A historical view of Ukrainian land

by Tommaso Venditti

Much has been said about whether Ukraine is actually part of Russia. In this piece, I will simply present historical facts to ask if Ukraine, as we know it today, was part of what we would consider “modern” Russia.

The Kyivan Rus is considered by many as the first Russian State. It was created in the 9th century with its capital in Kyiv. It did expand at the beginning of the 11th and the 12th century to occupy other territories. Russia, as a nation, was created by the Vikings, which used the rivers to trade with the Byzantine Empire. Byzantium, at the centre between Europe and Asia, was the most important city of the world in the 11th century. The Byzantine Empire traded grain and wood throughout eastern Europe, carried along the rivers. The Kyivan Rus, as a consequence, were orthodox. It was a state made of several different regions, highly autonomous, and it survived until 1242.

Then, all this area was conquered by the Mongols, who won control for a couple of centuries. Novgorod became the most important city at that time in the North of Russia, along with Kyiv in general (Saint Petersburg had not even been founded); the Mongols had a huge empire at that time. In the 15th century, the proto-Russian state of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy gained independence from the successor states to the Mongol Empire. Hence, after 2 centuries, a new Russian State did emerge, with Moscow as capital, no longer Kyiv. Then, they began to expand from Moscow to create the new Russian empire. There was an expansion in the East to Asia, and yet at that time Ukraine was still not part of the new Russia. Later, there was a progressive expansion to the East and the West. In the West, Kyiv and what was once the majority of land held by the Kyivan Rus, had been part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then part of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania (PLC). This covered a large part of the land that comprises modern-day Ukraine. The Crimean Khanate also ruled over a significant part of what is now Southern and Eastern Ukraine even as it came under the control of the Ottomans.

When the PLC fell apart in the 18th century its territory was mostly carved up by 3 powers: Russia, Prussia and the Austrian Empire. In the 17th century, first the Russia annexed the area of Kyiv, then another part in the 18th century as well as the Crimean lands ruled by the Ottomans, whereas the remaining part of the current Ukraine was taken by the Austrian Empire. After World War One, this area of the Austrian Empire became part of Poland. During the Two World Wars, one part of Ukraine was under the rule of Poland, another mostly under the Austrian Empire and another part of the Russian Empire before eventually being annexed by Stalin and the Soviet Union during the Second War. This other region was instead part of Czechoslovakia in the interwar period, until it was also annexed by the Soviet Union. Another part was instead included in what now is Romania, again annexed by the Soviet Union.

So, of what is today Ukraine, the Eastern part was under the Russian Empire for some time, the middle part – Kyiv included – has only been part of Russia only for a couple of centuries after the partition of Poland, and the same goes for the South area, whereas the most Western part has never been controlled by the Russian Empire, only becoming part of the Soviet Union after WW2.

You might also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More