Born in the country, not far from the ruined capital

Last week, The Interpreter ran a story by Paul Goble that emphasized the importance of the urban-rural divide for understanding today’s Ukraine. The story was largely based on an interview with Sergey Koshman, a coordinator of We Are Europeans, a Ukrainan civil movement, published in Novoye Vremya.

Having survived the collectivization and famine of the early 1930s and the post-WWII famine, the Ukrainian countryside did not slip into terminal decline and degeneration, in contrast to central and northern Russia. Subjected to similar mistreatment by Stalin’s regime, Russia’s rural southern regions, such as Belgorod or Krasnodar, also bounced back like their Ukrainian counterparts and neighbors. Ukraine’s Western areas were spared the horrors of the 1930s, when they were under Polish rule, although they suffered from ruthless post-WWII repression.

Western Ukraine experienced limited Soviet-style urbanization; rural Ukrainians gradually took the place of exiled Poles and Romanians and murdered Jews in old, well-established cities like Lviv and Chernivtsi. Nowadays, the only regions of Ukraine where rural residents make up more than half of total are in the West: Ivano-Frankivsk, Trans-Carpatia, Rivne, Ternopil, Chernivtsi. Contrast this to Ukraine’s overall 31% and Russia’s 26% share of rural populace. It’s probably the region’s rural character that accounts for the xenophobic, patriarchally conservative streak in West Ukrainian nationalism, increasingly marginalized by the civil nationalism of urban Ukraine as I’d like to hope.

What’s unfortunate about The Interpreter‘s article is the lead photograph and the caption: “Khoruzhivka, a village in Western Ukraine, the birthplace of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yuschenko.”

President Yuschenko was not born in Western Ukraine. His home village, Khoruzhivka, is in the Sumy oblast, in the northeast of the country. I’m not sure whether this is Siverschina or Sloboda Ukraine but it’s remarkable that Khoruzhivka is a 100-km drive away from Baturyn, the capital of the Cossack Hetmanate.

The photograph accompanying the article is of a church in Western Ukraine, in the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast. This thread at has good pictures of Khoruzhivka along with the misattributed photograph. This promo page of a Ukrainian travel agency has some pretty good pictures of the Sumy region.

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