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History of Ukraine

The Trypillian culture and the Neolithic period in Ukraine

Perhaps the most sophisticated culture of the early Neolithic Period in Europe, the Trypillian culture existed on Ukrainian territories for over three millennia. During the 6th millennium BC, Trypillian tribes began settling in low-lying riverbank areas and on plateaus in the Dnieper River and Boh River basins. They were, most probably, primitive agricultural and cattle-raising tribes that migrated to Ukraine from the Near East and from the Balkans and Danubian regions. Scholars have identified three periods in the development of this culture--early (5400-3500 BC), middle (3500-2750 BC), and late (2750-2250 BC). The differentiation of periods is characterized by an increase in population and the geographic spread of the culture as well as by changes in settlement patterns, the economy, and the spiritual life of the people.

As a result of incursions by other cultures (particularly the Pit-Grave culture) into Ukrainian territory during the Copper Age in the mid-3rd to early 2nd millennium BC, many characteristic Trypillian traits changed, were absorbed by other tribes, or disappeared.

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Kievan Rus’

Kievan Rus

In the 9th century the Varangians from Scandinavia conquered the proto-Slavic tribes on the territory of today's Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia and laid the groundwork for the Kievan Rus’ state. Kiev became the centre and capital of the new realm. The first period of Kievan Rus’ history can be characterized as the era of expansion, which saw Kiev extend its authority over all of the east-Slavic tribes.

The second period, associated primarily with the reigns of Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav the Wise, was the era of internal consolidation as a result of which Kievan Rus’ became one of the pre-eminent states of Europe.

In the 11th century, Kievan Rus' was, geographically, the largest state in Europe. During this time, Ukraine became known in the rest of Europe as Ruthenia (the Latin name for Rus', especially after the separation of Russia from Rus' propria). In addition, the name "Ukraine" first appears in recorded history on maps of the period. The term, "Greater Rus'" was used to apply to all the lands ruled by Kiev, including those that were not just Slavic, but also Finno-Ugric in the northeast portions of the state. Local regional subdivisions of Rus' appeared in the Slavic heartland, including, "Belarus'" (White Ruthenia), "Chorna Rus'" (Black Ruthenia) and "Cherven' Rus'" (Red Ruthenia) in northwestern and western Ukraine.

The internecine wars between Rus' princes, which began after the death of Yaroslav the Wise, led to the political fragmentation of the state into a number of principalities. In the Ukrainian lands, the Kiev principality, Turov-Pinsk principality, Vladimir-Volynskiy principality, Halych principality, Chernigov principality, and Pereiaslav principality emerged as independent and separate entities, with their own political and economic peculiarities. The quarreling between the princes left Rus’ vulnerable to foreign attacks, and the invasion of the Mongols in 1236 finally destroyed the state.

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Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

During the 14th century, Poland and Lithuania fought wars against the Mongol invaders, and eventually most of Ukraine passed to the rule of Poland and Lithuania. More particularly, the lands of Volynia in the north and north-west passed to the rule of Lithuanian princes, while the south-west passed to the control of Poland (Galicia) and Hungary (Zakarpattia).

Most of Ukraine bordered parts of Lithuania, and some say that the name, "Ukraine" comes from the local word for "border", although the name "Ukraine" was also used centuries earlier. Lithuania took control of the state of Volynia in northern and northwestern Ukraine, including the region around Kiev (Rus'), and the rulers of Lithuania then adopted the title of ruler of Rus'. Poland took control of the region of Galicia. Following the union between Poland and Lithuania, Poles, Germans, Armenians and Jews migrated to the region.

After the Union of Lublin in 1569 and the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Ukraine fell under Polish administration, becoming part of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. The period immediately following the creation of the Commonwealth saw a huge revitalisation in colonisation efforts. Many new cities and villages were founded. New schools spread the ideas of the Renaissance; Polish peasants arrived in great numbers and quickly became mixed with the local population; during this time, most of Ukrainian nobles became polonised and converted to Catholicism, and while most Ruthenian-speaking peasants remained within the Eastern Orthodox Church, social tension rose.

Ruthenian peasants (Ukrainians and some from other nations) who fled efforts to force them into serfdom came to be known as Cossacks and earned a reputation for their fierce martial spirit. Some Cossacks were hired by the Commonwealth (became "register Cossacks") as soldiers to protect the southeastern borders of Poland from Tatars or took part in campaigns abroad (like Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny in the battle of Khotyn 1621). Cossack units were also active in wars between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Muscovy.

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Cossack era

Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky is one of the most celebrated and at the same time most controversial political figures in Ukraine's early-modern history. A brilliant military leader, his greatest achievement in the process of national revolution was the formation of the Cossack Hetman state of the Zaporozhian Host (1648-1782). His statesmanship was demonstrated in all areas of state-building - in the military, administration, finance, economics, and culture. At the same time, at the height of the Cossack-Polish War (1648-1657), Khmelnytsky concluded the fateful Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 with Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich of Muscovy, as a result of which Ukraine became a protectorate of the tsar and was placed in the Muscovite sphere of influence. Some of the most prominent Ukrainian intellectuals, such as Taras Shevchenko, criticized Khmelnytsky for this strategic error which resulted in the centuries of Muscovite/Russian domination over Ukraine.

