The Mysterious Gift

Khrushchev after turning Crimea over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic

In February of 2014, the world was shocked on February 26, just three days after the Sochi Olympics ended, and the days following when reports began to surface that Russian troops were deployed in Crimea. Russia had poured billions of dollars into the 2014 Winter Olympics and other things in order to attempt to portray Russia in a more positive light, and now they had just invaded one of their neighboring countries ruining any progress they had made.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The People of Moscow. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1955.
Celebration of 300th anniversary of the union of Russia and Ukraine, which was followed by the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine

In 1954 on February 19, Crimea became apart of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This move surprised many because Russia has a long history with Crimea and has gone to great lengths in the past to add and keep Crimea under their control. What is even more strange is the reasoning behind the transfer, which were “the economic commonalities, territorial closeness, and communication and cultural links” between Ukraine and Crimea (Siegelbaum). The weird thing is that their economies really were not very intertwined, since Crimea relied mostly on tourism. On the other hand, Russia was economically and militarily intertwined with Crimea due to Russia’s need for a warm water port that can be used all year around, which has recently been reaffirmed through Russia’s invasion of Crimea. As for the cultural connection, the same is true in the sense that Russia had greater cultural ties to Crimea since the majority of its population in 1954 was Russian. The thought process involved in this exchange is very mysterious. It makes you wonder if Ukraine had some sort of leverage against the Russians at the time, which they used to make this transfer occur.


Siegelbaum, Lewis:

A Martyr of the Great Terror

Leon Trotsky hanging out with soldiers of the Red Army


When I traveled to Russia during the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to stumble across an exhibit dedicated to the life of Leon Trotsky in the basement of a Gulag museum in Moscow. I knew very little about the man who at one point was one of Vladimir Lenin’s right hand men, and ended up being a casualty of Stalin’s Great Purges. Ever since visiting this exhibit, I have been interested in learning about this man whose very existence Stalin probably wished he could erase from the history books.

Leon Trotsky was born on November 7, 1879 in Yanovka, Ukraine. As a young man Trotsky became involved with the Russian Social Democratic Party when he was exiled to Siberia in 1900. In 1903, Trotsky had a falling out with Lenin when the Social Democratic Party split into two factions, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, since Lenin sided with the Bolsheviks and Trotsky, the Mensheviks. In 1917, after spending many years in exile, Trotsky returned to Russia, overcame his differences with Lenin and join the Bolshevik movement. Trotsky played an important role in theĀ  1917 Revolution and the subsequent take over by the Bolsheviks, which earned him a important position under Lenin. Everything was going well for Trotsky until the death of Lenin, where things began to take a turn for the worst.

Cubist portrait by Yury Annenkov

In 1927, Trotsky was dismissed from the Social Democratic Party and was exiled from Russia soon after. In 1936, the Great Terror, also known as the Great Purges, began. Trotsky was directly affected by the Great Terror due to the outcome of a trial which found Trotsky and 16 other former Communist leaders guilty of organizing a Trotskyite-Zinovievite terrorist center and plotting to kill Stalin, and sentenced to death. At this point Trotsky was living in Cuba and managed to stay out of the murderous grasp of Stalin until 1940. Two attempts on Trotsky’s life were made after Stalin ordered his assassination. Both assassination attempts were executed in 1940 and the second attempt succeeded. Trotsky became one of the over 72,950 people executed as the result of the Great Terror, and was one of the last Bolsheviks rehabilitated by the Russian government.

Leon Trotsky played a huge part in the history of the Soviet Union and continued to contribute to political world throughout his life even though it put his life and family in danger. This man deserves to be more than just a statistic of the Great Purges.