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A Potted Pathé History Of Ukraine

A screen shot of Ukrainian peasants from "The Harvesters' Song," a British Pathé news clip that was made in 1935

A screen shot of Ukrainian peasants from "The Harvesters' Song," a British Pathé news clip that was made in 1935

The recent announcement by the 20th-century newsreel maker British Pathé that it was uploading thousands of hours of its digitized footage to YouTube sparked a flurry of excitement among history buffs who were eager to delve into its unique collection of films covering major events of the past.

History, as they say, begets the present. Given Ukraine's place at the forefront of current world affairs, we decided to troll through British Pathé's vast film archive to see what clips there are from the East European country's past, which might shed some light on the situation that it finds itself in today:

1) The Harvesters' Song (1935)

There doesn't yet seem to be any Pathé footage available of Ukraine's Holodomor, the man-made famine orchestrated by the Soviet government, which killed millions of people in 1932-33.

This clip from a couple of years later paints a more idealized portrait of conditions in the "granary of Europe." It also mentions in passing the importance of "the Ukraine" to Moscow as well as its separatist leanings, both of which still seem eerily relevant today.

2) A Crimean Collective Farm (1939)

Here's another rose-tinted portrait of Soviet life from Crimea in 1939, portraying the modern methods and rewarding labor of collective farming.

It's interesting to note that the narrator refers to the region as "Tatar country." Although Moscow used the ethnic Russian inhabitants of Crimea as grounds for its annexation in March, no mention was made of the fact that the peninsula's indigenous Tatar population was deported en masse to Central Asia in 1944.

3) The Liberation Of Kyiv (1944)

As one of the epicenters of World War II, Ukraine arguably suffered more than most other countries during the conflict.

It's not surprising therefore that much of the rhetoric emanating from both the pro-Russian and Ukraine-unity sides in the current crisis often uses WWII as a frame of reference.

This compelling clip of the liberation of Kyiv from fascist Germany in 1944 helps illustrate why the harrowing events of that era still rouse such strong emotions more than seven decades later.

4) The Chornobyl Nuclear Disaster (1986)

One of the most traumatic events of Ukraine's postwar history is the Chornobyl nuclear meltdown.

This Pathé roundup of the devastating atomic accident in 1986 provides a decent precis of the disaster and the equally catastrophic response of the Soviet authorities.

5) The Orange Revolution (2004)

The roots of the Euromaidan can be traced back to the Orange Revolution nearly a decade earlier.

This clip shows Pathé covering all the bases in its report on the mass protests following a hotly disputed presidential election in 2004, which eventually swept reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko to power ahead of pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych in a repeat election.

The video's narrator rather optimistically describes these events as the birth of "another movement for democracy in Eastern Europe."

Political infighting, however, helped ensure that the Orange Revolution quickly ran out of steam, and Viktor Yanukovych eventually became president anyway when he succeeded Yushchenko in 2010.

His ouster following widespread protests over perceived corruption and abuse of power earlier this year is what precipitated the current crisis and brought us to the present impasse between east and west Ukraine.
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-- Coilin O'Connor

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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