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Ukraine a brief historical outline

 

Ukraine is a country located in eastern Europe, the second largest, after the Russian Federation, on the continent. It is bordered by Belarus on the north, Russia on the east, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea on the south, Moldova and Romania on the southwest, and Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on the west. Ukraine has an area of 233,100 square miles (603,700 square kilometres). The capital is Kiev (pronounced Kyiv in Ukrainian), located on the Dnipro River in north-central Ukraine.

Ethnically, most of the people living in Ukraine are Ukrainians whose native language is Ukrainian, which is one of the East-European languages, with Russian and Belarusian being close relatives. Ethnic Russians are the largest minority, with Belarussians, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews, Greeks, and other ethnics having sizeable communities.

 

Second half of the summer

in Ukraine is the time of harvesting. Though it is surely hard work,
it has never been viewed as drudgery and deadening toil 
there has always been a festive element in it, a crowning of many months
of intense labour to produce grain, and consequently bread, the Ukrainian staple.

 

Prehistory and history

, pronounced ookrayina, is a word that can be interpreted as a derivative of the word okrayina, that is borderland, or of the word krayina, that is a country.

More or less consistently, the people living in what today we call Ukraine, began calling their homeland Ookrayina from the fifteenth century onward, but the history of this land (which for convenience we shall call Ukraine) goes back thousands of years.

About six or more thousand years ago, in various parts of Ukraine there emerged a culture that was given the name of Trypillian. The Trypillian people knew animal and land husbandry, they built large, two- or three-story houses, they produced art. And it is very likely that they were the first in the world to domesticate the horse. The horse is the proudest conquest of Man, said the French zoologist Le Comte de Buffon.

Beginning in the 7th6th centuries BC, numerous Greek colonies were founded on the northern coast of the Black Sea, in the Crimea, and along the Sea of Azov; these Hellenic outposts later came under the hegemony of the Roman Empire. During the 1st millennium BC the steppe hinterland was occupied successively by the Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians.

There is no agreement among the historians as to the more or less exact location of the proto-Slavic tribes that expanded from their original habitat which is believed to have been in the area of the present-day eastern Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. Neither was the direct continuity from the Trypillian culture people down to the Ukrainians of the later times firmly established. However, enough archaeological and historical evidence has been amassed to make it possible to speak of such a continuity. It means that the Ukrainian people as a nation developed from the autochthonous core of the proto-Slavic tribes that had inhabited Ukraine as early as in the fifth millennium BC.

 

Kyivan Rus

No exact date of the foundation of Kyiv has been established but most historians believe the fifth century to be a reliable estimation. At the end of the ninth century Kyiv emerged from the legendary mist to become one of the biggest urban centres in the whole of Europe.

The state that developed with Kyiv as its centre is traditionally called Kyivan Rus. Its rulers of the end of the ninth and early tenth century were of the Scandinavian origin which does not mean at all that the Kyivan Rus statehood was established by the Scandinavian princes.

From the end of the tenth up to the middle of the eleventh century, Kyivan Rus was at the pinnacle of its power and cultural development. Its territory stretched as far north as Novgorod and Pskov with the rest of the country occupying approximately the same expanse of land as todays Ukraine does. Conversion to Christianity came rather late, at the end of the tenth century when most of other European states had been Christian for some time, but it gave a powerful boost to the development of culture and to the establishment of diplomatic and other links with the rest of Europe. The Christian schism of 1054 ripped Europe apart and Kyivan Rus found itself in the orbit of Orthodoxy.

The second half of the eleventh century and the twelfth century saw a gradual disintegration of Kyivan Rus into more or less autonomous principalities with Kyiv retaining its prestigious position of a political and cultural centre.

By the end of the twelfth century the centrifugal processes in Kyivan Rus accelerated with local princes becoming more and more independent from Kyiv. It was in the twelfth century that one of the Kyivan princes (who, incidentally, was very much disliked by the Kyivans) founded a little town in the north of his dominions and gave it the name of the river on which it stood  Moskva, Moscow. Little did he know that this small town would become the centre of an enormous empire that would swallow his native land and even rob it of its name, referring to Kyivan Rus-Ukraine as Little Russia.

