History of Ukraine

The history of Ukraine is a long and eventful one. Ukraine is the second-largest Eastern European nation and borders Russia and several other countries, as well as the Black Sea. Throughout Ukrainian history it has been an important economic and cultural center. Today it is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and as it forges ahead as an independent nation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it is rediscovering its ancient arts and culture.

The area that is modern-day Ukraine has been inhabited for thousands of years. The great civilizations of the past flourished in Ukrainian history, including the Scythians, Greeks, Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Goths and eventually the Mongols.

By the Middle Ages, around the ninth century, Ukraine was mostly inhabited by Slavic peoples. At that time, a tribe called the Rus’, a Germanic people who migrated to Ukraine from Scandinavia, founded a great empire called the Kievan Rus’. The capital was, of course, Kiev. Kiev history goes back hundreds of glorious years, as the capital became one of the most important cities in the region during the Middle Ages. The Kievan Rus’ Empire included part of modern-day Ukraine and Russia, and after the original tribe of Rus’ intermarried with the Slavic peoples in the area, they became the ancestors of many modern day Ukrainians and Russians.

During this time of flourishing and empire, Vladimir the Great brought Byzantine Christianity to the history of Ukraine. This heritage has left its mark on Ukraine culture, as is evidenced by the many cathedrals, churches, and monasteries that are among Ukraine's most famous tourist attractions. After a few hundred years of empire, however, the Kievan Rus’ became increasingly fragmented and eventually fell to the invading Mongols.

After the withdrawal of the Mongols, Ukrainian history fell under the power of Poland. For hundreds of years the common people of Ukraine were oppressed by the Polish nobility, who treated them as serfs. Uprisings became more and more frequent. Eventually, after the Russo-Polish War at the end of the eighteenth century, Ukraine was divided between Austria and Russia. During this time, the Crimean peninsula, which had been under the rule of an Islamic Khanate, was annexed to Ukraine by Russia. The domination led to a heavy Russian influence on Ukraine culture.

After WWI, nationalist movements in Ukraine became strong enough after the Russian Revolution in 1917 that several successive independent Ukrainian states emerged, but eventually failed. Ukraine was taken over by the Soviet Union and Western Ukraine by Poland. Sadly, the rise of the Soviet Union meant more suffering for the Ukrainian people. One of the most tragic facts about Ukraine is that it was one of the hardest hit areas during the Soviet famine of 1921, and Ukraine continued to suffer food shortages under Joseph Stalin's rule.

As it continued under Soviet rule after WWII, Ukraine became more industrialized, contributing many prominent scientists to Soviet research. In 1986, the worst nuclear reactor disaster occurred in the history of Ukraine. The nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded, killing 56 people outright and causing cancer in many more.

In 1991, Ukraine declared itself an independent democratic nation. The Soviet Union was dissolved, and Ukraine opened up to the world. Although the path of establishing democracy has not been without its struggles, Ukraine is increasingly a free, modern, and beautiful country to visit, and the rich Ukraine culture has much to offer the world. There are endlessly fascinating attractions here, from the many museums to Pechersk Lavra in Kiev and the other Seven Wonders of Ukraine—this lovely country is well worth a visit.

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