The Washington PostThe Washington Post

You can't understand the war in Ukraine without knowing history

By Timothy Snyder

22 Feb 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

"If we deprive ourselves of history, everything is a surprise," and the past becomes a “realm of myth,” writes the historian Timothy Snyder in this powerful essay for The Post.

Teaching a lecture class on Ukrainian history last fall, I felt a touch of the surreal. The war in Ukraine had been going on for half a year when I began. A nuclear power had attacked a state that had given up its nuclear weapons. An empire was trying to halt European integration. A tyranny was attempting to crush a neighboring democracy. On occupied territories, Russia perpetrated genocidal atrocities with clear expressions of genocidal intent.

And yet, Ukraine was fighting back. Ukrainians resisted the nuclear blackmail, scorned the vaunted empire and took risks for their democracy. At Kyiv, Kharkiv and, later, Kherson, they beat back the Russians, halting the torture, the murder and the deportation.

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