The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation

The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation

by Andrew Wilson

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The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation by Andrew Wilson

As in many postcommunist states, politics in Ukraine revolves around the issue of national identity. Ukrainian nationalists see themselves as one of the world's oldest and most civilized peoples, as "older brothers" to the younger Russian culture. Yet Ukraine became independent only in 1991, and Ukrainians often feel like a minority in their own country, where Russian is still the main language heard on the streets of the capital, Kiev. This book is a comprehensive guide to modern Ukraine and to the versions of its past propagated by both Russians and Ukrainians. Andrew Wilson provides the most acute, informed, and up-to-date account available of the Ukrainians and their country.

Concentrating on the complex relation between Ukraine and Russia, the book begins with the myth of common origin in the early medieval era, then looks closely at the Ukrainian experience under the tsars and Soviets, the experience of minorities in the country, and the path to independence in 1991. Wilson also considers the history of Ukraine since 1991 and the continuing disputes over identity, culture, and religion. He examines the economic collapse under the first president, Leonid Kravchuk, and the attempts at recovery under his successor, Leonid Kuchma. Wilson explores the conflicts in Ukrainian society between the country's Eurasian roots and its Western aspirations, as well as the significance of the presidential election of November 1999.

About the Author:
Andrew Wilson is lecturer in Ukrainian studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300083552
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/11/2000
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.53(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.32(d)

About the Author

Andrew Wilson is reader in Ukrainian studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College, London.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Contesting National Origins:

Lays of Ancient Rus

So let us begin, brothers,
this tale —
from Volodymyr of yore
to nowadays Ihor,
who girded his mind
with fortitude,
and sharpened his heart
with manliness;
imbued with the spirit of arms,
he led his brave troops
against the land of the Polovtsians
in the name of the land of Rus.

The Lay of Ihor's Host (1187)

The 'land of Rus' that Prince Ihor of Chernihiv set out to defend in 1185 was the early medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus, the dominant power in Eastern Europe between the ninth and thirteenth centuries AD. Its territory covered most of modern-day western and central Ukraine, nearly all of modern Belarus and the western parts of what is now Russia (see the map on page xx). The Lay of Ihor's Host is the great narrative epic of the period, the equivalent of Beowulf for the Anglo-Saxons or Táin Bó Cuailnge for the Celts. It depicts Ihor's heroic campaign against the Polovtsians, a pagan tribe from the eastern steppes who were a constant thorn in the side of the Rus. Unfortunately, Rus was already in decline by 1185 and Ihor's campaign ended in spectacular defeat. The Lay of Ihor's Host is therefore more of a lament than a celebration.

    The poem was supposedly written immediately after the event, but disappeared until its rediscovery in the 1790s by a certain Count Musin-Pushkin, a collector of antiquities in the service of Catherine the Great. The originalcopy was destroyed along with Musin-Pushkin's house during the great Moscow fire that preceded Napoleon's occupation in 1812, leading some to cast doubt on the saga's authenticity — especially as it seemed to evoke rather than merely describe a sense of Rus patriotism, thereby fitting rather too conveniently the tsarist ideology of the time. However, the discovery in 1852 of another (fourteenth-century) chronicle, the Zadonshchina, which drew much of its inspiration and material from The Lay of Ihor's Host, has led most experts to accept the latter was genuine.

    On the other hand, there is little agreement as to who the Rus actually were. Linguistic imprecision and, unfortunately, Russocentrism has too often led to the assumption that the 'Rus' were simply early medieval 'Russians'. Many translations of The Lay of Ihor's Host, including the 1961 version by Vladimir Nabokov from which the above quotation is adapted, rendered the 'land of Rus' (Ruskaia zemlia) as 'the Russian land'. Tsarist and Soviet historians, and many of their Western rivals, have too often abused the idea of east Slavic common origin in an 'ancient Rus nation' to deny Ukrainians (and Belarusians) any separate identity at all. Ukrainian historians, on the other hand, have tended to argue that the Russians and Ukrainians, or at least their ancestors, have always pursued separate historical paths. Two distinct Ukrainian views exist: either Rus was only ever a loose agglomeration of peoples; or the opposite — Rus was a relatively united early Ukrainian state, dubbed Ukraine-Rus, from which the Russian nation emerged as a later offshoot.

    It is also possible to argue that all the eastern Slavs (Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians) are descended from the Rus, a once-united people amongst whom fundamental differences emerged after the time of Prince Ihor. In this case, the fact that a common identity may have existed in the twelfth century is not at all the same thing as saying that Ukrainians and Belarusians are just 'Russians' today. 'Rus' was what came before all three, at a time when collective identities were extremely loose and modern 'nations' as such did not really exist.

    Why does any of this matter? Russians are still brought up on the idea of a single ancient Rus/Russian nation and still have great difficulty adjusting to the idea not just of a separate Ukrainian state, but of the Ukrainians' separate origin as a people. Ukrainian historians have often swung to the opposite extreme and, by claiming the unity of Rus as their own (Rus was a Kieran and therefore a Ukrainian state), have sought to deny the Russians their traditional theory of national origin. Or they have rewritten the history of Rus as one of ethnic conflict between the three east Slavic nations already formed — the first stage in a more or less permanent struggle that has continued ever since. Neither approach is capable of explaining subsequent history. The former cannot comprehend why Ukrainians have ever pursued a path of separate development, the latter cannot do justice to Ukraine's long history of partnership and cooperation with Russia. Simply put, the origins of many current arguments lie in perceptions of the past. We therefore begin our story with Rus, as an investigation into the origins of the Ukrainian nation and of Ukrainian identity.

Theories of Unity

The Lay of Ihor's Host seems to support the views of those historians who regard the Rus as a single people. First and foremost, 'the Rus' are referred to throughout as a single entity (although in other sources there are references to travelling, for example, from Novgorod in the north 'to Rus' in the south — that is, to the heartlands around Kiev). This common name for the previously separate and individually named east Slavic tribes can be found as early as the 860s in local chronicles and in documents recording negotiations with foreign powers, such as those with Byzantium in 911 and 944.

    Second, the willingness of the Rus to fight against common enemies such as the Polovtsians (also known as the Cumans) indicates that internal differences could be subsumed and that the main line between 'us' and 'them' lay on the outside. The Lay of Ihor's Host describes how Ihor assembled his army from all over Rus; from Kiev and Pereiaslav in the south, from Halych in the west and from Smolensk in the north. The chronicle records how Ihor's departure was celebrated throughout the land:

steeds neigh beyond the Sula glory rings in Kiev trumpets blare in Novgorod banners are raised in Putivl.

The description of the consequences of Ihor's defeat leaves little doubt as to the perceived difference between the Rus 'we' and the Polovtsian 'they', nor as to the fact that the relationship was (at least then) fairly antagonistic. After the key battle

in the field unknown, midst the Polovtsian land, the black sod under hooves was sown with bones and irrigated with gore.

Although the princes of Rus fought each other on occasion — especially after central authority grew weaker in the wake of the death of the last great princes of Rus, Volodymyr Monomakh (1125) and his son Mstyslav (1132) — they tended to fight over the entire patrimony of the state, so long as Kiev remained its most prosperous part (by the time a failed attempt was made to establish a capital at Vladimir in the late twelfth century, Kiev was losing this preeminence). The system of political succession, whereby princes were rotated amongst the provinces, was designed to prevent hereditary lines and closed fiefdoms forming in (most of) the principalities, although in practice it had an unfortunate tendency to encourage fratricidal competition amongst the princes. However, Volodymyr Monomakh's powerful warning to his children in his Testament (1117) regarding the dangers of internecine strife showed that the idea of Rus as a united patrimony remained strong.

