The History of Ukraine
Below is a brief history of Ukraine. To find information other than history for Ukraine then visit
the Ukraine Country Page.
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 peoples were well known to colonists and traders in the ancient world, including Greeks and Romans, who established trading outposts that 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 the powerful state of Kievan Rus. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus was, geographically, the largest state in Europe. Christian missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, propagated the Christian faith and the Cyrillic alphabet. Kievan Rus Prince Volodymyr converted the Kievan nobility and most of the population to Christianity in 988. Conflict among the feudal lords led to decline in the 12th century. Mongol raiders razed Kiev in the 13th century.
Most of the territory of what is modern Ukraine was annexed by Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, but during that time, Ukrainians began to conceive of themselves as a distinct people, a feeling that survived subsequent partitioning by greater powers over the next centuries. 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 and love of freedom. In 1667, Ukraine was partitioned between Poland and Russia. In 1793, when Poland was partitioned, much of modern-day Ukraine was integrated into 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 Austro-Hungarian Empire in the extreme west and the Russian Empire 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 reestablish a Ukrainian state. Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), national hero of Ukraine, presented the intellectual maturity of the Ukrainian language and culture through his work as a poet and artist. Imperial Russia, however, imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian culture, even banning the use and study of the Ukrainian language.
When World War I and the Russian revolution shattered the Habsburg and Russian empires, 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 three 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 in 1922 as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Ukrainian national idea persevered during the twenties, but with Stalin’s rise to power and the campaign for collectivization, the Soviet leadership imposed a campaign of terror that ravaged the intellectual class. Stalin also created an artificial famine (called the Holodomor in Ukrainian) 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 7 million.
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, some Ukrainians, particularly in the west, welcomed what they saw as liberation from Communist rule, but this did not last as they quickly came to understand the nature of Nazi rule. Nazi brutality was directed principally against Ukraine's Jews (of whom an estimated 1 million were killed), but also against many other Ukrainians. Babyn Yar in Kiev was the site of one of the most horrific Nazi massacres of Ukrainian Jews, ethnic Ukrainians, and many others. Kiev and other parts of the country were heavily damaged.
After the Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939, the western Ukrainian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. Armed resistance against Soviet authority continued as late as the 1950s. During periods of relative liberalization--as under Nikita Khrushchev from 1955 to 1964 and during the period of “perestroika” under Mikhail Gorbachev -- Ukrainian communists pursued nationalist objectives. The 1986 explosion at the Chornobyl (Chernobyl in Russian) nuclear power plant, located in the Ukrainian SSR, and the Soviet government’s initial efforts to conceal the extent of the catastrophe from its own people and the world, was a watershed for many Ukrainians in exposing the severe problems of the Soviet system. Ukraine became an independent state on August 24, 1991, and was a co-founder of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, although it has not officially joined the organization.