In ancient times a major part of present-day Ukraine was inhabited by the Scythians (see Scythia), who were later displaced by the Sarmatians (see Sarmatia). Early in the Christian era, a series of invaders (Goths, Huns, Avars) overran the Ukrainian steppes, and in the 7th cent. the Khazars included much of Ukraine in their empire. The Ukrainians themselves can be traced to Neolithic agricultural tribes in the Dnieper and Dniester valleys.
The Antes tribal federation (4th–7th cent.) represented the first definitely Slavic community in the area. In the 9th cent., a Varangian dynasty from Scandinavia established itself at Kiev. Having freed the Slavs from Khazar domination, the Varangians united them in the powerful Kievan Rus. The land and people of Ukraine formed the core of Kievan Rus.
Following Yaroslav's reign (1019–54), which marked the zenith of Kiev's power, Kievan Rus split into principalities, including the western duchies of Halych (see Galicia) and Volodymyr (see Volodymyr-Volynskyy and Volhynia). These and the rest of the western region, which included Podolia, had separate histories after the conquest of Kievan Rus (13th cent.) by the Mongols of the Golden Horde.
In the mid-14th cent. Lithuania began to expand eastward and southward, supplanting the Tatars in Ukraine. The dynastic union between Poland and Lithuania in 1386 also opened Ukraine to Polish expansion. Ukraine had flourished under Lithuanian rule, and its language became that of the state; but after the organic union of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, Ukraine came under Polish rule, enserfment of the Ukrainian peasants proceeded apace, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church suffered persecution. In 1596 the Ukrainian Orthodox bishops, confronted with the power of Polish Catholicism, established the Uniate, or Greek Catholic, faith, which recognized papal authority but retained the Orthodox rite. Meanwhile, the Black Sea shore, ruled by the khans of Crimea, was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1478.
The term Ukraine, which may be translated as "at the border" or "borderland," came into general usage in the 16th cent. At that time, Poland-Lithuania and the rising principality of Moscow, or Muscovy, were vying for control of this vast area south of their borders. The harsh conditions of Polish rule led many Ukrainians to flee serfdom and religious persecution by escaping beyond the area of the lower Dnieper rapids. There they established a military order called the Zaporizhzhya Sich ("clearing beyond the rapids"). These fugitives became known as Cossacks or Kozaks, an adaptation of the Turkic word kazak, meaning "outlaw" or "adventurer." In 1648 the Cossacks, led by Hetman Bohdan Chmielnicki, successfully waged a revolution against Polish domination.
Ukraine, however, was too weak to stand alone, and in 1654 Chmielnicki recognized the suzerainty of Moscow in the Treaty of Pereyaslavl. By the terms of the treaty, Ukraine was to be largely independent; but Russia soon began to encroach upon its rights (the czars contemptuously referred to the Ukrainians as "Little Russians," as contrasted with the "Great Russians" of the Muscovite realm). Through a treaty with Poland in 1658, Ukraine attempted to throw off Russian protection. The ensuing Russo-Polish war ended in 1667 with the Treaty of Andrusov, which partitioned Ukraine.
Russia obtained left-bank Ukraine, east of the Dnieper River and including Kiev; Poland retained right-bank Ukraine. Hetman Ivan Mazepa, presiding over a diminished Cossack state, sought once again to free Ukraine from Russian domination; he thus joined Sweden against Russia in the Northern War, but their defeat at Poltava by Czar Peter I in 1709 sealed the fate of Ukraine. Mazepa's fall crushed the last hopes for Ukrainian independence and further curtailed Ukrainian autonomy.
The last of Ukraine's hetmans was forced by Empress Catherine II to resign in 1764; the Zaporizhzhya Sich was razed by Russian troops in 1775, and Ukraine, its political autonomy terminated, was divided into three provinces. In 1783, Russia annexed the khanate of Crimea. The Polish partition treaties of 1772, 1793, and 1795 (see Poland, partitions of) awarded Podolia and Volhynia to Russia, thus reuniting left-bank and right-bank Ukraine; E Galicia went to Austria.
