Serhii Plokhy, or Plokhii (Ukrainian: Сергій Миколайович Плохій, Russian: Серге́й Никола́евич Пло́хий; born 23 May 1957) is a Ukrainian historian and author specializing in the history of Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Cold War studies. He is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, where he also serves as the director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.
- History has been a battleground from the very beginning of Russia’s war with Ukraine...This thinking that Ukraine is a part of Russia that was somehow torn apart from it – this is very much 19th-century thinking, in which the nation is defined almost exclusively by language rather than political loyalty.
- The founding myth of 2014 and the war in eastern Ukraine – that Russian-speaking Ukrainians would gladly join Russia – did not result in a pro-Russia groundswell of opinion across the country. While this was realised in Crimea and parts of Donbas, Russophone cities such as Kharkiv and Odessa remain Ukrainian. “This was a huge miscalculation and disappointment for the authors of the attempted Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine,” Plokhy said.
- The Kremlin’s dismembering of Ukraine in 2014 de facto removed millions of the most pro-Russian voters from Ukraine’s electoral rolls. It also turned the tens of millions still living under Kyiv’s authority decisively against Russia. The share of Ukrainians holding a favourable view of Russia sank from 84 per cent in 2010 to a mere third in 2019, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. Part of the fall, but not the whole of it, can be explained by the exclusion of those living in territories now controlled by Russia or its proxies.
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015)
- The ancestors of modern Ukrainians lived in dozens of premodern and modern principalities, kingdoms, and empires, and in the course of time they took on various names and identities. The two key terms that they used to define their land were “Rus’” and “Ukraine.” (In the Cyrillic alphabet, Rus’ is spelled Pycь: the last character is a soft sign indicating palatalized pronunciation of the preceding consonant.) The term “Rus’,” brought to the region by the Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, was adopted by the inhabitants of Kyivan Rus’, who took the Viking princes and warriors into their fold and Slavicized them. The ancestors of today’s Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians adopted the name “Rus’” in forms that varied from the Scandinavian/Slavic “Rus’” to the Hellenized “Rossiia.” In the eighteenth century, Muscovy adopted the latter form as the official name of its state and empire.
- p xxii
- Both Ukrainians and Russians claim Yaroslav the Wise as one of their eminent medieval rulers, and his image appears on the banknotes of both countries. The Ukrainian bill depicts Yaroslav with a Ukrainian-style moustache in the tradition of Prince Sviatoslav and the Ukrainian Cossacks. On the Russian note, we see a monument to him as the legendary founder of the Russian city of Yaroslavl, first mentioned in a chronicle seventeen years after his death. The Russian bill shows Yaroslav with a beard in the tradition of Ivan the Terrible and the Muscovite tsars of his era.
- p 42
- Lukianenko’s declaration referred to the thousand-year history of Ukrainian statehood, meaning the tradition established by Kyivan Rus’. His declaration was in fact the fourth attempt to proclaim Ukrainian independence in the twentieth century: the first occurred in 1918 in Kyiv and then in Lviv, the second in 1939 in Transcarpathia, and the third in 1941 in Lviv. All those attempts had been made in wartime, and all had come to grief. Would this one be different? The next three months would tell. A popular referendum scheduled for December 1, 1991, the same day as the previously scheduled election of Ukraine’s first president, would confirm or reject the parliamentary vote for independence.
- p 320
- On December 1, 1991, Ukrainians of all ethnic backgrounds went to the polls to decide their fate...In Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, 95 percent voted for independence; in Odesa, in the south, 85 percent; and in the Donetsk region, in the east, 83 percent. Even in the Crimea, more than half the voters supported independence: 57 percent in Sevastopol and 54 percent in the peninsula as a whole. (At that time, Russians constituted 66 percent of the Crimean population, Ukrainians 25 percent, and the Crimean Tatars, who had just begun to return to their ancestral homeland, only 1.5 percent.)...The vote for Ukraine’s independence spelled the end of the Soviet Union.
- p 321
- The view of Ukrainians as constituents of the Russian nation goes back to the founding myth of modern Russia as a nation conceived and born in Kyiv, the “mother of Russian [rather than Rus’] cities.” The Synopsis of 1674, the first printed “textbook” of Russian history, compiled by Kyivan monks seeking the protection of the Muscovite tsars, first formulated and widely disseminated this myth in Russia. Throughout most of the imperial period, Ukrainians were regarded as Little Russians—a vision that allowed for the existence of Ukrainian folk culture and spoken vernacular but not a high culture or a modern literature.
