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Whither goest thou, Ukrainian?

18 July, 00:00

Every day in the media we hear about some Ukrainian citizens protesting against our country joining NATO. At the same time, very few Ukrainians are aware of the advantages and disadvantages this membership entails. The blame for this lies with the Ukrainian authorities and the media.

I would like to draw attention to the fact that it is always the same Ukrainian citizens — ethnic Russians and totally Russified Ukrainians — who protest against NATO and rapprochement with the Western world. If you filter out the political demagogy of these anti-NATO protests, you will get sediment that constitutes a well-known historical feature of a considerable proportion of the Russian population — closeness based on ethnic and religious xenophobia and the perception of permanent danger from the West.

Thus, to a large extent today’s Russia remains a medieval imperial state that has only learned to deal with the nations it has conquered or which fully depend on it. Therefore, the mentality of Ukrainian Russians can be defined by the old saying, “They have forgotten nothing and learned nothing,” and hence, they only want to make friends with the East, i.e., Russia, irrespective of any practical benefit that may be derived from other interstate alliances.

Meanwhile, true Ukrainians have always been in contact with Western Europe, unless they were prevented by force, since the earliest years of their history. Suffice it to recall (a sweet recollection indeed) that young people from both western and eastern (Dnipro) Ukraine, from well-off and impoverished poor families, began to travel-even walk-to famous Western European universities as long ago as the 15th century, if not earlier. There they obtained higher diplomas, learned foreign languages, and sometimes stayed behind as instructors or even heads of those universities.

But more often than not, they would come home and teach students in seminaries or academies. One such traveling student from Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was Feofan Prokopovych, a well-known figure in the era of Peter I’s reforms. In order to study in Western Europe he even briefly converted from Orthodoxy to Greek Catholicism.

Yet no one ever went to the East, i.e., to Muscovite universities (with the exception of the Stalin era, when Soviet institutions of higher education began admitting students from Third World countries).

It would be worthwhile to recall an outstanding individual of the 17th century, for whom the Western world became the continuation of his fatherland. It is very difficult to imagine that such a personality could have emerged in Russia.

Yuriy Kulchytsky was born approximately in 1640 in the village of Kulchytsi Shliakhetski, near Sambir, in the Lviv region. At the age of 20, the youth fled to the Zaporozhian Sich and became a Cossack. It soon became apparent that the young Cossack had a special talent for languages: he quickly mastered Turkish and Hungarian and then became a brilliant translator, accompanying the Cossacks on their expeditions to foreign lands and oxcart caravans to the Crimea.

During one of those expeditions the young man was captured, taken to the Ottoman Empire, where he was imprisoned for several years. In captivity this country boy improved his Turkish and, surprisingly, developed a liking for coffee, then unknown in Europe. Some Serbian merchants, who needed the young prisoner as an interpreter, purchased Yuriy’s freedom. In Belgrade our hero, who was then fluent in Turkish, German, Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish, was employed as a translator at a large Viennese commercial company. He was also well-versed in the customs of the peoples who populated that part of Europe. In 1678 Kulchytsky moved to Vienna, where he launched his own trading business.

In 1683, during the Austro-Turkish war, the vastly outnumbered Viennese forces consisting of 16,000 Austrian soldiers and a militia of 6,000 men, were besieged by 200,000 Turkish troops. Among the Austrian troops was the former Zaporozhian Cossack Yuriy Kulchytsky. Vienna was stricken with famine, a raging epidemic, and panic. Messengers sent to deliver letters to the allied troops were unable to reach their destination. The decision was made to dispatch another messenger to the troops of Austrian Emperor Leopold I — a man who knew Turkish and could penetrate the enemy defenses.

The choice fell on Kulchytsky, who was accompanied by his friend Mihajlovic, a Serb. Dressed in Turkish clothing and bearing forged passports identifying them as Turkish army merchants, they sneaked into the Ottoman camp during the night and the next day walked bravely past the enemy tents. The Turks took them for their own men. The messengers accomplished their mission: they informed the Austrian government’s allies about Vienna’s plight, organized light signals from the belfry of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and returned to Vienna a few days later.

After some time the Turkish army was routed, to a large degree thanks to Cossack regiments led by Iskra, Hohol, Paliy, and others, who fought under the colors of Grand Crown Hetman Jan III Sobieski. Historians claim that among the many spoils captured from the Turks were 300 sacks of coffee beans, which Kulchytsky claimed as his reward.

He soon opened Europe’s first cafe called the Blue Cup, under a license granted by Emperor Leopold I himself. Contemporaries recount that people flocked in droves to Kulchytsky’s cafe, not so much to drink coffee, which the Viennese were still unable to appreciate, as to hear the brave Kulchytsky recount his “stroll” through the Turkish camp. Some time later, in his free moments Kulchytsky wrote The Tale of an Eyewitness Who, Disguised as a Turk, Went through the Enemy Camp and Came Back.

In the 19th century when the grateful Viennese were celebrating the anniversary of the victorious Battle of Vienna, they named a street and a cafe after Kulchytsky. Eventually, a monument to our compatriot was unveiled. Still standing today, the monument depicts a sturdy fellow in an exotic Turkish outfit holding a tray with cups in one hand and a coffeepot in the other. At his feet are trampled Turkish gonfalons, dented scimitars, and a sack of coffee.

This is the end of a story that has been recorded in numerous documents. Looking back to the beginning of this article, I must note that many of our ancestors would have been greatly surprised to see the anti-NATO slogans that some so-called citizens of Ukraine are brandishing over the Ukrainian lands. Why aren’t they defending the borders of Russia from the “corrupt West?”

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