It’s a topical question. I found out the answer in the National Library.

Christine Dann digs into the records…

The peoples of the islands first named Te Wai Pounamu and Te Ika a Maui became connected with the states currently known as Ukraine and Russia as soon as the first Europeans began arriving to settle on those islands in the 1840s.

When my great-great-grandparents Hannah and Joseph Dann sailed into Port Cooper (originally named Whakaraupo, now commonly known as Lyttelton Harbour) on 12 April 1850, they were probably unaware of the trouble brewing between the great powers of Europe which led to the Crimean War 1853-1856. Nor was there a local newspaper where they could read about what was happening in Europe – or New Zealand. The first newspaper in Canterbury, the Lyttelton Times, did not begin publication until January 1851.

By May 1854, however, (allowing three to four months for the news to arrive by boat from Europe)  they were able to read what had been happening with regard to the war and its associated politics up until January that year. (Their descendant, 168 years later, would love to know their view on the reported statement by British MP Richard Cobden that “There is no greater delusion in the world than that which attributes to the Russian people a desire to overrun and occupy, in the spirit of the ancient Goths and Huns, any part of Western Europe.” In like wise, there is no doubt that they would be amazed to know that the issue is just as relevant today as it was then, and even that the range of views on it seem remarkably similar.)

But even more amazing (then and now) must be the extraordinary November 1856 article entitled THE CAPTURE OF SEBASTOPOL BY THE MAORIES. It was written as a letter to another newspaper – the writer is not named.  He (?) (probably) claims it is a “genuine Maori story, written down from the lips of the Maoris who told it.” That may well be true. The rest of it (which involves 170 mostly Ngapuhi warriors equipped with guns, tomahawks and kauri gum working with British forces to drive the defenders from Sevastopol at the end of the year-long siege of that Crimean city) is not in the historical record of the event. From this distance one can only guess at the motivations of those who told the story. But how interesting that only sixteen years after Te Tiriti was signed in Ngapuhi territory a story in which Maori tell the British how to run their wars better, and help them to do so (after being equipped by Queen Victoria with the weapons of their choice) is in circulation.

Fast forward eighty-five years to the second siege of Sevastopol, 1941-42, which was conducted by the Axis forces (Germany and Romania) against a city and region which was then in the Soviet Union. This time the news came to New Zealand much more quickly, and by different routes. One of them was a six page pamphlet with the views of the English film maker Ivor Montagu* and the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg on the siege, with a coda by “an N.Z. railway worker”. This exhorts New Zealanders to “put all other issues aside and together with our gallant Soviet, Chinese and American Allies declare death to Fascism.” The pamphlet was (re)published in New Zealand by the Palmerston North branch of the Communist Party and donated to the National Library by Jack Locke in 1984 (the year Montagu died).

Go forward another seventy-two years, to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014, which began in February with pro-Russian demonstrations in Sevastopol. Four days later masked Russian troops without insignia took over the parliament of Crimea and captured strategic sites across Crimea. Sevastopol was officially added to the the Russian Federation on 18 March 2014, as was the rest of Crimea.

On April 11, 2022, the New Zealand government announced that it would deploy a C-130 Hercules with 50 personnel to Europe, send eight more logistics specialists, and provide $13 million in further support via the UK to procure equipment for the Ukraine military. This would bring New Zealand’s monetary contribution to the Ukrainian defence effort to $30 million.

If New Zealanders (and those elsewhere in the world) paid more attention to their connected histories, and spent more time exploring those connections in their national libraries, would it make more of a contribution to peace than all the money in the world? Just asking…

* Montagu died in England in 1984. Thirty-four years later a biography of him appeared –  Codename Intelligentsia: The Life and Times of the Honourable Ivor Montagu, Filmmaker, Communist, Spy – written by a New Zealander, Russell Campbell. The book was published overseas, and is clearly about a non-New Zealander, but fortunately it made it into the National Library of New Zealand.

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