Good Morning, Ukraine!

December 03, 1991

Although Ukraine introduced Christianity as well as organized government to Russia, outsiders have often viewed it as a nation on the periphery. The name itself conveys that sentiment: Ukraina means "outskirts" (or "vastness"). English-speakers have only added to that sense of marginality by referring to it as the Ukraine.

For the past four centuries, Ukraine has been dominated by a succession of foreign usurpers -- Russians, Poles and Germans. As a result of Sunday's referendum, a seemingly impossible change in political geography has occurred: Ukrainians have given birth to a major new nation in Europe. With a population of 52 million, it is nearly equal to France, Italy or Britain. And not only is Ukraine a legendary breadbasket. Its location on the Black Sea, bordering Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, gives it a strategic value which is underscored by its long border with Russia.

We welcome Ukraine to the family of independent nations with hope but also with trepidation.

Ukraine has many of the basic ingredients for success. At the same time, its inheritance from seven decades of Communist mismanagement is a heavy one. One word -- Chernobyl -- symbolizes that burden. Communists gave Ukraine not only a serious nuclear radiation problem but also begot an ecological catastrophe. Ukraine's rivers are poisoned, its once-fertile black earth zone is exhausted because of erosion and over-fertilization.

These are urgent matters new Ukrainian leaders have to deal with even though they may not have either the money or easy solutions to correct them.

The other serious cause for concern is Ukraine's future relationship with Russia.

Again, the historical burden is a heavy one. Ukraine paid an unbelievable human toll to Stalin's terror, from his forced collectivization of agriculture and the resultant famine to the bloody suppression of nationalism and religion. And that is not even counting whatever injustices may have occurred under centuries of czarist rule. Russians, for their part, lodge their counter-claims, starting with Stalin's decision to give Crimea to Ukraine after World War II.

It would be a mistake for the new Ukrainian leaders to take the vengeful road of nationalist exclusion. Theirs is a multi-national state, with regions that have a distinctly Polish or Russian heritage. Ukraine's best chance for success comes from economic and cultural cooperation with other former Soviet republics, whether they be Russia and Kazakhstan or the now-independent Baltic states.

If Ukraine wants to be accepted into the international community as a respected member, it should promptly destroy the Soviet nuclear weapons on its soil. It also ought to show its fiscal responsibility by shouldering its share of Soviet debt.

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