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Volodymyr vs Vladimir

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolded in real-time on February 24, 2022, historians, archivists, and museum curators across the country raced to protect the nation’s history from destruction. While many priceless works of art were transported to western Ukraine, many pieces, such as the monument to Volodymyr the Great on Volodymyrska Hill in Kyiv, could not be safely evacuated. Instead, they were left behind. Below, we can see a picture of the Saint Volodymyr Hill statue wrapped in a light green cloth.




To assess the significance of this statue to Ukraine’s national identity, we must first understand the history of the man for whom the statue is designed to honor.


Volodymyr I Sviatoslavych was born in the year 956 under the Rurik Dynasty. He was the son of the Norman-Rus prince Svyatoslav of Kyiv who was also under the Rurik lineage which was dominant through the 10th to 13th century. After the untimely death of his father in the early 970’s, he fled to Scandinavia where he asked his Uncle to help attempt to seize Kyiv. They succeeded, and by 980 Prince Vlodymyr had made Ukraine stronger than ever and had solidified the frontiers of his country.


Then, through 35 years of war beginning in the late 900’s, Prince Volodymyr began expanding the now Ukrainian land. The battles began on a small scale throughout Chervin towns through Poland. One of the first cities they managed to take in small scale battle was Peremyshl, located in the southeastern region in current day Poland. Battle’s became wars and Vlodymyr found himself fighting against the Viatichians and Radimichians, which resulted in large scale victories. He then set his sights on the Baltic Sea, where he battled and won against the Yatvingians. In his final battles, he defeated the Khazars and Volga Bulgars to take the majority of southern Ukraine. Vlodymyr would then spend the coming years defending his southern borders against the nomadic Pechenegs and Chorni Klobuky, while also building fortifications along the Irpin River, the Stuhna River, the Trubizh River, and the Sula River.


PART II: The Russian Appropriation

INSERT BLOCKQUOTE. “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.” Vladimir Putin.

“Prince Vladimir went down in history as a unifier and defender of Russian lands, and a far-sighted politician who created the foundations of a strong, unified, centralized state, which eventually united different peoples, languages, cultures and religions into one big family.”


Under the authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr the Great has become Vladimir the Great. The appropriation of this Ukrainian hero as a Russian one represents a central element of Putin’s propaganda: to transform Russia into the cultural capital of Slavic life. To Putin, Vladimir the Great symbolizes his greatest historical predecessor: a man of devout Christian faith who strives to courageously defend his people against the barbarians of non-Slavic life. In this sense, the contrived Vladimir the Great has become Putin’s greatest historical ally to justify Russia’s supposed “liberation” of the Slavic people from Ukrainian tyranny.


WHAT ORDINARY UKRAINIANS THINK:

Unlike in Russia, Volodymyr the Great in Ukraine is not a propaganda piece. Instead, he is embedded within their daily lives. As one Ukrainian put it, “He's not a myth. He was here. He built the buildings that we walked past, that we pray in, and that we see every day.” Seen in this light, Volodymyr the Great continues to influence the Ukrainian mind, for he designed the city’s canals, churches, and streets that still exist to this day.


Although Volodymyr the Great possessed his flaws, he is not nearly as controversial in Ukrainian history as figures in Russia’s past. From Ivan the Terrible to Joseph Stalin, Russia suffers a dark totalitarian history. While Ukraine certainly has its national shortcomings, its broader story over the last 250 years has been a movement towards a multicultural democratic republic of peace. As a Kiev resident Marina Shlyonska explained recently, “To be Ukrainian is [to be] independent, self-confident and free.”


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