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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe





Literally 'the borderland' for much of its existence, Ukraine has been a meeting point for east and west. It has witnessed the flourishing of tribal states that originated in Central Asia and medieval European principalities that ventured eastwards from the Vistula and the mouth of the Danube. Western Ukraine was the meeting point between the Neolithic farmer cultures (beginning with the Sesklo culture and ending with the Cucuteni-Tripolye around 3000 BC) and the forager cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppe which flourished under the Yamnaya culture. Partly counted as Scythia by ancient authors (a designation which mostly included central and eastern Ukraine), the south-western areas could be included as domains of the various Thracian tribes and peoples, most notably the Getae. Study of Slavic languages has produced no clear area of origin for the Slavs who occupied much of Ukraine, but a general consensus agrees that western and central Ukraine could be included in this region.

There is no archaeological evidence of a Scandinavian origin for the Przeworsk culture to the north of western Ukraine, but there is some evidence of an undetermined connection between north-western Europe (Jutland, Holstein, Mecklenburg) and central Poland, western Ukraine, and Moldova at the crossover from Early Pre-Roman Iron Age into the late period, during the second half of the third century BC. The nature of this connection is still the subject of study by a good many scholars from many northern and Eastern European countries, but it would seem to offer tentative support to a migration of early Germanic tribes from Jutland and surrounding environs. In time some of them would filter down towards western Ukraine - most especially the mighty Goths who would control a vast swathe of Ukraine for a couple of centuries (albeit under Hunnic control for approximately half that time).

Following the twilight of the Gauls (whose easternmost remnants survived in Galicia) and the Migration Period which covered Gothic control, Ukraine was certainly home to some of the earliest Slav states, and the flourishing grand principality of Kiev in the tenth and eleventh centuries made it an important focus of East Slavic cultural development. Fragmentation in the thirteenth century saw it divided and contested by various states, and the Cossack Hetmanate republic emerged in central Ukraine in the seventeenth century. The region only gained more permanent borders during the Soviet period, and independence as a sovereign nation followed in 1991 upon the collapse of that regime.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Jes Martens and Edward Dawson, from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopaedic Dictionary (1906), from History of the World: Volume 7, Arthur Mee, J A Hammerton, & Arthur D Innes (1907), and from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes.)

Grand Principality of Kiev (Rus)
AD 862 - 1239

Swedish Viking interest and exploration into the Slavic lands to the east of the Baltic states had been building up for some time. Kiev was ruled by the Rurik dynasty, which had been founded by Rurik himself. Now a noble from the northern city of Novgorod, he was an ethnic Finn who had been born on the Roslagen seashore of Uppland, part of Kvenland and on the border with the north-easternmost edge of the territory inhabited by the Swedes. Swedish and Kven integration in the region had only recently begun by the time of Rurik's birth. Modern DNA studies have confirmed Rurik's ethnic origin.

The Eastern Polans tribe of West Slavs settled around Kiev and participated in the creation of the Rus. They are not to be confused with the Western Polans. The Rurik dynasty of Kiev was effectively succeeded in the Ukraine region by the principality of Halych-Volynia in 1199, which had its own, second, Rurik dynasty.

(Additional information by Keith Matthews, from Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus, and from Viking-Rus Mercenaries in the Byzantine-Arab Wars of the 950s-960s: the Numismatic Evidence, Roman K Kovalev.)

862 - 879

Rurik of Novgorod

First grand duke (prince). Initially forbade Kiev principality.

879 - 912

Oleg 'the Seer'

Took Slavic Kiev and made it his capital.

911 - 912

Armed conflict occurs between the Rus and Byzantines in 911, after which the two sign a treaty late in the same year. This stipulates that the Rus are invited to participate in the imperial armies as paid mercenaries. Extant documents do indeed begin to speak of a Varangian-Rus presence in Byzantine military service, starting in 911-912 when seven hundred Rus (Rhos) are recruited as naval troops in the unsuccessful imperial expedition against Arab-held Crete. For this service they are paid one kentenarion, equivalent to thirty-two kilograms, perhaps of gold.

