Nation in eastern Europe, formerly part of the USSR as a SSR region in European Russia, and as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR. For centuries a pathway from Central Asia to Europe for numerous peoples, it is now inhabited generally by Slavic Ukrainians. It extends W from the Carpathian Mts to the Sea of Azov in the E and 500 mi N from the Crimean Peninsula. It is bounded by Belarus to the N, Russia to the NE and E, Romania, Hungary, and the Slovak Republic in the W, and Poland to the NW. The ancient city of Kiev is its capital.
It was settled in the Paleolithic Age c. 8500 b.c.; the Pontic Tardenosian culture was followed c. 2750 b.c. by various Neolithic cultures involving early Caucasians and Finns. The Thracian-Cimmerians arrived in the Ukraine c. 1850 b.c. and the Cimmerians proper, who were known to Homer, c. 1300 b.c.
Arriving c. 670 b.c., the Scythians were displaced by the Sarmatians c. 200 b.c. In early Christian times the Ukraine was invaded by waves of Alans, Ostrogoths, and Huns, the latter arriving c. a.d. 375. Between the fourth and seventh centuries an alliance of tribes emerged that represented a definite Slavic strain, but they were soon submerged under the Avar Khanate from c. 560 to 600, which was followed by the Khazar Empire from farther east c. 650. The Magyars followed in 737.
It was only with the founding of the great principality of Kiev in the ninth century that the common strain in Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Russians become manifest in a single culture. Established by a Viking Varangian dynasty originating in Scand inavia, the state of Kiev achieved its zenith under Yaroslav the Great (1019–54), adopting Eastern Orthodox Christianity and becoming a powerful political and cultural center. With Yaroslav’s death the principality broke up into smaller units that had disparate histories, following the incursions of the Patzinaks c. 1050, of the Cumans c. 1070, and by the Mongol invasion of 1221–22.
By the mid-14th century the expansion of the principality of Lithuania E and S began to free the Ukraine from domination by the Mongol khanate of the Golden Horde and allowed it to flourish. A loose union of the Polish and Lithuanian dynasties by 1400 brought new influences into the Ukraine by 1430. This culminated with the formal political union of Poland with Lithuania and subsequent Polish hegemony in the Ukraine. Western feudal and manorial institutions brought serfdom to the peasants of the Ukraine and Catholic Polish harassment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The harsh rule of the Poles caused many Ukrainians to flee to the E and S where they acquired the name “Cossacks” or “Kozaks,” meaning outlaws or adventurers. They were organized as a courageous, militant group, initially opposed to Polish rule. In 1648 the hetman Bohdan Chmielnicki led the Cossacks in a successful rebellion against Poland . However, the Cossacks’ strength was inadequate to retain total independence.
With the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654, Chmielnicki tried to reach an accommodation that acknowledged Moscow’s authority but assured the independence of the Ukraine. However, Moscow continued its pressure. In 1658 the Ukrainians turned to the Republic of Poland once more, signing a treaty of protection designed to avoid Russian rule. Instead, Poland and Russia went to war, and with the Treaty of Andrusovo in 1667 the Ukraine was divided between the two. In the reign of Peter the Great the Cossack hetman Ivan Mazepa, ruler of a much-diminished Cossack state and desirous of freeing the Ukraine from Russian control, allied with Charles XII of Sweden against Peter in the Great Northern War. The Cossacks were defeated with the Swedes at Poltava in 1709, and Mazepa was slain. Fifty-five years later, in 1764, Empress Catherine II compelled the last Ukrainian Cossack hetman to step down. The partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795 led to the unification of the Ukraine under Russian hegemony. The 19th century brought mineral and industrial development as well as a surge of nationalist sentiment.
In 1917, with the onset of the Russian Revolution, the Ukraine proclaimed its independence and founded an independent government. But by January 1919 the Red Army had invaded the region. A fourway war followed between the White and Red armies, the independence-minded forces of the Ukraine, and Poland . The Red Army was the victor, and in 1922 the Ukraine became a component republic of the Soviet Union. Ukrainian nationalism was assuaged by Lenin, but Stalin ruthlessly forced the collectivization of agriculture while ordering the entire Ukrainian grain production exported, causing mass starvation of the Ukrainian people. As a result, in World War II the Nazi invasion and occupation was initially received enthusiastically by numerous Ukrainians as a desirable alternative to Stalin’s reign of terror. When they became aware of Hitler’s disdain for all things Slavic, however, many joined the underground resistance.
