Post-280: The Ukraine is a Hard Road to Travel (Or, Confederate East Ukraine)

This month is the one year anniversary of the dramatic coup in Ukraine in which streetfighters toppled the corrupt government (see post-197; looking back at it, I note that my prediction that the Right Sector video would disappear was correct; so I’m glad I made the “textual transliteration”…)

Later in 2014, Russians in East Ukraine declared their intent to secede from the New Ukraine and form a new nation called Novorossiya, presumably to be a Russian satellite. Militias appeared and a secessionist war drags along which has killed thousands already. This sort of war was predicted by a professor I had in a class about the “Soviet Succession States”  in my final semester at university in 2008. He was in no way pro-Russian but he said the obvious solution was to rearrange borders in line with ethnic geographies, and that refusing to consider doing so was deeply foolish. The main example he used at the time was Ukraine, with its Russian-speaking majorities in many eastern areas.

I saw the BBC run a photo today of a position held by the secessionists in East Ukraine. The flag jumps out at me:


Position of the secessionist militia (UAFN) in East Ukraine with its battle flag. January 2015

The flag bears a strong, striking resemblance to that of the Confederate States of America’s battle flag.[5][6] […] Gubarev has since stated that the inspiration for the flag came from “banners used by Cossacks who reclaimed the New Russian territories from Tatars and Turks for Russia in the 18th century”; however according to Alexey Eremenko of the Moscow Times, no Cossacks ever used a flag resembling the one chosen.[7]



UAFN (United Armed Forces of Novorossiya) secessionist rebels’ Wikipedia page with Battle Flag


Map of the war situation, late January 2015, East Ukraine


The East Ukraine secessionists are doing surprisingly well against the Ukrainian federal army (or the Ukrainian “Union” army, we might say). It’s hard to imagine NATO and everybody allowing Ukraine to be partitioned, but if the federal army consistently fails to defeat the rebel militias, partition may come sooner or later. Will direct U.S. intervention come, like in the 1990s Balkan wars? That seems very unlikely because it is too close to Russia. Anyway, so far this “UAFN” rebel militia has stymied all attempts to defeat it.

The wavers of a very similar flag likewise did well in Virginia in 1861-64, famously defeating campaign after campaign by superior forces. This reminds me of a satirical song written in 1863 or 1864 called “Richmond is Hard Road”. The song was actually written by a Confederate but its narrator is supposed to be a Union soldier looking back on the six straight debacle-like failures to move against Richmond):

Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel
Would you like to hear my song? I’m afraid it’s rather long
Of the famous “On to Richmond” double trouble,
Of a half a dozen trips and half a dozen slips
And the very latest bursting of the bubble.
‘Tis pretty hard to sing and like a rolling ring
‘Tis a dreadful knotty puzzle to unravel.
Though all the papers swore, when we touched Virginia’s shore,
That Richmond was a hard road to travel!

First McDowell, bold and gay, set forth the shortest way
By Manassas in the pleasant summer weather,
But he unfortunately ran on a Stonewall, foolish man!
And had a rocky journey altogether. […]
It was clear beyond a doubt that he didn’t like the route,
And the second time would have to try another!

I find this song to be very clever. The last two lines there pun cleverly: “Route” (as in path) is pronounced by the singer as rawt, the same as “rout” (as in, a military defeat resulting in the temporary disintegration one an army and its retreat from a battlefield). There were two battles of Manassas, summer ’61 and summer ’62, both failures for the Union. Many of the other puns of this song require knowledge of the U.S. Civil War of more depth even than that, and I don’t get many of them.

Here is a performance of this song by the “2nd South Carolina String Band” (Lyrics):

There is something serene, to me, in a playful song like this about a war. This was only possible because in the old days there was a dignity and grace to war, which involved mutually-respected codes of ethics and set piece battles, not a war of all against all. (They say the Christmas Truce of 1914 in the West was the final act of this kind of “gentleman’s war”). There were almost no civilians killed in the U.S. Civil War. These days, if news reports are correct, the Ukrainian war is killing more civilians than combatants.


  1. Знаете ли вы?
    Английский крейсер ценой четырёх попаданий защитил конвой от немецкого рейдера.
    Китайскую пустыню засадили лесами и открыли там фешенебельный курорт.
    Министр социального обеспечения Израиля однажды назвала почти всех выходцев из СССР своими клиентами.
    Новый вид пауков-скакунов был назван по имени писателя в честь юбилея его самой известной книги о гусенице.
    Подруга и последовательница Льва Толстого уже в детстве ходила босиком и отвергала нарядную одежду.


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