Borderlands. Ukraine in historical maps


The war against Ukraine did not start in February 2022, but in the spring of 2014. The invasions were a delayed response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In December 1991, 92% of the Ukrainian voters supported the declaration of independence by the parliament in Kyiv. That same month the USSR was formally dissolved and the West celebrated its victory after a long Cold War. In exchange for its transfer of nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation, Ukraine got international guarantees for its territorial integrity. In 2004 orange masses forced President Kuchma, who supervised the privatisation of industry by oligarchs, to hold free elections. The new government wanted closer cooperation with the European Union and the NATO.


End 2013, Russia threatened a trade war and so prevented President Yanukovych from signing the association agreement with the EU. This led to the Euromaidan uprising, after which the parliament removed the president from office. Then Putin started a hybrid war by annexing Crimea with 'little green men' and sending a 'convoy of white trucks' to support separatist militias in the Donbas region. And the 2022 invasion was 'inevitable' because of 'the ongoing genocide against Russians in eastern Ukraine'. But instead of being welcomed as liberators from 'the nazified western elite in Kiev', they faced massive resistance from soldiers and civilians alike and the Ukrainians closed ranks behind President Zelenskyy. When their strategy for a quick victory failed, the Russian army attacked schools, hospitals and residential areas as they had previously done in Grozny and Aleppo. Putin suffers from too much history, he even reasserts Russia’s readiness to use nuclear weapons 'to defend' his imperial dream. In On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians (2021) Putin called for a restored geopolitical and



  spiritual trinity of Greater Russians, Belarusians and Lesser Russians (Ukrainians). Moscow now advocates for the 'denazification of the Ukrainian nation'.


This exhibition intends not so much to disprove Putin’s story, built on half-truths. We rather demonstrate with historical maps that the territory of the current Republic of Ukraine, or large portions of it, aside from the Russian Empire, formed part of other empires for centuries, like the Mongol Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire. Moreover, Ukraine has been a most fertile but embattled 'borderland' between steppe and forest, between Polish Catholicism and Tatar Islam and a special nation between East and West. That's why we also looked for maps related to 'forerunners' of an independent Ukraine, such as medieval Kyivan Rus', the Orthodox Cossack Hetmanate from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century and the 'Ukrainian People's Republic' between 1918 and 1920. Our selection was taken from some six hundred maps and plans on Ukraine, which belong to the Bodel Nijenhuis Collection and the Steegh/Teunissen Collection of Leiden University Libraries. Thirty maps on the history of the second largest country in Europe will be presented in six paragraphs. Each starts with a number of maps, with corresponding captions, and finishes with a short commentary that hopefully sheds some light on the present war of Russia against Ukraine.


This online exhibition is available in Ukrainian as well.


15 April 2022