*** Ukranian history

Ukranian History

Figure 1.--Stalin targetted the Ukraine because of the considerable nationalist sentiment there. He even engineered the Famine to destroy the independent peasantry (1932-33). As a result, when the NAZIs invaded (1941), they found many Ukranians welcomed them as liberators. Rather than capitalize on this support, the Germans persued policies that made it plain what they planned for Ukraians. The details, Generalplan Ost, would not emrge until after the War. The Ukranians warched the Germans murder the Jews. Some thoughtful Ukranians began to realize that they were next. .

The history of the Ukraine has been closely tied to in recent years. The first important Slavic state was Kiev. The Mongols destroyed the Kiev state (13th century). What is now Russian came under Mongol/Tartar domination. The Ukraine came under Lithuanian/Polish domination. With the rise of the Russian Empire, the Tsars expanded their influence into the eastern Ukraine (17th century). The Tsars with the Polish partitions seized most of the Western Ukraine (18th century). This brought a very large area of culturally destincct Catholic Slaves into the largely Orthodox Russian Empire. Gradually Ukranian nationlist sentiment grew. The Germans in World War I hoped to create a puppet regime in the Ukraine. After the German defeat, the Bolshevicks succeeded in brining the Ukraine into the Soviet Union. Stalin targetted the Ukraine because of the considerable nationalist sentiment there. He even engineered the Famine to destroy the independent peasantry (1932-33). As a result, when the NAZIs invaded (1941), they found many Ukranians welcomed them as liberators. Rather than capitalize on this support, the Germans persued policies that made it plain what they planned for the Ukraine. The Ukraine was the site of some of the mostv savage battles of World War II. Today there is a struggle for the Ukraine soul. The eastern Ukraine is largely Russified and acceoting of Soviet-style authoruitarianism. The Western Ukraine is more independent minded, desiring a democratic government with a free-market economy and closer ties with the West.

Ancient History

Ukraina means borderlands, essentially a frointierland netween East and West. And as a frintierland on a wide steppe, many peoples migrated into the Ukraine and navigated the Dnieper (Dnipro) and Black Sea. The Dnieper River is one of the mmost important European Rivers. It rises near Smolensk in Russia and flows through Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to the Black Sea. It is the longest river in both Belarus and Ukraine. And these early peoples faced many subsequent invaders. The Ukraine in ancient times was populated by many nomadic peoples, including the Cimmerians, Goths, Greeks, Huns, Khazars, Sarmatians, Scythians, and others. Much of ourvknowledge of these peoples comes from trading peoples with written languges such as the Greeks. The Romans also established trading outposts which evolved into city states. Anthroplogists have given some attention to the Antes civilization, during the common era. The Antes are believed by some to have been an early Slavic or pre-Slavic civilization. Slavic tribes moved into the central and eastern Ukraine, roughly the beginning of the medieval era in Western Europe (sixth century AD).

