Before Russian rule

The Ukrainians, like the Russians and Belarusians, are descendant of the East Slavic tribes. The first great state associated with these East Slavic tribes was the Kyiv-based principality of Rus, which lasted from the late 9th century to 1240, when the Mongols captured Kyiv. Both Russian and Ukrainian nationalists now claim Kyivan Rus as the oldest part of their national heritage, although there were no such people as “Russians” or “Ukrainians” at that time.

The word “Ukraine”

The word “Ukraine” came into use to denote the area roughly corresponding to present-day Ukraine in the late 16th century, when this area fell under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ukraine had the literal meaning of borderland, for that was how Russians, Poles, and Turks all perceived the area.

1648 - 1775

In 1648 Cossacks led by Bogdan Khmelnitsky set off a peasant uprising, which was accompanied by massacres of Poles and Jews. In 1649 Khmelnitsky entered Kyiv and proclaimed a new state. This state, the Hetmanate, may be regarded as the first independent Ukrainian state.

But a series of Cossack defeats by the Polish army forced Khmelnitsky to turn to Moscow for protection. In 1654 the Treaty of Pereyaslav united Ukraine with Russia. The Ukrainians interpreted the treaty as guaranteeing autonomy for Ukraine within the Russian Empire, but the Czars did not share this interpretation. Ukraine’s autonomy was whittled away and finally abolished in 1775.