Russian President Vladimir Putin has named several divisions and regiments of the Russian Army after Ukrainian cities, such as Lviv (Lvov) and Zhytomyr, as well as the Polish capital Warsaw. This move is sure to anger Ukrainian and Polish ultra-nationalists.
Update: As of now, Ukrainian nationalists are already triggered and angered over the names.
Putin assigned the names as honorifics, commemorating the participation of the divisions or regiments in the liberation of the city for which they received their name.
For this reason, by Putin’s decree, the 6th Guards Tank Regiment of the Russian Army will now be known as the 6th Lvov Tank Guards Regiment, in honor of the Western Ukrainian city of Lvov, Galicia.
The 68th Tank Regiment will now be called the Zhytomyr-Berlin Guards. The regiment, originally founded in 1944, and newly revived in 2017, was named in honor of Zhytomyr Oblast, North Ukraine, and the name “Berlin” comes from the capture of Berlin in 1945.
The 381st artillery regiment has received the name Warsaw, after the Capital of Poland, though it must be said that Warsaw was not the capital during the period of Polish rule of Ukraine; the capital of Rzeczpospolita (Poland-Lithuania) was Krakow.
Soviet Soldiers fought to liberate Warsaw and all Poland from German Nazis, and it was the Heroes of the Red Army who liberated the Nazi concentration camps there. This must not be forgotten, even if contemporary Polish political figures forget.
The designation of “Verkhnodneprovsk” a name which means “Upper Dnipro River” was assigned to the 933rd anti-aircraft missile regiment, and the 102nd motorized rifle regiment received the name “Slonim-Pomeransk”.
The 90th tank division was given the name “Guards of Vitebsk and Novgorod”. Vitebsk is a Belarusian city located in the north, near the Russian border. When people hear the name Novgorod, they often think of the famous ancient city, where Rus’ history began.
While this Russian city Great Novgorod, being the closest to Vitebsk, is the logical reason for the name, it must not be forgotten the name simply means “New City”, and as a result, there is the much larger and younger Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, as well a Novgorod in Ukraine, which is ironically located south of the original Great Novgorod.
Additionally, the 400th self-propelled artillery regiment was named after Transylvania, in Romania, a name which means “Beyond the Forest”, which is in fact, a common Slavic name, as there is one such place of the same name near Moscow, as well as Kiev.
Transylvania is known in Ukrainian by a Slavic version of its Austro-Hungarian name, Semihorod, meaning Seven Cities. The region is most famous for the Voivode Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Impaler, who spawned the “Dracula” legends.
It is worth noting that the excessive accounts emphasizing Vlad the Impaler’s violence may have been slightly exaggerated slander by the Germans. Contemporary Russian and Slavic accounts provide a more fair and unbiased middle ground.
They acknowledge his cruelty, but also noted successful diplomacy and campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. They did heavily criticize him for what they felt was a betrayal of Orthodoxy, and believed this is what caused his death, in contrast to the life of his cousin, Saint Stephan the Great, but this is beyond the scope of this article. The main focus are the army groups whose names Putin assigned, but it is worth understanding a little something about the regions for which they take their names.
The last three army groups mentioned, according to a Russian language report, where the 856th self-propelled artillery regiment which got the name “The Guards of Kobryn”, the 150th motorized rifle division, which got the name “Idritsko-Berlin”, and finally, the 144th motorized rifle division, which was given the name “Elnya guards”.
Note, in the Russian Military Tradition, a Guards Regiment, or simply the title “Guards” refers to an elite or particularly distinguished unit. This is not the same as Special Forces (Spetsnaz), though a Spetsnaz Unit can also be a Guards Unit.
Officers of a Guards unit bare the additional honorific “of the Guards”, added to their title, so a Colonel of a Guards regiment would be known as Colonel of the Guards (Gvardesky Polkovnik), or Guards Colonel. It is important to address an officer or unit appropriately of course, this was joked about in the legendary and beloved Russian movie “Only Old Men Go to Battle”, which is a must watch for Russia lovers.
In the film, Ukrainian singer and Ace Pilot Capitan Titarenko is walking by, and one of the surprised soldiers in this scene says “Oh, Excuse me Comrade Captian”, and he jokingly says “That’s Comrade Guards Captian to you!”
The film is a Russian classic about the Great Patriotic War, which is, of course, the main reason why these units were given the special names, for the sake of the “preservation of the glorious military historical traditions, and the instilment in military personnel of the spirit of devotion to the Fatherland and loyalty in fulfillment of one’s military duty”.
