Ukraine: Early History

Early History

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.

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