Colonization of the steppes proceeded apace in the 19th cent., and in the 1870s the great Ukrainian coal and metallurgical industrial region was established. Despite a Russian ban on use of the Ukrainian language in the schools and in publications, a movement for Ukrainian national and cultural revival blossomed in the late 19th cent. There was also renewed agitation for Ukrainian independence and for the union of all Ukrainian lands, including those of Austria-Hungary–Galicia, Bukovina, and Ruthenia (see Transcarpathian Region) under a single state. The Galician Ukrainians, who emerged as a political nationality during the 1848 Austrian revolution, made Galicia a haven abroad for the nationalist movement in Russian Ukraine. This movement was spearheaded by secret educational groups called hromadas, that were repeatedly suppressed by the czar.
Following the overthrow of the czarist regime in 1917, a Ukrainian central council was set up with Mikhailo Hrushevsky as president; in June, 1917, it formed a government with Vladimir Vinnichenko as premier and Simon Petlura as war minister. Originally declaring itself a republic within the framework of a federated Russia, Ukraine proclaimed complete independence in Jan., 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Soviet troops were sent into Ukraine, but the Central Powers, having acknowledged Ukrainian independence, then overran the territory with their own soldiers and forced the Red Army, through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Mar., 1918) to withdraw. The World War I armistice of Nov., 1918, in turn forced the withdrawal from Ukraine of the Central Powers. Meanwhile, with the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, an independent republic in W Ukraine had been proclaimed in Lviv. In Jan., 1919, the union of the two Ukraines was proclaimed; however, Soviet troops immediately occupied Kiev. A four-cornered struggle ensued among Ukrainian forces, the counterrevolutionary army of Denikin, the Red Army, and the Poles. Soviet troops eventually regained control of Ukraine, which in 1922 became one of the original constituent republics of the USSR.
Lenin's attempts to assuage Ukrainian nationalism through a measure of cultural autonomy were abandoned by Stalin, who also imposed agricultural collectivization on Ukraine and requisitioned all grain for export. Millions of Ukrainians died in the resulting famine. Mykola Skrypnyk and other Ukrainian Communist leaders who opposed Stalinist measures were purged and executed. During World War II, many Ukrainians at first welcomed the Germans as liberators and collaborated with them against the USSR. However, the Nazis' scorn for all Slavs and their harsh occupation (1941–44) of Ukraine turned many Ukrainians into anti-German guerrilla fighters.
The republic suffered severe wartime devastation, esp. as a battleground both in 1941–42 (the German advance) and 1943–44 (the Russian advance). Most of Ukraine's 1.5 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the war; many were shot outright in 1941, at such sites as Babi Yar (Ukr. Babyn Yar ), outside Kiev. During the war Ukrainian guerrillas fought against both Soviet and German forces, and some anti-Soviet resistance continued until 1953.
Several major territorial changes occurred in Ukraine during and after the war. South Bessarabia, recovered from Romania in 1940, was incorporated into Ukraine, while the former Moldavian ASSR was detached from the republic and merged with central Bessarabia as the Moldavian SSR. The northern parts of Bukovina and Bessarabia were added to Ukraine, as was E Galicia, including Lviv, formally ceded by Poland in 1945. Transcarpathian Region, which had been part of Czechoslovakia since 1919, was also ceded in 1945, thus completing the process by which all Ukrainian lands were united into a single republic. Crimea was annexed to Ukraine in 1954. Although Russification intensified in Ukraine (as in other Soviet republics) after World War II, Ukrainian nationalism remained strong.
During the 1960s, Ukrainians emerged as tacit junior partners of the Russians in governing the Soviet Union. Leonid Brezhnev was born in Ukraine and held important party posts there before being called to Moscow. Former Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev, although a Russian by birth, served as first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist party during the 1930s and carried out the Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In 1986 one of the reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded, contaminating a wide area of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian parliament passed a declaration of sovereignty in July, 1990, and in Aug., 1991, declared Ukraine independent of the Soviet Union. Ukraine became a charter member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Dec., 1991. Leonid Kravchuk, a former Communist turned nationalist, became Ukraine's first president. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in 1994, and Kravchuk was defeated by Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma.
Kuchma implemented a few market reforms, but the economy remained dominated by huge, inefficient state-run companies and did not improve significantly. Ukraine, briefly the world's third largest nuclear power, also ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1994) and turned its nuclear arsenal over to Russia for destruction (completed 1996); in return, Ukraine received much-needed fuel for its nuclear power plants. The country's economic reforms and cooperation in disarmament helped it gain substantial Western aid and loans.
