by Tatzhit Mihailovich
Video: Donbass Self-Defense: “My open hand now turned into a fist…” 18+
(please press the ‘cc’ button to see the English language captions)
I subtitled a video about Ukrainian civil war set to the famous song “Cuckoo” by 90’s band Kino, I think it explains a lot of “Russian identity” fairly well. The song can actually be interpreted in many ways, but I’ve always thought it referred to the 14th century battle of Kulikovo – which many consider an event that forged the modern Russian nation, both politically and spiritually.
Let’s talk history:
When Chengis Khan organized the nomadic Mongol and Tatar tribes into a highly disciplined force in the 13th century, it turned out that all other nations have already become civilized and complacent, and no one could stand up to hardy men that rode horses before they could walk and trained to hold a bow before they could ride. The Golden Horde smashed the huge Chinese and Persian empires, forever changing the fate of the world.
When Mongols reached Russia, the Russian Princes were busy squabbling among brothers and did not manage to unite in time. [song lyrics] “The strong and the brave stood firm in the field – and died…”.
Russians passed under the Mongol yoke, many were driven off as slaves and the rest had to pay tribute to foreign overlords. [song lyrics] “Our sweet freedom, where are you now? … It was good with you, and bad without you. …”
After a century of oppression, Prince Dmitry of Moscow rose up against the Khan and rallied all free men to his banner. All Russian princedoms forgot their differences and joined. By that time, many formerly Russian lands were ruled by Lithuanians or other rulers loyal to the Khan – “few still remember, of firm body and mind”; but even there, many broke with their masters and came to Dmitry’s aid.
Knowing that the Khan was personally coming to punish the rebels and his army still hugely outnumbered the Russians, Dmitry put his army with their backs to a river, so they could not retreat. Old songs speak of 300,000 Tatars against 150,000 Russians, but modern historic estimates put the numbers at around 125,000 Tatars against 60,000 Russians.
For comparison, one of the largest European battles of the time, Poitiers, that nearly destroyed France, involved 6,000 English troops fighting 11,000 French.
The fighting went on for most of the day, with both sides taking very heavy losses. Prince Dmitry gave his armor to his retainer, and fought as a common knight himself; the retainer was cut down, and the Grand Prince heavily wounded. When, in the end, Russian infantry started giving ground, hidden Russian knights suddenly charged out of a forest and “rolled” the Mongol line, leading to a general rout; the Mongol army was destroyed, and the Khan soon got assassinated by a rival.
This impossible feat of beating an empire that conquered half the known world is said to have forged the Russian nation – soldiers came onto Kulikovo field as men of Princedoms of Tver, Suzdal, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Polotsk, Murom, Smolensk, Ryazan… and left as men of Russia.
This scenario repeated several times afterward:
Early 17th century (so-called “Time of Troubles”), the last Rurikid Tsar died, state largely collapsed and Poles installed an impostor on the throne – a minor noble Pozharsky and a merchant Minin called up a people’s militia and drove them out (those are the people on “Tatzhit” userpic, by the way).
Napoleon’s invasion of 1812 – the army that took over Europe collapsed due to being unable to break the Russian army (battle of Borodino – the bloodiest day of fighting in human history, and a draw) and Russian commoners attacking its supply lines.
And of course the Nazi invasion of USSR, when Nazis encircled and destroyed the professional Soviet army in the blitzkrieg, only to be faced with an endless stream of volunteers replacing those that fell (see more in footnotes to the video below)
This same spirit is what drives the republican forces in Donbass now: initially very heavily outnumbered and outgunned, they held out through the first summer facing objectively impossible odds, stopping modern tanks with obsolete WWII anti-tank rifles, etc. (cue Dremov and such – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPw–TNpNQg ).
It is also worth noting that many of the militiamen are men in their 40s and 50s, who are propelled by the Soviet ideology of duty, honor, and protecting their homeland, whereas some younger men consider Western values of consumerism more to their liking.
PS. One other note: “Tell me, cuckoo. Count time.” refers to the Russian superstition that the repetitive call of the cuckoo tells the listener how many years one has left to live (interestingly, Germans also believe this).
PPS. Also worth noting that the May 2nd, 2014 Odessa massacre, which was in many ways the precipitating event that escalated armed standoffs into a full-blown civil war, happened in the square named “Kulikovo square” after the 1380 battle.
Защитники Донбасса – “Моя ладонь превратилась в кулак”
Алексей Кораблин – War Pictures Entertainment
Song: “Cuckoo” by Kino, sung by Polina Gagarina
Footage is mostly taken from NewsFront / Maksim Fadeev videos, I have some of them translated, e.g. this:
[Gorlovka – Voiceover]
“This is Sparta” [Subtitled]