The Khmelnytsky Uprising and the Cossack-Polish War led to the establishment of the Cossack Hetman state. At the time of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's death, the Cossacks controlled the former Kiev, Bratslav, and Chernigov voivodeships, an area inhabited by about 1.5 million people. The entire area was divided into 16 military and administrative regions corresponding to the territorially based regiments of the Cossack army. At the pinnacle of the Cossack military-administrative system stood the hetman. Assisting the hetman was the General Officer Staff, which functioned as a general staff and a council of ministers. The capitals of the Hetman state were Chyhyryn (1648-1663), Hadiach (1663-1668), Baturyn (1669-1708 and 1750-1764), and Hlukhiv (1708-1734). From 1654 the Hetman state was nominally a vassal of Muscovy. The political relationship between the two countries was renegotiated with the election of each new hetman, which led to the steady erosion of the Hetmanate's sovereignty. In the 18th century, the increasing political control of the Hetman state by Russia precluded the independent evolution of its administrative, financial, and judicial institutions. During the reign of Catherine II (1762-1796) Ukrainian autonomy was progressively destroyed and the office of hetman was finally abolished by the Russian government in 1764.

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Russian Empire and Soviet Union

Tsarist rule over central Ukraine gradually replaced 'protection' over the subsequent decades. After the Partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, the extreme west of Ukraine fell under the control of the Austrians, with the rest as part of the Russian Empire. As a result of Russo-Turkish Wars the Ottoman Empire's control receded from south-central Ukraine, while the rule of Hungary over the Transcarpathian region continued. Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples existing under other imperial governments and became determined to revive the Ukrainian linguistic and cultural traditions and re-establish a Ukrainian nation-state, a movement that became known as Ukrainophilism.

Russia, fearing separatism, imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate the Ukrainian language and culture, even banning its use and study. This led to an exodus of a number of Ukrainian intellectuals into Western Ukraine. However, many Ukrainians accepted their fate in the Russian Empire and some were to achieve a great success there. Many Russian writers, composers, painters and architects of the 19th century were of Ukrainian descent. Probably the most notable were Nikolai Gogol, one of the greatest writers in the history of Russian literature, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest composers in the history of Russian music, whose father came of Ukrainian Cossack stock.

The fate of the Ukrainians was far different under the Austrian Empire where they found themselves in the pawn position of the Russian-Austrian power struggle for the Central and Southern Europe. Unlike in Russia, most of the elite that ruled Galicia were of Austrian or Polish descent, with the Ruthenians being almost exclusively kept in peasantry. During the 19th century, Russophilia was a common occurrence among the Slavic population, but the mass exodus of Ukrainian intellectuals escaping from Russian repression in Eastern Ukraine, as well as the intervention of Austrian authorities, caused the movement to be replaced by Ukrainophilia, which would then cross-over into the Russian Empire. With the start of World War I, all those supporting Russia were rounded up and massacred by the Austrian forces at Talerhof.

Shortly after the October Revolution of 1917, a military struggle for control of Ukraine began and was waged intermittently until 1921 by Ukrainian independentist forces and pro-Bolshevik elements seeking to establish Soviet rule. Notwithstanding the creation of the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) on 20 November 1917, the Bolsheviks planned to seize power in Ukraine with the aid of Russian or Russified urban elements, Russian garrisons, and army units stationed near the front. Their armed uprising in Kiev on 11 December 1917 was unsuccessful, however, and the Bolshevized army units were deported from Ukraine in stages. A pro-Bolshevik force under Yevheniia Bosh moving in on Kiev was also disarmed by Ukrainian troops under Pavel Skoropadsky and then sent off to Russia. However, in December 1917 a 30,000-strong Red Guards army from Russia set off for Ukraine starting the war that would eventually lead to the establishment of Soviet rule in all of central and eastern Ukraine.