- p 350
- Recognition of Ukrainians as a distinct nation in cultural but not political terms in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1917 challenged that vision. The aggression of 2014, backed by the ideology of the “Russian World,” offers Ukrainians today a throwback in comparison with Soviet practices. Nation building as conceived in a future New Russia makes no provision for a separate Ukrainian ethnicity within a broader Russian nation. This is hardly an oversight or excess born of the heat of battle. Less than a year before the annexation of the Crimea, Vladimir Putin himself went on record claiming that Russians and Ukrainians were one and the same people. He repeated that statement in a speech delivered on March 18, 2015, to mark the first anniversary of the annexation of the Crimea.
- p 350
- Since the fall of the USSR, the Russian nation-building project has switched its focus to the idea of forming a single Russian nation not divided into branches and unifying the Eastern Slavs on the basis of the Russian language and culture. Ukraine has become the first testing ground for this model outside the Russian Federation.
- p 350
- The Revolution of Dignity and the war brought about a geopolitical reorientation of Ukrainian society. The proportion of those with positive attitudes toward Russia decreased from 80 percent in January 2014 to under 50 percent in September of the same year. In November 2014, 64 percent of those polled supported Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (that figure had stood at 39 percent in November 2013). In April 2014, only a third of Ukrainians had wanted their country to join NATO; in November 2014, more than half supported that course. There can be little doubt that the experience of war not only united most Ukrainians but also turned the country’s sympathies westward.
- p 353
The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (2006)
The [Nestor] chronicler’s dominant level of identity was not tribal, nor was it statist in the sense of loyalty to the whole Rurikid realm. Instead, his Rus′ Land identity was territorially rooted in the Kyiv-Chernihiv-Pereiaslav triangle – the shared territory of the Rurikid clan. (p38)
… the identity associated with the concept of the Kyiv-Chernihiv-Pereiaslav Rus′ was clearly alive and well in Kyiv throughout the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, while the other lands ruled by the Rurikids were viewed merely as possessions, not as part of the Rus′ Land per se.(p39)
A reading of the Primary Chronicle indicates that despite its author’s primary loyalty to the Rus′ Land in the narrow sense, he also had a clearly defined “all-Rus’” identity and cared deeply about the unity of the Rurikid realm.(p41)
… the interests of the largest monastery in the capital of the Rus′ realm, as well as those of the church as a whole, represented by the “Metropolitan of All Rus′,” coincided with the interests of the Kyivan princes. They all wished to preserve the unity of the state and the dominant role of Kyiv, which was the basis of their status, power, and wealth. The threat to them emanated not only, or even predominantly, from the Polovtsians, in opposition to whom the concept of the Rus′ Land had been constructed (or reconstructed) in the second half of the eleventh century, but above all from the other centers of the formerly unified realm.(p42)
Ethnic affinity played a role in the development of the sense of Rus′ unity, but that role was marginal even among the Kyivan elites, to say nothing of those of “outer” Rus′. […] If East Slavic identity was so weak among the Slavic elites, it is hard to imagine that it was any stronger among the population at large.(p47)
… it is generally accepted that even at the peak of their power, the prince and church of Kyivan Rus′ had at best a limited capacity to invest their subjects with a sense of common belonging. (p47)
When Ukrainian and Belarusian scholars challenged the concept of all-Russian nationality, they rightly questioned the level of ethnic homogeneity in the Kyivan Rus′ state and its capacity to create a single nationality out of diverse ethnic and tribal strata of population.(p48)
it is clear that simply replacing one nationality with three as a subject of research does not solve the problem of the complex ethnocultural identity shared at one time or another by the inhabitants of Kyivan Rus′. […] they were in constant flux, often looking to the past for justification of the particular structure of that identity at any given time. (p48)
The Kyivan state left a strong legacy in the region in terms of historical memory, law, religion, and ultimately identity, which was adopted in one form or another by all its former subjects. […] that state left a tradition of usage of the name of Rus′ and thus a lasting reason to recover and reinvent the Rus′ identity for generations to come. (p48)
Rus’, Rutenia, Belarusian identity
When it comes to Belarus, historians of that country can and do look to the history of the Krivichians and the Principality of Polatsk for the origins of the modern Belarusian nation. […] no “all-Belarusian” identity existed at the time, even in prototype. The history of the Polatsk principality […] can serve as a good beginning for modern national narratives but is a poor starting point if one is looking for the construction sites of modern national identities. (p46)
I consider the Ruthenian and Muscovite communities of the [seventeenth century onwards] time to be the first East Slavic groups that possessed the characteristics of a premodern nation. They constituted a type of community that did not offer membership in its ranks to the whole population of its territory, limiting it to members of the elite, but managed to formulate its identity outside (or concurrently with) the concept of loyalty to the ruler or dynasty.(p6)
The Ruthenian identity that developed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania prepared the ground for the nineteenth-century Belarusian national project. (p8)