Loosely translated and abridged by George Skoryk from “HISTORY OF UKRAINE” by Mykhaylo Hrushevs’kyi


During the Miocene Period in Tertiary Age of Cenozoic Era, some 12 million years ago, most of Ukraine was covered by sea. At the end of this period the seas receded to the approximately present day coasts of Black, Azov and Caspian seas to form one big sea. The climate was very hot and humid, lush vegetation covered the ground and there were all kinds of large animals and birds.

Then, during the Pliocene period, some 6 million years ago, the climate began to cool. Many plants and animals disappeared and only those, which could adapt to lower temperatures, such as fury mammoths and rhinoceroses, remained. Later the ground froze up and soon ice sheets covered most of the northern part of Ukraine. That was the Pleistocene Period in Quaternary Age of Cenozoic Era, about 1 million years ago,
Commonly known as the Ice Age.

When the ice retreated, life started to reappear. Traces of human habitation in Ukraine, dating back at least 30 thousand years, became evident during geological excavations. Primitive stone tools, carvings from mammoth tusks, arrow heads made from flint stone, earthenware, bronze tools and weapons and gold jewelry found in different layers of earth enabled geologists to
reconstruct the way of life of early man.

At first, during Old Stone Age (Paleolithic Age), humans did not have domestic animals, could not make utensils and relied exclusively on hunting and fishing. Then, gradually, during Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic Age) they began to make stone tools and weapons.

Later, during Late Stone Age (Neolithic Age), they began to make utensils from earth, kept domestic animals for milk and meat, constructed dwellings and cultivated the soil.

During the Bronze Age, about 3000 BC, and Iron Age, about 1000 BC, metal agricultural implements and weapons came into use; crafts and commerce began to develop.

From 7th century BC Greeks started to colonize the coast of the Black Sea. They traded wine, oil, and textiles, silver and gold wares and utensils with local tribes for grain and hides but they also engaged in slave trade. They introduced Greek Culture and many tribes adopted Greek customs and religion. The Greek historian Herodotus documented information about Ukraine of this period.

There were numerous tribes in Ukraine, some nomadic, some agricultural; most of the time at war with each other. The oldest known main inhabitants of Ukraine were Cimmerians. They were replaced in 5th century BC by Scythians, who ruled till 2nd century BC; Sarmatian tribes then replaced them. Later in 1st century AD the tribesmen of the dominant horde were called Alanis.

Sword and Scabbard with Boar’s Head, 4th century BCE

These tribes, mainly of Iranian origin, were conquered in 2nd century AD by German tribe called Goths from Baltic region. About 370 AD, the first Asian horde of Huns, on their way to western Europe, defeated and expelled Goths from Ukraine. They were followed in 5th-6th centuries by the Bulgars and Avars.

The exact origin of Slav people is unknown, but it can be assumed that they existed for a long time before they were mentioned in historical records by Romans in 1st century AD. A very strong Slav tribe called Wends developed in 4th century; their settlements extended from central Ukraine up to Baltic Sea. When in the 6th century they moved to Southwest Germany, Antes became the dominant tribe in Ukraine.

At different times they were fighting with and against Goths, Huns, Avars, Greeks and Slovyans. Although ruled by princes, they also had people’s councils and tribal elders.

According to legends, Kyiv was founded in the 5th century by three brothers Kiy, Shchek and Khoriv and their sister Lebid; later Kyiv was reigned by princes (or chieftains) Askold and Dyr.

At end of 7th century AD, Khazars established themselves on Caspian steppes, which somewhat shielded Ukraine from other Asian hordes. Also in the 7th century Greeks left Black Sea shores, thus causing a considerable gap in the documented history of Ukraine. Khazar control of the steppe was breached in the late 9th century by the Magyars, who later were replaced by Pechenegs and then by Polovetsians as dominant tribes


Loosely translated and abridged by George Skoryk from “HISTORY OF UKRAINE”

by Mykhaylo Hrushevs’kyi


Prince Olekh established the Kyivan State proper in 879. He conducted military expeditions to the shores of Caspian Sea and raided Byzantine cities. Prince Ehor followed him, in 912, who not only continued external raids but also had to fight insubordinate tribes of Ulitchs and Derevlans. He died during a battle with Derevlans in 945. His wife Olha revenged his death by brutal suppression of Derevlans. In 964 she became a Christian and established her son Svyatoslavon the throne.

Svyatoslav was an able and courageous prince; he fought Asian hordes in the East and conducted raids on Bulgaria. He divided his state between his sons, then continued with his expeditions and battles. When he died in 972 during battle with Pechenegs, his sons fought between themselves, often with help from their enemies.