The thirteenth century turned out to be a tragic one for Kyivan Rus  a devastating invasion of the Mongols dealt a mortal blow to Kyivan Rus which had already been weakened by internal strife, with local rulers vying for power over Kyiv. The central areas of the country were turned into a wasteland. A great many inhabitants were either killed, or died of hunger; many fled north and to other parts of what used to be Kyivan Rus that had been spared the horrors of the Mongol invasion.

Later, Moscow claimed to be the sole inheritor of the Kyivan Rus traditions, statehood and culture, turning Kyiv (by brutal force when it was needed to prove the point) into a provincial city with a glorious past but insignificant present. Even the language of Kyivan Rus was proclaimed to be the true Russian language with Ukrainian being just a dialect.

 

Ivan Mykolaychuk,

in whose house (now it is a museum), in the village of Chortoriya, Bukovyna,
western Ukraine, this picture was taken, was much more than a great actor
and film director  he was a major cultural figure, a champion of Ukrainian
culture at the time when the only culture promoted by the soviet authorities
was the soviet totalitarian culture.

 

Aftermath and resurrection

Tragic as the Mongol invasion was, it did not destroy the Slavic culture as it was upheld in the Halytsko-Volynske Principality in the western part of what used to be Kyivan Rus. This principality proved to be strong enough to withstand the pressure both from the east and from the west, fending off the attempts of the western crusaders to subjugate it. One of its rulers was crowned a king, and his kingdom preserved, to a great extent, the cultural heritage of Kyivan Rus.

A considerable part of Ukraine later came under the domination of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania but still it preserved much of its cultural originality and national identity. The official language of Lithuania in the 15th century was what is called Old Ukrainian; the city of Kyiv acquired the status of a free city which it was granted under the Magdeburg Law.

The neighbouring countries of Poland and Muscovy, and Turkey, whose power and ambitions kept progressively growing, attracted by the fertility of the land and advantageous geographical position of Ukraine, wanted to establish their control over this country.

In the meantime, the Zaporizka Sich, which emerged as a sort of a Cossack state in the area around the southern reaches of the Dnipro River, gradually acquired the status of an upholder of freedom and cultural traditions. The Cossacks took it upon themselves to defend the Ukrainian lands against the Crimean Tartar raids which were encouraged by Turkey, and other enemies. In the mid-seventeenth century, after a period of wars of independence, Ukraine once again emerged as an independent state formation. In 1654, the Ukrainian Hetman (military and state leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky, in the face of an imminent invasion from Turkey and Poland, was forced to sign a treaty with Russia in the town of Pereyaslav which put Ukraine under the protection of the Russian tsar. As later events showed, it proved to be a turning  and tragic point in the history of Ukraine. Russia was quickly becoming an empire and an independent Ukraine was not something it would tolerate.

In the early 18th century, a desperate attempt made by Hetman Ivan Mazepa to break free from the Russian clutches, failed. The last vestiges of autonomy were done away with; no traces of former liberties were left and serfdom was introduced. At the end of the 18th century, Ukraine was torn apart by Russia and Austria.

 

National awareness

In spite of the loss of statehood, prominent cultural figures of Ukraine, and later an ever widening circle of Ukrainian intellectuals, never abandoned the hope of restoring Ukraines independence. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw an upsurge of activity in the national liberation movement and a growing national awareness gave the movement the muscle and blood. The First World War triggered revolutions as a result of which three empires collapsed  the German, the Austrian-Hungarian and the Russian. Thus favourable conditions were created for Ukraine to make a bid for independence. On January 22 1918, the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was proclaimed a sovereign state, and its first president was Mykhailo Hrushevsky, an eminent Ukrainian historian, political and public figure.

