Kievan Rus'

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The growth of Triune Russia til 1897.

Early history to 1100 A.D.

Beginning in the first millennium B.C., the territory of what is now Ukraine was populated by Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, and other nomadic peoples. Ancient Greek colonists set up city-states in southern Ukraine. Eastern Slavic tribes settled in Ukraine in the sixth century A.D. Kiev was established in the sixth or seventh century and was taken by the Varangian prince Oleg of Novgorod in 882 A.D.. Well located at the intersection of major trade routes, Kiev soon developed into the center of a mighty state, Rus'. At its height under grand princes Vladimir I (980-1015) and Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054), Kievan Rus' was the largest state in Europe in terms of area. Vladimir I adopted Christianity in 988; Yaroslav the Wise codified the laws; he married his daughters advantageously to the kings of France, Hungary, and Norway.

Although Russian historians identify Rus' as the progenitor of modern Russia, it was also the progenitor of Ukraine and Byelarus. Ukrainian scholars are divided whether the Rus' comprised a loosely organized conglomerate of diverse peoples, or whether it was a more homogeneous nation of Ukrainians. Following the Communist collapse in 1992, two schools of historiography regarding Kievan (Kyivan) Rus' have competed, the Ukrainophile and the East Slavic. The Ukrainophile school promotes an identity that is "mutually exclusive" of Russia. It has come to dominate the nation's educational system, security forces, and national symbols and monuments, although it has been dismissed as nationalist by Western historians. The East Slavic school, an eclectic compromise between Ukrainophiles and Russophilism, has a weaker ideological and symbolic base, although it is preferred by Ukraine's centrist former elites.[1]

Decline of Rus'

Coin with the personal tamga or sign of Vladimir (trident or tryzub).[2]

Feudal fragmentation caused the decline of Kievan Rus' in the 12th century. In 1169 Kiev was sacked by Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir; in 1240 it was virtually destroyed by the Mongols under Batu Khan. The Principality of Galicia-Volhynia continued as the successor state of Kievan Rus' in what is now Ukraine until the 14th century, when it was annexed by Poland and Lithuania. In the 13th and 14th centuries under Polish and Roman Catholic domination, the Russian speaking people who became detached from the main body of the Russian world developed a distinct culture from the other East Slavs, but their language and the Cyrillic alphabet remained the same.


Dmytro Vyshnevetsky Hetman in 1550
Bohdan Khmelnytsky led the famous revolt against the Polish Commonwealth in 1648-1654

Peasant refugees from Polish landlord rule escaped to the steppes of Ukraine in the 15th and 16th centuries, where they became frontiersmen called Cossacks. Their main center was Zaporizhska Sich, a wild town on the lower Dnieper River. Outlaws and frontiersmen, fighters and pioneers, the Cossacks seized the Ukrainian imagination. They ranged the steppe in covered wagons, pulling them into tight squares to face a Tatar attack. Urged on by Polish subsidies, they launched lucrative raids on the ports of Poland's enemy Turkey, using sixty-foot‐long double-ruddered galleys. The men boasted splendid moustaches, red boots and wide baggy trousers as they danced, sang and drank horilka in heroic quantities.[3] Some Cossacks aligned with Poland; others led rebellions against the Poles in 1591, 1595, 1625, 1635 and 1637.

The rebellions climaxed in 1648-1654 in a popular uprising, accompanied by widespread pogroms against Jews, led by the Cossack hetman (general) Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1657).[4] Representatives of the Cossack Hetmanate and Czar Alexis signed the Pereiaslav Agreement of 1654, which led to the birth of Ukraine as it first became based in the Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad oblasts, but was later given more territory. Khmelnytsky's victory over Poland led to a Cossack "state," the hetmanate.[5] As the creator of the first quasi-independent Cossack state in the 16th century, Khmelnitsky became immortalized in Ukrainian national sentiment. In the Communist era Moscow bolstered his status. The exploits of Khmelnitsky and the Cossacks became the focus of numerous ceremonial acts, exhibitions and dedications. Since 1991, however, Ukrainian scholars are more divided over the issue of whether he sold out the national interest to Russia.[6]