Tensions continued over the Crimean peninsula, a former Russian territory with a majority Russian population that was ceded to Ukraine in 1954. In 1995, after Crimea challenged the Ukrainian government's sovereignty and threatened to secede, Ukraine placed Crimea's government under national control; its regional assembly, however, was retained. Another contentious issue was the division between Russia and Ukraine of the former Soviet Black Sea fleet, based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. A basic agreement, under which four fifths of the fleet would fall under Russian control, was reached in 1995, and in 1997 it was agreed that Russia would be allowed to base its fleet at Sevastopol for 20 years.
Communists won the most seats in the 1998 legislative elections. Kuchma was reelected in 1999 after defeating the Communist candidate, Petro Symonenko, in a runoff, and in December Viktor Yushchenko, the central bank chairman and an advocate of market reforms, was chosen as prime minister. In Apr., 2000, voters in a referendum approved constitutional changes that increased the president's powers over parliament.
In Sept., 2000, a muckraking opposition journalist was murdered. When tape recordings implicating Kuchma in his murder and other abuses of power subsequently were aired, Kuchma's support in parliament eroded, and there were demonstrations in early 2001 calling for his resignation. The government refused to investigate the journalist's death and was accused of suppressing press coverage of the incident. The dismissal of Prime Minister Yushchenko in Apr., 2001, by parliament was a blow to reformers; he was succeeded by Anatoliy Kinakh, an ally of President Kuchma. In the Mar., 2002, parliamentary elections Yushchenko supporters won roughly a quarter of the seats, as did supporters of the president. In November, Kuchma dismissed Kinakh as prime minister and appointed Viktor Yanukovych to the post.
Ukraine and Russia signed a treaty in Jan., 2003, that defined their common borders everywhere except in the Sea of Azov. In September, Russia began building a sea dike toward Ukraine's Tuzla island in the Kerch Strait (which provides access to the sea), provoking a crisis; a subsequent accord allowed for joint use of the strait, declared Azov an internal body of water, and called for the delimiting of the Russian-Ukrainian border. Also in September, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia signed an agreement to create a common economic space, but by the time an accord was signed (2009) to establish a customs union Ukraine's relations with Russia had soured and it did not participate.
In Dec., 2003, the Ukrainian supreme court ruled that Kuchma could run for a third term because the election for his first term had occurred before the current constitution took effect. The parliament also approved a constitutional change allowing it, rather than the voters, to elect the president, but opposition and international protests led the legislators to reverse their decision two months later.
The 2004 presidential election appeared to mark a significant turning point for Ukraine, and led to the events known as the "Orange Revolution." The government candidate, Prime Minister Yanukovych, advocated close ties with Russia (and his candidacy was supported by Russian president Putin) while the opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Yushchenko, called for closer ties with the European Union and benefited from increased disillusionment with Kuchma. The October vote resulted in a narrow victory for Yushchenko, who had been poisoned by an unknown assailant during the campaign, but he failed to win a majority, forcing a runoff with Yanukovych. The November balloting was declared a victory for Yanukovych, but both it and the first round were denounced by most observers, who accused the government of holding an undemocratic election. Yushchenko's supporters mounted protests in the streets of Kiev and other W Ukraine cities, where his support was strong. Yushchenko also challenged the results in court. Meanwhile, Yanukovych and his supporters, who were more concentrated in the more heavily Russian east, denounced these moves, and the situation threatened to split Ukraine. Parliament narrowly declared the results invalid, an act with no legal significance, but in December the supreme court annulled the vote due to fraud and called for the runoff to be rerun. Subsequently, the constitution was amended to reduce the president's power to appoint the prime minister and most of the cabinet as part of an electoral reform package.
In late December a new vote resulted in a solid margin of victory for Yushchenko, but the result was not finalized until mid-Jan., 2005, because of legal challenges mounted by Yanukovych. In February Yushchenko appointed Yulia V. Tymoshenko, an outspoken political ally, as prime minister. Seven months later, however, Yushchenko dismissed Tymoshenko's government after conflicts between the cabinet and the presidency and accusations that the president tolerated corruption. The moderate economist Yuriy Yekhanurov succeeded Tymoshenko, but only after the president secured the support of Yanukovych's party by making concessions on investigations into electoral fraud in 2004 presidential election.
A dispute over the price of natural gas purchased from Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, led to a stalemate in late 2005. Ukraine had been purchasing gas at very favorable rates under a contract signed before Yushchenko won the presidency, and Gazprom now demanded a higher, market rate. In Jan., 2006, Gazprom halted its Ukrainian shipments, a move that also partially affected some downstream European customers. Although the dispute was soon resolved, the episode was generally regarded as a heavy-handed Russian response to Yushchenko's victory a year before. Opposition parties subsequently won a no-confidence vote against the cabinet over the agreement, but constitutional ambiguities made it unclear whether the vote had any validity or not.
Parliamentary elections in Mar., 2006, resulted in a setback for President Yushchenko, whose Our Ukraine party placed third, behind Yanukovych's Party of the Regions and the Tymoshenko bloc. In April the three former parties of the Orange Revolution—the Tymoshenko bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist party—agreed to form a coalition government, but the agreement shattered in July as both sides disrupted sessions of parliament and the Socialists bolted for a coalition with the Party of the Regions and the Communists. The three parties nominated Yanukovych as prime minister, but the president initially refused to recognize the new coalition on the grounds that, under the law, it had been formed too soon after the Socialists left their previous coalition. Yushchenko and Yanukovych subsequently signed a unity pact, and Our Ukraine joined the three party coalition led by Yanukovych, who became prime minister in August. In October, however, Our Ukraine left the governing coalition and went into opposition. The same month Ukraine signed a deal with Gazprom to import natural gas at below market-rate prices. In December the president and prime minister became locked in disputes over the budget and foreign minister. The president vetoed the budget several times, and after parliament sacked the foreign and interior ministers, the president issued a decree calling on the foreign minister to stay in office. Parliament responded by passing (Jan., 2007) legislation giving it the right to appoint the foreign minister, which the president contested in court.
The struggle between the prime minister and president reached new crisis point in April when the president dissolved parliament and called for new elections. The previous month a number of deputies allied with the president had joined Yanukovych's coalition, despite legal and constitutional provisions that appeared to forbid such a move (only parties are allowed to form coalitions in parliament), but it also represented a threat to the president's power. The prime minister refused to recognize the president's decree, and appealed it to the constitutional court. The events led the parties on both sides to mount a number of large demonstrations. After the president fired several constitutional court judges for misconduct and after mounting tensions, both sides agreed in late May to September elections, but squabbling continued in months preceding the elections.
Although Yanukovych's party won plurality of the seats in the new parliament, the Tymoshenko bloc and the president's bloc together secured a narrow majority. The president's bloc, however, received less than 15% of the vote and less than half the seats of the Tymoshenko bloc, a significant blow to Yushchenko. The Socialist party, which previously had held the balance of power between the president's supporters and opponents failed to receive enough votes to be awarded any seats. In December, the Tymoshenko and presidential blocs formed a coalition government, with Tymoshenko as prime minister, but the subsequent months often saw Tymoshenko and Yushchenko at odds and tensions in parliament between supporters of the two.
The government's desire to begin the process of joining NATO led in early 2008 to confrontations in parliament with the Party of Regions and also provoked strong opposition from Russia. Both reactions contributed to NATO's decision to postpone (Apr., 2008) establishing an action plan for Ukraine's admission. Ukraine again confronted threatened cuts in its natural gas supplies when Gazprom demanded payment of its debts in Feb., 2008; although cuts were averted then, the following month supplies were reduced for several days when the issue again required resolution. In May, Ukraine became a member of the World Trade Organization.
In Sept., 2008, the governing coalition broke up after Tymoshenko's bloc and the Party of Regions joined together to reduce presidential powers; disagreements between the governing parties concerning how to respond to Russia's invasion of Georgia also led to the collapse. After attempts to reestablish the coalition failed, Yushchenko, despite his relative unpopularity, called for early elections, a move that was actively opposed in parliament and the courts in subsequent weeks by Tymoshenko. Ukraine secured a $16.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in November; the money was needed to help stabilize Ukraine's currency and private banking system. Some of the disbursements of the loan subsequently were delayed, however, by the parliament's failure to pass the required budget legislaton. The country's industrial sector, especially in E Ukraine, was also hit hard by the global recession. In December, the governing coalition was finally re-formed, this time with the addition of a third, smaller party.
In Jan., 2009, Gazprom again cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine; the issues were largely the same as those three years earlier. The cutoff eventually also led to the stoppage of the flow of gas shipped through Ukraine to other European countries, for which Russia and Ukraine each blamed the other. Central and SE European nations mainly were affected by the stoppage. After three weeks and pressure from the European Union a new, ten-year agreement was reached in which Ukraine secured lower current gas prices in exchange for higher future ones; the EU subsequently agreed to make significant investments in Ukraine's gas infrastructure, prompting a negative response from Russia. A drop in energy needs as a result of a slowing economy led Ukraine in late 2009 to seek modifications in its energy agreement with Russia.
Continuing tensions between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko led to the ouster of the foreign minister in Mar., 2009, and the defense minister in June; both posts are presidential appointments. In April, the parliament set the presidential election for Oct., 2009, but Yushchenko challenged the date as too early, and the constitutional court ruled for the president. In June, the vote was rescheduled for Jan., 2010. Also in June, ongoing negotiations between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych finally ended without an agreement. Relations with Russia remained largely sour, with Russian President Medvedev in August denouncing Yushchenko as anti-Russian, an act seen as an attempt to influence the upcoming presidential election. In Sept., 2009, however, Tymoshenko and Putin agreed in principle to reduce, in light of the recession, Ukraine's required gas purchases under the January agreement.
In the first round (January) of the 2010 presidential election, Yanukovych placed first, with Tymoshenko second, but no candidate won a majority, forcing a runoff (February) that Yanukovych won by a small margin (but he again gained less than 50% of the vote). The vote also evidenced Ukraine's continuing divisions, with Yanukovych winning in the predominantly Russian-speaking east and south, while Tymposhenko ran strongly in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center. Tymoshenko subsequently lost a confidence vote in parliament, and Yanukovych's Party of Regions formed a governing coalition with Mykola Azarov, a former finance minister, as prime minister.
In April, in a rapprochement with Russia, Ukraine agreed to extend Russia's lease on the Sevastopol naval base until 2042 in exchange for what were said to be discounts on Russian natural gas, but in 2012 Azarov acknowledged that the deal did not result in discounts. The new government also rejected pursuing NATO membership while seeking to speed progress toward joining the European Union. In Oct., 2010, the constitutional amendments adopted in Dec., 2004, were overturned on the grounds that they had not been approved by the constitutional court; the decision strengthened the powers of the president.
Later in 2010 Tymoshenko and several other members of her former government were arrested and charged with a variety of criminal offenses, leading the European Union enlargement commissioner to warn (Jan., 2011) Ukraine not to use criminal law for political ends. Additional charges were brought in 2011, and in Oct., 2011, Tymoshenko was convicted of abuse of power and imprisoned. In Mar., 2011, former president Kuchma—Yanukovych's one-time political patron—was charged with abuse of office in the 2000 disappearance and murder of an opposition journalist, but the charges were dismissed in Dec., 2011. Tymoshenko's case directly affected relations with the EU in December when the EU held off signing a cooperation agreement with Ukraine because of the belief that the charges against her were politically motivated; increased cooperation with the EU continued to be stymied by the political situation in Ukraine in subsequent months.
During early 2012 there were natural gas transshipment problems from Russia to Europe, and Russia's Gazprom blamed Ukraine; negotiations in 2011 between the two nations over the price of gas and transshipment issues had been inconclusive. Gazprom subsequently rerouted a significant amount of transshipped gas through Belarus, where it controlled the pipelines. In Feb., 2012, Russia banned cheese imports from several major Ukrainian producers, allegedly over adulteration, but the dispute was seen as an attempt to apply political pressure on Ukraine similar to Russian food-related bans involving other nations. In mid-2012 the government enacted a bill making Russian an official regional language in Russian-speaking areas of the country; the law was denounced by the opposition and by advocates of Ukrainian.
In the Oct., 2012, parliamentary elections the Party of Regions won a plurality of the seats, with Tymoshenko's party second. European and other monitors criticized the election campaign as being less fair than previous ones, the voting was married by irregularities, and the vote count took weeks to complete, leading some monitors and opposition figures to charge the government with attempting to steal elections. The Party of Regions formed a coalition government; Azarov again became prime minister (Dec., 2012). In Apr., 2013, two cabinet members under Tymoshenko who had been convicted of abuse of office were pardoned, but the former prime minister was not.
Trade tensions again flared with Russia in Aug., 2013, over Ukraine's trade negotiations with the European Union, but Ukraine ultimately rejected an agreement with the EU and won improved gas rates and loans from Russia. The failure to sign an EU agreement led in Nov., 2013, to antigovernment demonstrations by protesters who favored joining the EU. The protests, which were marked at times by clashes with security forces, renewed in intensity after so-called antiprotest laws were passed in Jan., 2014.