History Files


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.

Following the twilight of the Gauls (whose easternmost remnants survived in Galicia), 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.

(Additional information by Jes Martens and Edward Dawson.)

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.


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.

(Additional information from Report for Selected Countries and Subjects, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2014, and the UN Data Country Profile, and from External Link: BBC Country Profiles.)

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

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.