In what is today Northern Ukraine was founded
at the end of the 8th century Kiev Empire which became a
powerful principality. From the 13th century, the area
came first under Mongolian and later Polish and
Lithuanian supremacy. From the 17th century, the
Russians dominated, and in 1922 Ukraine became part of
the Soviet Union. Ukraine was hit by widespread famine
and severe oppression under Soviet leader Josef Stalin
in the 1930s, and during World War II, millions of
Ukrainians died in wars, hardships and purges.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Ukraine, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Early in history, various riders swept across the
steppes that today make up Ukraine. In the 8th century
BC, the first Oriental horsemen came, the Chimers, who
were later replaced by the Scythians and the Sarmatians.
At the same time, seafarers began to settle along the
Black Sea coast. There are traces of Greek settlements
dating back to the 6th century before our era.
Slavic people began to settle in the area from the
6th century AD. In the 800s, the first state formation
arose. According to the Nestor Chronicle, the Kiev
kingdom (Kyjivska Rus) in northern Ukraine was founded
in 862 by Prince Oleh (Oleg in Russian), son of the
Nordic Viking Rurik. Whether it was the Vikings who
founded the Empire or not, the Vikings played an
important role in Kiev's early history, as the Empire
lay along their trade routes between Northern Europe and
Constantinople. When Prince Volodymyr (Vladimir in
Russian) adopted Christianity from Östrom in 988, the
Kiev kingdom became one of Eastern Europe's most
important political and spiritual centers. The most
important building memory of this time is the Sofia
Cathedral, built with the Sofia Church in Constantinople
(Istanbul) as a model. Relatively soon, however, a
downturn began due to the decline of the north-south
trade routes. The end came in 1240, when the Mongols
The western parts of the empire, including the
principalities of Galicia and Volynia, maintained a
degree of self-government until 1340 when they fell
under Polish supremacy. As the Mongol empire collapsed,
the central and eastern parts of Lithuania were first
incorporated and then Poland.
The Ukrainian nobility adopted Polish customs. Many
privileges required conversion to Catholicism. The
Polish system of goods and loans spread to Ukraine, and
the former free Ukrainian peasants became viable. This
led to social tensions between Poles and Ukrainians.
In that situation, the Cossacks came to play a
crucial role. The Cossacks were peasants who had fled
the livelihood and settled in the southeast, including
around the Dnieper River. Conflicts with the Polish
rulers became inevitable.
The first Cossack rebellion took place in 1591. The
conflicts culminated in 1648, when the Cossacks leader
(hetman) Bohdan Khmelnytskyj led an uprising against the
Polish supremacy. In a short time, the Cossacks were
able to take control of most of Ukraine. The victories
of Khmelnytsky were accompanied by cruel persecution of
Polish nobles and priests as well as Jews. However, the
Cossacks needed an ally in the battle and therefore
stood in 1654 under the protection of the Moscow chief.
The decision brought Ukraine into the Russian sphere.
The immediate result was a war between Moscow and
Poland, which ended with peace being struck over the
heads of the Ukrainian Cossacks. In the peace of 1667,
Ukraine was divided so that the area east of the Dnieper
and Kiev went to Russia and the remainder went to
Poland. The subsequent downturn is called the "ruin" in
Ukrainian history writing.
A final attempt to assert Ukraine's
self-determination was made by the hitman Ivan Mazepa,
who made alliances with the Swedish king Karl XII
against Russia in the hope of achieving independence for
the Ukrainians. The company ended in the defeat at
Poltava in 1709, when Russia defeated Charles XII's
army. Subsequently, Russia gradually strengthened its
grip on Ukraine.
The Russian conquest of eastern Ukraine was followed
by continued Russian expansion westward. Following the
divisions of Poland in 1793 and 1795, Russia received
most of the Ukrainian territories west of the Dnieper
except Galicia, which went to Austria. The Russians also
continued south. In 1783, the Crimean Khanate, a remnant
of the former Mongol Empire, was defeated. Russian
supremacy was confirmed by the fact that the Russians
founded new cities on the Black Sea: Odessa, Nikolaev
(now Mykolaiv), Kherson and Sevastopol. Russian settlers
were sent to southern Ukraine to grow up the previously
crowded steppe. Other groups of people were also
encouraged to settle there. Many were Germans, but there
was also a small group of Swedes banished from Dagö in
Estonia. Even today, around a hundred Swedish kittens
still live in the village of Zmijivka (Old Swedish
The national awakening in the Russian part of Ukraine
began in the mid-19th century. The Ukrainian
intelligentsia's first attempt to challenge the Russian
regime ended with the participants being arrested and
deported. At the same time, within the intelligentsia,
the class formed in society, a tug of war between those
who fought for the liberation of the Ukrainians and
Panslavists, that is, persons who emphasized the common
interests of the Slavic peoples, took place. Also in
Galicia in the west, nationalist sentiments were aroused
by the Ukrainians. The city of Lviv and its university
became the center of Ukrainian nationalism.
Industrialization in the Russian part of Ukraine at
the end of the 19th century led to major social changes:
immigration to the cities, the emergence of a working
class and the strengthening of the gospel. In 1876,
teaching in Ukrainian and publishing Ukrainian books and
magazines were banned. This ban was lifted after the
1905 revolution in Russia.
Following the February revolution in Russia in 1917,
when the tsar abdicated, thoughts of an independent
Ukrainian state arose. Already in March, representatives
of various political movements formed a provisional
Assembly, the Central Council. The Communists, then
called the Bolsheviks, joined somewhat later.
