It has become “fashionable” to talk about corruption in Ukraine and there have been multiple reasons for that. There have been even claims made that corruption is something “in the blood” of the Ukrainians. For example, David Arakhamia, the head of the Presidential the Servant of the People party in the Ukrainian Parliament declared in 2021 that in his opinion, corruption is “in the DNA of the Ukrainians”. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Arakhamia is an immigrant from Russia and there were questions asked if he was in a position to make such claims in the country that gave him shelter. Later, he apologized but the matter drew serious attention already and required some answers. So, how are the Ukrainians known in history in the matter of honesty? We will resort to the book by Dr. Edward Clarke “Travels in Russia” which has been already mentioned in several previous articles on this site. The good thing about Dr. Clarke’s opinion is that around 1800 he approached the territory of present-day Ukraine expecting something bad from the Ukrainians because some “david arakhamias” of those days had told him bad things about the “Malo-Russians”. The very term “Little Russians”, and that is how it translates. was invented by the Muscovites to present the Ukrainians as somewhat inferior to the “Great Russians”. Here is how Dr. Clarke described the first encounter of the Ukrainians and his first impressions: “We began to perceive that the farther we advanced from the common hordes of the Russians, the more politeness and hospitality we should experience; exactly the reverse of that which we had been taught to expect by the inhabitants of Moscow.” After some time with the Ukrainians, Dr. Clarke recorded some of his observations:
“We met frequent caravans of the Malo-Russians, who differ altogether from the inhabitants of the rest of Russia. Their features are those of the Polonese or Cossacks. They are a more noble race, and stouter and better-looking people than the Russians, and superior to them in every thing that can exalt one set of men above another. They are cleaner, more industrious, more honest, more generous, more polite, more courageous, more hospitable, more truly pious, and of course less superstitious… They have in many instances converted the desolate steppes into corn fields. Their caravans are drawn by oxen, which proceed about thirty versts a day. Towards evening, they halt in the middle of a plain, near some pool of water, when their little waggons are all drawn up in a circle, and their cattle are suffered to graze around; while the drivers, stretched out upon the smooth turf, take their repose, or enjoy their pipe, after the toil and heat of the day. If they meet a carriage, they take off their caps, and bow. The meanest Russians bow to each other, but never to a stranger”.
As for Ukraine just 200 years ago, the foreigners knew the following:
“Concerning the inhabitants of the country called Malo-Russia, a French gentleman, who had long resided among them, assured me he used neither locks to his doors nor to his coffers; and among the Cossacks, as in Sweden, a trunk may be sent open, for a distance of 500 miles, without risking the loss of any of its contents. Mr. Rowan, banker of Moscow, was compelled, by the breaking down of his carriage, to abandon it in the midst of the territory of the Don Cossacks, and it was afterwards brought safe to him at Taganrog, with all its appurtenances and contents, by the unsolicited and disinterested labour of that people. Who would venture to leave a carriage, or even a trunk, although encased, doubly locked, and directed among the Russians?”
As can be seen, 200 years ago, the Don Cossacks did not associate themselves with the Russians, they were much closer to the Ukrainians than many people realize. The book mentioned below may help to understand how and why.
As for the Russians, there is the following quote Edward Clarke found necessary to include in his book:
“Next to drunkenness, the most prominent and common vice of the Russians is theft. From the first Minister to the General-officer, from the lackey to the soldier, all are thieves, plunderers, and cheats. – It sometimes happens, that, in apartments at Court, to which none but persons of quality and superior officers are admitted, your pocket book is carried off as if you were in a fair. The King of Sweden, after the battle of July, 1790, invited a party of Russian officers, who had been made prisoners to dine with him. One of them stole a plate: upon which the offened king ordered them all to be distributed among the small towns, where they never again ate off silver.” Memoirs of the Court of Petersburg, Lond. 1801, Pp. 270.
“Gardariki, Ukraine” e-book has unique insights into the history of Ukraine.