Curiously, however, there seems to be no apparent numismatic record in the lands surrounding the armed conflict of 911 to show that the mercenaries have brought back their rewards. This could be proof that the Byzantines are maintaining a mid-fifth century ban on silver and gold being exported from the empire into barbarian lands.

912 - 945

Igor I

Son of Rurik.

945 - 955

St Olga

Widow and regent-consort. Died 969.

955 - 972

Sviatoslav I



The Rus conquer the Khazar khanate, taking control in the lower Volga to the detriment of the Volga Bulgars. The Rus also inherit the Khazar monopoly on trade into the region from Central Asia, in particular from the dominant Samanids.


Around a decade after her own conversion to Christianity when visiting Constantinople, the late Grand Princess Olga’s pagan son now fights against the Danubian Bulgars at the request of the Byzantines, who promise an advance payment of fifteen hundred pounds of gold.

970 - 971

Sviatoslav finally breaks the long peace with the Byzantines which had been encouraged and supported by his late mother. He launches an invasion of the lower Danube in 970 and engages the Byzantine armies there in major battles between then and 971. Unfortunately for him, the forces of Emperor John I Tzimisces are stronger than his.

973 - 980

Yaropolk / Jaropalk I



Volodymyr (Vladimir I) returns from exile in Scandinavia to try to claim the Kievan throne from his brother. Seeking an alliance with Ragnvald of Polotsk through marriage to his daughter, Rogneda, her refusal triggers an attack on Polotsk which results in the death of Ragnvald and his son. Rogneda is taken by force to be Vladimir's wife. During the same period, the Volga Bulgars force Rus merchants out of the lower Volga to take control of the rich caravan trade from the east and south.

980 - 1015

Volodymyr / St Vladimir I the Great

Brother. Accepted Orthodox Christianity.


Galicia is mentioned by Nestor, who describes the passage of Volodymyr as he enters into Poland and claims this region for his own.


References to Vnnd.r and N.nd.r. in 982 and 1094 respectively remark upon a Christian 'nation' of Rum that is located between the lands of the 'Madjgharî' and the MIRV (M.rdât). The Pechenegs lie to the east (around the north-west corner of the Black Sea coast), while above them and leading north-eastwards are the Kievan Rus and the Bulgars of the Volga respectively. The references are Arabic, hence their obliqueness when written in English.

The Madjgharî are the Magyars, former Asiatic horsemen who now control the Dacian lands and early Hungary. Rum is Rome, although the people are not specifically being labelled as Romans - they are simply more civilised than their neighbours in terms of being settled farmers with an element of presumed sophistication. The MIRV are Moravians, living to the north, but seemingly not yet having fully migrated far enough to settle next to the more westerly Bohemians, although their territory has already been annexed to Bohemia. The Vnnd.r are tentatively linked to the Venedi. Their location between the Moravians and Magyars places them in modern northern Romania and western Ukraine, probably close to the thirteenth century city of Lviv in the former region of Galicia.

Western Ukraine
Western Ukraine covers the modern Volyn, Ivano-Frankovsk, Lvov, Rovno, Ternopol and Chernovtsy regions, and its sweeping plains and gentle hills would have provided perfect farming territory for any Venedi that settled here


Volodymyr converts to the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine empire, after choosing between all of the available options. Allegedly he declines Islam on the basis that it forbids the drinking of wine, but the choice for Orthodoxy is realistically to align Kiev with the Byzantines and increase Kiev's riches.

In the same year, Volodymyr dispatches four or six thousand (sources vary) Varangians to Constantinople at the request of the emperor. This is the first resumption of the supply of Varangian-Rus troops since Grand Prince Sviatoslav's attack of 970-971. With this supply of men the Byzantines are able to formally establish the Varangian Guard. In effect, the guard are the formalisation of the Byzantine practice of using Varangians that goes back at least to 911.


