The present territory of Ukraine has belonged to at least 14 different states throughout history, including the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, the Russian Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Soviet Union. Located in the area of tension between East and West, it has often had to stand up to its neighbors.


The territory of the present Ukrainian state or its sub-regions has been part of at least 14 different states throughout history; the most important among them were the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, the Russian Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Soviet Union. Thus, the subject of Ukrainian history cannot be the state as in the case of France or Russia. However, this is true not only for Ukraine, but for many other modern states, among them Germany and Italy.

Given the lack of state continuity, the Ukrainian people could be the subject of history. However, the concept of a people is fuzzy and denotes different communities in different eras. This is also reflected in the names of nations. The same applies to nations, which began to form only in the early modern period and consolidated in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The nation-building of Ukrainians was hindered and delayed by the ruling nations of Poles and Russians, who denied the existence of a Ukrainian nation for a long time, in some cases until today. This has also had an impact on the writing of history: the Ukrainian narrative was and is contested by the Polish and Russian historical narratives.

Thus, the only remaining subject of a Ukrainian history is the territory of the present independent state. This means that not only Ukrainians, but also other ethnic groups such as the Jews, Poles, Russians, Germans, and Crimean Tatars who lived on this territory must be included.

Folk names (ethnonyms).
The ethnonym Ukrainian, attested since the early modern period, did not become established until the beginning of the 20th century. In the Middle Ages, the name for all Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and White Russians) was Rus. From this derive the ethnonyms Rusyn/Rusnak/Ruthene, which were in use in Ukraine and Belarus until the 20th century, as were the Russian terms for Russian (russkij) and Russia (Rossija). In Ukraine, however, Russians were long referred to as "Muscovites" (moskali) to distinguish them from the "actual Rus."

Geographical features

The name Ukraine means borderland. It meant the border with the steppe, the dividing line between sedentary and nomadic people, which had fundamental importance until the 18th century. This was the habitat of the Cossacks, who played a prominent role in Ukrainian history. In modern interpretations, Ukraine appears as a borderland in the sense of mediation between East and West, between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic worlds. The Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev, with its Byzantine mosaics inside and its Baroque exterior, can be seen as a symbol of this. 

The territory of Ukraine is part of the Eastern European Plain and has no natural boundaries over long stretches. The only exceptions are the Black Sea in the south and the Carpathian Mountains, the only mountain range worth mentioning, in the west. However, a small area beyond the Carpathians, Transcarpathia or Carpatho-Ukraine, also belongs to the present-day state. In contrast, Ukraine's borders are largely open to the east and north, towards Russia, Belarus and Poland. Therefore, it has always been a transit area and a scene of warlike conflicts.

An important element of division are the rivers, first of all the Dnieper (ukr.: Dnipró), which cuts Ukraine into two parts. Since the early Middle Ages, the Dnieper was an important trade route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, with the city of Kiev as the most important transhipment point. However, navigation was hindered by rapids (porohy) until the construction of a river power plant. Beyond (sa) the rapids the Ukrainian Cossacks had their headquarters, hence their name Zaporozhian Cossacks. Also flowing into the Black Sea in the west are the southern Bug, the Dniester (Dnistér) and the Pruth, and in the east the Don, whose tributary Donets is the most important river in eastern Ukraine. The catchment area of the Baltic Sea includes the western Bug River on the border with Poland.

Most areas of Ukraine have fertile black earth soils and are excellent for arable farming (wheat, corn, sunflowers). The temperate continental climate also contributes to this, although the steppe areas have relatively low precipitation. The most important mineral resources are the coal deposits in the Donets Basin (Donbass) and the iron ore deposits on the lower Dnieper River, which were the main driving force behind the industrialization of the Russian Empire.

The large territory is divided into individual regions according to natural and historical criteria. Western Ukraine includes Galicia (centered in Lviv), Northern Bukovina (Chernivtsi) and Carpatho-Ukraine (Uzhgorod). Central Ukraine includes Volhynia, Podolia and the area of the middle Dnieper with the capital Kiev. Southern Ukraine includes the area north of the Black Sea with the port of Odessa and the Crimean peninsula. The sub-regions of Eastern Ukraine are Donbass (Donetsk), Sloboda Ukraine (Kharkiv) and the Lower Dnieper region (Dnipropetrovsk).

The founding myth of Kievan Rus

The territory of today's southern Ukraine was the scene of migrations of steppe peoples from Asia to Europe in ancient times, and on the shores of the Black Sea Greeks and Romans established their colonies.

In the late 9th century, Norman warriors and merchants called Rus established a ruling federation on the middle Dnieper with Kiev as its center, which was named Rus after them. The upper class of the Rus was soon assimilated by the resident Slavic population. At the end of the 10th century, Prince Vladimir (Ukra.: Volodymyr) accepted Christianity, and Rus henceforth belonged to the world of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church. At the same time, Kievan Rus had commercial and dynastic relations with Northern, Central and Western European countries, and its princes belonged to the "family of European kings". 

