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Will Ukraine end like Estonia in 1940?

By Sylvia McNeall - posted Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The devastating crash of the MH17 believed to have been shot down by pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine, brought the issue of the struggle in Ukraine against Russian forces to the forefront of world news again. The struggle might otherwise have become yesterday's news – as might happen again.

The resemblance of events in Ukraine to those in Estonia 75 years ago, demonstrates that Russian tactics for control of other sovereign nations have not changed. This chilling fact is of great concern to Estonia and other countries such as Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and even Azerbaijan. I have read reports Russian President Vladimir Putin had said he could invade the capitals of these European countries in two days if he wanted. If he did, Britain would also be at war according to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

Ukraine after the collapse of communism in 1991 and Estonia in 1920 share similar histories – both wanted to form democratic republics, in control of their economic and cultural futures. Both have been victims of policies Russia tried to force on them.


My Estonian family was badly affected after 1939, when protracted negotiations of a 'trade agreement' by Estonian Minister Karl Selter with USSR Commissioner Molotov, resulted in this 'sham' being abandoned. Instead Russia demanded a 'security' agreement broken a few months after it was signed. In June 1940, 115,000 USSR troops marched in and took full control of all ports, airports, railways and post offices.

After the invasion in 1940, the NKDV (fore runner of KGB) organised so called 'demonstrations' by workers, soldiers, policemen and civilian adults, who were actually threatened and coerced to demand Estonia join the USSR. The 'demonstrators' were flanked by Red Army armoured vehicles and plain clothed Soviet agents. A Soviet puppet government was imposed after sham elections were held on 14/15 July 1940. The predictable outcome was 100% vote for the communist candidates, after the Soviets removed the surprise Estonian candidates who stood despite the danger of deportation which eventuated.

In Ukraine, after a mass protest against Viktor Yanukovych in 2004 that prevented him from taking office, and the notorious 'Orange Revolution' which was destroyed by left factions, pro-Russian Yanukovych was 'elected' in 2010.

Mr Putin wanted to create a free trade bloc of eastern countries, under his authority. Yanukovych's massive theft of Ukrainian government funds enabled Russia to insist that he did not sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Instead, he would receive money to pay off urgent debts if he stopped the peaceful mass protests that were erupting in Ukraine. Yanukovych's attempts resulted in a massacre in February and his exile in March 2014.

In May, newly elected pro-European President Petro Poroshenko said he would continue the Ukrainian military effort to force the end of the Russian insurgency. The next events are recent history – Russian troops and military equipment sent by Mr Putin to help pro-Russian separatists take control of Crimea and try to turn the rest of the country into a subjugated nation or be ruled outright by Russia. How many lives will that destroy?

Back in 1940, during another forced demonstration on the 17 July, Communist PartySecretary, Karl Sare, proclaimed that Estonia was now annexed to the USSR. Estonian flags appeared in the crowd to cheers and applause. The Russian guards stormed and arrested people indiscriminately and thus started the arrest and deportation that continued until the death of Stalin in 1953.


Approximately 60,000 Estonians were deported or killed in the year 1940-1941. The deportations paused during the German occupation, from August 1941 to September 1944. My uncle was amongst the first wave of deportations, never to be heard of again. Other family members met the same fate, right up to 1949. A total of 17% of Estonia's pre-war population was lost. They were replaced by Russians who came to live in Estonia and turned the people into an ethnic minority in their own land.

Ukrainian and western officials doubt Mr Putin will hold to future agreements. He has been noted as saying that he would destroy the country if necessary if he cannot get it under Russian control … what hope is there for Ukraine?

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About the Author

Sylvia McNeall is the author of the historical memoir, Foresight and Perseverance (Short Stop Press P/B $29.99), which follows her family's journey over three generations. Now available at good book stores and online at

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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