Of course, ultranationalists from Ukraine, Poland, and possibly Romania may falsely see this as some form of expansionist threat, as Ukrainians have already said. This is, of course, ridiculous, as the units were named for historical deeds of heroism, people should not blind themselves to their history, and the reality is Russia assisted in the liberation of these countries from Nazism. Were it not for the might of the Soviet Union, all of Europe and likely the entire world could have been ruled by the Nazis.
In the case of Ukraine, this was Russian land, liberated by Rus’ Slavic people – Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, but Russia also helped Poland, as well as Romanian and Moldovian partisans, push the Nazis off of their land. A famous Russian song about a beautiful Moldovan partisan girl fighting the Nazis is sung in that movie.
It was particularly interesting and ironic, though very appropriate that a guards regiment would be named after Lvov (Lviv), which means “The Lion-City”. Lvov is the historical capital of Galicia, and the most stereotypically westernized of Ukrainian cities.
The traditional date of the founding of Lviv is given as 1256, however, some historians believe it was founded between 1240 and 1247, shortly after the fall of Kiev (1240).
The city served as the capital for the westernmost principality of Rus’, which was quickly conquered by Poland, and then merged with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the period of the Commonwealth, the Uniate Catholic religion was invented, and to this day, Lvov has one of the highest groups of Uniates or outright Roman Catholics in Ukraine.
This is illustrative of the extreme cultural differences between one part of Ukraine and another, to the extent that it almost feels like they are two separate countries.
Kiev, the traditional birthplace of Russia, which was only separated from Russia for a period of around 300 years, between 1360 and 1654 (and again since from 1991 to the present day), has a much more Russian and Orthodox feel. If you did not know Russian cities and architecture, I believe a foreigner could mistake it for a city like Volgograd – they both even have a “Motherland with a sword” style statue.
Above is Volgograd, Russia, and below, is the distant city of Kiev, Ukraine.
Kiev is over one thousand kilometers away from Volgograd Russia, twice the distance to Lviv, which is about 500 km from Kiev, and even though Kiev and Lviv are in the same country, whereas Volgograd is not, the former two are more distant in culture.
Lviv looks, feels, and sounds much more Polish, and it was only reunited with Russia in 1939 after spending centuries in Austro-Hungary and Poland, only to be lost to the Germans during WW2, and liberated in 1944.
Just imagine the differences between Lviv and Donbass.
Not only does Lviv have a distinctly less “Soviet” look to it, but the buildings could even fit in with those in Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czechia, etc. The Churches look far more Catholic than they do Orthodox. These things influence culture and thought tremendously.
This is not to say there are not Orthodox Christians from Lviv. I know some, as they are my friends. Orthodox people in Lviv feel no different than those from the rest of Ukraine, or in Russia, aside from the language and accent of course.
The people of Lviv can still speak Russian if they encounter those who don’t speak Ukrainian. Lviv people are of course, still Ukrainians, and therefore Eastern Slav, and Galicia was once an equal part of Rus’, so there will always be a common history.
Still, one can not deny the powerful foreign influence in Lviv. A simple look at the skylines reveals the cities have a different character.
This does not mean that it is bad to be Polish, Austrian, etc, or it is bad to have Catholic Churches in your cities. Of course, it is positive to coexist and respect all peoples and cultures.
It is simply worth noting, that when a city looks and feels a different, when the people speak even a different, more Polish-influenced Ukrainian, and when they have spent most of their history in other states, it can cause cultural differences.
These differences should not cause conflict, but our fallen human nature allows them to. I fully believe the Orthodox Church will unite Ukraine, and see her through the storms, and Nazism has no future in this land, in the West, or the East.
Still, there are difficulties today, which are caused by cultural differences.
These differences express themselves clearly in Ukrainian political life and demographics.
Naming a Russian regiment after Lviv is merely one of the ways people can be reminded of their brotherly bond, when people of all parts of the Soviet Union fought together.
There is still a lot more to be done to bring peace to Ukraine, after the Western Neo-Cons and Ultranationalists tore it apart.
Learning about when in history the differences first emerged can help, and ultimately, studying the history will reveal that all of Ukraine, even Lviv has its roots in Kievan Rus’.
Ukrainian ultra-nationalists believe instead, that they are the true Russians, and that Russian people have no claim to Kievan Rus’. They think they are more Rusian than the Russians.
It was the West, which invaded and occupied, and Hitler, and Austrian-German, of the same group of people that occupied the land for centuries, that the Red Army drove out of Lviv.
It is important to remember that, and not to forget.