrainian people because of his fear of a boycott of his winter Olympic Games at Sochi. Shortly after they ended he invaded and seized Crimea and began a proxy war in Ukraine’s east. One author noted: “President Vladimir Putin’s Olympic venture put the workings of contemporary Russia on vivid display. The Sochi Olympics were designed to symbolize Russia’s return to great power status, but subsequent aggression against Ukraine, large-scale corruption, and the doping scandal have become the true legacies of the games. “
In part that is true. But the true legacy was the worldwide recognition that “the Ukraine” did not exist; there was only Ukraine. It was not part of Russia. People recognized Ukraine as an independent nation being threatened by a hostile and aggressive Russia. The results of Putin’s blunder was a transformation among the Ukrainian people who came closer together and saw that Russia was their enemy. The Russian Orthodox Church which controlled the Orthodox Church in Ukraine lost its domination.
I’ll publish today a more in-depth article by a guest poster who will explain this in greater detail especially as it relates to the Orthodox Church. But it is ironic that Putin’s madness in trying to subdue Ukraine really brought to it a true freedom and full recognition as an independent country.