    The lack of natural internal borders in Rus facilitated the movement of people and the dissemination of homogenising cultural influences, although the sheer size of its territory somewhat limited this effect. The river Dnieper, then the main East European trade route 'from the Varangians [Scandinavia] to the Greeks', was the central geopolitical fact in Rus and the key image in foreign and domestic representations of its inhabitants. 'This great waterway', one Russian historian has argued, 'was able to overrule all the local centres of crystallisation and to unite the various Slavonic tribes ... into a single state'. It also contributed to the view of the Rus as a single trading nation adopted by outsiders who were less familiar with the Dnieper's hinterlands.

    The Lay of Ihor's Host makes clear that, although Ihor's army may have had mercenary motives —

With their vermilion shields the sons of Rus have barred the great steppe seeking for themselves honour and for their prince glory —

they nonetheless saw themselves as

princes and knights fighting for the Christians against the pagan troops.

The Christianity brought to Rus from Byzantium in 988AD was a powerful unifying factor, both in itself and because it provided a more monolithic official ideology that helped to underpin princely authority. Indeed, this may have been Volodymyr the Great's (ruled 980-1015) primary motive in accepting the new faith. Before 988 he had been an equally enthusiastic promoter of the cult of the pagan god Perun as a means of uniting his diverse realm. Unquestionably, however, Rus became a more unified entity after the Baptism in 988 as the culture that was spawned by Christianity spread throughout the land. The new religion also created a new style of public space. The architecture of churches in more northerly towns such as Vladimir and Novgorod echoed those in Kiev, usually on the model of the Cathedral of the Assumption (built 1073-84) in the Pechersk monastery complex, which was itself based on Constantinople originals. The Assumption was dynamited by retreating Soviet troops in 1941, most probably in the hope of engulfing visiting German dignitaries; rebuilding began in 1998.) Churches were in the Middle Byzantine rather than the Western Gothic style, with a central turriform structure topped by golden cross-domes and a main tower with a circle of windows at its base, supported by tall apses over a compact, centripetal core, usually in the shape of a cross. Internal decoration was similarly elaborate, with painted walls, rich mosaics and ornate iconostases separating the (standing) congregation in the knave from the sanctuary, the privileged domain of the priests.

    This common style can be seen in the illustrations (see page xx) of St Sofiia's in Novgorod, the Dmitrievskii church in Vladimir and the church of SS Borys and Hlib in Chernihiv. As the Assumption was demolished by the Soviets and the earlier church of the Tithes by the Mongols, the closest example of the type still standing in Kiev is probably St Cyril's (1146). In a similar but more compact style is the Pyrohoshcha church of the Virgin, built in Kiev's lower town of Podil in 1135, destroyed in 1935 and carefully restored in the original style in 1998. Kiev's main church, St Sofiia's, was built by Yaroslav the Wise (ruled 1019-54) in 1037-44. Its original five apses and 13 cupolas (symbolising Christ and the 12 apostles) were first arranged in a flatter domed style more obviously derived from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, before later Baroque additions gave the church its current appearance (see also pages xxx-x).

    A common liturgy was used in all the new churches, and by the thirteenth century the simplified Christian canon of saints and apostles had (largely) displaced the many and varied gods of the pre-Christian era. The adoption of local saints such as Borys and Hlib, and the veneration of Volodymyr himself as the 'founder-saint' of Rus, as with Arthur of England or Clovis of France, further strengthened the unity of the local version of Christianity. The preeminent symbol of the new religion, the icon, introduced another new constant into the life of Rus. Icon-painting and mosaic work supposedly demonstrated a common local style developed from Byzantium, with at least those icons produced in Novgorod (if less so those in Vladimir) following the Kievan style. The twelfth-century Annunciation of Ustiuh and the Angel with the Golden Hair (see page xx) were probably produced in Novgorod, although the fact that some authors have attributed one or the other to Kiev indicates that definitive judgment is difficult and emphasises the point about the diffusion of a common style. The golden braid on the head of the angel and on the figure of Gabriel on the left of the Annunciation is one possible indication of an incipient local 'school'.

