Note: This article, originally published on April 14, 2014, is being re-posted on Applied Unificationism due to its relevance on the first anniversary of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
In a sermon I gave in Kiev in late 1991, I warned that the Israelites, upon escaping slavery in Egypt, still had to endure 40 years of suffering in the desert. So it has been for the Ukraine since the break-up of the Soviet Union. I had arrived there as a missionary a few months before and would stay in Kiev until the end of 1994, when my family moved to Moscow.
Warning of a potentially troubled future, I was reminded of the words of Leon Trotsky: “The Ukrainian question, which many…have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history…is destined in the immediate future to play an enormous role in the life of Europe.” Despite its own desires, Ukraine remains caught between two powers far greater than itself – Europe and Russia.
In December 1991, I witnessed Lenin’s massive head finally separated from his shoulders, hanging motionless from a crane above us at October Square (now Independence Square) in Kiev. The wildly cheering crowd was bursting with hope this would be the beginning of the end of Lenin’s communist legacy and the start of real freedom and a brighter future.
Ukraine had suffered the horrors of Stalin’s “dekulakization,” forced famine, the Holodomor (1932-33 extermination by hunger, with up to 10 million dead), “Russification,” the horrors of World War II (up to seven million Ukrainian dead), and life after the war under the heel of Moscow. It just wanted to be free and decide its own future.
This dismantling of Lenin’s giant statue followed the referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence, supported by over 92% of the Ukrainian population with a voter turnout of almost 85%. Ominously for today, the lowest figures came from the Crimea – 54% of a 60% turnout – and throughout Ukraine only 55% of ethnic Russians voted “yes.” Ukraine’s decision effectively ended the Soviet Union, which was formally dissolved a week later with the signing of the Belavezha Accords by Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia (now Belarus), two of whose leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev and Stanislav Shushkevich, became friends of Reverend Moon.
In the recent ousting of President Yanukovych’s pro-Russian regime by the seemingly pro-European opposition, the choice of December 8, 2013 for the destruction of one of Kiev’s remaining Lenin statues was not haphazard. It symbolized the continuing desire of many Ukrainians to shake off the long shadow from the north. But how to accomplish this with a Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who declared in 2005 that the collapse of the Soviet empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the (20th) century,” and that Russia’s “place in the modern world will be defined only by how successful and strong we are”?
In 2008, Russia annexed 20% of Georgia, with significant casualties, but with few diplomatic repercussions. The pro-European president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was ousted, and Georgia returned to Russia’s sphere of influence. Vice President Dick Cheney threatened that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.”