Volodymyr appoints his son Boris as his heir, apparently pushing aside his accepted heir, Yaroslav, who is governing the vassal state of Novgorod. Yaroslav refuses to pay tribute and only Volodymyr's death prevents a war. Yarolslav goes to war anyway to recover 'his' throne in Kiev, battling against his half-brother, Sviatopolk. Other brothers, Boris, Gleb and Svyatoslav, are brutally murdered.

1015 - 1019

Sviatopolk I 'the Accursed'

Son (debatable).


Yaroslav manages to secure Kiev, but Sviatopolk strikes back with support from his father-in-law, Bloeslaw I of Poland.

1019 - 1054

Yaroslav I 'the Wise'

Half-brother. Grand prince of Novgorod & Kiev.


Yaroslav's victory over his half-brother is thanks in large part to his loyal Novgorod subjects. He rewards them with numerous freedoms and privileges, laying the foundations for the later Novgorod republic.


Prince Briacheslav of Polotsk attacks and sacks Novgorod, but on his way back he is cornered at the River Sudoma by Yaroslav's army. Defeated, Briacheslav flees, abandoning his booty from Novgorod, but Yaroslav pursues him and forces him to sign a treaty in 1021 granting him Usvyat and Vitebsk.

1030 - 1031

Yaroslav leads a campaign into the Estonian lands and conquers the south-eastern parish of Tartu. The following year, he also gains Galicia from Poland.

1054 - 1068

Izhaslav / Iziaslav I

Son. Deposed by the Kievan Uprising.


The Kiev empire splits into rival principalities, although Kiev still exerts a degree of control over them.


The south-eastern Estonian territory of Tartu is lost.

1065 - 1067

Intent on staking a claim to the Kievan throne despite his ineligibility, Prince Vseslav of Polotsk begins a campaign to secure Kievan territory. Unable to enter the capital, which is held by Yaroslav's three sons, he attacks Pskov and is repulsed. Between 1066-1067 he attacks and pillages Novgorod, burning the city. The Kievan prince who governs Novgorod, Mstislav, flees to his father in Kiev, and retribution is not long in coming. Kiev's princes join forces and march on Polotsk's south-eastern city of Minsk, sacking it and defeating Vseslav at the Battle of the River Nemiga on 3 March 1067. Subsequently imprisoned in Kiev, Vseslav is freed during an uprising against the ruling dynasty and is proclaimed grand prince of Kiev. Grand Prince Izhaslav flees to Poland and returns months later with an army. Vseslav flees back to Polotsk.

1068 - 1069

Vseslav Briacheslavich

Prince of Polotsk.

1069 - 1073?

Izhaslav / Iziaslav I



After years of fighting against Prince Vseslav of Polotsk, Izhaslav finally secures the principality, giving it vassal status.

Kiev hoard
The Kiev hoard, which shows Byzantine influence alongside further development by Kiev's craftsmen, was found opposite St Michael's Monastery, dated to about 1075-1125

1073 - 1076

Sviatoslav II


1078 - 1093



1093 - 1113

Sviatopolk II

Son of Izhaslav I.


The final unification of the principality is achieved upon the death of Sviatopolk, when his troublesome cousin, Vladimir, is able to secure the throne and end years of on-off internecine conflict.

1113 - 1125

Vladimir II Monomachus / Waldemar

Son of Vsevolod. m Gytha, daughter of Harold II of England.


Vladimir is known as Monomachus or Monomakh, the progenitor of the Monomakhoviches group of Rus. The descendants of a junior prince from the branch of Oleg I of Chernigov are known as the Olgoviches. The name Vladimir consists of two parts, 'vlad' and 'mir'. While 'mir' can mean 'world' or 'peace', 'vlad' is more interesting. It is probably a Slav corruption of 'galat', a version of 'celt' which was preserved in Galicia.

According to Saxo Grammaticus, Vladimir marries the exiled Gytha, daughter of the late King Harold II of England. Their descendants lead to Margaret of Oldenburg, who marries James III of Scotland. For this reason, all British monarchs from James I of England are descended from Harold II. Queen Isabella, consort of Edward II, is also a direct descendant of Gytha, introducing an Anglo-Saxon bloodline into the Plantagenet kings.

