Ed­i­to­rial: Ruth Bader Gins­burg’s Ukrainian roots show need to ed­u­cate West

Kyiv Post - - FRONT PAGE -

The United States has lost a leg­end and a cham­pion for women’s rights and gen­der equal­ity. On Sept. 18, the U. S. Supreme Court As­so­ciate Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg died at age 87 from pan­cre­atic can­cer.

Gins­burg was many things to many peo­ple: a tow­er­ing Amer­i­can ju­rist, a woman who broke glass ceil­ings, an ad­vo­cate for pro­gres­sive causes and much more.

She was also an Amer­i­can who could trace her fam­ily roots to Ukraine. Gins­burg’s fa­ther was born in what is today the city of Kh­mel­nyt­sky and likely lived in Odesa be­fore his fam­ily de­parted for the United States in the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury. Gins­burg’s mother was the first Amer­i­can-born child of im­mi­grants from the city of Bur­shtyn in today’s Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast.

But you won’t hear much of that in Gins­burg’s obit­u­ar­ies. Amer­i­can news­pa­pers have iden­ti­fied her par­ents as Rus­sian, Pol­ish or Aus­trian Jews. Few even men­tion Ukraine.

This is not a new oc­cur­rence. So many prom­i­nent Amer­i­cans (and peo­ple from other coun­tries) can trace their roots to Ukraine, yet Ukraine is per­pet­u­ally over­looked. Why is that?

There are mul­ti­ple rea­sons. At the time when Gins­burg’s an­ces­tors left Ukraine, it was not an in­de­pen­dent coun­try. In­stead, it was di­vided be­tween the Rus­sian and Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian em­pires. Of­ten, im­mi­grants from Ukraine — par­tic­u­larly Jewish ones — fled anti-Semitism, poverty and con­scrip­tion in the tsar’s army. Un­sur­pris­ingly, many brought neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward their an­ces­tral land to the U.S.

Ad­di­tion­ally, sev­eral gen­er­a­tions later, their de­scen­dants of­ten lack an un­der­stand­ing of Eastern Europe’s his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy. So they too per­ceive their an­ces­tors as Rus­sian, Pol­ish or Aus­trian.

In an ideal world, Amer­i­cans would learn about Ukraine and how many peo­ple trace their an­ces­try to this coun­try. News­pa­pers would print cor­rect in­for­ma­tion about fig­ures like Gins­burg. But that is un­likely to hap­pen on its own.

In­stead, Ukraine should re­claim peo­ple whose an­ces­tors em­i­grated from its mod­ern ter­ri­tory and as­sert its place in Amer­i­can his­tory. This will give Ukraine back its his­tory. It will also help peo­ple to rec­og­nize that Ukraine is not a coun­try that ap­peared in 1991. Rather, it has ex­isted for hundreds of years and is an in­alien­able part of Europe and world his­tory.

But this isn’t just about Ukraine’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion. It’s also about mak­ing right on the wrongs of his­tory. Peo­ple like Gins­burg’s an­ces­tors left Ukraine to seek a better life else­where — one free from per­se­cu­tion, fear and poverty. Some­times Ukraini­ans were the agents of their op­pres­sion.

Ukraine can­not change the past. But it can rec­og­nize these peo­ple as a part of its his­tory.

In the 21st cen­tury, de­scen­dants of im­mi­grants from Europe are cu­ri­ous to see where their an­ces­tors came from. And Ukraine should wel­come them to visit, rec­og­niz­ing them as part of a greater, global Ukraine.

Ukraine de­serves greater recog­ni­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally than it cur­rently re­ceives. It should not be so con­stantly left out of his­tory. But that won’t stop un­til it starts to dis­cover and rec­og­nize fig­ures like Ruth Bader Gins­burg — the de­scen­dants of peo­ple born and raised on Ukrainian soil — as a part of its his­tory, too.

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