For many Americans, any and all former Soviet republics get lumped into a nebulous mass of geographical uncertainty, authoritarianism, and Borat-type culture. Ukraine is a bracing tonic against these stereotypes; a nation whose rich culture belies its relatively brief geopolitical history.
The region of what today is called Ukraine has been at a political and geographical crossroads for much of its existence. It has been in the sphere of influence of the Byzantines, Scandinavians, the Golden Horde of the Mongols, then, later, Poles, Lithuanians, Ottomans, the Hapsburgs, and, of course, Russia.
By the late middle ages, people known as Cossacks were living on the banks of the Dnieper downriver from Kiev. Out of their culture and history would be later forged modern Ukrainian identity, as they struggled to define themselves against their often more powerful neighbors. An interesting glimpse into this crucible can be had through its name: by…
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