Medieval Era

Russia in the early Medieval era did not exist in any collective sence. There were a number of scattered cities along the major rivers with trade, but not political relationships. The history of Russia begins in the 9th century AD as part of the outburst of the Norsemen from Scandanavia that so affected England and Western Europe. Norsemen also moved east. The Varangians from modern Sweden crossed the Baltic Sea and landed in Eastern Europe. The Varangians leader was the warrior Rurik. He was an actual historical figure, although most of what we know about him comes from legend. He led a band of Varangians to Novgorod on the Volkhov River (862). He became the ruler of the city, although we are not sure he actually conquered the city. Rurik's descendents became known as the Rus. Rurik's successor Oleg using Novgorod as a base, extended his influence south along rivers which were the principal trade routes at the time. Oleg seized control of Kiev, the most important city on the Dineper (882). This provided the beginning of a unified state based on dynastic rule. Kiev was of special importance. Its strategic location along the Dnipper surounded by rich farm land was a key trading center located between between Scandinavia in the north and Byzantium in the south. Dominated by tge Rus, Kiev was an important trading empire which dominated much of European Russia and the Urkraine for three centuries. Vladimir I ruled a Kiev which dominated a vast area extending south to the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains, controlling the Dnipper and much of the Volga (989). Vladamir decided that an established religion was necessary for the Kievian state. He reportedly assessed several possibilities before deciding on Greek Orthodoxy. It is likely that trade and diplomacy rather than religiius zeal explained his choice. The choice of Orthodoxy allied him with the rich Byzantine trading center of Constaniople, at the time the richest city in the world and crucial to the Kievian economy. Vladmir apparently rejected Islam, apparently because he did not want to give up alcoholic beverages and was not sure he could bring hius people to do so. Vladimir's successor Yaroslav the Wise codified laws and promoted the arts. He decided, however, to divide his kingdom among his sons upon his death (1054). Once powerful Kiev son was split with interacine warfare. Gradually regional power centers began to develop, including theonce small village of Moscow at the confluence of the Moskva and Neglina Rivers which begins to appear in the historical record (1147). The decline of powerful central rule also exposed the Rus to raids by war-like people from the East which in the 13th century was the Mongols.

The Mongols

The Mongols played an enormously important role in world history. Although a relatively small population, the Mongols established the most extensive empire in histoiry, streaching from Korea to Eastern Europe. Only the Japanese suceessfully defied the Mongols. The Mongols also conquered and influenced many of the major world powers, China, Russia, Persia, amd India. The Mongols defeated the Poles and were set to move into Western Europe. Only the death of their great leader, Geghis Khan prevented this.


After the Mongol destruction of KievanRu, several didderent imperial powers seized control of Ukrane are sections of it. The Ukrine was unable to form a strong, independent state. Regional powers seizing control of the Ukraine or parts of it included the Grand Duchy of Lithunania, the Ottoman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Tatar Khanate, amd Mucovy--the embriotic Russian state., The powers while occupiueng Ukraine, enriched it culturally, but brought exploitation and at times devestation. Ukraine was thus for most of its history a nation not in control of its own destiny. It was with its rich black soil a valuable prize caught i the middle between larger more powerful neighbors.


The Black Sea area fell to the Tartars and later to the Ottomans.


After the decline of the Kievian state, scatteded cities and principalies rose all subject to the Mongols. Gradually a state coaleased around Halych-Volynia. The Mongols were especially interested in tribute. They had no objection to political union of their Western areas as long as they could deliver rich tribute.

Poland and Lithuania

After the Mongols destroyed the Kiev state, much of What is now Russia came under Mongol/Tartar domination. The Tartats also cotroled areas of the southern Ukraine along the Black Sea. Two powerful states arose in Poland and Lithuania which drove the Mongols out of the Ukraine (14th century). Much of the Ukraine at the time bordered on Lithuania and Poland and the term Ukraine may have been used to mean borderlands. Lithuania seized Volynia (northern/northwestern Ukraine which included Kiev). Poland seized Halychchyna. With the union of Poland and Lithuania (the Commonwealth), the Ukraine freed of the Mongols began to become integrated with Christian Europe and commerce increased. Poles, Germans, Armenians and Jews immigrated into the Ukraine. Lithuanian Polish control helped to establish the Catholic traditions of the western Ukraine. Polish nobels oppressive rule as well as the union of the Ukraniab Church with Rome. The Western Ukraine became known as Ruthenia which was just the Latinized term for Russia. Orthodox Christians in Ruthenia (the areas controlled by Poland-Lithuania) entered into communion with the Catholic Church (1569). The Zaporozhe Cossacks under Chmielncki rebelled (1648).

