One hundred years ago, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks overthrew Nicholas II of Russia. The removal of the czar ended three centuries of Romanov family imperial rule and thrust Russia into a Marxist experiment that degenerated into a brutal dictatorship: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

While the Russian Revolution certainly reshaped Russia’s government in radical ways, historians have too often focused on the Bolsheviks or Marxism and given far less attention to the revolt’s broader, regional impact.

“The term is misleading in many ways,” said Serhii Plokhii, the Mykhailo S. Hrushevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian History and director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute.

Before 1917, he said, Russia had been a multiethnic, multinational empire. The revolution fractured it. Poland and Finland, which had been Russian territories, broke free. Ukraine remained, and became the largest minority nation in the nascent Soviet Union.

“What is very important and what is overlooked very…

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