Under Russian and Soviet rule

The Czarist government refused to recognize the Ukrainians as a nation distinct from the Russians, or Ukrainian as a language distinct from Russian. Russians were called "Great Russians," Ukrainians were referred to as "Little Russians," and Belarusians were known as "White Russians."

Mid-19th century

The mid-19th century witnessed a revival of Ukrainian culture and ethnic consciousness. The key figure in this revival was Taras Shevchenko, who came to be regarded as Ukraine’s national poet. The Czarist government responded in 1863 by banning the publication of books in the Ukrainian language. Shevchenko was exiled to Kazakhstan, where he was forbidden to write or draw.

At the same time, there was no discrimination against Ukrainians who did not insist on a separate identity. This continued to be true throughout the Soviet period.

Ukrainian Republic

In November 1917, following the Russian Revolution, an independent Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed in Kyiv. Although this Republic was to be a lasting source of inspiration to Ukrainian nationalists, it survived for only three months. A rival Soviet Ukrainian government was formed in Kharkiv, and in February 1918 the Red Army captured Kyiv. But then, in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Soviet Russia and Germany, Ukraine came under German occupation. A German puppet regime was established. The defeat of Germany by the Western allies in 1918 led to the Soviet recapture of Kyiv in February 1919 and the creation of the Ukrainian SSR.

Ukrainian SSR

During the 1920s the Soviet regime allowed Ukraine a measure of autonomy under the control of Ukrainian communists, who promoted the Ukrainian language and culture. In the 1930s Stalin reversed this policy. Many Ukrainian communists perished in the purges, and millions of peasants starved in the man-made famine of 1933, the result of forced collectivization and excessive grain requisitions. Ukrainians refer to this man-made famine as the Holodomor.

Western Ukraine.

Western Ukraine escaped Russian and Soviet rule until 1939. Up to 1914 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while between the wars most of it belonged to Poland (except for Transcarpathia, which belonged to Czechoslovakia, and another small area that belonged to Romania). This is why, even today, West Ukrainians are oriented more toward Central Europe than toward Russia.

In 1939, when Poland was dismembered following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, its west Ukrainian territories were absorbed by the Soviet Union. The USSR annexed the rest of western Ukraine in 1940 (from Romania) and 1946 (from Czechoslovakia). It took the Soviet authorities several years to suppress guerrilla resistance mounted in the newly Sovietized territories by nationalists.

World War II and after
Kiev in ruins during World War II. (Ukrainian SSR)

Kiev in ruins during World War II. (Ukrainian SSR)

Ukraine was devastated during the Second World War, with deaths in the millions. In the postwar period Ukraine underwent extensive industrialization. After Stalin’s death, greater scope was again allowed to Ukrainian culture, but the policy of Russification resumed in the 1970s.