Prof. Myroslav Marynovych, Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University

15th Ecumenical Social Week «Wandering Identity: Considering Meanings and Values»,

UCU, October 3, 2022


It is not an easy to task to talk about the identity of the Ukrainians. While explaining the phenomenon of time, St. Augustine once said: “If nobody asks me, I know what time is, but if I have to explain what the time is to the one asking, I will not be able to give the answer”[1]. So, it looks the same with the Ukrainian identity… but I will give it a try, anyway.

First of all, we need to understand that the Ukrainian identity is not homogeneous, but it’s mosaic, it’s pluralistic. It was the perpetual reason for our historical defeats in the time when social dominants were unified empires. Fragmented Ukrainians did not understand the chance of creating their own empire. However, in the second half of the twentieth century the dominant formula became the formula: unity in diversity, and finally the Ukrainians acquired the historic chance.

Nowadays, the war imposed on us by Russia, has become an amazing cementing factor for our national identity. Putin wanted to abuse our linguistic and regional differences, but, conversely, he contributed to the incredible national consolidation of Ukrainians. Consolidation does not mean homogenization. The mosaic nature of our identity will remain intact – I can also assume that once the war is over we will continue arguing about our differences. But from now on, people will have this amazing experience of national cohesion imprinted in their minds.

Second of all, Ukrainian identity is changeable. In all epochs Ukrainians understood that there was a cultural divide, that separated the radically different civilizations – the civilizations of the West and the East. It was a challenging task to draw a clear cutline for this divide. Samuel Huntington, the American political scientist believes that this the line of separation between the Catholic and Orthodox civilizations, but from the historical perspective this line is movable. The interaction of these two civilizations on the joined border takes place with account with all inferences. And as a result we have a borderline phenomenon with a special combination of characteristics, we have a combination of something that cannot be combined. In other words, there arises borderline phenomena with wandering identity.  

They say that there is a specific curse in China: “May you be born at the turn of epochs!” Ukrainians live with a slightly adjusted curse: “May you be born on the border of civilizations!” Why is it so difficult? Because each civilization in the past aspired to make us “normal”, to accommodate us. But we resisted, and as a result we were “punished” by both...  

Third of all, Ukrainian identity is European but special at the same time.Here is what Harvard historian Serhiy Plokhiy describes it:

As for Ukraine, its aspiration for independence has always been European. Ukraine basically absorbed the experience as the country located on the watershed between the East and West, between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism, Central European and Eurasian empires and political and social practices, implemented[2].

In other words, Ukrainian European choice does not really deny this empirical fact that we have the Central European and Eurasian identities legitimately co-existing, these identities generate diverse political and social practices. We are indeed Europe, but we are a special Europe, a sort of subsidiary to the West and the East.

Therefore these both political cultures – and, hence, both societal agreementsco-exist and co-interact in our ethnotype on a permanent basis, like paternal and maternal genes. What changes is the number of representatives of both cultures at a certain point of time: it is all contingent on how warmed-up the social and political atmosphere is. Nowadays, Putin through his missiles, and moreover, war crimes is carving out this Eurasian or Small-Russian identity. But I can assume that he will not be able to burn it down completely, and we will still have some traces of dualism of the Ukrainian identity.

The fourth factor is,that we had different moments in history when Kyiv was capable of self-determination, but Kyiv still viewed itself as the synthesis of the West and East.This is our historicalidée fixe, this is something that is part and parcel of our cultural matrix. And this is something that differentiated Kyiv from Moscow - “The Third Rome”, because Moscow always viewed itself as the antistatement to the West. But if so, why did not the Ukrainians implement this synthesis. The answer is quite unexpected, because we overlook it. When we think about this synthesis, we view it as something instatic, something tangible, something acquired once and for all. But is ti possible if our identity is volatile and dynamic? If our identity is wandering than the synthesis of its characteristics cannot be static.

The fifth of all, the Kyiv statement or understanding is “unity in diversity”, so its inclusive synthesis, it has regard for diversity. And this vision can be implemented only under the democracy. According to Jan-Werner Müller, the political philosopher of Princeton University, “the essence of democracy is not about reaching consensus on all matters, but its about managing conflicting interests and commitments”[3]. So, our purpose should not be lack of conflict, it should be smart management of these conflicts. And, if we believe the social scientist Victoria Bryndza, Ukrainians are not that illiteral in this regard:

I can see our international advantage in the ability of living in two paradigms at the same time – under the conditions when lack of trust is critical for survival and under the conditions when you cannot really go without trust if you want to progress and move forward quickly. We live in war where compromise with the enemy is not possible and in peace at the same time, when you should be able to accept and respect this otherness[4].

This task was flashed out by the Ukrainian Maidans and Ukrainians demonstrated that they were capable of miracles of self-organization. And this is something we can see now during the current war, as the entire country has transformed into a single coordinated volunteer platform.

