Brief History of Ukraine
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.
In 1919, amid great fanfare, the Ukrainian People's Republic, led by journalist Simon Petliura, formally united with the West Ukrainian People's Republic (which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) based in Lvov. This union of Ukraine's lands proved to be short lived as the West Ukrainian National Government's Army lost the war against Polish expansionists, while the Kiev- based Ukrainian Army was forced out of Ukraine by the Red Army. Soon after, Ukraine was officially incorporated into the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, tile Ukrainian political, social, economic and cultural fabric was atomized through totalitarian terror, involving massive purges, executions, and the exile of millions to the infamous labor camps of Siberia's "Gulag".
During World War II, Kiev again was heavily damaged. For 72 days the city was defended by its citizens and Soviet troops against the invading Nazis. On September 19, 1941, Nazi troops entered Kiev. The Nazis also built two concentration camps for civilians and Paw's near Kiev. During this period, over 200,000 people were killed and over 100,000 were deported to Germany for forced labor. Kiev was liberated on November 6,1943, by Soviet troops. Soon after celebrating the defeat of Hitler's Germany,
Ukraine learned that "liberation" by the Soviet Army meant a different kind of dictatorship. The post war years in Kiev were marked by intensive restoration of the damage caused during the war. The city began to dress its wounds. Politically, however, new waves of Stalinist terror again tore at the Ukrainian social fabric, with more purges, executions, and mass exiles to the Gulag. As the worst features of the Stalinist police state began to dissipate during Khrushchev's and Brezhnev's leadership, the Kremlin intensified its policy of "Russification", barring the Ukrainian language from government, education, courts and so on, pursuant to the theory that the "Soviet peoples" would become better unified if they adopted the Russian language and culture. With so many economic and social disincentives at work, the policy itself worked amazingly well, and new habity, especially in Kiev and other large cities of central and eastern Ukraine.
The 1980's were marked by increasing political impotence of Soviet leadership. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident of April 26,1986, brings back painful memories for all Ukrainians. This disaster caused tens of thousands of deaths and health related problems, and inflicted enormous ecological and economic damage. Chernobyl served to rock the Communist Party establishment with political fallout as the facts behind bureaucratic ineptitude, negligence, disregard for the ordinary citizens, and cover-up emerged and began to stir the minds of the people.
On July 6, 1990, the legislature proclaimed Ukraine's sovereignty. In August 1991, a failed three-day military coup of the Kremlin's would-be dictators led to the Declaration of Independence by the Verhovna Rada (Parliament) on August 24. On December 1, in a nationwide referendum, 93% of Ukraine's citizens voted for an independent Ukraine and chose Leonid Krawchuk, former communist ideologist, as their first democratically elected President. On July 10, 1994, Leonid Kuchma, former director of the world's biggest rocket plant, defeated Leonid Krawchuk to become the second President of independent Ukraine.
Following the Orange Revolution, on December 26, 2004, after two rounds of falsified elections, Viktor Yushchenko beat the Kremlin-backed candidate in the third round.
For a PDF copy of Ukraine's Constitution, in the English language, please click here.