Soviet Union Table of Contents
Since the establishment of the Soviet Union, the most dominant group of people numerically, politically, culturally, and economically have been the Slavs, particularly the East Slavs. Although little is known of the early history of the Slavs, they had by the seventh century A.D. divided into three distinguishable groups: the West Slavs, ancestors of the Poles, the Czechs, and the Slovaks; the South Slavs, ancestors of the Bulgarians, the Serbs, and the Croatians; and the East Slavs, ancestors of the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Belorussians. The East Slavic tribes settled along the Dnepr River in the present-day Ukrainian Republic in the first centuries after the birth of Christ and from there spread northward and eastward. In the ninth century, these tribes became part of the foundation of Kievan Rus', the medieval state of the East Slavs ruled by a Varangian dynasty (see The East Slavs and the Varangians , ch. 1).
The East Slavs enhanced this political union in the tenth century when they adopted Christianity as the state religion of Kievan Rus'. Nevertheless, tribal and regional differences persisted and became more marked as the realm of Kievan Rus' expanded. To the northwest, East Slavic tribes mixed with the local Baltic tribes, while in the north and northeast they mixed with the indigenous Finno-Ugric tribes. By the time Kievan Rus' began to disintegrate into a number of independent principalities in the twelfth century, the East Slavs were evolving into three separate people linguistically and culturally: Russians to the north and northeast of Kiev, Belorussians to the northwest of Kiev, and Ukrainians around Kiev itself and to the south and southwest of Kiev. This process of ethnic differentiation and consolidation was accelerated by the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus' and its collapse as a political entity in the thirteenth century. For several centuries, the three East Slavic nationalities remained related culturally, linguistically, and to a great extent religiously. Nevertheless, each of them has been influenced by different political, economic, religious, and social developments, further separating them from each other (see The Rise of Regional Centers , ch. 1).
Data as of May 1989