The first identifiable groups to populate what is now Ukraine were Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Goths, among other nomadic peoples who arrived throughout the first millennium B.C. These people were well known to colonists and traders in the ancient world, including Greeks and Romans, who established trading outposts which eventually became city states. Slavic tribes occupied central and eastern Ukraine in the sixth century A.D. and played an important role in the establishment of Kiev. Situated on lucrative trade routes, Kiev quickly prospered as the center of a powerful state of Kievan Rus. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus was, geographically, the largest state in Europe. A Christian missionary, Cyril, converted the Kievan nobility and most of the population in 988. Conflict among the feudal lords led to decline in the 12th century. Kiev was razed by Mongol raiders in the 12th century.
Most of the territory was annexed by Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, but during that time, the Ukrainian people began to conceive of themselves as a distinct people, a feeling which survived subsequent partitioning by greater powers over the next centuries. In addition, Ukrainian peasants who fled the Polish effort to force them into servitude came to be known as Cossacks and earned a reputation for their fierce martial spirit. In 1667, Ukraine was partitioned between Poland and Russia. In 1793, it was reunited as part of the Russian Empire.
The 19th century found the region largely agricultural, with a few cities and centers of trade and learning. The region was under the control of the Austrians in the extreme west and of the Russians elsewhere. Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples existing under other imperial governments and were determined to revive Ukrainian linguistic and cultural traditions and re-establish a Ukrainian nation-state. The Russians in particular imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian language and culture, even banning its use and study.
The history of the Ukrainian Movement down to 1914 was to all intents and purposes the history of the Ruthenians, inhabiting the eastern parts of Galicia, of which province they constituted slightly less than half the population. Though subservient to the Polish majority in Galicia, the Ruthenians constituted the intellectual center for the Ukrainian Movement. The books which were not allowed to be published in Russia were published in Lemberg and Cernowitz, and eastern Galicia became the chief center of Ukrainian propaganda.
By the Treaty of Percyaslavl, 1654, Ukraine received independence, but acknowledged the Tsar as protector of the republic. By this treaty Ukraine retained complete self-government and the right of maintaining its own diplomatic representatives abroad. By degrees, however, its autonomous privileges withered, and by 1847 the Ukrainians saw their national existence in danger of being merged, in spite of ethnographic differences between the two races, in the general subjection of the Russians.
A society called the "Cyril-Methodius Brotherhood" was started to keep the national tradition alive, having not only the literary object of promoting the Ukrainian language (till then only in oral use among the peasants) but also a far-reaching political program. A federation of autonomous Slavonic states was aimed at. In 1900 the various Ukrainian political parties began to organize themselves. Of these the most important was that of the National Democrats, founded to fight for equal rights to those of the Poles in Galicia and for. the autonomy of the Russian Ukraine as a federated Russian State. In the same year the first Revolutionary Ukrainian party was organized in Lemberg, and in 1905 assumed the name of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Working-men's party. Gradually the efforts of these societies were rewarded by the resurrection of the Ukraine as a result of the break-up of the Russian Empire.
When World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia shattered the Hapsburg and Russian empires, Ukrainians declared independent statehood. In 1917 and 1918, three separate Ukrainian republics declared independence. However, by 1921, the western part of the traditional territory had been incorporated into Poland, and the larger, central and eastern part became part of the Soviet Union.
The Ukrainian national idea persevered during the interwar years, and Soviet reaction was severe, particularly under Stalin, who imposed terror campaigns, which ravaged the intellectual class. He also created artificial famines as part of his forced collectivization policies, which killed millions of previously independent peasants and others throughout the country. Estimates of deaths from the 1932-33 famine alone range from 3 million to over 8 million.
After the German and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939, the western Ukrainian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, many Ukrainians, particularly in the west, welcomed them, but this did not last. German brutality was directed principally against Ukraine's Jews (of whom 1 million were killed) but also against many other Ukrainians. In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million more deaths. Kiev and other parts of the country were heavily damaged. Some Ukrainians began to resist the Germans as well as the Soviets. Resistance against Soviet Government forces continued as late as the 1950s. Little changed for Ukraine over the next decades. During periods of relative liberalization -- as under Nikita Khrushchev from 1955 to 1964--Ukrainian communists pursued national objectives. In the years of perestroika, under U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev, national goals were again advanced by Ukrainian officials.
The 1986 Chornobyl nuclear meltdown exposed the Soviet Union's negligent environmental record and triggered alarm across the globe. The world's worst nuclear accident created disastrous consequences for the environment, both in Ukraine and in neighboring countries. As a result, Soviet policies that encouraged industrial development at the expense of the environment came under harsh international criticism, and Chornobyl became a rallying cry for environmentalists around the world.
Ethnic tensions in Crimea during 1992 prompted a number of pro-Russian political organizations to advocate secession of Crimea and annexation to Russia. (Crimea was ceded to Ukraine in 1954, as a gift from Khrushchev to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukrainian union with Russia.) In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant cultural and economic autonomy. This lasted until 2014.
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