Vladimir Putin will never give up Ukraine, for, you see, among other reasons, his namesake is Ukrainian.
Below is the story of Vladimir the Great, followed by a brief history of the present.
Vladimir, afterwards known as “The Great”, and his son Yaroslav, afterwards known as “The Wise”, brought the kingdom of Kiev-Rus to its zenith in the 10th and 11th centuries. The modern states, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus all draw upon them for their heritage.
Historians consider the Kievan state to have been founded around 880. A hundred years later, Vladimir, upon the death of his father and a subsequent fratricidal war, fled the region, to his kinsmen in Norway. Returning in 978 with as many Norse soldiers as he could muster, he quickly captured Kiev, (present day capital of Ukraine), and expanded his dominion throughout the region. Within a few years, Vladimir consolidated the regions of eastern Europe from Kiev to the Baltic Sea, including present day Ukraine, Belarus, and a portion of Russia. During his reign and that of his son, Yaroslav, the kingdom known as Kiev-Rus reached its zenith.
A little later, Vladimir, having know great military success, and his dominion at peace around him, grew troubled in his thoughts and his mind pondered. Sensing the inferiority of his pagan shrines to the religions flourishing in the world, he sent emissaries to all parts to learn of the great religions that he may determine the best. Of Islam, upon learning that alcoholic drinks were forbidden said, “Drinking is the joy of all Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure.” Upon questioning the ambassadors from the Jews, and learning of their loss of their home city Jerusalem, he concluded that they had been abandoned by God. His emmisaries visiter the Christian church of Germany and were unimpressed. But upon visiting the Byzantine church in Constantinople, and witnessing the majesty of their ceremonies during the festival, his emissaries reported back, “We know longer knew whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.”
His decision made, he was baptized, wed the daughter of royalty, returned to his land, destroyed the pagan landmarks, and commanded his people to follow Christian faith. Thus, was the Russian Orthodox Church born.
Yaroslav encountered family battles too following the death of his father in 1015, but by 1019, he had became the grand prince of Kiev, and by 1036 uncontested ruller of Kievan-Rus. Culture expanded in his days. He built Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novogrod. He was a great patron of learning and books, also promulgated the first east Slavic law code, the Rus Justice, which was further advanced by his sons upon his death in 1054.
In 2016, Vladimir Putin presented a statue honoring his namesake. The statue was erected in Moscow where Putin declared him a “unifier and defender of Russian lands.”
As one contemporary has noted, “Russia without Ukraine is a country; Russia with Ukraine is an empire.” Putin will never give up on Ukraine.
Rafaela was 19 years old when she shot the commander of the British fleet with a cannon.
Standing on the rampart of the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, which commanded a bend in the San Juan river, Rafaela Herrera looked out upon the British fleet.
Nicaragua had attracted Great Britain’s interest because of its geography. Its lakes and rivers represented a potential connecting route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which would revolutionize world trade. And Britain had sent an expeditionary force up the San Juan river, raiding and destroying undefended Nicaraguan settlements as they progressed. Jinotega and Acoyapa fell to the British force; and then Loviguisca and San Pedro de Lovago were overrun. The mission of Apompua near Juigalpa and the town of Muy Muy were captured. Villages were burned and looted; and many prisoners were taken.
It was 1762, and Britain was a mighty world power. Her navy sailed the seven seas and kept distant colonies under control worldwide. Nicaragua was small and young and alone.
The British expeditionary force consisted of 50 ships and 2000 men. The Fortress of the Immaculate Conception held about one hundred soldiers. At 4 am on July 26, 1762, as the fleet approached the fortress, a British landing party took a Nicaraguan observation post and captured its defenders. That same morning, a few hours later, the fleet anchored before the fortress, and the British commander sent an envoy ashore to negotiate a surrender. The terms were, in exchange for cessation of hostilities, unconditional surrender of the fortress,
Inside the fortress there was anxious turmoil, as their commander had just died a few days before. The second in command, a sergeant, was planning to surrender when Rafaela spoke forth: “Have you forgotten the duties imposed by military honor? Are you going to allow the enemy to steal this fortress, which is the safeguard of the Province of Nicaragua, and of your families?” Rafaela, you see, was the daughter, the only offspring, of the commander of the fortress, Lieutenant Don Jose de Herrera, who had just died.
The men were stunned and not knowing what to do. Rafaela Herrera ordered the gates of the fortress to be locked, took the keys and placed sentries. The enemy envoy returned to the fleet which promptly arrayed itself for battle, thinking to intimidate the defenders. Hererra, whose grandfather was a military engineer, and whose father had trained her in military honor, and the handling of weapons, aimed one of the cannons. Boom! and a volley sailed across the waters. Boom! a second volley; and then, in case they were mistaken as to her intentions, Boom! a third cannon shot sailed forth. On the third volley, the commander of the British fleet was killed.
