As a guest on the November 8 edition of Rossiya-1 state television’s “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” program, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), said he considers Ukraine his “homeland” and the “grave of his ancestors.” Zhirinovsky’s paternal grandfather, in fact, was a wealthy industrialist from Kostopil, Ukraine, who operated a timber factory there. He has asked successive Ukrainian governments to return that facility to him.
Zhirinovsky, however, accused the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv of hypocrisy for condemning the “sham elections” in “the pseudo-republics Russia created in eastern Ukraine.”
“The Europeans and Americans always evoke democracy and elections and free speech but do the exact opposite,” Zhirinovsky said, before going off on a tangent about Americans probably “losing their mind” amid a spate of mass shootings.
The position of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is that the elections in eastern Ukraine are internationally illegitimate, “are not in line with either the Minsk agreements or Ukrainian law”, and are ultimately “a charade since the Kremlin has already anointed leaders to serve as its proxies in the so-called ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’” – the Russian-backed self-proclaimed “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine.
During his appearance on Solovyov’s program, launched into one of his trademark “history” lessons, declaring: “Ukrainians in the Polish Army in 1612 already seized Moscow. Can you imagine? Of course it was a big government, a commonwealth, with Poles and Lithuanians, there could have been people who weren’t Poles, and those who would later call themselves Ukrainians, but in 1612 the word ‘Ukraine’ was not heard anywhere.”
Russian nationalists have long sought to deny the existence of an independent Ukrainian people or language.
For example, in 1863, a secret decree issued by the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Empire, which essentially banned the printing of the Ukrainian language, said that “no separate Little Russian [Ukrainian] language ever existed, doesn’t exist, and couldn’t exist.” In effect, the document claimed the Ukrainian language was nothing more than Russian corrupted by Polish influence.
Yana Prymachenko, a senior researcher at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine’s Institute of History of Ukraine, told Polygraph.info that Russian nationalists do not believe that Ukraine could exist as an independent state, adding that Putin himself called Ukraine an artificial state.
Speaking at the Selgier Youth Forum in 2014, Putin said: “There are historians here, and people with their own views on our country’s history might argue with me, but I think that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are practically one single people, no matter what others might say.”
In 2015, Putin reiterated that point: "Friends, we in Russia always saw the Russians and Ukrainians as a single people. I still think this way now,” he said at a concert in Moscow marking the one year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
And at a 2008 NATO Summit in Paris he allegedly told then-U.S.President George Bush: “Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories are in Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us."
Zhirinovsky himself has called Ukraine an “artificial state cobbled together by the Bolsheviks.”
But the historical record paints a different picture. The word Ukraina (Ukraine) first appears in the Hypatian Codex, a compilation of three primary historical chronicles, in 1187. According to the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, “the terms Ukrainiany appears in the chronicle under the year 1268.”
“Ukrainnyky, and even narod ukrainskyi (the Ukrainian people) were used sporadically before Ukraintsi attained currency under the influence of the writings of Ukrainian activists in Russian-ruled Ukraine in the 19th century,” according to the encyclopedia.
As noted by Prymachenko, the 1652 Guillaume de Beauplan map presents the territory included within modern day Ukraine as “Ukraina.” That map roughly corresponds with the creation of the first modern Ukrainian state (the Cossack Hetmanate).
Denying the existence of a historical Ukraine does not provide a legal pretext for Moscow’s current military incursion into eastern Ukraine or its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
While Zhirinovsky might be correct that the term Ukrainian itself was not in wide use in 1612, that has no bearing on the existence of a Ukrainian people then or on the rights of Ukrainian people today.
Polygraph.info, therefore, finds his statement to be misleading.