Following World War II, and particularly since the 1960s, Ukrainians assumed a more active role in the Soviet government—especially with the accession to power of Leonid I. Brezhnev, the late leader of the USSR, who was born in the Ukraine. In 1986 one of the reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded, contaminating a wide area of Ukraine.
In 1990 after Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika weakened the hold of the Soviet state on its constituent republics, the Ukrainian parliament passed a declaration of sovereignty in July 1990, and in August 1991, declared Ukraine independent of the Soviet Union. Ukraine became a charter member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1991. Leonid Kravchuk, a former Communist, became Ukraine’s first president. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in 1994, and Kravchuk was defeated by Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma has implemented a few market reforms, but the economy remained dominated by large and inefficient state-run companies. Ukraine was briefly the world’s third-largest nuclear power, but ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1994, and turned its nuclear arsenal over to Russia for destruction.
In return, Ukraine received fuel for its nuclear power plants. The country’s economic reforms and cooperation in disarmament helped it gain substantial Western aid and loans.
The Crimea, a former Russian territory with a majority Russian population that was ceded to Ukraine in 1954, has been a source of contention with Russia. In 1995, after the Crimea threatened to secede, the Ukraine placed Crimea’s government under national control, while retaining a regional assembly. Russia and the Ukraine also had to negotiate the disposition of the Soviet Black Sea fleet based at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. A basic agreement, under which four-fifths of the fleet would fall under Russian control, was reached in 1995, and in 1997 it was agreed that Russia would be allowed to base its fleet at Sevastopol for 20 years.
In the 1998 elections, the Communist Party won the majority of the seats, but Kuchma was reelected in 1999 in a runoff. In 2000 a muckraking opposition journalist was murdered, and tape recordings implicating Kuchma in his murder and other abuses of power subsequently were aired. Kuchma’s support declined and there were demonstrations in early 2001 calling for his resignation. Reformist prime minister Yushchenko, in April 2001, was removed by parliament, to be succeeded by Anatoliy Kinakh, an ally of President Kuchma. In the 2002 parliamentary elections, Yushchenko supporters won roughly a quarter of the seats, as did supporters of the president. In November 2002, Kuchma dismissed Kinakh as prime minister and appointed Viktor Yanukovych to the post. In 2003, Ukraine and Russia signed treaties that defined their common borders, and Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia signed an agreement to create a common economic space.
In December 2003 the Ukrainian supreme court ruled that Kuchma could run for a third term, and parliament also approved a constitutional change allowing it, rather than the voters, to elect the president.
Opposition and international protests led the legislators to reverse their decision two months later.
In the 2004 presidential election, the government cand idate prime minister Yanukovych, advocating close ties with Russia, was narrowly defeated by the opposition cand idate, former prime minister Yushchenko, who called for closer ties with the European Union.
Yushchenko, who had been poisoned by an unknown assailant during the campaign, failed to win a majority, forcing a runoff with Yanukovych. The November balloting was declared a victory for Yanukovych, but both ballots were denounced by most international and local observers, who accused the government of vote fraud. Yushchenko’s supporters in orange colors mounted protests in the streets of Kiev and other W Ukraine cities, where his support was strong. Yushchenko also challenged the results in court. Meanwhile, Yanukovych and his supporters, who were more concentrated in the more heavily ethnic Russian E of the country, denounced these moves, and the situation threatened to split the Ukraine. Parliament narrowly declared the results invalid, an act with no legal significance, and in December 2004, the supreme court annulled the vote and called for the runoff to be rerun. A new vote resulted in a solid margin of victory for Yushchenko. In February 2005, Yushchenko appointed Yuliya V. Tymoshenko, a reformist political ally, as prime minister.
The Ukraine is a country that has interesting places to travel to or visit. The Ukraine has a limited history as an independent country yet it has a rich culture and history as a former part of the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union. The country has some long standing territorial disputes with Russia especially with regard to the Crimea, and is effectively in a civil war.
Kiev is the largest and most important city in the Ukraine and has always been the capital city. There are historical buildings in the city despite the damage it suffered during the Second World War. Kiev has a long history after it was set up by Vikings. Kiev also has industrial areas within it, Ukraine has heavy industries that are a legacy of the Soviet economic system.
Some of the more famous places in the country such as Sevastopol and Yalta are currently under Russian control after it invaded the Crimea in 2014. As there is still fighting in the area it is not safe to travel there. That may change if the fighting ends.
Military historians may find traveling to the country especially interesting as there are some notable battles fought there, for instance at Poltava in the Great Northern War, and Kursk during the Second World War.