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Ukraine vs The Ukraine

The origins of the name "Ukraine" or Ukraina (say ooCRYeena) summarizes aspects of Ukraine's changing borders and its self-perception as inferior to Russia, the world's largest country. Ukraine (a Slavic word which means "borderland") has been known by several names during its long and turbulent history. As early as the ninth century, the territory and its people were called Rus. One explanation for that name – and not the only one – is that the original Rus were Varangian warrior-merchants (known in the West as Norsemen or Vikings), who in 882 gained control of Kyiv and the waterways from the Baltic to the Black Sea at about the same time that other Norsemen were exploring and conquering the Atlantic shores of Western Europe and North America. From "Rus" we have the derivation Rusyn, the traditional name for western Ukrainians. From "Rusyn" we have the Latin translation Rutheni (Ruthenians in English), a term still used in the West for Ukrainians who lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

From the 12th to 15th centuries, "Ukraine" meant "borderland," "bordering country," or "country”. Continuing into the 16th century, documents made references to various Ukraines (Galician Ukraine and Kyiv Ukraine, among others), but over time "Ukraine" came to mean the Cossack territory stretching along both sides of the Dnipro River, then part of the Polish Commonwealth.

In the fourteenth century, when the rulers of Moscow began to call themselves "Princes of All the Rus" to distinguish between the various branches of the Eastern Slavs, the terms "Great Russia" (Muscovy), "White Russia" (Belarus), and "Little Russia" (Ukraine) came into common usage. By the early eighteenth century, Ukraine was officially called "Little Russia" in Russian imperial decrees.

In the 17th century the concept of Ukraine was extended farther east to include not only eastern Ukraine but also territory of the Muscovite state of Slovidska Ukraine, which attracted Cossack settlers. After Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky's successful uprising against the Poles in the mid-17th century, "Ukraine" referred to the rise of a Cossack state in central Ukraine. This was not its official name, but the Hetman territory was usually known as Ukraine in both Ukrainian and Polish sources at this time.

The 1667 and 1668 partitions between Muscovy and Poland interrupted the evolution of Ukraine as a unifying concept. Indeed, this period sowed the seeds for much of the east vs. west conflict we encounter today in Left-Bank and Right-Bank Ukraine. The former, then a Muscovy protectorate, was transformed into a province of the Russian Empire; it became officially known in Russian as Malorossiya or Little Russia. It was also sometimes called Southern Russia.

The larger part of the Ukrainian territories was unified with the Russian Empire during the Partitions of Poland between 1772 and 1795. This paved the way for the concept of Ukraine as Ukrainian national territory as well as the emergence of Ukrainian nationalism in the 1840s. Only Ukraine's far western territory, the region around Lviv, was excluded; this went instead to the Hapsburg Empire.

The term "Little Russia" gradually acquired a patronizing connotation and dropped into disuse at the end of the nineteenth century, although some Russians still use it today. Taras Shevchenko associated "Ukraine" with a proud Cossack past whereas "Malorossiya" reinforced national humiliation and colonial status. From the mid-19th century, "Ukraine" at last displaced all other names for this territory. The years immediately following the Russian Revolution and World

War I were chaotic and unstable, and civil war broke out and lasted until 1921 or 1922. This was really a prolongation of revolution. In 1918, for example, there were at least thirty governments in what had been the Russian Empire. After 1920, parts of western Ukraine were divided between Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. In 1921, the Bolsheviks gave formal recognition to Ukraine's independence; then in 1922, Ukraine was seized and incorporated into the newly formed USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Communist Party had established its one-party rule.

Finally, in its 1991 declaration of independence, the new state adopted "Ukraine" as its official name. The name in English is not "the Ukraine" as it was formerly called in English. In fact, the articles "the" and "a" do not exist in the Ukrainian, Russian, or Belarusian languages. The larger issue, however, is that "the Ukraine" suggests to Ukrainians a geographical region, when in fact Ukraine is today an independent country. Tchaikovsky's Little Russian Symphony (No. 2) is neither little nor Russian but Ukrainian, based as it is on Ukrainian folk songs.

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Page last modified: 23-09-2012 17:48:39 ZULU