In 1710, Ukrainian Hetman Pylyp Orlyk introduced “Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhian Host”, at that time a super-progressive document which meant to separate powers into three branches and regulate the rights and responsibilities of the government and citizens. Some researchers believe that this document is one of the world’s first constitutions. For example, U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1787 and French and Polish in 1791.
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe. Ukraine borders Russia to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively.
The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited by humans since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key center of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus’ forming the basis of Ukrainian identity. Ukraine has long been a global breadbasket because of its extensive, fertile farmlands, and it remains one of the world’s largest grain exporters.
Ukraine continues to maintain the second-largest military in Europe, after that of Russia, when reserves and paramilitary personnel are taken into account. The country is home to 45.4 million people (including Crimea), 77.8% of whom are Ukrainians by ethnicity, and with a sizable minority of Russians (17%), as well as Romanians/Moldovans, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars, and Hungarians. Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine; its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodoxy, which has strongly influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.
Ukraine also has huge deposits of coal and iron that feed heavy industry, particularly in the Donbas (Donets Basin) and Kryvyy Rih regions. Ukraine has the world’s largest reserves of manganese ore – 2.3 billion tons or about 11% of all deposits of the world. The oldest map known to scientists, as well as the most ancient settlement of Homo Sapiens were found in Ukraine, in the village of Mezhireche. They are 14.5 – 15 thousand years old. The map is cut out of the bones of a mammoth. The settlement is made of the same material.
Neanderthal settlement in Ukraine is seen in the Molodova archaeological sites (43,000–45,000 BC) which include a mammoth bone dwelling. The territory is also considered to be the likely location for the human domestication of the horse.
Modern human settlement in Ukraine and its vicinity dates back to 32,000 BC, with evidence of the Gravettian culture in the Crimean Mountains. By 4,500 BC, the Neolithic Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture flourished in a wide area that included parts of modern Ukraine including Trypillia and the entire Dnieper-Dniester region. During the Iron Age, the land was inhabited by Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians. Between 700 BC and 200 BC it was part of the Scythian Kingdom, or Scythia.
The Cimmerians or Kimmerians were an ancient Indo-European people living north of the Caucasus and the Sea of Azov as early as 1300 BC until they were driven southward by the Scythians into Anatolia during the 8th century BC. Linguistically they are usually regarded as Iranian, or possibly Thracian with an Iranian ruling class.
The Scythians, also known as Scyth, Saka, Sakae, Sai, Iskuzai, or Askuzai, were Eurasian nomads, probably mostly using Eastern Iranian languages, who were mentioned by the literate peoples surrounding them as inhabiting large areas in the central Eurasian steppes from about the 9th century BC up until the 4th century AD. The “classical Scythians” known to ancient Greek historians were located in the northern Black Sea and fore-Caucasus region. Other Scythian groups documented by Assyrian, Achaemenid and Chinese sources show that they also existed in Central Asia, where they were referred to as the Iskuzai/Askuzai, Saka and Sai respectively. Their westernmost territories during the Iron Age were known to classical Greek sources as Scythia.
The Scythians were among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare. In the 8th century BC they possibly raided Zhou China. Soon after they expanded westwards and dislodged the Cimmerians from power on the Pontic Steppe, and subsequently came to dominate a vast region stretching from the Carpathian Mountains of Europe to the plains of central China, creating what has been referred to as the first Central Asian nomadic empire. Based in Crimea the western Scythians were ruled by a wealthy class known Royal Scyths.
The Sarmatians were a large confederation of Iranian people during classical antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD. They spoke Scythian, an Indo-European language from the Eastern Iranian family.
Later, colonies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Byzantine Empire, such as Tyras, Olbia and Chersonesus, were founded, beginning in the 6th century BC, on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, and thrived well into the 6th century AD. The Goths stayed in the area but came under the sway of the Huns from the 370s AD. In the 7th century AD, the territory of eastern Ukraine was the centre of Old Great Bulgaria. At the end of the century, the majority of Bulgar tribes migrated in different directions, and the Khazars took over much of the land.