The British were enraged and commenced an all out assault. Those one hundred rallied mightily, and, inspired by Rafaela’s heroism, responded with ferocious defense. Deep in the night, Rafaela soaked clothes in alcohol and set them afire and adrift on floating branches in the river. The flotilla of flame descending upon the anchored fleet forced them to readjust to defensive positions.
The battle continued at daybreak, and then day after day for six days. Rafaela Herrera commanded the cannons and Lieutenant Juan de Aguilar led the defenders. On August 3, 1762, the British lifted their siege, retreated, and sailed back downstream to the mouth of the San Jose river, never to return.
On November 11, 1781, King Charles III of Spain, issued a royal decree granting Herrera a pension for life as a reward for her heroic actions during the Battle for the Río San Juan de Nicaragua.
The Hacienda may look small on the outside, but it is big on the inside, and looms bigger still in history, for here a giant was stopped.
In what is historians widely consider the turning point in Nicaragua’s wars for liberty, a small band won the day against a much larger force. They did it with the combination of grit, guts and guile, which is the stuff of every memorable battle.
On a September morning in 1856, three hundred well armed troops under William Walker marched on a small farmhouse known as Hacienda San Jacinto. Walker, a mercenary from California, had organized this private military expedition with the goal of establishing a private colony in Central America under his personal control. Colonel Jose Dolores Estrada was at the farm with his men, numbering about one hundred, to prevent Walker from seizing the livestock. The Matagalpa, a local indigenous tribe of Nicaragua, responded to Estrada’s call for help, and sent sixty archers to reinforce the position, bringing the total number of defenders to about one hundred and sixty.
Walker’s men, known as “filibusters” which was the name given to such mercenaries in those days, were armed with revolvers and repeating rifles. Estrada’s defenders were armed with bows and arrows and single shot flintlock muskets. Walker’s men were uniformed and booted. Estrada’s men were ragtag and sandaled. Walker’s men were cocky and fighting for wealth. Estrada’s men were desperate and fighting for their country.
A morning lookout spotted Walker’s army at 2000 yards and approaching from the South. Estrada divided his men into three defensive positions, a stone corral on his right, the house in the middle and a wooden corral on his left. Orders were given not to fire until fired upon, or until the enemy was within 50 to 75 yards, as that was the maximum effective range of their old muskets. Walker’s men divided into three columns of 100 men each and continued their march toward the defended positions. At 7 am the first shots rang out.
The invaders attempted to climb the barricades with impunity but they were met with war by the defenders. Furious battles erupted at each of the three defended positions. Arrows flew, gunshots rang and swords clanged. Then the attackers withdrew, reorganized, rearmed and reattacked. Three times over the first two hours they attacked, and three times the defended positions held. But the defense of the wood corral on the left was beginning to break. Frustrated by their inability to take the stone corral on their left or the house in the middle, they combined their forces into a single mass and renewed the attack on the wooden corral on their right.
At 9 am, the defense of the wooden corral broke. The fighting was furious, and hand to hand, and the defenders’ ammunition was running low, when Andres Castro stood up. His gun having failed, he leapt forward picking up two stones. The first, about the size of a billiard ball, he hurled mightily with his right. The filibuster took the stone on his head, stopped, stood for an instant, dropped his gun and then, leaning backward, staggered over the fence, fell and died on the spot. The defenders witnessing this sight, rallied with mighty enthusiasm; and screaming, and shouting “Viva Nicaragua!”, picked up stones and fired them on the filibusters like a hail of bullets.
But the attackers, having abundance of arms and ammunition, kept advancing until some of them were at the house and some were even on the porch. It was a terrible state. Estrada, seeing the situation was dire, shouted to the officers between the corral and the house, ordering them to defend to the death, “Firm to the last drop!”
Estrada next ordered others to attack the enemy’s flank. Then sprinted 17 men to a small forested hill 100 yards behind the house, and circling around unseen, faced the flank of the invaders. Fixing bayonets and shouting mightily “Viva Nicaragua”, they attacked with such ferocity that about 30 horses corralled nearby were startled and stampeded. The enemy facing such fury forward and now on their flank, and now hearing with alarm the sound of approaching hoofbeats, thought them to be mounted Nicaraguan reinforcements descending upon them. The filibusters, hesitated in alarm, began to retreat from the house and corral, and then fled the battle field for their lives.
Twelve miles they fled, all the way to Hacienda San Ildefonso, and for many of those miles they were chased by the victorious patriots.
So stunning was the defeat, that Walker soon left off his project and departed from Central America. The French sage, Elisee, upon hearing the tale of the battle, called it the Marathon of the Americas, after the battle in which the outnumbered Greeks turned back the Persians so many centuries before. The image of Castro hurling the stone has fixed the image of “David versus Goliath” into the national imagination. The painting below by Luis Vergara Ahumada immortalizes the battle and is found in very many public buildings and private homes throughout Nicaragua.