The Kiev Empire was a center of trade between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea and between Central Europe and Asia. In addition to Kiev, an important base was the city of Novgorod in the north, which was one of the four Hanseatic contors (= settlement of Hanseatic merchants abroad in the late Middle Ages). Orthodox culture (painting, literature, architecture) experienced a rapid upswing with the Kiev Cave Monastery as its center. Rus was a loose federation of individual principalities under various branches of the ruling Ryurikid dynasty. At its head was the Kiev prince, other important principalities were Galicia-Volhynia in the west, Polozk in the northwest, and Vladimir-Suzdal in the northeast. In the first half of the 13th century the whole Rus was conquered by the Mongols, and many cities were destroyed. Kiev fell in 1240.

Kievan Rus included the main territories of today's Ukraine, Russia and Belarus (White Russia), and its history is the founding myth of all three states. Ukrainian and Russian historiography vie for its legacy to this day. In the national Ukrainian narrative, the reference to the early statehood of Kiev is central; in Russia, on the other hand, the Kiev Empire is considered the precursor of the Moscow State and the Russian Empire. The controversy has flared up again in recent years, and recently even Russian President Vladimir Putin has weighed in.

As a former Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine was one of the leading economies of the Soviet Union. After the political upheaval in the early 1990s and the first so-called "market economy reforms", the economic situation deteriorated dramatically. Instead of a market economy, Ukraine developed into a "clan economy": influential politicians and economic giants divided the profitable sectors of large-scale industry among their clans and controlled them according to their own interests.

Only since the end of the 1990s has Ukraine's economic potential been better utilised. The country had already made significant progress in the market-oriented transformation process with the successful currency reform (1996) and the privatisation of agriculture and industry. After the "Orange Revolution" (2004), the legal and economic foundations had improved further.

Economic and financial crisis

However, the economic and financial crisis has hit Ukraine particularly hard since 2008. Growth plummeted by 15 per cent in 2009, exports fell by 40 per cent, industrial production by about 22 per cent, unemployment rose to over 9 per cent, real wages fell by about 10 per cent. The national currency, the hryvnia, depreciated sharply. The extensive reform programme for the years 2010 to 2014 with the intended sustainable improvement of the investment climate has only been implemented to some extent. In 2013, Kiev slipped into recession with negative growth of 1.5 per cent. In 2014, economic growth plummeted by 6.6 per cent, and by 9.9 per cent in 2015. These developments were due to the effects of the Ukraine conflict in the east of the country. GDP was only USD 90 billion in 2015.

From mid-2015, the economy had stabilised somewhat again. In 2016, slight economic growth was already recorded, which was even higher in 2017.

Ukraine, which had most recently been on the drip of the Russian government, had officially asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support in 2014. However, the roughly 13 billion euros from the IMF were tied to conditions - for example, Ukraine had to reform the country's economy. Expenditures were to be cut, almost no new debts were to be taken on and the retirement age was to be raised. The EU agreed to support Ukraine with 11 billion euros until 2020, the USA had pledged one billion dollars. Ukraine received an untied financial loan of 500 million euros from the German government.

Stabilisation was also hoped for through the Association Agreement with the EU, which entered into force on 1 January 2016. It provides for the implementation of European standards and further liberalisation of trade with the EU. To this end, the Ukrainian parliament had passed legislative projects, such as an alignment of the gas market with the rules of EU competition.

Effects of the Ukraine Conflict

Even before the fighting in the country, Ukraine was economically depressed. The fallow of some industries and production losses were among the direct consequences of the hostilities in the east. The eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which were most affected by the fighting, are particularly important economically for Ukraine because of their industry and coal deposits. The fact that economic activity has fallen in these regions has a correspondingly negative impact.

Ukraine is one of the largest consumer countries of the Russian energy company Gazprom. It is the most important transit country for Russian natural gas exports. However, the long-lasting conflict and the increased gas prices eventually led to an escalation. Several times, deliveries were stopped as the countries fought over the conditions. On the Russian side, the Gazprom corporation tried to improve its economic result by raising the prices for natural gas deliveries to the CIS. At the same time, Gazprom had an interest in taking over the Ukrainian natural gas pipelines in order to better control transit. At the end of 2014, Ukraine, Russia and the European Union reached an agreement in Brussels on several contentious issues.

In general, confidence among entrepreneurs and consumers has declined. Investors rate the country as high risk.

The global economy also felt the consequences of the Ukraine crisis. The conflict in Ukraine had a negative impact on the global financial markets. Stock market players on Wall Street, in London and Frankfurt reacted with uncertainty, although US companies, for example, were hardly affected by the conflict.

The sanctions against Russia introduced by the EU and the USA also had an impact. It was not only in Russia that economic difficulties grew. Large European companies were also affected and recorded declines in turnover.
The Ukraine conflict also weighed heavily on the German export industry. Exports to Russia, for example, plummeted by more than a quarter compared to the previous year. In the first eight months, goods worth 20.3 billion were exported to Russia, a minus of 16.6 per cent compared to the previous year. Exports of machinery fell by 17 per cent compared to the previous year, and exports of chemical products declined by six per cent.