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History of Ukraine

WARNING: Ukraine is politically unstable, please read this travel warning before going!

Ukraine's settled history begins in the 7th century BC when the Greeks established a couple settlements along the Black Sea coast. Over a thousand years later the Slavs were forming a more and more distinct ethnicity and in 879 AD the Rus unified in Kyiv and over the next couple hundred years continued to grow until 989, when they adopted Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

After the death of their ruler, Yaroslav, in 1054, the empire fell into small individual states so when the Mongols arrived in 1240, they easily took the entire region. Their rule continued until the 1400s when the Golden Horde (the Mongols) collapsed.

During much of this same period, the Carpathian Mountains of present-day Ukraine fell under Polish and western Slavic rule. Being in the mountains, some of these regions even withstood Mongol takeover. This rule by Poland created better communication with the west and a fairly distinct culture from that in the east and south of modern-day Ukraine.

In the mid-1400s, the Golden Horde was collapsing and each individual region began to rule itself, some by Slavs, some by the Mongol descendants, the Tatars, and some by the Cossacks, who typically consisted of a mix of ethnicities from the surrounding areas. Over time the Cossacks formed a more distinctly defined identity, which differentiated them from the Turks and Poles through religion and from the western Ukrainians by lifestyle. In 1654 the Cossacks tried to free themselves from Polish rule, but their protests only resulted in placing themselves under Russian rule, which was a group that developed from the original Kyivian Rus, but moved more northward under Mongol rule.

The Russians named Ukraine ("edge people") and needed the land to access the Black Sea and trading routes, so from the mid-1600s the Russians have strongly held and subdued the land in order to maintain their trade routes. Under Russian rule, settlements became more prevalent and large cities, particularly on the Black Sea coast were developed. For much of modern-day Ukraine, they remained under Russian rule for a long time, however in the late 1700s, the Carpathian Mountains and L'viv in the west fell under Hapsburg rule as the Austrians took that land from Poland.

During the 1800s under Russian rule, Ukraine's territory was extended and settlement patterns led to a more densely and widely populated Ukraine. The Russians also implemented a number of changes that were still being introduced from the time of the industrial revolution, including a more developed train system and the opening of the region to trade, particularly from the port city of Odesa.

As World War I ended, the Russian government collapsed and the Soviets took power in Russia and in Ukraine, although the west again fell under Polish, Hungarian, and Czechoslovakian rule.

World War II brought devastation on Ukraine as it was first occupied by the Soviets, then Nazi Germany, and the Soviets again. Most of the Jews in the country were killed and many ethnic Ukrainians also died during the war. Most Ukrainians sided with the Soviets, but others fought for the Germans or against both sides to gain independence. These people helped encourage Stalin to exact revenge on the Ukrainian people for years to come; the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was always held under strict central Soviet control, but received a great deal of industrialization, putting the country in good economic conditions for independence in 1991.

Independent Ukraine ran much like the Soviet Union after independence and only in 2004, with the Orange Revolution, did the people get a government that wasn't as pro-Russia. Unfortunately, this new government only slightly improved government corruption. One of the most substantial moves in joining western Europe was when Ukraine, in coordination with Poland, was selected to host the 2012 European Football Championships.

This page was last updated: March, 2013