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Republic of Ukraine: History

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Early History

In ancient times a major part of present-day Ukraine was inhabited by the Scythians (see Scythia), who were later displaced by the Sarmatians (see Sarmatia). Early in the Christian era, a series of invaders (Goths, Huns, Avars) overran the Ukrainian steppes, and in the VIIth century the Khazars included much of Ukraine in their empire. The Ukrainians themselves can be traced to Neolithic agricultural tribes in the Dnepr and Dnestr valleys.

The Antes tribal federation (IVth-VIIth centuries) represented the first definitely Slavic community in the area. In the 9th century, a Varangian dynasty from Scandinavia established itself at Kiev. Having freed the Slavs from Khazar domination, the Varangians united them in the powerful Kievskaya Rus.

Following Yaroslav's reign (1019-1054), which marked the zenith of Kiev's power, Kievskaya Rus split into principalities, including the western duchies of Halych and Vladimir. These and the rest of the western region, which included Podolia, had separate histories after the conquest of Kievskaya Rus (XIIIth century) by the Mongols of the Golden Horde.

In the mid-XIVth century Lithuania began to expand eastward and southward, supplanting the Tatars in Ukraine. The dynastic union between Poland and Lithuania in 1386 also opened Ukraine to Polish expansion. Ukraine had flourished under Lithuanian rule, and its language became that of the state; but after the organic union of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, Ukraine came under Polish rule, enserfment of the Ukrainian peasants proceeded apace, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church suffered persecution.

In 1596 the Ukrainian Orthodox bishops, confronted with the power of Polish Catholicism, established the Uniate, or Greek Catholic, faith, which recognized papal authority but retained the Orthodox rite. Meanwhile, the Black Sea shore, ruled by the khans of Crimea, was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1478.

The Struggle for Autonomy

The term Ukraine, which may be translated as "at the border" or "borderland," came into general usage in the XVIth century. At that time, Poland-Lithuania and the rising principality of Moscow, were vying for control of this vast area south of their borders. The harsh conditions of Polish rule led many Ukrainians to flee serfdom and religious persecution by escaping beyond the area of the lower Dnepr rapids.

There they established a military order called the Zaporozhskaya Sech ("clearing beyond the rapids"). These fugitives became known as Cossacks, an adaptation of the Turkic word kazak, meaning "outlaw" or "adventurer." In 1648 the Cossacks, led by Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky, successfully waged a revolution against Polish domination.

Ukraine, however, was too weak to stand alone, and in 1654 Khmelnitsky recognized the suzerainty of Moscow in the Treaty of Pereyaslavl. By the terms of the treaty, Ukraine was to be largely independent; but Russia soon began to encroach upon its rights (the tsars contemptuously referred to the Ukrainians as "Little Russians," as contrasted with the "Great Russians" of the Muscovite realm). Through a treaty with Poland in 1658, Ukraine attempted to throw off Russian protection. The ensuing Russo-Polish war ended in 1667 with the Treaty of Andrusov, which partitioned Ukraine.

Russia obtained left-bank Ukraine, east of the Dnepr River and including Kiev; Poland retained right-bank Ukraine. Hetman Ivan Mazepa, presiding over a diminished Cossack state, sought once again to free Ukraine from Russian domination; he thus joined Sweden against Russia in the Northern War, but their defeat at Poltava by Tsar Peter I in 1709 sealed the fate of Ukraine. Mazepa's fall crushed the last hopes for Ukrainian independence and further curtailed Ukrainian autonomy.

The last of Ukraine's hetmans was forced by Empress Catherine II to resign in 1764; the Zaporozhskaya Sech was razed by Russian troops in 1775, and Ukraine, its political autonomy terminated, was divided into three provinces. In 1783, Russia annexed the khanate of Crimea. The Polish partition treaties of 1772, 1793, and 1795 awarded Podolia and Volhynia to Russia, thus reuniting left-bank and right-bank Ukraine; Eastern Galicia went to Austria.

Colonisation of the steppes proceeded apace in the 19th century, and in the 1870s the great Ukrainian coal and metallurgical industrial region was established. Despite a Russian ban on use of the Ukrainian language in the schools and in publications, a movement for Ukrainian national and cultural revival blossomed in the late XIXth century There was also renewed agitation for Ukrainian independence and for the union of all Ukrainian lands, including those of Austria-Hungary-Galicia, Bukovina, and Ruthenia (see Transcarpathian Region) under a single state.
The Galician Ukrainians, who emerged as a political nationality during the 1848 Austrian revolution, made Galicia a haven abroad for the nationalist movement in Russian Ukraine. This movement was spearheaded by secret educational groups called hromadas, that were repeatedly suppressed by the tsar.