The Commonwealth/Poland (1569-1795)

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was known by a variety of terms, including the Commonwealth of the Two Nations (Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narod�w). More commonly it is referred to as the Polish Kingdom. The major constituent parts were Poland (including for a time much of the Ukraine) also called the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Commonwealth was ruled by an elected monarchy. The Commonwealth introduced a degree of religious tolerance among the largely Roman and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Commonwealth had a parliament, the Sejm, which elected each king. The king once elected was bound to the "Pacta conventa" a kind of ruling contract. The Ukranian nobles voted to join the Commonwealth (1569). The Commonwealth in the Ukraine was an era of social upheaval and change. New cities and villages were founded. The Reniassance began to influence society. The Commonwealth controlld much of modern Ukraine, essentoally the area west of the Dneipper. Th area to the east was controlled by the growing Russian state. Ukranian culture enjoyed a revival during tis period as a kind of ambiguous political stus developed in the rea contested by Russia and PoThere was considerable religious and educational activity. Some sources report a relatively high level of literacy. Polish peasants who had moved east were gradually Ruthenised. At the same time some Ukrainian nobles were Polonized. The nobility sought to create feudal fiefdoms which was resisted by Ruthenian/Ukrainian peasants. Those peasants who refused to become serfs fled into remote areas and were referred to as Cossacks. Their reputation as fierce warriors became legendary.

The Kozak Era (15th-18th centuries)

Kozak (Cossack) is derived from a Turkish word meaning 'free man'. Refugees fleeing serfdom and slavery moved into the borderlands that hasbecome known as the Ukraine (15th-18th centuries). Over time the term became used for Ukranians who moved into the steppe to practice trdes and engage in a range of economic activities (hunting, fishing, honey production, and salt collction. The Kozaks established democratic military communities, rare in Europe at the time. They elected their leaders who they called hetmans. They established an islans stronghold in the Dnipper. They struggled against th Ottomns, Poles, and Russians, all of which wanted to acquire the rich agriculturl land to their empires. Oppression of the Ukranian peasantry and the union of the Ukranian Church with Rome led to the Kozak rebellions known as The Deluge (1648). Chmielniki fought for independence from the Policized nobility. The Zaporozhe achieved virtual independence. This struggle greatly weakened the Commonwealth (Polish Kingdom). The Cossaks sought a treaty with the rising state of Moscow (Muscovy) gfor protection from Poland. The agreement was known as the Treaty of Pereyaslav (1654). Poland then sought to negotiate with the Cossaks and reached a compromise known as the Union of Hadyach (1658). An extended war bewtween Poland and the Russians led to Treaty of Andrusiv (1667) in which the two powers partitioned the Ukraine. Polans seeded the noertheastern Ukraine to the Russians. Tsar Peter I supressed the cossacks after the Mazzepa Rebellion.

Decline of Poland

The expanding power of Muscovy and the decline of Poland meant in essence that Russia gradually expanded its influence over the Ukraine. The partitions of Poland left Russia in control of most of the Ukraine except for the western areas which came under Austrian control (Galicia). Russia gradually pushed the Turks out of south-central Ukraine. Hungary continued to contol the Trans-Carpathian region. Ukrainian intellectuals began to promote Ukranian culture and literature and education in the Ukranian language and aspire for their own indeopendent state. Russians opposed the Ukranian intellectual movement and sought to prevent the study of Ukranian and even ban the use of the language. The Austrians in the western Ukraine were more willing to accomodate the Ukranians. Ukranians began to use the term Ruthenia/Ruthenians and began using Ukraine/Ukrainians.

Russian Expansion

With the rise of the Russian Empire, the Tsars expanded their influence into the eastern Ukraine. Ukranians in the areas under Russian control continued to remain under the Orthodox Church. Gradually the Russians began to move into the western Ukraine. Fighting between the Russians and Poles was protracted. The Poles finally ceeded the northeast Ukraine, including Kiev, to the Tsar (1667). After the Mazeppa Rebellion, Tsar Peter I renounced Cosscak autonomy. Russian annexations of the Crimean Khanate brought the southern Ukraine under Russian control.