Polish and Russian control

In 1657-1686 came "The Ruin," a devastating 30-year war between Russia, Poland, Turks and Cossacks for control of Ukraine. For three years Khmelnytsky's armies controlled present-day western and central Ukraine, but deserted by his Tatar allies, he suffered a crushing defeat at Berestechko, and turned to the Russian Czar for help. In 1654, Khmelnytsky signed the Treaty of Pereiaslav, forming a military and political alliance with Russia that acknowledged loyalty to the Czar. The wars escalated in intensity with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Defeat came in 1686 as the "Eternal Peace" between Russia and Poland gave Kiev and the Cossack lands east of the Dnieper over to Russian rule and the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper to Poland. In 1709 Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1687-1709) sided with Sweden against Russia in the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Mazepa, a member of the Cossack nobility, received an excellent education abroad and proved to be a brilliant political and military leader enjoying good relations with the Romanov dynasty. After Peter the Great became czar, Mazepa as hetman gave him more than twenty years of loyal military and diplomatic service and was well rewarded. Eventually Peter recognized that in order to consolidate and modernize Russia's political and economic power it was necessary to do away with the hetmanate and Ukrainian and Cossack aspirations to autonomy. Peter refused to assist Cossack forces in protecting Ukraine from imminent attack by Sweden, thus abrogating treaty obligations between Russia and Ukraine. Mazepa accepted Polish invitations to join the Poles and Swedes against Russia. The move was disastrous for the hetmanate, Ukrainian autonomy, and Mazepa. He died in exile after fleeing from the Battle of Poltava (1709), where the Swedes and their Cossack allies suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of Peter's Russian forces

The hetmanate was abolished in 1764; the Zaporizhska Sich abolished in 1775, as centralized Russian control became the norm. With the partitioning of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795, the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper were divided between Russia and Austria. From 1737 to 1834 expansion into the northern Black Sea littoral and the eastern Danube valley was a cornerstone of Russian foreign policy.

Lithuanians and Poles controlled vast estates in Ukraine, and were a law unto themselves. Judicial rulings from Cracow were routinely flouted. Heavily taxed peasants were practically tied to the land as serfs Occasionally the landowners battled each other using armies of Ukrainian peasants. The Poles and Lithuanians were Roman Catholics and tried with some success to covert the Orthodox lesser nobility. In 1596 they set up the "Greek-Catholic" or Uniate Church, under the authority of the Pope but using Eastern rituals; it dominates western Ukraine to this day. Tensions between the Uniates and the Orthodox were never resolved, and the religious differentiation left the Ukrainian Orthodox peasants leaderless, as they were reluctant to follow the Ukrainian nobles.[7]

The Cossack-led uprising called Koliivshchyna that erupted in the Ukrainian borderlands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1768 involved ethnicity as one root cause of Ukrainian violence that killed tens of thousands of Poles and Jews. Religious warfare also broke out between Ukrainian groups. Increasing conflict between Uniate and Orthodox parishes along the newly reinforced Polish-Russian border on the Dnepr River in the time of Catherine II set the stage for the uprising. As Uniate religious practices had become more Latinized, Orthodoxy in this region drew even closer into dependence on the Russian Orthodox Church. Confessional tensions also reflected opposing Polish and Russian political allegiances.[8]


  1. Taras Kuzio, "Nation Building, History Writing and Competition over the Legacy of Kyiv Rus in Ukraine." Nationalities Papers 2005 33(1): 29-58. Issn: 0090-5992 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  2. Coins of the Kievan Rus
  3. Reid (2000) p. 30
  4. He is called Bogdan Khmelnitsky in Russian and Bogdan Chmielnicki in Polish.
  5. The Cossacks formed a military regime but most historians say the hetmanate was not a fully formed state, as it lacked borders, stable laws, an administrative apparatus or an ethnic population base. Apart from Russia it did not seek diplomatic recognition through the exchange of ambassadors.
  6. Serhii Plokhy, "The Ghosts of Pereyaslav: Russo-Ukrainian Historical Debates in the Post-soviet Era." Europe-Asia Studies 2001 53(3): 489-505. Fulltext: in Jstor; Zenon E. Kohut, "In Search of Early Modern Ukrainian Statehood: Post-Soviet Studies of the Cossack Hetmanate." Journal of Ukrainian Studies 1999 24(2): 101-112. Issn: 0228-1635 not online
  7. Reid (2000) p 27-30
  8. Barbara Skinner, "Borderlands of Faith: Reconsidering the Origins of a Ukrainian Tragedy." Slavic Review 2005 64(1): 88-116. Fulltext: in Jstor