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A Medieval Form of Genocide in Ukraine?

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

There has been much made of the term “genocide” when discussing the atrocities being committed by Russia in Ukraine. President Biden refers to Russian actions in Ukraine as genocide because “it’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian,” (

This would be consistent with the definition of genocide by the United Nations. The term “genocide” is defined by the United Nations as any acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” However, when one thinks of genocide in the modern sense, images of the actions of Nazis in Germany, or the atrocities committed in Rwanda come to mind-- the systematic extermination of people based upon identity.

In Ukraine, the kind of atrocities being committed are not so much akin to 20th century genocide, but share features that are similar to what the Mongols did when they conquered territory in the 13th century. To terrorize foes into submission, when the Mongols were faced with resistance, entire villages and cities were destroyed and their inhabitants slaughtered indiscriminately. Then the remaining communities would be compelled to become vassals of the Horde. The Mongols conquered hundreds of cities and villages and killed millions of people. One estimate is that about 11% of the world's population was killed either during or immediately after the Mongol invasions. This was not a targeted nor systematic elimination of a people (the modern image of genocide)—this was mass slaughter designed to terrorize and subjugate a conquered people.

Thus, in Ukraine this is not a 20th century form genocide-- this is a more medieval version. In many ways, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is akin the slaughter perpetrated by the Golden Horde in the 13th century. It makes it for a far more brutal form of warfare.

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