Polish Partitions (1772, 1793, and 1795)

The final step in Russian control of the Ukraine were the Polish partitions. The three major European Empires (Austria, Prussia, and Russia) carried out three partitions of Poland of Poland (1772-95). This and the annexaton of the Crimean Khanate brought most of the Ukraine under Russian control except for Galicia (Austria) and Ruthenia (Hungary). With the Polish partitions the Tsars seized most of the Western Ukraine. Some 85 percent of the modern Ukraine came under Russian control. The end of Polish influence essentially ended Ukraine's window n tghe SWest. It also meant Rssificatin and the gradual sipression of Uktanian culture and language. Areas of the western Ukraine , primarily Galacia, came under the control of Austria which also participated in the partitions. The province of Ruthenia was allocated to Hungary.

World War I (1914-18)

Russia was unprepared for World War I. Russia armies sustauned grevious losses at the hand of the Germans, but the Eastern Front prevented the Germans from brining the full force of their army to bear on the critical Western Front. German and Austrian armies moved east into the western Ukraine during World War I. Finally the Russian Revolution forced then Tsar to abdigate (1917). After the Russian Revolution, the Germans forced the draconian Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) on the Bolshevick Government. The treaty provided for the creation of a Ukranian state under German tutelage. The German collapse on the Western Front later in the year mean that the Treaty was annulled. German defeat in the West shattered the other two empires (Prussia and Austria). This created a huge power vacuum in eastern Europe.

Independent Ukraine (1917-18)

The Ukraniand first declared independence in 1917 and again in 1918. Therecwere three separate Ukrainian republics, including the Rada, the Directorate, the Hetmanate, and the Ukrainian Peoples Republic of Symon Petlura.

Russian Civil War (1918-20)

A bloody civil war ensued and was part of the Civil war which devestated large parts of the former Russian Empire. Ukraine as a part of the Tarist Empire became engulfed in the Civil War. The Civil War in the Ukraine was a complicated struggle between Ukranian Nationalists, the Red army, the White Army of Denikin, and the POles. The French also deployed forces, but played only a marginal role. The fighting was further complicated by German and Polish intervention. The Red Army emerged victorious. Ultimately the Ukranian republics were not able to muster the military force to maintain the intrgrity of the new state. And many Ukranians supported the Bolsheviks. The western Ukraine (especially Galicia) was taken by Poland (1920-21) and the eastern and central Ukraine was seized by the Soviet Union becoming the Ukrainian SSR. Czechoslovakia obtained Ruthenia. Romania obtained Northern Bukovina, and Bessarabia. (These are all territories that Stalin would later target in World War II.)

Soviet Rule

The Bolsheviks in the early Soviet years made concessions to the Ukranian nationalists. This changed as Stalin seized control of the Soviet state in the late 1920s. The Ukranian intelugencia, however, that had not moved West would perish as Stalin gained cotrol of the Sovit state. Stalin initiated a campaign of terror to destroy the Ukranian inteligensia even befre hos assualt on the Ukranian peasantry.

Ukranian Famine (1932-33)

One of the greatest crimes of the Stalinist era was horific famine in the Ukraine. The famine area included both the Ukraine and the Soviet northern Caucasus, as well as Russian areas in the lower Volga River basin. Famines are historically primarily the results of natural events such as drought, heat, diseases, insect infestations, and other natural causes. The Ukrsanian famine was primarily caused by Stalin's program of collectiving Soviet agriulture, especially the forced collectivization of the Ukraine. The Ukraine had been the bread basket of Russia. It was the prize sought by the Germans in two world wars. The rich, well watered soil made the Ukraine the most productive agrivcultural area of the Soviet Union. Two issues merged which resulted in dissaster for the Ukranian people. Not only did the Ukranian peasantry resist collectivization, but there was a strong Ukranian national spirit, especially in the western Ukraine. Stalin was determined to both bring agicultural under central control, but to crush Ukrainian nationalism at the same time. Stalin not only used the famine to crush the spirit of the Ukranisn peole, but he also purged the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Stalin even purged the Ukrainian Communist party. At the cost of millions of lives, many of them children, the famine succeedded in breaking any organized redsistance on the part of the peasantry to collectivization. Stalin's purges also succeeded in smashing the Ukranian national movement. Stalin's actions in the Ukraine were not without costs beyond the deaths of Ukranians. Agricultural production plummeted. Soviet agricultural became one of the most inefficent agricultural operations in the world. Stalin bought Ukranian agricultural under his control through collectivization, he also signicantly reduced the output of Soviet agriculture.