1125 - 1132

Mstislav I the Great

Son. Nicknamed 'Harald'.


Mstislav  is known as Harald in Norse sagas, possibly a nickname which alludes to his maternal grandfather, Harold II of England. After a lifetime spent fighting the Cumans, Estonians, Lithuanians, and Polotsk for ascendancy, his death effectively ends the unity of the Kievan Rus state. It is torn apart by various competing claims. Mstisslav's son, Iziaslav, has been governing Polotsk before briefly being replaced by Sviatopolk and then by the Vitebsk Rurikids under Vasilko Sviatoslavich.

1132 - 1139

Yaropolk II


1133 - 1176/77

Kiev again conquers the Estonian country of Tartu and builds it up to become the largest Russian settlement in Ungenois territory.


Viacheslav I


1139 - 1146

Vsevolod II

Son of Oleh Svyatoslavich.


The collapse of the Keivan Rus has created a host of minor principalities across the territories formerly controlled by Kiev, and Halych proves to be one of the most important of these, along with Novgorod and Vladimir-Suzdal. In 1142, Volodymyrko Volodarovych (1104-1152), a descendant of Vladimir I of Kiev, unites the principalities of Przemysl, Terebovlya, and Zvenyhorod into a single state called Halychyna (Galicia). He transfers the capital from Zvenyhorod to Halych, where he and his first Rurikid dynasty expand the settlement.


Igor II


1146 - 1149

Izhaslav / Iziaslav II

Son of Mstislav.


The Eastern Galindians have already been recorded by Russian chroniclers as the Goliadj (in 1058), and now find themselves to be the target of a Russian campaign. There appear to be no further mentions of them by the Russians but their eventual absorption into Russian society probably takes several more centuries.

1149 - 1151

Yuri I Dolgorukiy

1151 - 1154

Viacheslav I

Joint rule with Izhaslav II.

1151 - 1154

Izhaslav / Iziaslav II


The Old Russian unified state breaks up into numerous principalities which are constantly arguing and fighting amongst themselves.


Rotislav I


1154 - 1155

Izhaslav / Iziaslav III


1155 - 1157

Yuri I Dolgorukiy


1157 - 1158

Izhaslav / Iziaslav III


1158 - 1167

Rotislav I



Izhaslav / Iziaslav III


1167 - 1169

Mstislav II

Son of Izhaslav II.



Son of Yuri I Dolgorukiy.


Mstislav II


1170 - 1171




Vladimir III

Son of Mstislav I the Great.


Michael I

Half-brother of Gleb.

1171 - 1173

Roman I

Son of Rotislav I.


Vsevolod III 'the Big Nest'

Brother of Michael I.


Rurik II

Brother of Roman I.


Sviatoslav III

Son of Vsevolod II.

1174 - 1175

Yaroslav II

Son of Izhaslav II.

1175 - 1177

Roman I


1177 - 1180

Sviatoslav III



Yaroslav II


1180 - 1182

Rurik II


1182 - 1194

Sviatoslav III

Restored for a second time.

1194 - 1202

Rurik II

Restored for a second time.


Roman Mstislavich gains the principality of Halych-Volynia.


Igor III

Son of Yaroslav II.

1202 - 1205

Rurik II

Restored for a third time, now as joint ruler.

1202 - 1205

Roman Mstislavich the Great

Son of Mstislav II. Joint ruler.

1204 - 1206

Rotislav II

Son of Sviatoslav II. Joint ruler.

1206 - 1207

Vsevolod IV 'the Red'

Son of Sviatoslav III.

1207 - 1210

Rurik II

Restored for a fourth time.

1210 - 1212

Vsevolod IV 'the Red'


1212 - 1214

Igor III


1214 - 1223

Mstislav III

Son of Roman I.