    The advocates of a relatively united Rus have also argued that its inhabitants probably spoke a common language of sorts. As written sources are thin on the ground no definitive judgment can be made, but constant commercial and military intercourse and the fact that rival princes attended one another's courts and assemblies without the need for translators is taken as evidence of a common tongue. Moreover, it has been claimed, books 'circulated widely, from Halych to Suzdal'. One source asserts somewhat implausibly that there were 140,000 books in circulation by the end of the eleventh century — if true, certainly a literary tradition well in advance of states such as Poland. One eleventh-century text refers to the Rus as a people 'feasted to fulfillment on the sweetness of books'. The chronicles themselves, constantly retold and rewritten, were a powerful unifying force, both symbolically and linguistically, although, as indicated above, they were no doubt themselves in advance of cultural developments on the ground, promoting as much as reflecting the idea of Rus cultural unity.

    Admittedly, 'the literary language was a little elevated over the popular, but this is a common occurrence for all languages'; prince could communicate with prince, armies could operate a common chain of command and the lower orders could understand their priests. On the other hand, the liturgical language was actually Church Slavonic. Although this 'was close to the literary language of Rus', the literate high culture of Rus was therefore not exclusively local and was shared with fellow Slavs in neighbouring states such as Bulgaria and Moravia. Rus was also something of a diglossia. Communication on an elite level may have been possible, but differences at the level of local popular dialect were probably considerable.

    The Rus also had a common system of customary law, codified in the eleventh-century 'Law of Rus' (Ruska Pravda). The large number of exact copies suggest it was in wide use. The code was notable for its relative humanity, with fines more common than capital or corporal punishment. Women also received surprisingly equitable treatment, at least in terms of tort and family law, if not of inheritance. On the other hand, there was very little in the way of administrative structure to implement this law: Rus was not a modern state and in this respect was less developed than the Carolingian or Holy Roman empire in the West.

    In other words, the Rus possessed substantial attributes of ethnic unity — a common name, common enemies, a sense of territorial unity and elements of a common culture, although how much of this extended beyond the elite to the lower orders is hard to tell. The Rus were not a modern 'nation', but they were not too dissimilar to the 'English' or 'French' of the twelfth century. Like the Angles and Saxons, Aquitainians and Burgundians, they often quarrelled amongst themselves and made occasional deals with outsiders and heathens. Prince Oleh Sviatoslavych (c1050-1115) sought the help of the Polovtsians to recover his throne at Chernihiv in 1078; several notables defected before the 1223 Battle of Kalka: but this was normally a result of personal ambition or outsiders' deeper pockets. A crusade was always likely to raise more troops than a vendetta.

Theories of Difference

This picture of relative unity is disputed by many Ukrainian and Belarusian historians, for whom Rus was no more than a 'union of monarchs', a loose collection of warring principalities, a federal entity at best. The nineteenth-century Ukrainian historian Mykola Kostomarov (1817-85) identified seven separate peoples among its inhabitants. In addition to the Ukrainians or 'Southern Rus', the 'Great Russians', and the Belarusians or 'White Rus', there were the inhabitants of the city-states of Siver, Pskov and Novgorod. The name of 'Rus' was sometimes applied to the collective east Slavic whole, but it also had a narrower meaning, referring only to the southern heartland, around Kiev, Chernihiv and Pereiaslav. Byzantine emperors such as Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (ruled 913-20 and 944-59) referred in a similar fashion to 'Internal' and 'External' Rus. The ninth-century Arab writer Al-Jayhani listed three groups of Rus: the Kuiavii, the Slavii and the Artanii (see pages xxx-x).

