mankind is at the threshold of the third millennium of the Era of Christ.
It is but natural that people look at the past in order to assess it and
move on. Let’s throw a glance at our own past, at the major events in the
history of Ukraine.
A thousand years ago Ukraine entered the new millennium as a mighty developed culture and it enters the third millennium again as an independant state.
|There is still a lot to be explored and discovered in the history of Ukraine of the times before Christ. We know that thousands of years BC a number of soil-tilling cultures succeeded one another (Trypillya Culture, Chernyakhivska Culture, Zarubynetska Culture, and others).|
|In the first millennium BC, the Scythian civilization spread over a greater part of the present-day Ukraine. The Scythians, nomads and tillers of the soil, intrepid warriors and refined artists, remain, to a large extent, an enigma waiting to be explored. In the middle of the first millennium BC, along the Black Sea coast the ancient Greeks established many city-states which came into close contact with the autochthons. Cultural exchange continued when the southern areas of the present-day Ukraine were part of the Kingdom of Bosphorus, a worthy rival of Rome itself. Ukraine in the pre-Christian times saw the clashes of Persian and Scythian armies, invasions of the sGoths and the Huns. The emergence of Ukraine as a powerful state is closely connected with the rise of Kyiv, its capital. We know little of the early stages of Kyiv’s development, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Kyiv emerged no later than AD 5th century, and many historians argue it happened much earlier. In the 9th century Kyiv becomes the capital of a state that stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Volga River in the east. This state, usually referred to as “Kyivan-Rus - Ukraine,” incorporated many eastern Slavic tribes. AD 988 saw the adoption of Christianity by this state which became a Christian bulwark against the incursions of the heathen nomads of the steppes. Kyivan-Rus - Ukraine, which flourished in the 10th-12th centuries, was treated with respect by Byzantine and western European powers. The east European Slavic cultures of later ages all sprang up from the culture of Kyivan-Rus - Ukraine. The feuds among princes of the state gradually undermined its power and continuous fighting for the possession of Kyiv proved to be disastrous: when the Mongol-Tartar hordes invaded the country in the 13th century they did not meet a unified opposition.|
after a siege, fell in 1240 and was practically razed to the ground. But
the cultural traditions were picked up by the states that emerged later
in the lands of what used to be Kyivan-Rus - Ukraine. The Halytsko-Volynska
State with King Danylo at its head, managed to withstand the pressure of
the Mongols from the east and of the crusaders from the west. The continuity
of culture was not disrupted.
Meanwhile, Kyiv and other lands of the former Kyivan-Rus - Ukraine came under the dominance of the Grand Principality of Lithuania, but preserved their own cultural identity. In the early 15th century, Kyiv was granted the status of a free city under the Magdeburg Law. Powerful neighbours of Ukraine - Rzeczpospolita (Poland), Muscovy and the Ottoman Empire never stopped their attempts to grab great chunks of the Ukrainian territory which attracted them by its fertility and natural resources. The Zaporizhian Sich, a free republic of the Ukrainian Cossacks that was established at the end of the 16th century, later, in the 17th century, turned out to be a decisive political power in Ukraine’s struggle for independence. The Zaporizhian Cossacks came out in support of all the Ukrainians who lived under foreign domination and sought freedom. They were also successors and continuators of the cultural traditions. After a period of cruel wars, Ukraine gained independence in the middle of the 17th century, with a hetman as an elected ruler and military leader of the state. In 1654, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky was forced by the pressure of political circumstances to sign a treaty which put Ukraine under Russian tsar’s protection.
|For another hundred years though, Ukraine retained much of its autonomy, including its own laws and army. The union of the freedom-loving Ukraine and of the suppressive Moscow Empire was not a happy one from the outset. In the early 17th, century Hetman Ivan Mazepa made an attempt to extricate Ukraine from much too tight an embrace of the Russian State and joined Sweden in its struggle against Russia. The attempt failed after the combined Swedish and Ukrainian forces were defeated in the Battle of Poltava.|
The Russian pressure
on Ukraine was stepped up and by brutal force the Russian tsars did away
with Ukraine’s autonomy and whatever liberties there might have been left.
The free peasants were turned into serfs and any forms of self-government
were abolished. By the end of the 18th century Ukraine was no more than
just another province of the Russian Empire, with the western Ukrainian
lands finding themselves under the dominance of the Empire of Austria
and Hungary. The 19th century saw a gradual re-establishment of the Ukrainian
national identity and after the First World War, an opportunity presented
itself to Ukraine to go once again independent. In the wake of the collapse
of the Russian Empire and of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ukraine proclaimed
its independence on January 22, 1918, with Mykhaylo Hrushevsky, a prominent
political figure and historian, becoming its first president. The Civil
War of 1917-1920 was the fiercest in Ukraine. It became a scene of battles
of many forces fighting for the supremacy of Ukraine: national liberation
forces, Bolshevik armies, White armies commanded by the Russian generals,
anarchists, armed forces of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Britain, France,
Greece, Rumania, and numerous bandit groups into the bargain. The Ukrainian
People’s Republic succumbed under enormous pressure and was incorporated
into the Soviet Union in 1922. The thirties and the forties turned out
to be even more dramatic and tragic for Ukraine than anything it had lived
through before. The Soviet totalitarian regime wrought havoc in Ukraine
with purges, extermination of Ukrainian wealthy peasants and intellectuals,
artificially induced famines (the famine of 1932-1933 took a terrible
toll of several million lives). Ukrainian culture suffered enormous losses
both in terms of intellectuals shot or dispatched to concentration camps,
and of destruction of historical and architectural monuments, books, etc.
The second World War brought new tragedies and new suffering, with three million Ukrainians killed in action at the battlefronts and five more million dying in the Nazi-occupied territories. The material losses of Ukraine in the war are estimated to have been almost a thousand billion dollars. In the post-war years, Ukraine developed its economy rather fast but lack of democracy continued to stifle Ukrainian national culture. On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station experienced a meltdown of its core and exploded. This disaster affected the lives of millions of people in Ukraine. In the mid-eighties, there began in Ukraine an upsurge of the movement for national independence. This time, millions of Ukrainians, rather than individual dissidents and nationalists, joined the movement. Newly formed half-clandestine democratic organizations and a widening search for national identity distabilized the communist regime. On July 16, 1990, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian parliament, adopted The Act of State Sovereignty which was a first major step towards true independence. When a coup failed in Moscow in August of 1991, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Declaration of Independence on August 24, 1991.
On December 1 of the same year, the all-Ukrainian Referendum confirmed the desire on the part of the majority of Ukrainians to live in an independent state. A thousand years ago Ukraine entered the new millennium as a mighty state with highly developed culture. Despite all the dramatic and tragic events that befell Ukraine in the thousand years that followed, it enters the third millennium again as an independent state. Let us hope this time things will turn different for it.
By Andriy Hlazovy