World War II (1939-45)

Most of the Ukraine at the time of World War II was part of the Soviet Union. There was an important nationalist movement in the Ukraine and thus there needs to be some separate consideration of the Ukraine outside of our discussion of the Soviet Union. The Ukraine became one of the major prizes in the conflict between Hitler and Stalin. The famine engineered by Stalin in the Ukraine was part of his attack on Ukraian nationlism. When Hitler spoke of Lebensraum in the East, one of the principal areas he coveted was the vast agricultural lands of the Ukraine. And it was in the Ukraine that the miitary contest between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht was finally resolved. Some of the most important battles of the War were fought in the Ukraine and the death and destruction occurred in almost unimaginable levels. Hitler's focus on the Ukraine resulted in two fateful decesions which in the end doomed the assault on the Soviet Union. First he failed to utilize the Ukranian nationalist movement and anti-Soviet feeling. Two he diverted major forces from the drive on Moscow into the Ukraine at a critical point of the campaign. The intensity of the fighting and the scoarched earth polices waged by the Soviets and NAZIs left the Ukraine devestated. The Ukraine was one of the countries most heavily damaged by the War.

The Crimea (1954)

The Soviets in what seemed like an internal reorganization of only minor importance, transferred the Crimea from Russia to the Ukraine (1954). This would, however, have major importance with the disolution of the Soviet Union.

Independence (1992)

The Ukraine was one of the former Soviet republics that became independent with the dissolution of the Soviet Unuin (December 1991). The change was not what many Ukranians had expected. Former Soviet bosses presented themselves as Ukranian patriots. Assetts were "privatized" in such a way that former Soviet officials became the owners of the valuable state assetts--in effect assetts stolen from the Ukranian people. Leonid Kuchma, a former Soviet factory manager, was elected president. He expressed his program as the "Ukrainian way forward". In effect he used his position to enrich himself and his family and his close associates. Needed reforms necessary to move away from the old Soviet economy were avoided.

Russia and the Ukraine

Letting Eastern Europe go, especially Poland, reqquired considerable adjustment for Russia. The Ukraine was a very different matter. Russia both under the Tsars and the Communists saw the Ukraine as an integral part of their country. Not all Ukranians felt this way, but most Russians did. The Ukraine was not seen as another European country, but as a key part of Russia/Soviet Union. The Ukrain was of huge importance economically. The Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, even after the damage done to agriculture by Stalin dyring the 1930s. There are also important mineral resources, especially coal and titanium. The Ukraine was less than 3 percent of the area of the Soviet Union, but accounted for nearly 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The history of Russian and the Ukraine have been intertwined for more than a millenia. Kiev (located in the northern Ukraine near Belarus and Russia, was the first important Slavic state in the east and seen by both Russia and the Ukraine as the beggining point of their modern history. The Potemkin villages built for Catherine the Great were located in the Ukraine (1787). Both Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev were from the Urkraine, although both were ethnic Russians. In fact Russians continue to make up an ikmportant monority, especially in the southeast. Russians are more than 15 percent of the Ukraine's population.