    Kostomarov also stressed the factors that brought these disparate peoples together (the fruitful marriage of the southern love of liberty with the northerns' 'state-building' preference for autocracy), but other Ukrainian historians have depicted the various subgroups as more or less constantly at war. Particular attention is paid to the supposed north-south conflict, which in 1169 led to the sack of Kiev by armies loyal to Andrei Bogoliubskii, Prince of Vladimir (ruled 1157-75), the main principality in the north-east. According to one account:

They plundered the whole town for two days — Podil and the hills, the monasteries, St Sofiia's, the Virgin of the Tithes. No one was shown mercy by anyone, churches were burnt, Christians were slaughtered, and others taken prisoner, women led into captivity, forcibly separated from their husbands, children wept looking at their mothers. The plunderers took countless booty, churches were stripped of icons and books and vestments, and bells were all taken down and ... all things sacred were carried away.

Others have argued that such attacks were fairly common occurrences. Prince Riuryk Rostyslavych and the princes of nearby Chernihiv sacked the main Kievan monastery complex at Pechersk in 1203. The Ukrainian historian Petro Tolochko has pointed out that Bogoliubskii's armies were assembled from all points of the compass, so their 'destruction' of Kiev, which in any case was only partial, could not be considered an act of one part of Rus against another. The long-running feud between the princes of Kiev and those of nearby Chernihiv was as deadly as any between north and south.

    Belarusian historians have also sought to deconstruct the idea of a single Rus state. Unable to claim Kievan Rus as their own and anxious to play up the autonomy of their own north-western region — the 'city-state' of Polatsk — they have attacked the notion that Kievan Rus was ever a truly unified entity. 'The name — Kievan Rus', they claim, 'is not to be found in any of the chronicles. Secondly, this "state" was a patchwork, not long-lasting, united [only] by armed force.' Rus was 'a loose union of principalities, which only ever achieved a form of union in the 70 years between Volodymyr the Great and Yaroslav the Wise.' The idea that Rus was only a confederation of city-states, 'a union of unions', with a monarch of limited authority and administrative capacity balanced by the power of local assemblies (veche) and militias (druzhina), even began to creep into Russian historiography in the late Soviet period, particularly in the writings of Igor Froianov.

    However, for Ukrainian historians such as Volodymyr Antonovych (1834-1908), Mykhailo Hrushevskyi (1866-1934) and modern successors such as Yaroslav Dashkevych, the difference between the various city-states was caused by more than mere geography or local dynastic loyalties. There was already an ethnic difference, at least between the lands around Kiev and those around Vladimir-Suzdal. Hrushevskyi dated the difference to the emergence of the Antes tribal federation in the fourth century AD, others have gone as far back as the Bronze Age. Chapter two discusses these theories. Others have accepted that a relatively united east Slavic mass existed until the seventh century AD, when it divided into early Ukrainian tribes (the Polianians, the Volhynians) and their Belarusian (the Krivichians and Drehovichians) and Russian equivalents (the Viatychians and Slovenians). Furthermore, the 'Russian' group mixed with local Finno-Ugric elements and the 'Belarusian' group with local Balts to increase these embryonic differences, while the Ukrainians had a strong tradition of Iranian and Ural-Altai influence. Some Ukrainians have even argued that the Russians are not proper Slavs at all, but a bastard mixture of Finnic and Mongol elements. Vladimir-Suzdal, the basis of 'future Russia', is therefore depicted as a highly marginal outpost of Rus, a frontier melting pot of all sorts of ethnic elements, including Bulgarians and Volga Tatars.

    In one favourite passage from the main Rus chronicle, The Tale of Bygone Years (also known as the Primary Chronicle), several versions of which exist from the eleventh century and after, the behaviour of the civilised Polianians is contrasted with that of the tribes to the north, particularly the Derevlianians, who

existed in bestial fashion, and lived like cattle. They killed one another, ate every impure thing, and there was no marriage among them, but instead they seized upon maidens by capture. The Radmichians, Viatychians and Severians had the same customs ... They spoke obscenely before their fathers and their daughters-in-law. There were no marriages among them, but simply festivals among the villages. When the people gathered together for games, for dancing, and for all other devilish amusements, the men on these occasions carried off wives for themselves ... [for] they did not know the law of God, but made a law unto themselves.

