Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Putin’s War has Consolidated Ukrainian Identity Quickly and for the Long Term, Wynnyckyj Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 16 – Unwittingly and unintentionally, Putin’s war against Ukraine has “consolidated Ukrainian identity exceptionally quickly, erasing many (if not all) previous domestic divisions” and creating a national identity that means “we will exit this war more united than ever,” Mychailo Wynnyckyj says.

            The sociologist at the National University of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy says that this process caught not only Russia’s leaders but many in the West unprepared. They did not expect this course of development (kyivpost.com/article/opinion/op-ed/unexpected-unity-how-the-war-has-shaped-our-identity-and-this-time-for-good.html).

            Moscow expected that Ukrainian unity would quickly dissolve in the face of attack, and many in the West unclear about what Ukrainian identity could mean have “filled the vacuum with a stylized Zelensky, a kind of Rambo and Reagan rolled into one.” Ukrainians have found this “somewhat strange,” but for them it is “acceptable in the short term.”

            As Wynnyckyj says, “identity is a powerful motivator. When individuals who do not know each other and objectively are quite different imagine themselves to be similar, this identity claim becomes a potent stimulus for both collective action and for the articulation of ideas that were previously left unexpressed.”


This process has affected the Ukrainian diaspora as well where “the metaphor of Ukrainians as bees has become popular … The bear has attacked out hive, and the natural reaction of Ukrainians worldwide has been to resist: each doing his/her own part, seemingly without orders, with minimal organizational structure, ready for self-sacrifice.”


The Kyiv sociologist continues: “This war has produced and will continue to produce new Ukrainian archetypes, symbols and heroes who will embody our consolidated identity well into the future … In this war we have demonstrated to ourselves and to the world that we are warriors, heroes, volunteers, technically savvy innovators, ‘bees.’”


“But what it really means to be Ukrainian remains complex and multifaceted.” Because that is the case, “Ukrainian identity continues to evolve as the war progresses. Historical symbols, flags and maps are important for national consolidation, but so are slogans. Identity archetypes are most powerful when they express an ideal, a value that is often not explainable in simple words.”


 “When found, these symbolic forms of shorthand are capable of moving mountains (or stopping massive ground assaults),” Wynnickyj says. And today, “we are European civilization’s new frontier” where despite “the horrors of Bucha, Mariiupol, Kharkiv and many other Ukrainian cities that are still raw … we will exit this war more united than ever.”

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