• Sweden's news in English

Swedish king feted in Ukraine 300 years after landmark battle

AFP/The Local · 26 Jun 2009, 15:28

Published: 26 Jun 2009 15:28 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Swedish sculptor Bernhard Englund travelled to Poltava in Ukraine last week to deliver a bust of the former Swedish king to a museum in the Ukrainian town. Karl XII led the Swedish army into a battle in which it was outnumbered and outmaneuvered by Russia's Peter the Great.

For many West-leaning Ukrainians, the Swedish king is regarded as a positive force in the fight against Russian expansionism as personified by Peter I, Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reports.

But when Ukraine on Saturday marks the 300th anniversary of a key battle fought on its soil between imperial Russia and Sweden, it is the role of a Cossack commander that is providing a new source for Russia-Ukraine acrimony.

The Battle of Poltava -- fought on June 27th, 1709 in central Ukraine -- is seen as the pivotal victory for Russia in its two-decade struggle with Karl XII.

It was recorded in Soviet-era text books as the moment Russia -- under Peter the Great -- replaced Sweden as the dominant power in Eastern Europe.

But amid the great power clash, the role of one Ukrainian commander, Ivan Mazepa, is providing fuel to the debate about Kiev's allegiances in the tug-of-war between the country's pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians.

The Ukrainian Cossack leader -- a nationalist reformer who appears on the country's 10-hryvnia notes -- is remembered as a traitor by Moscow loyalists but a hero by Ukraine's Western-leaning nationalists.

Mazepa -- while formally allied with Peter the Great -- switched sides and fought alongside Swedish forces, allegedly angered by Russian incursion on Ukraine's autonomy and the Tsar's failure to protect it against Polish attacks.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko slammed as "prolonged hysteria" this year Russian accusations of Mazepa's "so-called betrayal" and created a new national award in the name of the controversial hero.

"Ivan Mazepa is not a traitor since he did not betray the Ukrainian people," Yushchenko said.

"He had only one goal: to preserve the independence of the Ukrainian state."

But the president's pro-Russian opponents hit back.

"Yushchenko glorifies such figures to make an enemy out of Russia and we will not allow this," said Valery Konovalyuk, a lawmaker with Ukraine's Party of the Regions.

"With the help of intrigues and betrayals, Mazepa angled for his personal independence and not that of the Ukrainian people."

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian People's Party complained that the mayor of Poltava had banned it from marching to commemorate Ukrainian Cossacks who died in the battle, while approving a religious procession in the name of Russian victory.

Mazepa was vilified by Russia after the 1709 battle. Peter the Great ordered him anathematized by the Orthodox Church, while in works by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and composer Peter Tchaikovsky he was cast as a traitor.

In May, Russia lashed out at Ukraine's preparations to mark the 300th anniversary, including plans to erect a monument to Mazepa.

These are attempts at "artificial, far-fetched confrontation with Russia," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We would like to remind the leaders of Ukraine that playing games with history, especially with hidden nationalist motives, has never led to any good," it added.

Story continues below…

Moscow has increasingly showed its ire over the efforts of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states to rehabilitate nationalist heroes, sidelined by Soviet historians.

Perhaps the fiercest clashes are over the memory of WWII. Russia sees its role in vanquishing Nazi Germany as incontestable, but many post-Soviet states see the Soviet front's advance on their territories not as a liberation but an occupation.

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the creation of a commission to defend Russia from historical "falsifications" in a move that underscored disputes over history that has emerged since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mazepa's standing among Ukrainians, meanwhile, reflects the cultural and linguistic split existing between the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country and western Ukraine.

About 30 percent of the population views Mazepa as "a man who fought for the independence of Ukraine," while 28 percent view him "as a turncoat who joined the enemy's ranks," according to an April survey by independent Ukrainian pollster the Research and Branding Group.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Löfven: 'Sweden will double its number of troops in Iraq'
Stefan Löfven and Haider al-Abadi during the visit on Monday. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to double his country's number of troops in Iraq following a meeting with Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi on Monday.

Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
Should Swedes think fairtrade with porn? Photo: Karin Malmhav/SvD/TT

A fairtrade attitude to pornography would be beneficial, Sweden's health minister told The Local.

Presented by Stockholm University
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

Nordic fashion took centre stage in the Swedish capital last week as Stockholm University hosted the “first-ever” academic conference looking at luxury and sustainability in the fashion industry.

Referee, coach and parents in Swedish youth football fight
File photo of a referee holding a red card not related to the story. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång/TT

A football dad broke his leg in the brawl in front of 11-year-old kids after a Hammarby youth football game.

Illicit abattoir kept more than 100 bulls' penises
A couple of young bulls not related to the story. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Dried cattle genitalia, goats' heads and hundreds of litres of lard were just a few of the many strange finds discovered when police raided a property in Sweden.

This is officially Sweden's most beautiful beard
The most beautiful beard in Sweden. Photo: Memo Göcek

According to a jury of barbers and 'well known bearded profiles', that is.

Presented by Invest Stockholm
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm

You might think it’s hard to make friends in a new city. But if at first you don’t succeed – try something else!

Injured Swedish photographer protected by 'guardian angel'
Swedish photographer Paul Hansen on another occasion. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Photographer Paul Hansen thanked his lucky stars for surviving sniper fire while covering the battle for the Isis-held city of Mosul in Iraq.

How Sweden is trying to smooth relations with Saudis
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven meeting Saudi Arabia's Trade Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has visited Saudi Arabia a year and a half after relations turned frosty in a major diplomatic row.

My Swedish Career
'Swedish people love it, but they find it quite odd'
Scottish entrepreneur William Macdonald. Photo: Michael Campanella

Meet the web developer and entrepreneur using traditional Scottish ceilidh dancing to break the ice with Swedes.

Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available