Soviet Ukraine

The period of time from 1917 to 1921 proved to be the years of great trials and tribulations for the Ukrainian people. The Civil War raged in the land with many sides vying for power. The situation was further aggravated by rampant banditry and attempts by Britain, France, Greece and Rumania to join the fray and get whatever advantages they could out of the confusion. The successive Ukrainian governments, fighting against overwhelming odds, succumbed and the power was eventually seized by the Russian Bolsheviks, alas not without help from their Ukrainian communist comrades. In 1922, Ukraine became a soviet socialist republic, one of several in the the friendly family of nations  the Soviet Union.

Ukraine had probably never before experienced that much horror as it did being a soviet republic. Ukraine was deliberately subjected to a famine, masterminded by Stalin and his henchmen, of staggering proportions  in 19321933 it took lives of at least seven to ten million people; hundreds of thousands intellectuals and other subversive elements were either executed by Stalins firing squads or exiled to Siberia. The idea was to liquidate the very foundation, upon which the Ukrainian national identity could grow into a national liberation movement.

In the 1940s, Ukraine was the hardest hit in the war of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. Three million Ukrainians died at the front, and five to seven more million perished in the areas occupied by the Nazis. The post-war reconstruction made Ukraine a rather developed industrial and agricultural land; Ukrainian culture was allowed to develop within the boundaries set by the communist regime; on the other hand, any deviation from the official line was fraught with danger of prosecution and imprisonment. Dissidents and Ukrainian nationalists continued to be arrested, tried and sent to concentration camps up to the mid-1980s.

The second half of the 1980s was the time of growing national awareness and social unrest. On July 1990, Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian parliament, adopted The Act on State Sovereignty, which was the first step to regaining full independence.

 

This imposing architectural landmark

in Chernivtsi, western Ukraine, used to be the residence of Bukovyna
Metropolitans; now it is a seat of learning, housing Chernivtsi University.
In spite of the fact that it is a secular establishment now, the spiritual continuity
has been largely preserved. Besides, they say that the beauty
of the environment is conducive to studies.

 

Independence

On August 24 1991, Ukraine proclaimed its independence, and during the referendum held on December 1 of the same year, the Ukrainian people confirmed their choice of independent development by saying yes to it.

Ukraine faced a multitude of very difficult tasks which had to be solved within a short period of time: a new political system had to be built; new statehood principles based on law had to be introduced; a new system of national security and defence had to be created; new relations with other countries of the world had to be established; social, economic and ecological reforms had to be carried out; the nuclear weapons were to be scrapped. The enormity of all these large-scale, time-, labour- and finance- consuming tasks was further exacerbated by the multiple crises the country was living through  economic, political and psychological. On top of all that, Ukraine continued to deal with the consequences of the Chornobyl disaster (21 percent of the Ukrainian territory was polluted by the fallout of radioactive materials and it affected 7 percent of the Ukrainian population).

In 1996 a new constitution was adopted; the runaway inflation, which was endemic throughout the former Soviet Union, was curbed and the national currency, hryvnya, was launched. Ukraine was the first among the post-soviet countries to establish working relations with the European Union. A charter was signed with NATO in 1997. Over the years, Ukraine sent its peacekeepers to the Balkans, Africa and Iraq.

During the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, a corrupt and autocratic regime was gradually established. The mass media were bridled, initiative and free enterprise were stifled. Parliament was hardly less corrupt than the government. Those in power considered their personal interests and gain to be much above the interests of the state.

Things came to a head during the long-awaited presidential election in the fall of 2004 when the hopes of the Ukrainian people for a radical change were dashed by a massive electoral fraud perpetrated by the candidate who was supported by the president and his vast administrative power.

A peaceful revolution ushered in a new era in the history of Ukraine. The new president who supports the democratic principles, faces an enormous task of stabilizing the country, rooting out corruption, dealing with grievous economic problems that have accumulated over the years, and meeting the expectations and hopes of the people who backed him at the time of the national crisis.

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