Whereas settled agriculture and even manufacture had long been practised in the south, life in the north was supposedly barbaric, peripatetic and short (see pages xxx-x). It is even claimed that the north-east was barely occupied in this period, or at least was beyond the reach of civilisation. Viking chronicles, for example, refer constantly to Kiev, 'the best realm in all Rus', Polatsk, Novgorod, Perm and Smolensk, the area known collectively as Gårdarike, or 'Greater Sweden', the 'World of the Gods' as opposed to the 'World of Men', but, like the geographer Ptolemy, the Vikings thought this world ended at the river Don (then known as the Tanais), and the north-east in general was off the edge of their known world. The rise of the principality of Vladimir came relatively late, in the twelfth century, when Rus was already in decline. The Ukrainian geographer Stepan Rudnytskyi (see pages xxx-xx), claimed that the 'wide [forest] zone, difficult of passage, separat[ed] the East Slavic tribes of the south from those of the north and west ... the centers in which the Muscovite nation later developed bore the name of Salissye (land behind the forest).'

    The eleventh-century Yngvar Saga (written in the thirteenth) places the north-east firmly in the land of magic rather than the land of civilisation. The hero ventures on a journey to find the source of the greatest of 'the three rivers flowing through Rus from the east' and encounters rampant paganism, giants, a flying dragon known as the Jakulus, 'unpleasant pirates' and troll-women who attempt to seduce Yngvar's men with 'devilish witchcraft'. To protect his men from this particular 'heathen practice', the saga records, Yngvar grew 'so enraged, he drew out a knife and stabbed [the leading troll] in the private parts.' In another incident, Yngvar's men kill a giant with footprints 'eight feet long', 'with a large number of men dangling from his belt', 'so fearsome and ugly they thought it must be the Devil himself'. The giant's severed leg comes in useful further upriver, when the Vikings need a bait to lure another dragon away from the cave where he guards a glittering hoard of gold so vast that they had to use 'their axes to hack off a piece that alone was worth a fortune'.

    Many Ukrainian historians, such as Dmytro Doroshenko (1882-1951), have therefore sought to displace the Russians or their ancestors from the picture altogether, arguing that the Russian nation only began to develop after Andrei Bogoliubskii severed ties with Kiev in the late twelfth century. 'Ukraine-Rus', as they term it, was relatively unified before that date, but was simply an old Ukrainian state. 'Difference' was not so much within Rus but between the Ukrainians and the Russians, who developed outside or after Rus. (Some Ukrainians have argued that Novgorod in the north, unlike Vladimir in the north-east, was culturally close to Kiev until it was sacked by Moscow in 1478; it has even been claimed that Novgorod established Kiev, rather than vice versa, although how this fits with the idea of a distinctive southern ethnicity and geography is hard to grasp.)


These differences between north and south can allegedly be seen in all aspects of life, most importantly in language and religion, then the main manifestations of cultural difference. According to Ivan Yushchuk, a leading member of the Prosvita Ukrainian language society:

The Russian language as such began to form on the territory of modern Russia from the eleventh century onwards, as a result of the [relatively late] colonisation of these lands by the Kievan Rus. Rus boyars ... and militia [druzhyna], ruling over local Finno-Ugric tribes (Chud, Meria, Ves, Muroma, Mordva, Perm, Pechora and so on), brought there their own mixture of Church Slavonic and Rus: just as, for example, also happened with the formation of the English and French languages, that is as a result of the mixing of the language of the conquerors with local dialects.

In Kievan Rus the dominant language until the adoption of Christianity was the Rus language, which, as many facts demonstrate, sounded closer to the modern Ukrainian language and already possessed the majority of its grammatical and phonetic characteristics.

'Old Ukrainian' only gradually became a 'peasant language' because the ruling Rus elite adopted Church Slavonic after 988 and drifted away from their original traditions. Most scholars, however, would not accept the equation of the Rus and 'Old Ukrainian' languages. The three modern east Slavic tongues only began to form as separate entities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, that is once the Rus themselves had been politically divided.

