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Ukrainians trace their ancestry to the East Slavic tribes that inhabited the present-day Ukrainian Republic in the first centuries after the birth of Christ and were part of the state of Kievan Rus' formed in the ninth century. For a century after the breakup of Kievan Rus', the independent principalities of Galicia and Volhynia served as Ukrainian political and cultural centers. In the fourteenth century, Galicia was absorbed by Poland, and Volhynia, together with Kiev, became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569 Volhynia and Kiev also came under Polish rule, an event that significantly affected Ukrainian society, culture, language, and religion. Ukrainian peasants, except for those who fled to join the cossacks (see Glossary) in the frontier regions southeast of Poland, were enserfed. Many Ukrainian nobles were Polonized.
The continuous oppression of the Ukrainian people by the Polish nobility led to a series of popular insurrections, culminating in 1648, when Ukrainian Cossacks joined in a national uprising. Intermittent wars with Poland forced the Ukrainian Cossacks to place Ukraine under the protection of the Muscovite tsar. A prolonged war between Muscovy and Poland followed, ending in 1667 with a treaty that split Ukraine along the Dnepr River. Ukrainian territory on the right (generally western) bank of the Dnepr remained under Poland, while Ukrainian territory on the left (generally eastern) bank was placed under the suzerainty of the Muscovite tsar. Although both segments of Ukraine were granted autonomous status, Muscovy and Poland followed policies to weaken Ukrainian autonomy. A number of uprisings by Ukrainian peasantry led to the crushing of the remainder of Ukrainian autonomy in Poland (see Expansion and Westernization , ch. 1). Ukrainian selfrule under the tsar ended after Mazepa, the Ukrainian hetman (leader), defected to the Swedish side during the war between Russia and Sweden at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1775 Catherine the Great dispersed the Ukrainian Cossacks and enserfed those Ukrainian peasants who had remained free. The partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century placed most of the Ukrainian territory on the right bank of the Dnepr River under Russian rule. The westernmost part of Ukraine (known as western Ukraine) was incorporated into the Austrian Empire.
The resurgence of Ukrainian national consciousness in the nineteenth century was fostered by a renewed interest among intellectuals in Ukrainian history, culture, and language and the founding of many scholarly, cultural, and social societies. The Russian government responded by harassing, imprisoning, and exiling leading Ukrainian intellectuals. Ukrainian academic and social societies were disbanded. Publications, plays, and concerts in Ukrainian were forbidden. Finally, the existence of a Ukrainian language and nationality was officially denied. Nevertheless, a Ukrainian national movement in the Russian Empire persisted, spurred partially by developments in western Ukraine, where Ukrainians in the more liberal Austrian Empire had far greater freedom to develop their culture and language.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Ukrainians in both empires proclaimed their independence and established national republics. In 1919 the two republics united into one Ukrainian national state. This unification, however, could not withstand the aggression of both the Red and White Russian forces and the hostile Polish forces in western Ukraine. Ukraine again was partitioned, with western Ukraine incorporated into the new Polish state and the rest of Ukraine established as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in March 1919, which was later incorporated into the Soviet Union when it was formed in December 1922.
In the decade of the 1920s, the Ukrainian Republic experienced a period of Ukrainization. Ukrainian communists enjoyed a great deal of autonomy in running the republic, and Ukrainian culture and language dominated. Stalin's rise to power, however, halted the process of Ukrainization. Consequently, Ukrainian intellectual and cultural elites were either executed or deported, and leading Ukrainian party leaders were replaced by non-Ukrainians. The peasantry was forcibly collectivized, leading to a mass famine in 1932-33 in which several million peasants starved to death. Pointing to the fact that grain was forcibly requisitioned from the peasantry despite the protests of the Soviet government in the Ukrainian Republic, some historians believe that Stalin knowingly brought about the famine to stop national ferment in the Ukrainian Republic and break the peasants' resistance to collectivization. When western Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union following the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939, the population suffered terror and mass deportations.
When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Ukrainians anticipated establishing an independent Ukraine. As the Red Army retreated eastward, Ukrainian nationalists proclaimed an independent state, but the invading Germans arrested and interned its leaders. Ukrainian nationalist forces consequently began a resistance movement against both the occupying Germans and the Soviet partisans operating in the Ukrainian Republic. When the Red Army drove the Germans out of the Ukrainian Republic, Ukrainian partisans turned their struggle (which continued until 1950) against the Soviet army (the name changed from Red Army just after the war) and Polish communist forces in western Ukraine. The Soviet regime deported Ukrainian intelligentsia to Siberia and imported Russians into the Ukrainian Republic as part of their pacification and Russification (see Glossary) efforts.
The vast majority of Ukrainians, the second largest nationality in the Soviet Union with about 44 million people in 1989, lived in the Ukrainian Republic. Substantial numbers of Ukrainians also lived in the Russian, Kazakh, and Moldavian republics. Many nonUkrainians lived in the Ukrainian Republic, where the Russians, with over 11 million, constituted the largest group.
Ukrainians have a distinctive language, culture, and history. In 1989, despite strong Russifying influence, about 81.1 percent of Ukrainians residing in their own republic claimed Ukrainian as their first language.
By the 1980s, the majority of Ukrainians, once predominantly agrarian, lived in cities. The major Ukrainian cities in 1989 were Kiev, the capital of the Ukrainian Republic, with a population of 2.6 million, and Khar'kov, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, and Donetsk, all with over 1 million people.
Although Ukrainians constituted about 15 percent of the Soviet Union's population in 1989, their educational and employment opportunities appeared unequal to their share of the population. In the 1970s, they ranked only eleventh out of seventeen major nationalities (the nationalities corresponding to the fifteen union republics plus Jews and Tatars) in the number of students in secondary and higher education and ninth in the number of scientific workers in proportion to their share of the total population. Since the death of Stalin in 1953, the number of Ukrainians in the CPSU has steadily increased. Nevertheless, Ukrainians remained underrepresented in the party relative to their share of the population. This was particularly true in the Ukrainian Republic, where in the 1970s the Ukrainian proportion of party membership was substantially below their proportion of the population. The percentage of Russians in the CPSU in the Ukrainian Republic, however, was considerably higher than their share of the republic's population. Although in the past Ukrainians had held a disproportionately high percentage of seats on the CPSU Central Committee, since 1961 their share of membership in this body has steadily declined to 13 percent of the seats in 1986.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents