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.