Memories of the bad old days - Keith Roulston editorial
As the world focuses on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the news holds a special place for Canadians. Not only does Canada have a higher population of people of Ukrainian descent than just Ukraine itself, and Russia, but there are other similarities between our two countries.
Canada and Ukraine occupy the same latitudes – although Canada is a much larger territory stretching over far more of the earth’s surface. As well, our populations are similar – 44 million for Ukraine as of 2020 and 38 million for Canada.
We each live besides one of the largest nations in the world – the U.S. at 329 million and Russia at 144 million for Ukraine.
Living beside the U.S. has sometimes been dangerous for Canada. The U.S. invaded during the war of 1812-1814 but was driven back. It was the threat of the Fenian invaders who had been trained in warfare during the U.S. Civil War that prompted Canadian provinces to unite in Confederation in 1867.
But Canada’s generally peaceful existence with our dominant neighbour is in sharp contrast to Ukraine’s rocky relationship to Russia. Globe and Mail columnist Marcus Gee pointed out on the weekend that huge
numbers of Ukrainian settlers were attracted by the promise of free land on the Canadian prairies between 1891 and 1914. Another 70,000 settled in Canada in the years between the two World Wars as their nation was overtaken by the Soviet Union and Russian leader Joseph Stalin carried out purges on the country.
World War II saw Ukraine overrun by the German Nazi armies, then “liberated” again by the Soviets. More Ukrainians came to Canada from refugee camps following that war.
A fourth wave came in post-Soviet times. In the 15 years after 2001, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, this country took in 40,000 permanent residents from Ukraine. Now our government has opened the door to an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees, whether for the short-term or for permanent residency.
There has been a constant stream of Canadians moving to the U.S., following the failure of the 1837 Rebellion. We’ve lost many artists to the most dominant entertainment provider in the history of the world. Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds and his American actress-wife Blake Lively have recently pledged to match donations and encouraged their followers to pitch in and help Ukrainians displaced by the ongoing conflict.
Yet many American intellectuals also sided with the Soviet Union back in the days when they saw Communism as the bright future of the world. Normally intelligent men and women managed to ignore the evil that people like Stalin did in crushing opposition, real or imagined, especially in Ukraine. Many of these American artists would pay a heavy price, in turn, when anti-Soviet paranoia seized the U.S. government under Joseph McCarthy.
But following the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian leadership found few friends in the western world. Former Soviet leaders, like Putin, had shown they didn’t really care about their Communist principles as they used their connections to take over former government businesses and create personal fortunes, proving they had little loyalty to their former beliefs. Estimates of Putin’s personal wealth range from $70 billion to $200 billion.
But in his old age, Putin has dedicated himself to restoring Russia to its “proper” place, and establishing himself as a modern Tsar. He has claimed that when many countries voted for independence from Russia in 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union, this was a mistake. He has re-established subservient governments in countries like Belarus, which was the base for part of the most recent Ukrainian invasion. In 2016 he also invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and setting up puppet governments in areas he established in mainly Russian-speaking eastern regions which he recognized as legitimate governments before the most recent invasion of Ukraine.
Many observers feel that if he’s successful in annexing Ukraine, many other areas that left the former Soviet Union to form democracies, will be Putin’s next targets.
Fear of just how nutsy Putin is has been his greatest weapon. It has kept Western nations from coming to the full-fledged assistance of Ukraine, which might in turn have been sufficient to defeat Russia, but also be enough for Putin to decide to employ nuclear weapons which could lead to the deaths of many, many millions around the world.
Pardon my age, again, but the result brings back memories of the 1950s when schoolkids were still trained to hide under desks and avoid looking at windows if an atomic bombs were dropped. Maybe this makes Putin feel manly.