Khazaria existed from 652 to 1016. Over a thousand years ago, the far east was ruled by Jewish kings who presided over numerous tribes, including their own tribe: the Turkic Khazars. After their conversion, the Khazar people used Jewish personal names, spoke and wrote in Hebrew, were circumcised, had synagogues and rabbis, studied the Torah and Talmud, and observed Hanukkah, Pesach, and the Sabbath. The Khazars were an advanced civilization with one of the most tolerant societies of the medieval period. It hosted merchants from all over Asia and Europe.
The Kievan Rus’ was founded by the Rus’ people, Varangians who first settled there around Ladoga and Novgorod, then gradually moved southward eventually reaching Kiev about 880. Kievan Rus’ included the western part of modern Ukraine, and Belarus. The larger part was situated on the territory of modern Russian Federation. According to the Primary Chronicle the Rus’ elite initially consisted of Varangians from Scandinavia.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, it became the largest and most powerful state in Europe. In the following centuries, it laid the foundation for the national identity of Ukrainians and Russians. Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine, became the most important city of the Rus’.
The Varangians later assimilated into the local Slavic population and became part of the first Rus’ dynasty, the Rurik Dynasty. Kievan Rus’ was composed of several principalities ruled by the interrelated Rurikid knyazes (“princes”). The seat of Kiev became the subject of many rivalries among Rurikids.
The Golden Age of Kievan Rus’ began with the reign of Vladimir the Great (980–1015), who turned Rus’ toward Byzantine Christianity. During the reign of his son, Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054), Kievan Rus’ reached the zenith of its cultural development and military power. This was followed by the state’s increasing fragmentation as the relative importance of regional powers rose again. After a final resurgence under the rule of Vladimir II Monomakh (1113–1125) and his son Mstislav (1125–1132), Kievan Rus’ finally disintegrated into separate principalities following Mstislav’s death.
The 13th century Mongol invasion devastated Kievan Rus’. Kiev was totally destroyed in 1240. On today’s Ukrainian territory, the state of Kievan Rus’ was succeeded by the principalities of Halych and Volodymyr-Volynskyi, which were merged into the state of Galicia-Volhynia.
Danylo Romanovych (Daniel I of Galicia or Danylo Halytskyi) son of Roman Mstyslavych, re-united all of south-western Rus’, including Volhynia, Galicia and Rus’ ancient capital of Kiev. Danylo was crowned by the papal archbishop in Dorohychyn 1253 as the first King of all Rus’. Under Danylo’s reign, the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia was one of the most powerful states in east central Europe.
In 1657–1686 came “The Ruin”, a devastating 30-year war amongst Russia, Poland, Turks and Cossacks for control of Ukraine, which occurred at about the same time as the Deluge of Poland. Khmelnytsky, deserted by his Tatar allies, suffered a crushing defeat at Berestechko, and turned to the Russian tsar for help. In 1654, Khmelnytsky signed the Treaty of Pereyaslav, forming a military and political alliance with Russia that acknowledged loyalty to the tsar. The wars escalated in intensity with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Defeat came in 1686 as the “Eternal Peace” between Russia and Poland divided the Ukrainian lands between them.
The hetmanate was abolished in 1764; the Zaporizhska Sich abolished in 1775, as Russia centralised control over its lands. As part of the partitioning of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper were divided between Russia and Austria. From 1737 to 1834, expansion into the northern Black Sea littoral and the eastern Danube valley was a cornerstone of Russian foreign policy.
After the Russians annexed the Crimean Khanate in 1783, the region called New Russia was settled by Ukrainian and Russian migrants. Despite promises of autonomy in the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the Ukrainian elite and the Cossacks never received the freedoms and the autonomy they were expecting. However, within the Empire, Ukrainians rose to the highest Russian state and church offices. At a later period, tsarists established a policy of Russification, suppressing the use of the Ukrainian language in print, and in public.
In the 19th century, Ukraine was a rural area largely ignored by Russia and Austria. With growing urbanization and modernization, and a cultural trend toward romantic nationalism, a Ukrainian intelligentsia committed to national rebirth and social justice emerged. The serf-turned-national-poet Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) and the political theorist Mykhailo Drahomanov (1841–1895) led the growing nationalist movement.
After Ukraine and Crimea became aligned with the Russian Empire in the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), Catherine the Great and her immediate successors encouraged German immigration into Ukraine and especially into Crimea, to thin the previously dominant Turk population and encourage more complete use of farmland.
