Exploring the riven region of Ukraine

51u3Q0-pkSLWilliam T. Vollman at Bookforum:

We Americans suffered on September 11, but we have no dread that our nation will imminently disappear. Our states and territory remain intact; no invader struts on our soil. We live as if tomorrow will closely resemble today. The past influences us powerfully, for a fact, but almost invisibly. The Civil War, for instance, has small perceptible impact on our daily getting and spending. But our complacency is no more than a local peculiarity. In certain other places, among them Ukraine, history blocks the horizon like a range of mountains. “Today,” writes Judah, “what you think of this past, how you relate to it, determines what you think about the future of Ukraine. And what you think of the past is quite likely to be bound up with the history of your own family and where you live.”

The nineteenth-century ancestors of a Donetsk coal-mining family could easily have been Russian—and even back then, Russians and Ukrainians were bickering. Nowadays this Donetsk family might well look kindly on Putin. Meanwhile, a family from the southwestern region of Transcarpathia looks back on a past when, as Judah puts it, their land appeared in the same travel guidebook as Vienna, Prague, and Trieste, those glamorous cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One would expect these people to be less drawn to Russia, as is indeed the case. Transcarpathia then belonged to Galicia, another bygone region whose identity was cultivated by Hapsburg overlords “keen to divide and rule and to balance Polish identity and aspirations.” So Judah carefully explains the matter: “Today, when we see [from] voting patterns in Ukraine” that eastern Galicia is “more nationalistic and proud of its Ukrainianness, this is the historical root of the reason why.”

more here.