This article appeared in the Nottingham Post in March 2022.
Vladimir Putin is using historical “tricks” to justify war against Ukraine, an expert in European history at the University of Nottingham has said.
Dr Liudmyla Sharipova, assistant professor of early modern European history in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham, says she is in a “state of shock and horror” seeing events unfold in her country of birth, where her elderly mother is still trapped and extremely vulnerable in the capital, Kyiv.
Dr Sharipova says that the Russian President is deliberately using false allegations and spurious historical documents allegedly dating back to the middle ages to rationalise his invasion of Ukraine.
She says: “It is difficult to interpret or understand what Putin is saying most of the time. He keeps saying that he’s seen historical documents, and draws conclusions.
“This is as good as saying nothing. What documents are they, who selects them, from what period? How well is he trained to interpret historical documentation? It takes a lifetime of dedication to be a historian.
“His firm conclusion is that Russians and Ukrainians are a single people. And that Ukrainians were misled by the West into believing that they were a separate nation and had a different identity.
“The historical foundation for this is his excursions into the medieval period which is ridiculous in itself. What he’s doing with early Slavic history is a trick.”
Dr Sharipova has spoken out in fierce condemnation of the actions of President Putin, who employs “pseudo-historical, Goebbelsian lies” and fake news to back the invasion up.
“I’m afraid that a lot of people in Russia buy into this sort of propaganda,” she says. “We must try to look at it through their eyes. To us it’s nonsense that needs to be dismissed. For them it’s the kind of argument that pleases and comforts them.
“This is Putin, the anti-Christ who parades himself as the messiah. These are the actions of Satan. But his country sees him as a saviour, as a messiah.”
The University of Nottingham historian was born and raised in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the 1980s.
Having read modern languages at the University of Kyiv around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991, Dr Sharipova later went on to study in Budapest, Hungary, then at the University of Cambridge, where she studied for a Masters and a PhD in history.
When she was offered a teaching role at the University of Nottingham in 2006, Dr Sharipova said that it was “love at first sight” with the university and the city, which she has called home ever since.
“I thought ‘this is my kind of place’,” she says. “It was all young and vibrant. Nottingham’s history department was full of women and young people.”
In her time living in Nottingham she has witnessed a gradual escalation of tensions between her country of birth and its neighbour Russia, culminating in the war which erupted at the end of February with the invasion by Russian forces.
She says that since then the support she has received from colleagues, students and strangers in the city and beyond has been one of the only things keeping her going through the trauma of worrying for the fate of her country and her elderly mother trapped in Kyiv.
“The amount of solidarity and support over the past two weeks has been amazing,” she says. “Friends former and long forgotten, and people I’ve never met have been in touch to offer support.
“It’s been one of the few things that have sustained me through these horrible days. I’ve been pinching myself to wake myself up.
“This is no guarantee we’re heading for a happy end in the war but it gives you hope and it’s good to know that people understand what you are going through.
“I’m in a state of shock and horror. When you are in that state you don’t want any pronouncements by people on pulpits pontificating, you need support and friendship.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Image: AP)
Over two million citizens have fled Ukraine since the war began two weeks ago. But many, including Dr Sharipova’s mother and stepfather, have not been able to escape for health reasons.
Unable to walk even short distances without collapsing, her mother is trapped in her home in the centre of Kyiv with her stepfather as Russian troops and artillery bear down.
“There is nothing I can do for them,” she says. “I can’t go there and collect them.
“They are just stuck there on their own. Two frail and unhappy people. I call them frequently. The mood is darkening with every day. My mother’s partner thinks this is how they could be ending their days.
“Five years ago in 2017 I lost two very important members of my family, my aunt and my father. When the war started it occurred to me that I am glad they haven’t lived long enough to see the horror of this.”
Dr Sharipova, who believes that Nato military intervention is the only possible course, says that Western observers should be under no illusions about Putin’s intentions in Ukraine, and beyond, adding that a third world war in effect has already begun with the Russian invasion.
“I think it should be understood. We need to be clear-sighted. The future of Europe is being sketched out in Ukrainian blood as we are speaking,” she says.
“Chances are that World War III has already started. It’s not that it will start if Nato confronts Russia.
“If we wait until Ukraine is obliterated and Nato needs to fight, that would be worse for all of us. You cannot find a compromise with people who wish you out of existence.
“When Putin is finished with Ukraine he won’t stop until he is stopped.”