The Ukraine is a beautiful country that is very rich history and culture. Legend says that Saint Andrew visited the land by the Dnipro River and envisioned a great Christian city being built there. Saint Andrew’s prophecy came true, and today that city is known as Kyiv.
Allow me to give you a brief history of the Ukraine and its people.
1. Kyivan Rus
For many years, various Slavic tribes roamed the area that is now modern-day Ukraine. Although we do not know the exact date, the tribes unified and formed the Slavic state of Kyivan Rus sometime in the ninth century. This state was the beginning of the Ukraine, which prospered because its capital, Kyiv was in the middle of the major trade routes. King Volodymyr the Great introduced Christianity to his people.
I believe that he invited Byzantine priests to baptize his subjects and initiated them to the Eastern rite of Christianity. His son Yaroslav the Wise built the Saint Sophia Cathedral and also instituted the first legal code. After Yaroslav died, his sons began dividing the kingdom, and the state of Kyivan Rus started to decline.
2. As a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Since there was no central ruler, the Ukraine was taken over by outsiders, and eventually it became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I believe that during this time, Ukrainians began to form their own identity and became united by their religion and language. The Polish were Roman Catholic and made laws that suppressed the Orthodox religion.
To counter these laws, Ukrainians officially became either Eastern Orthodox or Uniate Catholic under the Brest-Litovsk Agreement. This agreement subjected the Uniates to the Roman pope but allowed them to retain their own bishops and Slavic liturgy, which is still used in churches today.
During this time, some Ukrainians banded together to fight invading Turks, and to protect the peasants from Polish persecution. Known as Cossacks, these fighters proved to be a formidable means of resistance.
3. As a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Over time, Poland became divided and ceased to exist. The eastern part of the Ukraine was taken over by Russia, and the western side became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During this time, western Ukrainians enjoyed many freedoms, including religion, language and literature.
I believe that there was a revival of Ukrainian culture that had been kept dormant for so long. On the other hand, eastern Ukrainians were not so lucky. Under Russian rule, Ukrainians were encouraged to assimilate, and their language and culture was suppressed.
4. After World War I
Ukrainians enjoyed brief independence after World War I, but this ended with the rise of the Soviet Union. Under Josef Stalin, collective farms were established, and intellectuals were brutally suppressed. Stalin also ordered a false famine, known as the Holodmar, which was responsible for the deaths of millions of Ukrainians.
5. Independence (1991-present day)
I am happy to say that once again, Ukrainians have their own country. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine declared independence on August 24, 1991. The new government allows for religious and cultural freedom, as well as freedom of speech.
Although so many years of suppression have left Ukrainians a bit wary, I do not feel that their spirit was ever crushed. I firmly believe that Ukrainians are true survivors, and they are finally ready to take their place in today’s world.