After the defeat of Khwarazm, a large Mongol force under Subedei continues north into territory around the Caspian Sea and into the land of the Rus. Rus and Cuman forces assemble which greatly outnumber Subedei's men, but they are defeated at the River Khalka. Subedei extends his expedition farther to attack the Volga Bulgars before he returns to Mongolia in one of the greatest exploratory campaigns of the era.

1223 - 1235

Vladimir IV

Brother of Rotislav II.

1235 - 1236

Izhaslav / Iziaslav IV

Son of either Mstislav or Vladimir Igorevich.

1236 - 1238

Yaroslav III

Son of Vsevolod III.

1237 - 1240

Batu Khan of the Golden Horde begins the invasion and conquest of the lands of the Rus, with Subedei agreeing to accompany him. They cross the Volga and, having been refused in their demand that Yuri II of Vladimir submits, they take the city of Riazan after a five-day catapult assault. Then they take Kolumna and Moscow, and defeat the grand duke of Suzdal leading the most powerful force in the northern half of the Rus lands. During the invasion, Kiev is conquered by Danylo Romanovych of Halych-Volynia, creating another target for a Mongol attack.

Cumans, Kipchaks, and other nomadic groups flee the Rus lands to seek refuge in Hungary. As Batu Khan sees these people as his subjects, news of their departure is not welcomed and plans are laid to pursue them. Novgorod survives the tidal wave of conquest because the Mongols are unable to find a route through the marshes. Instead, they attack Kozelsk, which inflicts an unusual defeat on their vanguard before falling. Its entire population is slaughtered as an example. Kiev also falls after a brave defence, even though Prince Michael of Kiev flees beforehand. The city is largely destroyed.

1238 - 1239

Michael II

Son of Vsevolod IV.

1263 - 1323

Lithuanian expansion stalls until Gediminas comes to the throne, but then expands beyond all recognition. Much of this expansion is into 'Ruthenia', a Latinisation of 'Rus', the now-Lithuanian-controlled Slavic lands to the east of Lithuania itself. Ruthenia now forms parts of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, with minor extensions into Poland and Slovakia. By 1323, the Golden Horde Mongols begin to perceive the growing power of the Lithuanians as a direct threat to their hegemony over the Rus. As a result, the subservient Muscovites are soon granted extra powers to counter this threat.


Lithuania defeats the boyars of the Rus and occupies Kiev and its surrounding territory. The loss of this vassal state by the Golden Horde removes not only it from their control, but also cuts off Wallachia whose ruler, Basarab I, effectively becomes independent, although this has increasingly been the case for several years. However, despite this setback, Ozbeg is still able to threaten the Bulgars, Byzantium, and the Lithuanians themselves.


Following the assassination of Baraq of the Golden Horde, his rival Dawlat Berdi establishes a base in the Crimea, which he is able to defend even against an attempted invasion by Ulugh Muhammad in 1430. This defeat is claimed as the reason for the otherwise mysterious death of Vytautas the Great of Lithuania in his role as Ulugh's main supporter. However, despite the best attempts by Dawlat, he is never entirely able to defeat Hajji Giray, a powerful local khan who goes onto establish his own independence as the first khan of the Crimea.

1429 - 1430

At the assembly of eastern and central European leaders, held in Lutsk (now in Ukraine but at this time part of Lithuania), Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund von Luxembourg offers Lithuania a crown. In 1430, protests are made by the Polish Royal Council in their efforts to deny Lithuania crown status. Poland refuses passage to the emperor's envoys and their offering of a crown to Lithuania. The coronation of Vytautas in Vilnius fails. On 27 October, Vytautas dies (or is killed). His remains are entombed in Vilnius Cathedral (then known as St Stanislaus' Church). Jogaila grants the title of great prince of Lithuania to his brother, Swidrygiello.


The first modern-era wave of Jewish migrations back to Palestine begins with an event known as the First Aliyah. The Jews are fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, most notably in the territories of the Russian empire under Alexander III and his imposition of anti-liberalisation reforms. These may be partially the result of the Polish-Lithuanian January Uprising of 1863.