Disputed Election (2004)

Casual observers often equate elections with democracy. This of course a mistake. Stalin and Saddam held elections, at lest they went through the formalities. While electiions are only one aspect of democracies, they are a critical aspect of democracies. The Ukrarian Government attempt to rig the November 21, 2004 presidential election to ensure that the pro-Government candicate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, would win. By the strandards of the former Soviet Union, the margin of victory was modest--a mere 3 percent. The Government formed bus concoys to shuttle supporters to multiple voting booths. Ballot boxes were stuffed. Other ballots were lost or destroyed. Poll workers were attacked. But the Ukraine is not a Stalinist police state. There were international observers. And their were Ukranians with video cameras. Young women seving as poll workers in some instanced faced down Givernment thugs. International observers reoported multiple instances of flagarant violations. Some prcecints reported higher counts for Yanukovych then there were voters. President Putin who had appeared with Yanukovych congratulated him and stated that he was convinced that the election had been fair. The Ukranian people were outraged. Then one of those magical events in history occurred, the Ukranian people simplly refused to allow their country to be stolen by a corupt oligarchy. The opposition candidate. Viktor Yushchenko, announced that he would not accept the results. Yushchenko with a face hardened by an attempt to kill him by poison soon received support by thousands of his supporters who streamed into downtown Kiev. Night after night in freezing weather the demonstrators made it impossibe for the Ukranian Government to operate, but demonstated peacefully. European and American officials in a rare show of unity expressed their concern about the obvious irregulkarities. The full story is not known yet known. There are reports that Putin dispatched riot control police. There are reports that President Kuchma considered ordering the security forces to disperse the demonstrators, but was concerned about their loyalty. The Government was not without its suporters. The push for democracy has come from the Ukranian speaking west whjichg is agrarian and Catholic. The Russian speaking east is more industrial and largely Orthodox did support Yanukovych, but not in the numbers claimed by the Government. The Ukranian Supreme court in televised hearings heard extensive evidence of irreguloasrities and declared a new vote would have to beld (December 3). It is widely believed that Yushchenko will win the new election. The issues at stake is whether the Ukraine will move toward a democratic Europe or rejoin increasingly authoritarian and economically backward Russia and its sole remaining Slavic client state Belarus.

The Ukraine and Europe

The dividing line between Europe and Asia is the Ural Mountains. Yet many Europeans see Europe as essentially ending Tisza River. The Ukraine is seen as being located on the outer perimeter of Europe. This was not always the case. Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Romanians also see areas of the Western Ukraine that before World war II was part of their countries. They note cities that were once none as cities in their countries. The Ukraine was made even more European by large numbers of Germans and Jews that once lived there. Historians might see the Ukraine as located more in the center of Europe than its perifery. The modern frontiers were created more by Hitler and Stalin than the natural evolution of history and ethnecity. The literature and menoirs of people in the World War II reflect the European enviroment. This can ve seen in the work of writers like Joseph Roth and Gregor von Rezzori.

The Ukraine's Future

Despite the optimism of the youthful demonstrators in Liberation Square, the Ukraine's future is far from certain. Many Ukranians want go join Europe. In practical terms this means accession to the European Union (EU). The Germans more than any other country are today aware of the damage caused by 40 years of Communist rule and East Germany was the most efficient and wealthy state in the Soviet Empire. The Ukraine was under Soviet rule for 80 years and the economy completely reshaped in the disatrous Soviet model. The cost of repairing that damage and modernizing the Ukrain is incaluable. Not only are the factories inefficent, but there is extensive ecological damage in many areas. The post Soviet Government under President Kuchma has done very little to address these problems. The European Union is going to have difficulty absorbing the new Eastern European countries recently admitted. None of these countries are as large as the Ukraine or as poor. This suggests that it will be a very long time before the EU can consider Ukranian accession. And it is not just economic matters to be considered. There will have to be major changes in Ukranian law and social institutions. As in Belarus, the Ukraine under Kuchma has become a center of internationl crime, monet laundering, recruiting prositutes, drugs, and other illicit activity.


Kazaniwsky, Bohdan. "Amid death, gratitude for life," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W12.


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Created: 7:15 PM 12/5/2004
Last updated: 7:05 AM 4/23/2014