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Ukraine-Russian History

Stephen J. Blank noted that "the acquisition of Ukraine integrated Russia into Europe both politically and culturally. But the acquisition of that territory also confirmed and necessitated the perpetuation of an autocratic and imperialRussia under both Tsars and Soviets."

Ukraine was the center of the first eastern Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Slavic tribes occupied central and eastern Ukraine in the sixth century AD and played an important role in the establishment of Kyiv. By the ninth century, Scandinavian warriors and merchants, called Varangians, had penetrated the East Slavic regions. According to the earliest chronicle of Kievan Rus', a Varangian named Rurik first established himself in Novgorod ca. 860 before moving south and extending his authority to Kiev. The chronicle cited Rurik as the progenitor of the Rurikid Dynasty. This princely clan was to rule in eastern Europe until 1598. Another Varangian, named Oleg, moved south from Novgorod, expelled the Khazars from Kiev, and founded Kievan Rus' ca. 880.

Kievan Rus Prince Volodymyr converted the Kievan nobility and most of the population to Christianity in 988. Situated on lucrative trade routes, Kyiv quickly prospered as the center of the powerful state of Kievan Rus. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus was the largest state in Europe. Conflict among the feudal lords led to decline in the 12th century. Mongol raiders razed Kyiv in the 13th century. The development of the Russian state can be traced from Vladimir-Suzdal' through Muscovy to the Russian Empire.

Most of the territory of what is modern Ukraine was annexed by Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century. Although they had served the Polish king as mercenary troops, the Ukrainian Cossacks remained fiercely independent and staged a number of uprisings against the Poles. In 1648 the Ukrainian Cossacks revolted and were joined by most of Ukrainian society, which had suffered political, social, religious, and ethnic oppression under Polish rule. After the Ukrainians threw off Polish rule, they needed military help to sustain their gains. In 1654 the leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks, Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi, offered to place Ukraine under the protection of the Muscovite tsar rather than the Polish king.

A prolonged war between Muscovy and Poland followed, ending in 1667 with a treaty that split Ukraine along the Dnepr River. Ukrainian territory on the right (generally western) bank of the Dnepr remained under Poland, while Ukrainian territory on the left (generally eastern) bank was placed under the suzerainty of the Muscovite tsar. Although both segments of Ukraine were granted autonomous status, Muscovy and Poland followed policies to weaken Ukrainian autonomy. A number of uprisings by Ukrainian peasantry led to the crushing of the remainder of Ukrainian autonomy in Poland. Ukrainian selfrule under the tsar ended after Mazepa, the Ukrainian hetman (leader), defected to the Swedish side during the war between Russia and Sweden at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1775 Catherine the Great dispersed the Ukrainian Cossacks and enserfed those Ukrainian peasants who had remained free. The partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century placed most of the Ukrainian territory on the right bank of the Dnepr River under Russian rule. The westernmost part of Ukraine (known as western Ukraine) was incorporated into the Austrian Empire.

Ukrainians declared independent statehood. In 1917 the Central Rada proclaimed Ukrainian autonomy and in 1918, following the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd, the Ukrainian National Republic declared independence under President Mykhaylo Hrushevsky. After 3 years of conflict and civil war, however, the western part of Ukrainian territory was incorporated into Poland, while the larger, central and eastern regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was officially created in 1922.

Stalin's rise to power, however, halted the process of Ukrainization. Consequently, Ukrainian intellectual and cultural elites were either executed or deported, and leading Ukrainian party leaders were replaced by non-Ukrainians. The peasantry was forcibly collectivized, leading to a mass famine in 1932-33 in which several million peasants starved to death. Pointing to the fact that grain was forcibly requisitioned from the peasantry despite the protests of the Soviet government in the Ukrainian Republic, some historians believe that Stalin knowingly brought about the famine to stop national ferment in the Ukrainian Republic and break the peasants' resistance to collectivization. When western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union following the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939, the population suffered terror and mass deportations.

Although Gorbachev seemed willing to grant extensive concessions to the small Baltic nationalities, he was much less inclined to allow them for the much more numerous Ukrainians, whose natural, agricultural, and industrial resources had been so vital to the Soviet Union and whose size has contributed significantly to the country's large Slavic majority. The Ukrainian nationalist movement severely threatened the state, and Soviet authorities have used harsh measures against Ukrainian national and religious leaders. Nevertheless, a democratic national movement gained momentum in the late 1980s. It was particularly strong in the western regions of the Ukrainian Republic, where the population had not been exposed as long to a policy of Russification as had the people of the eastern regions of the Ukrainian Republic. A democratic front with a program similar to the Baltic popular fronts, a Ukrainian cultural club to preserve Ukrainian culture and history, and an ecological movement have been formed and have gained an increasing following. The crucial issue for Ukrainians in the late 1980s was the use of the Ukrainian language as the official language of the republic and as the language of instruction in the republic's schools.

The Crimean peninsula is home to a number of pro-Russian political organizations that advocate secession of Crimea from Ukraine and annexation to Russia. Crimea was ceded by the RFSSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, in recognition of historic links and for economic convenience, to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine's union with Russia. In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant political, economic, and cultural autonomy.

Stephen J. Blank noted in February 2008 that "the current crisis in Ukraine which has brought the country to the brink of ungovernability, owes much to continuing Russian subversion and intervention there. If it is allowed to continue unchecked and the Ukrainian government is not strengthened to the point of being able to put its house in order, its democratization and Westernization processes will be set back for years. That not only means another quasi or virtual democracy as was the case before, but also a new satellite for Russia. Here we should always remember that Russia without Ukraine cannot threaten the peace of Europe because it is not an empire, just an aspirant to it. But with a Ukrainian satellite, Russia will be emboldened to carry further its efforts to destabilize neighboring regimes in Europe, only this time they will be NATO and EU members, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, the Baltic states, and especially Poland."

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Page last modified: 23-09-2012 17:48:37 ZULU