Ukrainian monetary unit Hryvnya was introduced three years ago. In fact, the word hryvnya itself is more than a thousand years old. It was a monetary unit used in the state of Kyivan-Rus - Ukraine in the tenth century.


Hryvnya - pieces of silver, used as money in 11–12th centuries.
In the early centuries of the Christian Era, the territory of what today is Ukraine was inhabited by proto-Slavic tribes united in groups referred to in ancient chronicles as anty and venety. They, together with Germanic tribes, their neighbours in the west, made frequent incursions into the Roman Empire. The Empire, whose strength had been waning by then for quite a long time, could not offer adequate military resistance and was obliged to buy peace with money. The barbarians did not mind accepting Roman denarii and using them in their trade. The Roman money came in handy as the barbarians had previously used, in most cases, heads of cattle and fur as media of exchange. Denarii, as an excellent and very practical substitution, became very popular. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Imperial coins with profiles of emperors on them remained in use throughout Europe for several more centuries. Byzantine and Arab Caliphate coins were also in circulation in the Slavic world as the Byzantine and Arab merchants entered trade relations with the Slavs. Particularly popular at the end of the tenth century were dirhams of caliphs of Bagdad. Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great, ruler of Kyiv, introduced Christianity in AD 988 and was the one who started minting coins, sribnyks and zlatnyks (the names suggest that they were made of silver and gold), the first money of Kyivan-Rus–Ukraine. The coins resemble those minted in Byzantium at the time. Very few of these coins have been found so far and it probably means that there were not too many of them in circulation. Probably, they were meant to be a sort of a propaganda stunt to demonstrate to the outside world the emergence of a powerful state that boasts its own money in circulation.
The most widely used means of exchange though were hryvnyas rather than coins, locally made or imported. Hryvnyas were pieces of silver of a specified size and weight (from 160 to 200 grams) but their shape, size and weight varied depending on where they were produced - in Kyiv, Novhorod or Chernihiv. In later centuries, the eastern Slavic states used coins of firm international standings: grosh, minted in Poland, Lithuania and in the Czech lands. Still later, they were substituted by the ones minted in Kyiv and Lviv. In the sixteenth century silver thalers, gold ducats and florins were widely used whenever large amounts of money were to be paid. Some historians and numismatists claim that Ukrainian hetmans of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries minted their own coins but not a single one has been discovered yet. For two centuries, up to the year 1918, Russian money was used in Ukraine (Austro-Hungarian money in the western lands of Ukraine). After the proclamation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, its government had new Ukrainian money issued. Several successive powers that fought for supremacy in Ukraine and gained the upper hand for short periods of time even locally had their money printed. The years of Civil War saw hryvnyas, karbovanets, rubles (old Imperial, new Soviet and those issued by Russian generals commanding White armies) circulating in Ukraine. There were even cases of paper money printed by individual cities. Money of Odesa and Zhytomyr were among the best as far as the quality was concerned. Even the otaman (commander) of the forty-thousand strong anarchist army Makhno had his own money: on the bank notes issued by the Ukrainian People’s Republic he had the words “First Ukrainian Insurgent Army” stamped. Some of the bills had further words stamped on them, added by Makhno’s officers in jest: “With this money you can buy neither bread nor honey,” or “Makhno’s money is better than honey.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence, the Soviet money was kept in circulation for some time. When it was completely devalued, kupons (“coupons”) were issued as a temporary substitute for national currency. The kupon bank notes were printed on bad paper and looked more like Monopoly game bills rather than real money of an independent state. The kupon, in the wake of the post-Soviet galloping inflation, was quickly devalued and the citizens of Ukraine, like citizens of many other post-Soviet states, became “millionaires” - in 1994, four US dollars were exchanged for one million “coupons.” It was clear that Ukrainian national currency was badly and urgently needed.

The first new bank notes of Ukrainian money which was called Hryvnya were printed abroad way back in 1992, but Hryvnya was not put into circulation then because the level of inflation was still too high. When things were improved considerably, Hryvnya was introduced instead of the badly devalued kupon in September of 1996. In the next two years, Hryvnya was doing rather well but last year it suffered a severe blow when the Russian ruble was badly hit by a financial crisis. Hryvnya survived but lost some of its value. It is not among the most respected world currencies but it is safe to say that it is doing well enough.

By Andriy Hlazovy and Natalya Mykhaylova


Illustrated to article.