Ukraine’s history spans thousands of years to prehistoric times and is full of vibrant culture, social and religious changes, and war. Ukraine is located in eastern Europe and is adjacent to Russia, Belarus, Poland, Romania, and Moldova. The country is populated by over 50 million people, and their economy relies heavily on agriculture. While its history could, and has, filled many books, this will be a brief look into a small slice of its history.


The further historians and archaeologists delve into history the less precise the past becomes due to a lack of written word and the survival of artifacts. Ukraine’s prehistory featured an abundance of migrations and settlements around the Black Sea and along the major trade networks near the Danube River and the gateway to central Asia. From the very beginning, the country’s fertile soils supported an agricultural culture, most notably the Trypillya culture of the mid-5th to 3rd centuries.

Later, both Greek and Roman settlements appeared and featured a period of notable trade across the continent. The downfall of the Roman empire brought about a period of mass migrations beginning with the Goth migration to the Ukrainian area circa 200C.E. The ruling powers were relatively short-lived as the Huns appeared to take control and subsequently the Bulgars, Turkish Khazar, and the Pechenegs. In the meantime, the Germanic tribes, most notably the Slavs, began migrating West across the entire territory known today as Ukraine.

Kievan Rus

While the origins of the name leave historians somewhat baffled today, the name comes from Viking and Slavic influence. The state appeared in the historical record in the 9th century and expanded rapidly over the next several decades. It was never fully unified and remained a loosely tied congregation of principalities ruled by a dynastic clan. Kiev (today’s capital) reached the height of its power under Volodymyr the Great and his son Volodymyr the Wise. During this time Christianity was adopted, and a church hierarchy was established. The incorporation of this new religion in the area led to a flourishing change in art, architecture, music, and literature. In the 12th century, the kingdom began to decline due to shifts in trade routes which disrupted the local economy. Ultimately, Kiev was sacked in 1240 by invading Mongol-Tatar forces.

External Rule

Towards the end of the Medieval Period in the 14th century, the Ukrainian territories were ruled by three different external powers, the Golden Horde, Lithuania, and the kingdom of Poland. With the influence of these different cultures acting as a catalyst, Ukraine as a whole underwent a drastic social change over the next few centuries. Orthodox religion was introduced. The growth of towns and urban trades, the emergence of the burgher social strata, and a large gap between the rich and poor characterized this time in the 17th century. It was also during this time that the Cossacks, a martial and large democratic society, appeared. They became known for their fierce defense of the area against foreign invasions, developing a strong sense of identity and frequently revolting against the governments.

In the late 18th century, Russia directly ruled and annexed several Ukrainian territories and managed to eliminate local distinctiveness. In other areas of the region, Polish rulers continued to exert their influence. Early in the 19th century, a Ukrainian national revival began to pick up steam with the assistance of literary works. In 1905, the Russian empire underwent a revolution and suffered worker strikes and peasant unrest. The resulting political climate led to more freedoms in Ukrainian national life such as the lifting of the ban on Ukrainian-language publications and the establishment of the Duma, which provided Ukrainians with a forum in which they could address their national concerns.

The late 18th century also saw Western Ukraine fall under the rule of the Habsburg monarchy. After the revolutions in the later part of the century, the Habsburgs relinquished control of parts of Ukrainian territory to the Polish.

World War I

The outbreak of the first world war, along with the hostilities between Austria-Hungary and Russia, resulted in many repercussions for their Ukrainian subjects. Their publications and cultural organizations were suppressed, prominent public figures were arrested or exiled, their language was prohibited in certain areas, and many institutions were closed. Immediately following the Bolshevik coup in 1917, Ukrainian-Russian relations deteriorated even further.

In 1918, the Ukrainian leaders in the western territories started to assemble and declared the formation of a state, which led to a dispute with Poland over land. In the aftermath of World War I, Ukrainian territories were divided among four states, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the USSR.

World War II

In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and the Polish-controlled areas of Ukraine. However, a large portion of Ukraine was controlled by the U.S.S.R. which led to the Sovietization of the area. The German invasion into the area was welcomed at first until Ukrainian political organizations were sent to concentration camps or dismantled and the Nazi racial policies were implemented. In 1943, after a significant defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Germans began their retreat towards western Europe. Ukraine was left devastated physically and economically. The mourned the deaths of five to seven million people, the destruction of 700 cities and 28,000 villages, the homelessness of 10 million people and the loss of 80% of their industrial enterprises.

Post-War & Independence

In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union reinstated their totalitarian rule throughout their territories. Economic reconstruction began immediately but took many years to recover. By 1950, Ukraine’s industrial output recovered and exceeded the pre-war levels; however, the agricultural industry took another decade to fully regroup.

In the following decades, Ukraine was governed by many different Russian or pro-Russian forces and continued to suffer censorship for any nationalist movements. In 1991, the population of Ukraine voted for independence. The outcome was overwhelmingly pro-independence (90%) and over 84% of the eligible voters turned out. One week after the independence referendum, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus met to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States.