How do the Ukrainians see the Soviet Union

Ukraine - a country between West and East

The present-day territory of Ukraine 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 field of tension between East and West, it has often had to assert itself against its neighbors.

The Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko earned his criticism of the tsarist empire imprisonment and exile. Memorial of the poet in Lemberg (Lviv) (& copy picture-alliance / allOver / Karl Thomas)

The object

The area of ​​today's Ukrainian state or its sub-regions has been part of at least 14 different states in the course of history; the most important of them were the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, the Russian Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Soviet Union. So the subject of Ukrainian history cannot be the state, as in the case of France or Russia. This does not only apply to Ukraine, however, but to many other modern states, including Germany and Italy.

Given the lack of state continuity, the Ukrainian people could be the subject of history. The term people is vague and describes different communities in individual epochs. This is also reflected in the names of the people. The same applies to the nations that only began to form in the early modern period and consolidated over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The nation-building of the Ukrainians was hindered and delayed by the ruling nations of the Poles and Russians, who denied the existence of a Ukrainian nation for a long time, sometimes until today. This also has an impact on historiography: the Ukrainian narrative was and is contested by the Polish and Russian historical narrative.

Only the territory of today's independent state remains as the subject of Ukrainian history. This means that not only the Ukrainians, but also other ethnic groups such as the Jews, Poles, Russians, Germans and Crimean Tatars who lived on this territory must be taken into account.

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Common names (ethnonyms)

The ethnonym Ukrainian, which has been documented since the early modern period, did not gain acceptance until the beginning of the 20th century. In the Middle Ages, the name for all Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) was Rus. From this derive the ethnonyms Rusyn / Rusnak / Ruthene, which were in use in the Ukraine and Belarus until the 20th century, as well as the Russian names for Russe (russkij) and Russia (Rossija). In the Ukraine, on the other hand, the Russians have long been referred to as "Muscovites" (moskali) in order to differentiate them from the "real Rus".

Since the 16th century we have come across the term Little Russia (Malorossija) for Ukraine, which goes back to a Greek name from the Middle Ages. Little Russia / Little Russians were the official names for Ukraine / Ukrainians in the Russian Empire since the middle of the 17th century. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that they acquired a negative connotation in the sense of small and inferior. In the Habsburg Empire, however, the term Ruthenian remained in use. The Ukrainian national movement advocated the terms Ukraine / Ukrainians, which only prevailed after 1917, in the Ukrainian People's Republic, in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and finally in the independent Republic of Ukraine.



Geographical conditions

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

The area of ​​Ukraine is part of the Eastern European lowlands and has no natural spatial boundaries for long stretches. The only exceptions are the Black Sea in the south and the Carpathian Mountains, the only mountains worth mentioning, in the west. However, a small area beyond the Carpathian Mountains, Transcarpathian or Carpathian-Ukraine, also belongs to the current state. In contrast, Ukraine's borders in the east and north, towards Russia, Belarus and Poland, are largely open. It was therefore always a transit area and a scene of armed conflicts.

The rivers are an important dividing element, especially the Dnieper (ukr .: Dnipró), which cuts the Ukraine in two. Since the early Middle Ages, the Dnieper has been an important trade route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, with the city of Kiev being the most important transshipment point. However, until the construction of a river power station, shipping was hindered by rapids (porohy). Beyond (sa) the rapids, the Ukrainian Cossacks had their headquarters, hence their name Zaporozhe Cossacks. The southern Bug, the Dniester (Dnistér) and the Prut also flow into the Black Sea in the west, and the Don in the east, whose tributary Donets is the most important river in eastern Ukraine. The western Bug on the border with Poland belongs to the catchment area of ​​the Baltic Sea.

Most areas of Ukraine have fertile black earth soils and are ideally suited for arable farming (wheat, maize, sunflowers). The temperate continental climate also contributes to this, although it has relatively little rainfall in the steppe areas. The most important mineral resources are the coal deposits in the Donets Basin (Donbass) and the iron ore deposits on the lower Dnieper, which were the most important engine of the industrialization of the Russian Empire.

The large territory is divided into individual regions according to natural and historical criteria. Western Ukraine includes Galicia (with the center Lemberg / ukr .: Lviv), northern Bukovina (Chernivtsi / ukr .: Tscherniwzi) and Carpathian Ukraine (Uzhhorod). Central Ukraine includes Volhynia, Podolia and the area of ​​the central Dnieper with the capital Kiev. Southern Ukraine is the area north of the Black Sea with the port of Odessa and the Crimean peninsula. The sub-regions of eastern Ukraine are the Donbass (Donetsk), Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkiv) and the region of the lower Dnieper (Dnipropetrovsk).

The founding myth of the Kievan Rus

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

In the late 9th century, Norman warriors and merchants, who were called Rus, founded a rulership association with the center Kiev on the central Dnieper, which was named after them Rus. The upper class of the Rus was soon assimilated by the local Slavic population. At the end of the 10th century, Prince Vladimir (ukr .: Volodymyr) adopted Christianity, and from then on the Rus belonged to the world of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church. At the same time, the Kievan Rus had commercial and dynastic relations with northern, central and western European countries, and their princes belonged to the "family of European kings".

The Kiev Empire was a center of trade between the Baltic and Black Seas 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 Hansekontore (= branch of Hansa merchants abroad in the late Middle Ages). Orthodox culture (painting, literature, architecture) experienced a rapid boom with the Kiev Pechersk Lavra as its center. The Rus was a loose association of individual principalities under different branches of the ruling dynasty of the Ryurikids. At their head was the Kiev prince, other important principalities were Galicia-Volhynia in the west, Polotsk in the northwest and Vladimir-Suzdal in the northeast. In the first half of the 13th century, all of Rus was conquered by the Mongols and many cities were destroyed. Kiev fell in 1240.

The Kievan Rus comprised the most important areas of the present-day Ukraine, Russia and Belarus (Belarus), and its history is the founding myth of all three states. Ukrainian and Russian historiography vie for their legacy to this day. In the national-Ukrainian narrative, the reference to the early statehood of Kiev is of central importance, in Russia, on the other hand, the Empire of Kiev is considered to be the forerunner of the Moscow State and the Russian Empire. The controversy has flared up again in recent years, and recently even Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened.