As we write this, Putin’s armies are streaming over Russia’s western border in a bid to swallow the sovereign nation of Ukraine. There is no denying that historically Ukraine has long been part of the Russian sphere of influence. The Kievan Rus was the Mother of both nations (just as the Frankish Kingdom was the Mother of Both France and Germany), and for centuries afterward, one would be hard pressed to tell the countries apart. Technically, Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the U.S.S.R. But since the dissolution of the latter terror-state, Ukraine has been recognized by the entire world as a discrete nation with its own identity, its own borders, its own people, its own government. While their languages are similar, they are only mutually intelligible with great difficulty, and the languages use different alphabets. The greatest difference is clearly the political culture. The Russians are autocratic, the Ukrainians democratic. Whatever the case, to violate their country in this manner, with all the inevitable death and destruction that will accompany it, is an outrage that should infuriate and appall everyone.
So we’re thinking of the Ukrainian people today. We’ve celebrated several Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans here on Travalanche. Some were ethnically Ukrainian, some born in territory that was once part of Ukraine or is now. They include Dave Chasen, Dave Apollon, Phil Spitalny, Mel Tolkin, Paul Muni, George Givot, Max Malini, Mike Mazurki, Nat Carr, Jack Palance, Sir Lew Grade, Jerry Austin, and L. Wolfe Gilbert. Mikhail Bakhtin and Jacob Adler both spent formative years in Odessa. A couple of these folks were formerly included in my Russians of Vaudeville post, which speaks to that muddiness of identity I mentioned, and frankly my own ignorance. We are glad to correct the record now. Thoughts and prayers today for the people of Ukraine.
For more on the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.