Russia operates an area known as the Pale of Settlement, largely territory to the west which has been acquired from the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Today this forms Russia's western border region, and from 1791-1793 it has incorporated modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. The Jewish population of the 'Pale' are restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper and are now being discouraged from remaining in the western border regions of the empire.

1903 - 1914

The Second Aliyah to Palestine is triggered in 1903 by an anti-Jewish riot in the city of Kishinev (modern Chişinău), the capital of the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), part of the Russian empire. Something like 40,000 Jews settle in Palestine, although only half remain permanently. Many others, evicted from their settlements in the 'Pale' head towards western Poland or America (something that is dramatically highlighted, if with a touch of artistic licence, in the film musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971. which has its final scenes set in 1905).

1932 - 1933

Less than a decade of Stalin's economic changes, plus the imprisonment of millions of people in correctional labour camps, and a brutal reorganisation of agricultural practices, results in a catastrophic famine throughout the Soviet empire. The breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine, is especially badly hit, with the famine being known as the Holodomor, 'extermination by hunger'. Other Soviet states also suffer, such as Armenia, but perhaps not quite as badly.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, led the Soviet Union away from its initial idealistic concept of equal citizenship for all and instead instituted a brutal regime of fear


Russia seizes Bessarabia, between the rivers Dniester and Prut, before Rumania can become an active ally of Nazi Germany. The seizure is made under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The industrialised territory to the east of the Dniester, generally known as Trans-Dniester or the Dniester region, is taken from Ukraine and combined with Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.


With the troops of Soviet Russia now thick on the ground in Eastern Europe, Stalin organises the formation of pro-communist governments in many of the region's states. Czechoslovakia's brief 'Third Republic' is quickly snuffed out and a communist republic replaces it. The former Czechoslovakian region of Sub-Carpathian Rus joins the Ukrainian SSR and never returns to Czechoslovakian rule.


On Christmas Day Communist USSR President Gorbachev announces the termination of the Soviet Communist State. The Soviet Republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Many of those lying further east elect to join the new Confederation of Independent States - still strongly controlled from Moscow. Cuba, a staunch Soviet ally, suffers badly from the fall of its only supplier of oil and many major foodstuffs.

Modern Ukraine
AD 1991 - Present Day

Today Ukraine is a unitary republic governed under a semi-presidential system which is moving increasingly towards strengthening ties with the rest of Europe outside Russia. It is neighboured to the west by landlocked Moldova and by Romania both via its Black Sea corridor and in western Ukraine, where it also borders Hungary and Slovakia. To the north-west it borders Poland, and to the north Belarus and Russia, with the latter also surrounding it to the east.

Referring to the modern state as 'The Ukraine' is incorrect both grammatically and politically, said Oksana Kyzyma of the embassy of Ukraine in London. 'Ukraine is both the conventional short and long name of the country. This name is stated in the Ukrainian Declaration of Independence and Constitution.' The use of the article relates to the time before independence in 1991, when Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union, known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since the expiration of the Soviet system it should be merely Ukraine, especially as there is no definite article in the Ukrainian or Russian languages.

There is another theory about why 'The Ukraine' crept into the English language. Professor Anatoly Liberman of the University of Minnesota who specialises in etymology is of the opinion that those who called it that in English must have known that the word meant 'borderland', so quite naturally they referred to it as 'the borderland'. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians probably decided that the article denigrated their country [by identifying it as part of Russia] and abolished 'the' while speaking English, so now it is simply Ukraine. As well as being a form of linguistic independence in Europe, it is also hugely symbolic for Ukrainians.