Ukrainians entered World War I on the side of both the Central Powers, under Austria, and the Triple Entente, under Russia. 3.5 million Ukrainians fought with the Imperial Russian Army, while 250,000 fought for the Austro-Hungarian Army. During 1917–20, several separate Ukrainian states briefly emerged: the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the Hetmanate, the Directorate and the pro-Bolshevik Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (or Soviet Ukraine) successively established territories in the former Russian Empire; while the West Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Hutsul Republic emerged briefly in the former Austro-Hungarian territory.
Ukraine became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union in December 1922. Starting from the late 1920s, Ukraine was involved in Soviet industrialisation and the republic’s industrial output quadrupled during the 1930s. The peasantry, demographically the backbone of the Ukrainian nation, suffered. Stalin instituted a programme of collectivisation of agriculture and enforced the policies by the regular troops and secret police. Those who resisted were arrested and deported and agricultural productivity greatly declined. As members of the collective farms were not allowed to receive any grain until sometimes unrealistic quotas were met, millions starved to death in a famine known as Holodomor or “Great Famine”. Scholars are divided as to whether this famine fits the definition of genocide, but the Ukrainian parliament and other countries recognise it as such. The famine claimed up to 10 million Ukrainian lives as peasants’ food stocks were forcibly removed by the NKVD secret police. On 13 January 2010, Kiev Appellate Court posthumously found Stalin, Kaganovich and other Soviet Communist Party functionaries guilty of genocide against Ukrainians during the Holodomor famine.
The vast majority of the fighting in World War II took place on the Eastern Front. It has been estimated that 93% of all German casualties took place there. The total losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian population during the war are estimated between 5 and 8 million. Of the estimated 8.7 million Soviet troops who fell in battle against the Nazis, 1.4 million were ethnic Ukrainians.
Post-war ethnic cleansing occurred in the newly expanded Soviet Union. As of 1 January 1953, Ukrainians were second only to Russians among adult “special deportees”, comprising 20% of the total. In addition, over 450,000 ethnic Germans from Ukraine and more than 200,000 Crimean Tatars were victims of forced deportations.
Following the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the new leader of the USSR. Having served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukrainian SSR in 1938–49, Khrushchev was intimately familiar with the republic; after taking power union-wide, he began to emphasize the friendship between the Ukrainian and Russian nations. In 1954, the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav was widely celebrated. Crimea was transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.
On 26 April 1986, a reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history. This was the only accident to receive the highest possible rating of 7 by the International Nuclear Event Scale, indicating a “major accident”, until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011. At the time of the accident, 7 million people lived in the contaminated territories, including 2.2 million in Ukraine.
On 16 July 1990, the new parliament adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. This established the principles of the self-determination, democracy, independence, and the priority of Ukrainian law over Soviet law. A month earlier, a similar declaration was adopted by the parliament of the Russian SFSR. On 24 August 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence.
The Euromaidan (“Eurosquare”) protests started in November 2013 after the president, Viktor Yanukovych, began shying away from an association agreement that had been in the works with the European Union and instead chose to establish closer ties with Russian Federation. Violence escalated after 16 January 2014 when the government accepted new Anti-Protest Laws.
Owing to violent protests on 22 February 2014, Members of Parliament found the president unable to fulfill his duties and exercised “constitutional powers” to set an election for 25 May to select his replacement. Petro Poroshenko, running on a pro-European Union platform, won with over fifty percent of the vote, therefore not requiring a run-off election. In October 2014, Ukrainians voted to keep Poroshenko in power.
On 6 March 2014, the Crimean Parliament voted to “enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation” and later held a referendum asking the people of these regions whether they wanted to join Russia as a federal subject, or if they wanted to restore the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. Though passed with an overwhelming majority, the vote was not monitored by outside parties and the results are internationally contested; it is claimed to have been enforced by armed groups which intruded and enforced voting according to their demands. Crimea and Sevastopol formally declared independence as the Republic of Crimea and requested that they be admitted as constituents of the Russian Federation. On 18 March 2014, Russia and Crimea signed a treaty of accession of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol in the Russian Federation, though the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a non-binding statement to oppose Russian annexation of the peninsula.