The sixth point that I want to make is that Ukrainians also have this eternal resonance. Our society comprises numerous minor and non-steady associations, and these associations cannot be managed in a centralized manner. Under normal conditions the Ukrainian society is quite chaotic and multi-faceted and it’s very difficult to consolidate such a society. But as soon as we have one grand purpose, for example, we organize a Maidan or achieve a victory in a war, - a miracle happens, and all these multi-directed cells get consolidated and are organized into action. And it happens not by the will of one specific autocrat but because of this lightning-fast eternal resonance in the diverse society and this is something that fascinated the entire world about Ukraine since the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine.      

Thus, as you can see, Ukrainians a really skillful in managing their differences, but under one condition, they need to have this faith in victory of the good. A Ukrainian that has this faith is invincible. And, conversely, a Ukrainian that has lost this faith becomes subjugated by another “organizer”.

The seventh point is that we need to understand that this task of managing conflicting interests and obligations in case of Ukraine pertains not only to internal policy, but also to external policy.

What is happening in contemporary Russia right now, - is not this passionate uptake, its not really the not a real "warm-up", but an exacerbation of phantom pains.  It’s the imitation of power, it’s not the power itself. Putin’s Russia could be successful but only imposing the demise of civilization. There was an evil spark in Putin’s eyes when he articulated his sacred phrase: “Why do we need such a world with no Russia in it?”[5].

Now it’s obvious that such Russia is doomed. And this is something that Russian philosopher Yuriy Afanasiev wrote about:

Do we need to save such Russia with despotic power where personality and the majotiry of population have been subjugated. My answer is no. […] We need to change the paradigm of Russia[6].

However Ukraine’s role in the future transformation of Russia has not been fully contemplated by either the world or ourselves. We are still in midway of this process. What matters now is for us to stand against this Holiaf and we need to help the world overcome the fear. We need to convince the West not to repeat the ancient mistake of George Bush and Margaret Thatcher, they were afraid of the uncontrolled collapse of the USSR and so they made efforts to support the unity of the Soviet Union. This is something that we can observe right now. Because of the fear of Russian uncontrolled collapse, there are these attempts to nurture Putins’ regime in an artificial manner. But we need to understand that it is not always possible to facilitate the uncontrolled collapse of the empire.

We also need to see the weaknesses in our position. We cannot really go beyond the aspiration to build “this Chinese wall” between ourselves and Russia. Which is clear: this is the only way we can respond to the war crimes committed by Russia in Bucha, Mariupol or Izyum. But the world does not need new walls, and I doubt that we would be able to convince the world that the Ukrainian wall will be better than this perpetual Russian “iron curtain”.  

So, Ukraine will be able to become one of the links of the new global border once it succeeds in becoming an element of completely different post-Yalta paradigm, that will unite the world that will not really just oppose one part of it against the other, because this something that in mind in our inclusive identity! Тhis novel paradigm should be grounded in the basic values of human civilization, we should not be steeped in fear.   The real concept for Ukraine’ s security is to become a hub of security and deliberation in it’s region. This is the only way for us to have this real synthesis of civilizations, not a static one, but dynamic and changeable. And this way the Ukrainian space that has always been on this cultural divide will be able to become a self-sufficient element with conflicting characteristics aligned. Maybe, this is somethin that assistant secretary general of the USA George Kent meant:

Ukraine is an important country for the region and this country id crucial from the symbolic perspective. It is a support for the oriental and Eastern Slavic world…[7].

There is another conclusion that we can we make based on this: in our part of the world we have this geopolitical “domino effect” growing up. The high quality transformation of the Ukrainian social and political environment would give impulses to the transformation of the Slavic triangle namely this is a chain of change of Russian paradigm, that Yuriy Afanasiev mentioned. That would also give this energetic impulse to the high-quality transformation of the European geopolitical skeleton.

But what is interesting, for the first time in the contemporary history of Ukrainians their mosaic and wandering identity would not really be an obstacle for this process, but conversely, would make this process possible.


[1]                     Saint Augustine, Bishop and Teacher of the Church //

[2]              Сергій Плохій. Брама Європи. Історія України від скіфських воєн до незалежності /перекл. з англ. Роман Клочко / перероб. і доп. вид. – Харків: Книжковий клуб «Клуб сімейного дозвілля», 2021, с. 466.

[3]              Ян-Вернер Мюллер. Демонізація і культурні війни. Як Трамп руйнує американську демократію//

[4]              Вікторія Бриндза. Якою є українська мрія? //

[5]              Путін про ядерний удар: Навіщо нам такий світ, якщо не буде Росії? //

[6]              Юрий Афанасьев. Высоколобые холопы //

[7]              «“Дзвінок президентів, враховуючи його символічність, має бути підкріплений діями” – Джордж Кент» //