In 980, Prince Volodymyr defeated all his brothers and unified the country into one powerful state with Kyiv as the capital. He adopted Christianity in 988 and started to convert the population, which had up to then, worshiped Pagan gods. Force was often used against those who resisted. He produced silver and gold coins with his portrait on one side and the trident on the reverse side (The trident is Coat of Arms of present day Ukraine).

In History he is known as Volodymyr the Great or Saint Volodymyr. During his reign, pillaging Pecheneg hordes defeated the Khazars, pushed out the Hungarian hordes from the southern steppes and became a menace to the state. Volodymyr started to fortify Kyiv against them. After his death in 1015, fighting and assassinations between his sons ensued, resulting in victory for prince Yaroslav in 1019.

Yaroslav the Great consolidated nearly whole of his father’s territory, defeated the Pechenegs and became one of the most powerful rulers in Europe. A church hierarchy was established, headed (at least since 1037) by the metropolitan of Kyiv, who was usually appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople. Yaroslav promoted family ties with other kingdoms, built many churches, improved Kyiv’s fortifications, introduced laws and established courts.

However, in the same way as his forefathers, he divided the country between his sons, who after his death in 1054, started to fight among themselves and divide their land between their sons. This resulted in a number of small principalities which not only fought each other, but also had to defend
themselves from marauding Turkish and Polovetsian hordes, who plundered the countryside.

In 1097 all princes agreed to stop fighting between themselves. In 1103 they united their forces under leadership of prince Monomakh (one of the grandsons of Yaroslav the Great) and defeated the Polovetsian hordes.
However, the constant warfare weakened the country’s economic strength and caused a near collapse of cultural and political system of Ukraine.

After death of Monomakh in 1125 Ukraine remained fragmented into the numerous principalities, each having their own customs and rules, with only
nominal allegiance to the Prince of Kyiv ( this position was occupied by sons of Monomakh on rotational basis). Gradually Kyiv lost it’s power and influence; many principalities separated. An outstanding chronicle of events was compiled in Old Church Slavonic language by Venerable Nestor in 1136.

In 1169 prince Andrey Bogolyubski conquered and destroyed Kyiv and established his capital in Vladimir near present site of Moscow, thus originating present Russian state.

The Ukrainian princes continued to struggle on against the Polovtsi.
One particular battle led by Prince Ehor in 1185 was enshrined in a poem
“Slovo o Polku Ehorevim” (The Tale of Ehor’s Regiment).

Western parts of Ukraine – Halych (Galicia) and Volynj (Volhynia)—free from Polovetsian raids, gradually emerged as leading principalities. Prince Roman ruled there in 1199. His sons succeeded in uniting both principalities into one rich and powerful state.

About year 1220, when a new horde of Mongols and Tatars invaded
Ukraine, the princes have reached some sort of accommodation with Polovtsi and fought together to expel this new horde. They succeeded at first but, toward the end of year 1240, Tatars returned and besieged Kyiv. On 16th December 1240 they conquered, plundered and ruined the city. Afterward they moved westward, plundering Halych, Poland and Hungary then in 1245 they returned and occupied eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Prince Danylo (son of Prince Roman) established himself in Halych and his brother Vasylko in Volynj. Together they managed to keep the Tatars away from their principalities. Danylo founded city Lviv in 1250 as a defense site against Tatars. In 1253 he accepted the royal crown from the pope and effected a short-lived church union with Rome.

After Danylo died in 1264, his sons continued to rule in peaceful coexistence with the Tatars. In 1303 they created a separate archbishopric office in Halych, responsible to Byzantine. Earlier, in 1299 Kyivan archbishopric seat was moved to Moscow.

The dominant prince was Danylo’s son Lev. He died about year 1300. His son Yuriy would again unite the Halych and Volynj principalities with Lviv as the capital. He was seen as a mighty and just ruler and the country was rich and peaceful under his rule.

After Yuriy, his two sons ruled until 1320. They both died without leaving male successors. This created an unstable situation and an internal power struggle ensued, which was exploited by neighboring countries—Poland, Hungary and Lithuania—in their efforts to occupy this part of Ukraine. Local boyars and People’s Councils tried to resist by accepting princes from other dynasties and countries and by forming alliances with the Lithuanians and even the Tatars, but to no avail. In 1349, Polish king Kazimyezh managed to occupy Halych and part of Volynj. About same time, Lithuanian princes intensified their takeover of eastern principalities of Ukraine. Finally about year 1360, the Prince of Kyiv was overthrown.

Ukraine was partitioned between Poland and Lithuania with Tatar Golden Horde remaining in some parts of southern steppes and the Crimea

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