Why a Yale prof’s Ukrainian history course posted online has earned millions of views

Why a Yale prof’s Ukrainian history course posted online has earned millions of views

Updated: 9 days, 12 hours, 5 minutes, 56 seconds ago

Growing up with a Ukrainian last name had a few challenges. It was tricky to to pronounce, but worse was when I would hear “aren’t you Russian?” in response to sharing the name’s origin. The question pinged the soul.

How Ukraine evolved into a pluralist democracy able to put up a fight against its long time-oppressor is a critical subject of our time and is not well known.

Auspiciously, leading historian Timothy Snyder from Yale University, has been releasing his Fall 2022 class on “The Making of Modern Ukraine,” on YouTube. It has garnered millions of views meaning more people are taking this history course than any other on the planet. Snyder is doing a public service in teaching why Ukraine remains worth supporting.

First and foremost, Ukraine’s fight comes as close as possible to what is considered a “good” war. Ukraine is proving that democracy is worth tremendous sacrifice. Putin has been clear that he doesn’t think Ukraine is a real country and acts as such, levelling cities, deporting millions and bombing civilian infrastructure.

Efforts to eliminate groups during the 20th century imparted the need for vigilance when faced with such evil and Snyder’s rise to popularity involved highlighting how, from 1933-45, 14 million non-combatants were killed in the “Bloodlands” between Germany and Russia, which includes Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic states.

The course begins with exploring how the ancient Greeks used the southern coast of what is now Ukraine as a food source, something which it remains. It teaches how Jewish communities had an early presence and share a significant connection to the area. It moves onto studying nomadic horsemen, including the Scythians, whose treasures Russians recently looted.

Snyder then lectures on missionary activity to eastern Europe 1,000 years ago from western and eastern versions of Christianity. Vikings from Scandinavia established the first east Slavic state, and Kyiv became one of the great early cities of Europe where Anne of Kyiv became Queen of France in 1051 and St. Sophia cathedral (which still stands) was commissioned by her father.

Kyiv was conquered by the Mongols in 1240, leading to the distinct development between those from Kyiv and Moscow. For centuries, Ukrainian lands evolved under Lithuanian and Polish influence, where the people settled there developed a language and culture all their own.

Muscovy, in contrast, was greatly influenced by the Mongols and Snyder proffers that Russian President Vladimir Putin is most like is Ivan the Terrible, who overreached and lost the ability to rule Ukrainian lands during the Livonian War (1558-83).

Snyder also covers the Cossacks, eclectic groups who lived on the borderland of the aforementioned powers and allied with each at different times and fought for autonomy. Viewers learn Crimea was hardly “always Russian,” as for centuries it was controlled by Tatars.

Muscovy was eventually able to exert control over great portions of Ukrainian lands in different phases from the late 17th century onward. The course proceeds to the influence of empires, including the Habsburgs, Ottomans, and Russian empire, veering to the time of the First World War, where there were attempts at Ukrainian self-rule amidst a tumultuous backdrop.

It moves on to communist oppression including the Holodomor, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of modern Ukraine, which became a diverse nation rallying around a Jewish President.

While there are endless amateur historians on the web providing their two cents on the dynamic between Ukraine and Russia, a quick look at the lecture series and syllabus shows that this class is the gold standard.

Snyder also has a lesson for those thinking Russia historically wins wars against smaller powers — remember the Crimean War of (1853-55), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), as well as Afghanistan. Moreover, the way needed reform historically comes to Russia is through losing such wars.

Snyder posits that while Russian and U.S. intelligence predicted Ukraine would fold within days, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in showing he would stay in Kyiv, created a historical moment of inspiration worthy of Churchill. Zelenskyy recently repeated this feat through bravely appearing in Kherson.

Seeing Ukrainians persevere has led to the desire to understand the differences between base aggressor and valiant defender. Through watching “The Making of Modern Ukraine,” those interested can learn this history and even say they took a course at Yale without the burden of admission or tuition.

Sean Roman Strockyj is a Ukrainian-American writer and attorney.

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