After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia through
the October Revolution the same year, a Ukrainian Soviet
government was formed in the city of Kharkiv in the
east. The Kiev Central Council, for its part, proclaimed
Ukraine's independence on January 22, 1918. It became
the prelude to a confused civil war, which ended with
peace in Riga on March 18, 1921, when Ukraine was
divided. Poland regained Galicia and Volynia, while most
of Ukraine went to the Bolsheviks. On December 30, 1922,
Ukraine was one of the four republics that founded the
After the Civil War and the famine of 1921–1922, the
rest of the 1920s became something of a golden age for
the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The chaos forced a
temporary retreat from the planning economic principles
which said that all property would be owned by the
state. The New Economic Policy (NEP) from 1921 to 1928
allowed private enterprise in agriculture, trade and
small industry. The Bolsheviks also returned some land
that had been nationalized. Cultural life flourished and
a new language law gave the Ukrainian preference over
All this came to an abrupt end with Soviet leader
Stalin's brutal collectivization of agriculture from
1929. Then all land was nationalized and turned into
so-called kolchoses, which on paper were collectively
owned, or in large state farms, sovoshos. Well-to-do
farmers, so-called kulaks, were banished with their
families to remote areas where the majority died. In the
fertile agricultural areas of Ukraine, severe famine
broke out and millions of people starved to death in
1932–1933 in what the Ukrainian authorities today call a
genocide, called holodomor. The political terror in the
1930s also demanded many human lives. The purges of
those whom Stalin regarded as their enemies were very
extensive in Ukraine.
During the outbreak of World War II, the Ukrainian
territories of Poland were also incorporated with the
Soviet Union. Ukrainian nationalists hoped that the
German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 would give
them the opportunity to establish an independent
Ukrainian state. For a time the nationalists fought on
the Germans, but an attempt to proclaim independence was
crushed by the Nazis. After a time, a Ukrainian army of
insurrection was formed which waged guerrilla war
against both the Soviet power and the Germans.
World War II had devastating consequences for
Ukraine. About one in six people were killed. Most of
the Jewish population was destroyed and several
Ukrainian cities were totally destroyed. Throughout the
war, however, virtually all Ukrainian territories were
united. In addition to the former Polish territories,
Ukraine received the Transcarpathian from Czechoslovakia
as well as northern Bukovina and parts of Bessarabia
After Stalin's death in 1953, a political
"thunderstorm" entered the Soviet Union under the new
leader Nikita Khrushchev. Political oppression was
alleviated, but the new spirit did not only bring
benefits to Ukraine. The position of the Ukrainian
language was weakened, for example, by the fact that
Ukrainian was no longer compulsory in schools.
The new Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro
Sjelest, who was appointed in 1963, sought to strengthen
the position of the Ukrainian language and defend
Ukraine's economic interests vis-ā-vis Moscow. But in
1972 he was replaced by the more fierce Volodymyr
Shtjerbysky, who made sure to keep Ukrainian nationalism
under control through widespread persecution of all
The harsh rule of the Shtjerbysh clouds led to
political changes lasting longer in Ukraine than in
other Soviet republics, when Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev started his reform policy perestroika in the
second half of the 1980s.
The nuclear accident in Chernobyl (Chornobyl) in
northern Ukraine in April 1986 became an alarm clock.
Millions of people were exposed to radiation and
radioactive fallout, which led to environmental and
health problems. The state's handling of the disaster
contributed to the formation of groups that worked for
greater political freedom, civil rights and
The church, especially the resurrected Greek-Catholic
church in western Ukraine, also came to play an
important role in opposition to the communist regime.
Mining strikes in the Donbas in the east loosened up the
communist power monopoly. In 1989, Ruch was founded as
the umbrella organization for the nationalist
opposition, with a stronghold mainly in the west.
When a first election, which was at least partially
free, was held in the spring of 1990, Ruch and related
groups received about a third of the parliamentary
mandate. The political climate was radicalized.
Parliament's new Speaker Leonid Kravtjuk, who was one of
the Communist Party's top leaders, now took a
nationalist stance and approached Ruch.
The coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991, when a
group of reform opponents made one last attempt to stop
the disintegration of the Soviet Union, led Ukraine to
declare independence on August 24, 1991. The same month,
the Communist Party was banned. Independence was
confirmed by an overwhelming majority in a referendum on
1 December. At the same time, Kravtjuk was elected with
a good margin for president.
On December 8, 1991, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus
agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union and to form the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) instead.
Yanukovych forms government
After more than four months of negotiations, a new government takes office,
led by Viktor Yanukovych.
Parliamentary election without clear winner
Parliamentary elections are held. The largest party will be opposition leader
Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party, which receives 32 percent of the vote,
against 22 percent for Julia Tymoshenko's bloc and 14 percent for President
Yushchenko's Party Our Ukraine. The Communist Party and the Socialist Party also
pass the block to Parliament. According to the European cooperation organization
OSCE, the choice has generally been correct.
Trouble with Russia about the gas price
Russia shuts off gas supply after disagreement over price. An agreement is
concluded after a few days and the gas is released, but then the Ukrainian
parliament protests against the gas price doubling and trying to oust the
government. In the end, two ministers resign.
Government change after disagreement
Serious contradictions within the new government that took office in January
lead to President Yushchenko dismissing Tymoshenko's government. New Prime
Minister becomes the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Yuri Jechanurov.
Tymoshenko forms government
Viktor Yushchenko takes office. New Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko,
Yushchenko's ally in the "Orange Revolution". Her government is a broad
coalition between several parties.