Europe's second largest country, Ukraine is a land of wide, fertile agricultural plains, with large pockets of heavy industry in the east. While Ukraine and Russia share common historical origins, the west of the country has closer ties with its European neighbours, particularly Poland. An illustration of the shared heritage of this region is Galicia, which today is split between south-eastern Poland and western Ukraine into the provinces of Westgalizien and Ostgalizien respectively, with the Pripet Marshes immediately to the east (now in Belarus). Eastern Ukraine became heavily industrialised in the twentieth century and contains a significant population of ethnic Russians, especially in the easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk where Russian is the dominant language. A wide swathe from Kharkiv to Odessa speaks both languages while the north and west of Ukraine is largely ethnically Ukrainian. Ukraine's southernmost region is Crimea, which has a sixty per cent Russian population.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Report for Selected Countries and Subjects, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2014, and the UN Data Country Profile, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Christianity faces biggest schism in a millennium (The Week).)

1991 - 2004

Following independence from the former Soviet empire on 24 August 1991, the new country's first president is former Communist Party official, Leonid Kravchuk. He presides over the rapid economic decline and runaway inflation that is affecting most of the former Soviet states. His successor, Leonid Kuchma, oversees a steady economic recovery, but is accused by the opposition of conceding too much to Russian economic interests. Opposition grows, further fed by discontent at controls on media freedom, manipulation of the political system and cronyism. The attempt by the authorities to rig the 2004 presidential elections leads to the 'Orange Revolution', with reference to the colour of the main opposition movement.

2004 - 2008

Mass protests, a revolt by state media against government controls, and the fracturing of the governing coalition brings in European Union mediation and a re-run of the election. The euphoria of the Orange Revolution protesters gives way to disappointment as its leaders squabble once in power.

Orange Revolution
The Orange Revolution was an almost nationwide upsurge of anti-corruption feeling that delivered Ukraine its first truly free and fair democratic elections

A fragile alliance of anti-Kuchma forces unites behind the winner of the presidential elections, pro-Western former prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko. He succeeds in carrying out some democratic reform, but moves towards Nato and EU membership are slowed by divided public opinion in Ukraine and Western reluctance to antagonise a resurgent Russia. Rivalry with his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, sours into open antagonism, and neither prove able to cope with the worldwide economic downturn after 2008. Their opponent in the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych, wins the 2010 presidential election.

2008 - 2013

Viktor Yanukovych swiftly re-orientates foreign and trade policy towards Russia, clamps down on media freedom, and has various opponents, most prominently Yulia Tymoshenko, imprisoned following trials that are seen by many as being politically-motivated. Ukraine depends on Russia for its gas supplies and forms an important part of the pipeline transit route for Russian gas exports to Europe. Moves to reach an association agreement with the EU - seen as a key step towards eventual EU membership - again fuels tensions with Russia. The government's decision to drop the agreement brings tens of thousands of protesters out onto the streets in November 2013.

2013 - 2014

The mass protests in Kiev eventually force the collapse and flight of the Yanukovych government after four months of violent chaos. Moscow reacts to Ukraine's domestic turmoil by sending troops to annexe the former Russian territory of Crimea while stoking separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine. With the election of the pro-Western Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine in May 2014 and parliamentary elections in October that consolidate the grip on power of the president's political allies, Kiev is now firmly Western-leaning.

The pro-Russian separatist eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk form their own republican governments and, with military aid from Russia, manage to hold onto a core territory in the face of Ukrainian attempts to end the rebellion. A ceasefire deal is signed in September 2014, leaving the situation unresolved and likely to harden into a de facto separation given time. Some fighting continues, although not on the scale seen previously.

Ukrainian separatists
The separatists in eastern Ukraine carry weapons, use equipment, and even have troops that are supplied directly from Russia, although Russia continues to deny any involvement

On 23 December 2014, Ukraine's parliament takes a big step towards joining Nato by voting to revoke the non-aligned status that, effectively, had been forced upon it by Russian pressure in 2010. The vote is passed easily, by 303 votes to eight.


Ukraine secures approval from the global head of Orthodox Christianity in Istanbul (Constantinople) to create its own Orthodox Church structure which is independent of Russia's patriarchate for the first time since the seventeenth century. The change is politically driven, of course, and is largely due to Russia's occupation of Crimea, its invasion by proxy of eastern Ukraine, and many years of bullying and interfering in Ukrainian affairs, but it still sparks a reaction in Moscow.