Talks in Geneva between the EU, Russia, Ukraine and USA yielded a Joint Diplomatic Statement referred to as the 2014 Geneva Pact in which the parties requested that all unlawful militias lay down the arms and vacate seized government buildings, and also establish a political dialogue that could lead to more autonomy for Ukraine’s regions. When Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election held on 25 May 2014, he vowed to continue the military operations by the Ukrainian government forces to end the armed insurgency. More than 4,700 people have been killed in the military campaign. According to the United Nations, 730,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to Russia since the beginning of 2014 and 117,000 have fled to other parts of Ukraine. As president-elect, Poroshenko promised to pursue the return of Crimea to Ukrainian sovereignty.
In August 2014, a bi-lateral commission of leading scholars from the United States and Russia issued the Boisto Agenda indicating a 24-step plan to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. In February 2015, after a summit hosted in Belarus, Poroshenko negotiated a ceasefire with the separatist troops. This included conditions such as the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front line and decentralisation of rebel regions by the end of 2015. It also included conditions such as the Ukrainian control of the border with Russia in 2015 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Ukrainian territory. The ceasefire will begin at midnight on the 15th of February, 2015. Participants in this ceasefire also agreed to attend regular meetings to ensure that the agreement is respected.
Significant natural resources in Ukraine include iron ore, coal, manganese, natural gas, oil, salt, sulphur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, timber and an abundance of arable land.
In 1999–2001, Ukraine served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Historically, Soviet Ukraine joined the United Nations in 1945 as one of the original members following a Western compromise with the Soviet Union, which had asked for seats for all 15 of its union republics. Ukraine has consistently supported peaceful, negotiated settlements to disputes. It has participated in the quadripartite talks on the conflict in Moldova and promoted a peaceful resolution to conflict in the post-Soviet state of Georgia. Ukraine also has made a substantial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations since 1992.
Ukraine currently considers Euro-Atlantic integration its primary foreign policy objective, but in practice it has always balanced its relationship with the European Union and the United States with strong ties to Russia.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a 780,000-man military force on its territory, equipped with the third-largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. In May 1992, Ukraine signed the Lisbon Protocol in which the country agreed to give up all nuclear weapons to Russia for disposal and to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. Ukraine ratified the treaty in 1994, and by 1996 the country became free of nuclear weapons.
Ukraine’s population has been declining since the 1990s due to its high death rate and a low birth rate. The population is shrinking by over 150,000 annually since 1993. The birth rate has recovered in recent years from a low level around 2000, and is now comparable to the European average. It would need to increase by another 50% or so to stabilize the population and offset the high mortality rate.
In 2007, the country’s rate of population decline was the fourth highest in the world.
Ukrainian is the dominant language in Western Ukraine and in Central Ukraine, while Russian is the dominant language in the cities of Eastern Ukraine and Southern Ukraine. Surveys of regional identities in Ukraine have shown that the feeling of belonging to a “Soviet identity” is strongest in the Donbas (about 40%) and the Crimea (about 30%).
The Jewish population is a tiny fraction of what it was before World War II. In Tsarist times, Ukraine had been part of the Pale of Settlement, to which Jews were largely restricted in the Russian Empire. The largest Jewish communities in 1926 were in Odessa, 154,000 or 36.5% of the total population; and Kiev, 140,500 or 27.3%. Orthodox Judaism has the strongest presence in Ukraine. Smaller Reform and Conservative Jewish (Masorti) communities exist.
The Pale of Settlement was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed and beyond which Jewish permanent residency was generally prohibited. It extended from the eastern pale, or demarcation line, to the western Russian border with the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and with Austria-Hungary. The English term pale is derived from the Latin word palus, a stake, extended to mean the area enclosed by a fence or boundary. With its large Catholic and Jewish populations, the Pale was acquired by the Russian Empire (which was majority Russian Orthodox) in a series of military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers between 1791 and 1835, and lasted until the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. It comprised about 20% of the territory of European Russia and largely corresponded to historical borders of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; it included much of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Moldova, Ukraine, and parts of western Russia. At its height, the Pale, including the new Polish and Lithuanian territories, had a Jewish population of over five million, and represented the largest component (40 percent) of the world Jewish population at that time.
According to the 1897 census, the Southwestern Krai (part; now in Ukraine), had the following percentages of Jews:
- Kiev guberniya [12.19%]
- Volhynia guberniya [13.24%]
- Podolia guberniya [12.28%]