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Zero Point Ukraine. Part 1: The myth of the “Great Patriotic War”

Book highlight from “Zero Point Ukraine” by Olena Stiazhkina

British-Ukrainian Aid launched a new programme of webinars dedicated to Professor Umland’s book series – “Ukrainian Voices”. You can watch them online on our YouTube channel

Olena Stiazhkina published Volume 10 in the series and we offer you a highlight from the chapter “Unexpected Outcome” of her book.


The Western understanding of what happened in Ukraine during World War II has been shaped by historical and ideological constructs created in the Kremlin. The Ukrainian specificity has been dissolved in the concept of the “great victorious Russian people” and distorted by attempts to equate Ukrainian nationalists to German Nazis, while the occupation and colonization of Ukraine by Russian Bolsheviks in the 1920s and 1930s has widely been ignored or artificially silenced.

In her Four Essays on World War II, Olena Stiazhkina inscribes the Ukrainian history of the war into a wider European and world context. Amongst other aspects, she analyses the mobilisation measures on the eve of the war, reconsidering Soviet narratives. Scrutinising the social and political processes initiated by the Bolshevik leadership in the 1920s and 1930s, Stiahhkina concludes that mobilisation and militarisation were integral parts of Soviet power policy. The Soviet and contemporary Russian narratives about World War II have been used to justify the Kremlin’s policies towards democratic countries. Today, Russia remains deeply engaged in the falsification of the past, which underpins the claims of the so-called “Russian World” and the ongoing war against Ukraine.

Olena Stiazhkina’s book promotes a new, historically adequate understanding of what happened in Ukraine before, during, and after World War II.

The first part of “Zero Point Ukraine” highlight from the chapter entitled  “Unexpected outcome” considers the myth of the “Great Patriotic War” as the starting point for the new Russian empire. If you continue visiting our Blog Page you’ll be able to read further four parts of the highlight.

Part 1

The myth of the “Great Patriotic War”

Creating the myth of the “Great Patriotic War” had one more objective. This myth became “the national Soviet religion”[1] and, according to Dina Khapaeva,[2] played the role of a “cordon myth” that turned the “Great Terror” into “peaceful everyday life,” “normal life,” which was shattered not in the 1920s or 1930s but on the Sunday morning of June 22, 1941. Thus, the myth of the “Great Patriotic War” became the starting point for the new Russian empire that arose and expanded on the ruins of Europe. However, during the “act of creation” of empire in the first post-war decade, the mechanisms of its destruction were built into it. These mechanisms were unplanned, unexpected and for a long while not discovered or comprehended by the Soviet regime.

One result of the change in the Soviet course—from a state of classes to a state led by “the Russian people”—a result, which was crucial for the subsequent history of Ukraine, was the accented ethnic drive of the punishments, its undisguised, even emphasized anti-national direction.

Reflecting on the differences between Nazi and Soviet terror, Mikhail Heller remarked, “the difference lies in the fact that in Hitler’s death camps the victims knew why they were killed… Those, who died … in the Soviet camps, died without this understanding.”[3] Pursuing this line of thought, Alexander Etkind adds, “Most of those Jews and Gypsies who died in the Nazi camps agreed with their jailers that they were Jews or Gypsies (though of course they did not agree that this should be cause to kill them). In contrast, most of those kulaks, saboteurs, and enemies of the people who died in the Soviet camps disagreed with their jailers that they were kulaks, saboteurs, and enemies of the people. Some of them hated ‘enemies of the people’ just as much as their jailers did. In the Stalinist camps, many political prisoners shared the principles of their perpetrators but clung to the belief that in their personal cases, they had been mistakenly identified.”[4]


1Nina Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994), 155.

2Dina Khapaeva, Goticheskoe obschestvo: Morfologiya koshmara [The gothic society: Morphology of a disaster] (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2007). Quoted in Nikolay Koposov, Pamyat strogo rezhima. Istoriya i politika v Rossii [High-security memory: History and politics in Russia] (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2011), 93.

3Mikhail Heller, “Predislovie” [Foreword], in Varlam Shalamov, Kolyimskie rasskazy [Kolyma Tales] (London: Overseas Publications Interchange, 1978), 8–9. Quoted in Etkind, Krivoe gore, 257.

4Etkind, Krivoe gore, 258.

Coming up soon: the next section will focus on Ukrainian resistance as the continuation of the national liberation struggle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Professor Dr. Olena Stiazhkina studied history at Donetsk National University. Since 2016 she is Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Ukrainian History in the second half of the XX century at the Institute of History of Ukraine at the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. Previously, she completed an internship at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM, Austria) and held a professorship at the Department of Slavs’ History at the Vasyl Stus Donetsk National University (Ukraine).

Olena Stiazhkina is a member of the Ukrainian Oral History Association, the Ukrainian Association of Research in Women’s History, and the PEN Club Ukraine. Her previous books include Women in the history of Ukrainian Culture in the Second Half of the 20th Century (Donetsk: Skhidny Vydavnychy Dim, 2002), Gender Relations in a Modern Society (Donetsk: Skhidny Vydavnychy Dim, 2006), A Person in the Soviet Province: Evolution of Failure (Donetsk: Noulidzh, 2013), Stigma of Occupation: Soviet Women of the 1940s in Self-Vision (Kyiv, Dukh I Litera). Her papers have been published by, among other outlets, Indiana Press, University of Tulsa, Istorychni i politologichni doslidzhennia, Nauka. Relihiya. Suspilstvo.

HOW TO ORDER You can order “Zero Point Ukraine” here


Olena Stiazhkina’s book is Volume 10 in the “Ukrainian Voices” book series.

The “Ukrainian Voices” book series includes English- and German-language monographs, edited volumes, document collections and anthologies of articles authored and composed by Ukrainian politicians, intellectuals, activists, officials, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, and diplomats.

The series aims to introduce Western and broader audiences to Ukrainian explorations and interpretations of historic and current domestic as well as international affairs.

The purpose of these books is to familiarise non-Ukrainian readers with how some prominent Ukrainians approach, research and assess their country’s development and position in the world. The series was founded in 2019, and the volumes are collected by Andreas Umland.

The opinions expressed in this Blog page are not necessarily those of British-Ukrainian Aid.


British-Ukrainian Aid supports people suffering from the war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, including the injured and wounded, orphaned children, the elderly, internally displaced persons, refugees and families who have lost their main earners.

British-Ukrainian Aid is a Charity Registered in England and Wales 1164472


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