Ukraine commemorates defeat of Sweden at Poltava

Ukrainian and Russian officials commemorated the 300th anniversary of the defeat of Sweden at the battle of Poltava with the unveiling of a new memorial on Saturday.

The commemoration ceremonies showed that the victory, which marked the beginning of Russian imperial dominance of eastern Europe, continues to cause controversy over how history should be remembered.

High-profile delegations, including Kremlin administration chief Sergei Naryshkin and top Ukrainian presidency officials, inaugurated a memorial to soldiers killed in the battle and placed garlands in front of local monuments.

“After the battle of Poltava… no-one on the European continent could ignore Russia’s political will,” Naryshkin said at the ceremony, Interfax news agency reported.

Naryshkin, a close ally of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, also expressed his “disappointment” at Ukraine for turning local Cossack commander Ivan Mazepa into a national hero.

The battle took place close to Poltava some 350 kilometres (218 miles) southeast of Kiev in central Ukraine on June 27, 1709 between the armies of Russian tsar Peter the Great and Sweden, supported by local Ukrainian Cossacks.

The battle marked the beginning of Russian imperial power in eastern Europe.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Marina Stavnychuk, said the battle had also boosted Ukraine’s independence movement despite the defeat of Swedish and Ukrainian soldiers.

The battle marked “the victory of the Ukrainian sprit in the fight for its independence,” she said, Interfax reported.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko earlier slammed as “prolonged hysteria” 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.”

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