So many of the struggles and fights happening in the international community remind me of my family. The disputes over gas between Russia and Ukraine resemble a relationship that any of us with siblings can relate to. In this blog I will discuss my analogy of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia. I admit that I have no clue about the complexities of the relationship but there are a few things in history and culture that might help to prove my comparison of the countries to two brothers. By showing a few pictures of how the Russians represent Ukraine, we can see that they think of Ukraine as a land of beauty and prosperity. Although Russia would never admit it now, they admire Ukraine like an older brother. It’s no wonder that it has caused so much drama when Ukraine tries to sever its undeniable ties with Russia. But Ukraine has been dominated by the Russians, the Poles, the Austrians, the Tatars, and now is an opportunity to get out and try to be their own nation.
Perhaps part of the reason that Russia is having such a hard time letting Ukraine go is because it is the source of so many Russia’s resources but also because Ukraine is essentially Russia’s older brother. Think of your older siblings: you looked up to them, wanted their approval, and yet resented the things that they got that you didn’t. Russia is the younger brother who has the muscles, and Ukraine is the brother with the wit. Little Brother Russia has learned much of what he knows from watching his older brother Ukraine. Big Brother Ukraine has been around longer and is very secure in his abilities, but realizes that his little brother could beat him up. Little Brother Russia knows he can beat Big Brother in an arm wrestle, but nevertheless admires Big Brother’s grace and charm.
Consider Borshch. Borshch along with many other traditional Russian dishes is also a traditional dish or Ukraine. Ukrainian borshch is preferred by Russians because it is made with beef and bacon, whereas the traditional Russian recipe is typically made only from vegetables. Ukraine has always had the fertile soil, the rivers and seas, the milder winters and the longer growing seasons that Russia didn’t have. Therefore they have had the resources to devote to making their culture more and more beautiful. Russians themselves acknowledge that the Ukrainian variants of everything from handicrafts, to cuisine or to women to be more beautiful, more elaborate and more lush. Maybe this isn’t enough to prove how much Russia looks up to the Ukrainians, and maybe that admiration has been lost over the years, but to this day Orange Revolution or no, some of the most beloved restaurants in Moscow are Ukrainian ones.
If you ask somebody in Moscow where to go to get a good sample of traditional Russian food they are likely to tell you to go to a place called Tarac Bulba, Korchma which serves traditional Ukrainian food. The fact that Russians, when wanting to have taste of their traditional dishes done well, go to a Ukrainian restaurant, shows that maybe the Russians recognize that their are some things the Ukrainians do better.
There are two places in Moscow where Russia has built something in an emulation of Ukraine–both of which are amazingly beautiful. One is the metro station in Moscow, ‘Kievskaya’. It is by far the most adorned and decorated of all the metro stops, with chandeliers, murals, mosaics and marble carvings. The other place is the Ukraine building at the Agricultural exhibition center in Moscow or ВДНХ. During USSR each republic had their own building, built in their national style in which they would showcase produce from their country. The Ukraine building is adorned with elaborate details, and beauty and color that the other buildings lack. With a beautiful fountain in front of it, it is the golden child of the entire park. There was a time, as we can see from these two landmarks in Moscow that Russia openly built accolades to their older brother Ukraine. In recent years, those accolades have been hushed. The Ukraine building is no longer labeled as the Ukraine building. Just like Ukraine is trying to rid itself of Russia, Russia seems to want to hide any evidence of the praise it once gave to Ukraine.
Russia has the mass, the power and the muscles but when it comes to the finer details of life, Russians look to their small, older, better-looking brother. So why, if Russia has so much power and resources, should he care that Ukraine wants to move out? I am the youngest of 4 children. There is a five year gap between me and my next oldest sister. We are peas of a pod, we have the same sense of humor, we used to share clothes and go on trips together, we supported each other in hard times. My whole identity was made on my family relationships. So I have to admit that when my sister announced that she was getting married, that she was leaving to start her own family I felt a bit betrayed.
As I watched all of my siblings grow up, get married, and start their own families I felt forgotten and superfluous. I can understand how Russia might feel to watch their ‘siblings’, countries with whom Russia’s identity has been so tied up for hundreds of years, move out and start their own lives. But now I have so many nieces and nephews with whom I start new bonds and I see that you never lose your family roots. The fact that your identity is so tied up in your family is what makes family feuds some of the most ruthless and destructive of all. Just because Ukraine wants to ‘branch out’ does not uproot the past that it shares with Russia. You can fight all you want but you can never escape your family–at times that can be a tragedy and at others a consolation.