The national-communist policies of Ukrainization grew out of the weakness of early Soviet governments in Ukraine following the Revolution of 1917 and the failed Ukrainian struggle for independence. As early as 1920 Mykola Skrypnyk attributed this weakness to national hostility between the Ukrainian peasantry and the Russified workers, which was reflected in the Ukrainophobic policies of the Soviet authorities. The way to legitimize Soviet rule in Ukrainian eyes lay in the gradual de-Russification of the proletariat in Ukraine and its adoption of Ukrainian culture. The Borotbists, led by Oleksander Shumsky, offered a similar analysis. Despite widespread opposition to Ukrainization within the largely Russian CP(B)U, ex-Borotbists, such as Shumsky, Vasyl Blakytny, Serhii Pylypenko, and Mykhailo Semenko, were given considerable authority over Ukrainian cultural policy. Under Skrypnyk's supervision all postsecondary education was rapidly Ukrainized while the Ukrainian language was promoted among the government bureaucracy and in the military. This process resulted, among others, in the brilliant flourishing of Ukrainian literature (led by such writers as Mykola Khvylovy), culture, and scholarship. The successes of Ukrainization fostered the myth that Ukrainians had achieved a measure of national liberation within the Soviet framework, but the hopes of the national communists were brutally quashed. As part of wide-ranging repressions directed against Ukrainians, in 1932 Stalin ordered the CP(B)U to halt the implementation of Ukrainization and root out 'national deviations' from the Party line. The 1933 Party purge singled out 'national communists' as primary targets. The suicide of Khvylovy in May 1933 and that of Skrypnyk in July 1933 mark the end of openly expressed national-communist ideas in Ukraine.

Ukraine is one of founding members of United Nations

After World War II some amendments to the Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR were accepted, which allowed it to act as a separate subject of international law in some cases and to a certain extent, remaining a part of the Soviet Union at the same time. In particular, these amendments allowed the Ukrainian SSR to become one of founding members of the United Nations (UN) together with the Soviet Union and the Byelorussian SSR.

This was part of a deal with the United States to ensure a degree of balance in the General Assembly, which, the USSR opined, was unbalanced in favor of the Western Bloc. In its capacity as a member of the UN, the Ukrainian SSR was an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 1948–1949 and 1984–1985.

Over the next decades, the Ukrainian republic not only surpassed pre-war levels of industry and production but also was the spearhead of Soviet power. Ukraine became the centre of Soviet arms industry and high-tech research. The republic was also turned into a Soviet military outpost in the cold war, a territory crowded by military bases packed with the most up-to-date weapons systems.

However, the relatively underdeveloped industrial branches such as coal- and iron ore mining, metallurgy, chemical and energy industry dominated the republic's economy. Once a Cossack steppe, the southern oblasts of Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye were turned into a highly industrialised area with rapidly increasing impact on its environment and public health. A pursuit to energy production sufficient for growing industry led to the gigantic nature-remastering: turning the Dnieper River into a regulated system of large reservoirs.


Main tank T84 "Oplot" by the Malyshev Plant (Kharkov) is heritage of the Soviet military-industrial complex.

The products of the rapidly developed high-tech industry in Ukraine were largely directed for military consumption, similarly to much of the Soviet economy, and the supply and quality of consumer goods remained low compared even to the neighboring countries of the Eastern bloc. A state-regulated system of production and consumption lead to gradual decrease of quality of life and growing "shadowisation" of retail infrastructure as well as of corruption.

The town of Pripyat, Ukraine was the site of the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986 when a nuclear plant exploded. The fallout contaminated large areas of northern Ukraine and even parts of Belarus. This spurred on a local independence movement called the Rukh that helped expedite the break-up of the Soviet Union during the late 1980s.

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Independence of Ukraine

Reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in USSR in spring 1985 were first controlled by the state party. But with the expansion of publicity (“glasnost”) there remained even less people who could find any harmony in relations between the State and society. Communist ideology lost its authority, the society was quickly politicized. These processes immediately acquired political coloration in Ukraine. There began the actions of protest against closing the schools with education in Ukrainian, against forcing out the national language from the sphere of state management, book-publishing, mass media.

On the evening of August 19, 1991, the conservatives of the central party-state management made an attempt of the state upheaval, striving to turn the country life to the state before 1985. The putsch (the leaders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine who also participated) was a failure. On August 24, the extraordinary session of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR approved “The Bill of Independence Announcement of Ukraine”.

In the last days of August 1991, they adopted the edict about temporal cessation and then the prohibition of activities of the Communist Party of Ukraine. On December 1, 1991, the referendum on confirmation of “The Bill of Independence Announcement of Ukraine” took place. There was a positive response from 90.3% of the population who took part in the referendum. The elections of the first President of Ukraine were also held. Leonid Kravchuk became the first President of Ukraine.

Ukraine's nuclear disarmament

After the disintegration of the USSR, Ukraine inherited the third largest nuclear potential in the world. In December 1991, the Supreme Rada resolved the law “On Military Powers of Ukraine”, and in November 1993, adopted the military doctrine in which it was announced that Ukraine did not see its enemies in the neighboring countries and the army of Ukraine is only a guarantee of its national security. Beginning with the Declaration on State Sovereignty, Ukraine always emphasized the desire to become a non-nuclear state. In November 1994, the Supreme Rada approved the decision on Ukraine joining the Agreement on non-expansion of nuclear weapons on the condition of guaranteeing safety on the part of nuclear states. Such guarantees were given and in the summer of 1996, the last 1280 nuclear warheads were removed from Ukraine.

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