Following the overthrow of the tsarist regime in 1917, a Ukrainian central council was set up with Mikhail Hrushevsky as president; in June, 1917, it formed a government with Vladimir Vinnichenko as premier and Simon Petlura as war minister. Originally declaring itself a republic within the framework of a federated Russia, Ukraine proclaimed complete independence in Jan., 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Soviet troops were sent into Ukraine, but the Central Powers, having acknowledged Ukrainian independence, then overran the territory with their own soldiers and forced the Red Army, through the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (March, 1918) to withdraw. The World War I armistice of Nov., 1918, in turn forced the withdrawal from Ukraine of the Central Powers.

Meanwhile, with the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, an independent republic in Western Ukraine had been proclaimed in Lvov. In January, 1919, the union of the two Ukraines was proclaimed; however, Soviet troops immediately occupied Kiev. A four-cornered struggle ensued among Ukrainian forces, the counterrevolutionary army of Denikin, the Red Army, and the Poles. Soviet troops eventually regained control of Ukraine, which in 1922 became one of the original constituent republics of the USSR.

Ukraine and the USSR

Lenin's attempts to assuage Ukrainian nationalism through a measure of cultural autonomy were abandoned by Stalin, who also imposed agricultural collectivisation on Ukraine and requisitioned all grain for export. Millions of Ukrainians died in the resulting famine. Mykola Skrypnyk and other Ukrainian Communist leaders who opposed Stalinist measures were purged and executed.

During World War II, many Ukrainians at first welcomed the Germans as liberators and collaborated with them against the USSR. However, the Nazis' scorn for all Slavs and their harsh occupation (1941-1944) of Ukraine turned many Ukrainians into anti-German guerrilla fighters.

The republic suffered severe wartime devastation, especially as a battleground both in 1941-1942 (the German advance) and 1943-1944 (the Russian advance). Most of Ukraine's 1.5 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the war; many were shot outright in 1941, at such sites as Babii Yar.

Several major territorial changes occurred in Ukraine during this period. South Bessarabia, recovered from Romania in 1940, was incorporated into Ukraine, while the former Moldavian ASSR was detached from the republic and merged with central Bessarabia as the Moldavian SSR (see Moldova, the Republic of). The northern parts of Bukovina and Bessarabia were added to Ukraine, as was Eastern Galicia, including Lvov, formally ceded by Poland in 1945.
Transcarpathian Region, which had been part of Czechoslovakia since 1919, was also ceded in 1945, thus completing the process by which all Ukrainian lands were united into a single republic. Crimea was annexed to Ukraine in 1954. Although Russification intensified in Ukraine (as in other Soviet republics) after World War II, Ukrainian nationalism remained strong.

During the 1960s, Ukrainians emerged as tacit junior partners of the Russians in governing the Soviet Union. Leonid Brezhnev was born in Ukraine and held important party posts there before being called to Moscow. Former Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev, although a Russian by birth, served as first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist party during the 1930s and carried out the Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In 1986 one of the reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded, contaminating a wide area of Ukraine.

An Independent Nation

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 turned nationalist, became Ukraine's first president. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in 1994, and Kravchuk was defeated by Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma.

Since his election, Kuchma has implemented a few market reforms, but the economy remains dominated by huge, inefficient state-run companies and has not improved significantly. Ukraine, briefly the world's third largest nuclear power, also ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (1994) and turned its nuclear arsenal over to Russia for destruction (completed 1996); in return, Ukraine received much-needed fuel for its nuclear power plants. The country's economic reforms and cooperation in disarmament helped it gain substantial Western aid and loans.

Tensions continued over the Crimean peninsula (see Crimea), a former Russian territory with a majority Russian population that was ceded to Ukraine in 1954. In 1995, after Crimea challenged the Ukrainian government's sovereignty and threatened to secede, Ukraine placed Crimea's government under national control; its regional assembly, however, was retained.

Another contentious issue was the division between Russia and Ukraine of the former Soviet Black Sea fleet, based in 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.

Communists won the most seats in the 1998 legislative elections. Kuchma was re-elected in 1999 after defeating the Communist candidate, Petro Symonenko, in a runoff, and in December Viktor Yushchenko, the central bank chairman and an advocate of market reforms, was chosen as prime minister. In April, 2000, voters in a referendum approved constitutional changes that increased the president's powers over parliament.

In Sept., 2000, a muckraking opposition journalist Valery Gognadze was murdered. When tape recordings implicating Kuchma in his murder and other abuses of power subsequently were aired, Kuchma's support in parliament eroded, and there were demonstrations in early 2001 calling for his resignation.
The government refused to investigate the journalist's death and was accused of suppressing press coverage of the incident. The dismissal of Prime Minister Yushchenko in April, 2001, by parliament was a blow to reformers; he was succeeded by Anatoly Kinakh, an ally of President Kuchma, and later by Viktor Yanukovich.

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