Honoring Juana Azurduy, a 52 foot high statue, a gift from Bolivia, has been installed in Argentina, replacing an older and smaller statue of Christopher Columbus. It is the largest statue in Argentina.
Who is Juana Azurduy?
Juana Azurduy, the “flower of alto Peru”, the “terror of the Spanish”, knew exactly what she wanted when, at 24 years of age, she wed Manuel de Padilla. Padilla, just 4 years her senior already had a well-developed disdain for the rule of the Spanish, a love of the people, and experience in the army and law. With him she would enter the military and with him she would liberate her people from Spanish rule. She trained and excelled in swordsmanship and marksmanship and horsemanship. When independence was declared 4 years into their marriage, they were ready. Bringing her children with her, and putting her hair up under her hat and wearing the traditional male uniform, Juana went to war.
What was the source of her passion and when was her inner fire kindled? The details of her childhood are limited, but enough that perhaps we can see the outlines … the origin of her fire. She was born mestiza, one parent Spanish and the other indigenous. Which was which we don’t seem to know, but we are told her father was killed by the Spanish without repercussion or justice, when she was very young. Not long after her mother died of causes unknown and young Juana was sent to live with an aunt. Was her aunt on her mother’s side and Spanish, we do not know, but we do know that her aunt sent young Juana, perhaps 12 years old, to live in a convent. The convent no doubt was catholic and run by the Spanish. We next learn that teenaged Juana was clandestinely organizing students to study together the lives of revolutionaries against the domination of the Spaniards, most notably Tupac Amaru, and she was expelled from the convent at age 17.
One can imagine young Juana ruminating over the killing of her papa by the unaccountable Spanish invaders. One can see her mourning the loss of her mother when she needed her the most. One can imagine her anger at her aunt, perhaps Spanish too, for thinking her too much trouble and sending her to the convent. And one can understand her rebelling against the strictures of convent life. Juana flowered into adulthood loving her people and bitter against the Spanish, determined to see things change. And so, it was in 1810, on the very day that independence from Spain was declared, Juana Adzurduy and her husband Manuel de Padilla joined the revolutionary army.
The initial 1810 revolutionary group was halted by the Spanish royalists; and the Padillas joined the army of the north to continue the fight. In 1811, they suffered a defeat in battle and the Padilla’s 4 children were captured, their property overrun, and their harvest and profits were confiscated. But Manuel rescued the children and returned to the battle.
In 1812 the Padillas joined the newly reconstituted army of the north and Manuel was made a military commander. By 1816 Juana was leading troops into battle. In March, she captured the region which was the prime source of Spanish Silver. During the battle she personally led a Calvary charge which captured the enemy standard. After this battle, she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was personally, honored by General Manuel Belgrano, who gifted her with his own sword.
Later that year, her children were captured, the 2 sons killed outright and the 2 daughters held as hostage. Azurduy and Padilla mounted a ferocious raid to rescue them but the children were killed and Juana was injured in the attempt. Later that same year Manuel Padilla was captured and killed. Juana Azurduy swore over her husband’s corpse to continue to fight and continued as one of the most violent warriors on the field, earning the moniker “the Terror of the Spanish”.
In 1818, she was forced to withdraw with her forces to northern Argentina where she continued the fight under the command of General Guermes. She was appointed commander of the patriotic northern Army of the Revolutionary Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. With the army she was able to force the withdrawal of the Spanish forces from the region.
The estimated strength of her army at its maximum was about 6,000 men under her command. She was so determined for the cause that she actually fought while she was pregnant, at one point, giving birth to her daughter, then returning to the fight soon after. Following the war, she returned to Sucre and there was reduced to poverty.
In 1825 Simón Bolívar, known as the Liberator visited her. Seeing her impoverished conditions, he was embarrassed, and promoted her to the rank of Colonel and provided her with a pension. Following the visit, he remarked to Marshal Antonio José de Sucre: “This country should not be named Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because it was they who made it free.”
In 2009, Juana Azurduy was named General (posthumously) of the Argentine Army.
Songs are sung about here. See here for the English translation of the words with some explanatory notes. See here for a classical performance and here for a dance performance.
The monument can be seen here and below, showing Juana with sword uplifted with one hand, a child on her back and he other hand stretched back protecting her child.
Juana Azurduy de Padilla International Airport in Sucre is honorably so named.
A blogger I recently read, (and I am sorry I cannot find who it is), asked the question: “Why has my country, Bolivia, been given a woman’s name? Could it be because of the founding influences?” It seems the answer is YES.
Casa de la Libertad now houses a museum of History of Bolivia! Follow them on facebook here. The tours are highly regarded.
The Monument to Juana Azurduy is being relocated a short distance in a renovation project in Buenos Aires. See a description and map showing the old and new locations here, and confirm before you travel.
As always, if you have something to add to this story, or a recommended landmark for visiting, I welcome your comments!