    Ukrainian historians have also tried, with somewhat more success, to undermine the idea of a unified Rus Church. The first step in their argument is to deny that the Kievan Church was a creature of Byzantium. From the time of the Baptism, claims one author, 'the attempts of Byzantium to influence Rus politics through the Church met with resistance', in part because of the strong local traditions that had already developed before 988 (see pages xx-x). 'Volodymyr sought to be subordinate neither to the Constantinople patriarchate, nor to the Roman curia, but to continue the process begun in Moravia by Cyril and Methodius of building a Slavic version of Christianity.' According to Yevhen Sverstiuk, editor of the main Ukrainian Orthodox paper, Nasha Vira ('Our Faith'), 'there were no great barriers between Rus and Rome or Rus and Byzantium because Rus had few links with either.' Rus and Byzantium were after all at war between 1043 and 1046, and it has been argued that the 'uncanonical' baptism of the inhabitants of Kiev in the river Dnieper is evidence that no Byzantine envoys were present.

    Second, it is argued that in the three centuries after the Baptism there was a constant struggle between the 'patriotic-evangelical' and 'messianic-Caesaropapist' wings of the Rus Church. Instead of an argument between Rus and Byzantium, this opposition is presented as a further manifestation of north-south division, as it is argued that hierarchs from the north tended to support the Byzantine, that is 'Caesaropapist', position against the Kieran 'patriots'. The latter were supposedly closer to the Greek aspects of Byzantine culture and the northerners to the Roman (sic). Whereas the southern Rus supported a 'theological rationalism [that] opposed itself to Byzantium's aggressive attitude to ancient philosophy, to philosophy and reason in general [and] to its tendency to irrationalism', the latter 'became the characteristic feature of Muscovite Orthodoxy'. 'The Kievan Church', on the other hand, was characterised by 'Christian universalism, tolerance towards different religious centres ... an authentic early Christian orientation, patriotism, evangelism and Paulism', so that 'the cross-pollinated fruit of the Eastern variant of Christianity with the Western on the basis of pre-Christian Slavic culture' created 'a tolerant open relationship to East and West'.

    This nationalisation of the Church and its embryonic 'Kievan ecumenism' can supposedly be seen in the key text of the period, the Sermon on Law and Grace written by Ilarion, the first native Rus metropolitan to head the local Church (probably served 1051-4). In the Sermon, Ilarion argues that all (Gentile) nations and Churches are equal in the sight of God, thus being by implication even-handed towards Rome and Byzantium ('the Jews' justification was grudging and jealous for Judea alone, not extending to the nations; but the Christians' salvation is generous and beneficent, extending to all corners of the earth,' he argues). Ilarion's eulogy to Volodymyr, described as 'a likeness of Constantine the Great: of like wisdom, of like love for Christ', and of Yaroslav the Wise, called 'Solomon' to Volodymyr's 'David', can also be seen as a step towards justifying the Rus Church as an institution in its own right.

    Rumblings in favour of autocephaly, that is formal independence for the Rus Church, were initially heard in the eleventh century. A first sign was the desire of Kiev to establish its own saints (Volodymyr, his grandmother Olha and the martyrs Borys and Hlib), although Constantinople refused to recognise their canonisation until the thirteenth century. By the sixteenth, there was a total of 148 Rus saints. A second sign was the emergence of native metropolitans. The first, Ilarion, had only a limited localising agenda, of which Constantinople was in any case extremely wary at the time of the schism of 1054. After Ilarion, Greek metropolitans, such as Nikephoros (served 1104-21) and Michael I (1130-45), reimposed Byzantine control and tried to stir up hostility to Latin Christendom.

    Ukrainian historians have argued that a second, more serious attempt to establish autocephaly was made at the synod of 1147, when Prince Iziaslav Mystyslavych (ruled in Kiev 1146-54) ensured the election of Klymentii Smoliatych as metropolitan (served 1147-55). Iziaslav's early death cut the attempt short, and a rival, more 'northerly' and pro-Byzantine party led by Niphont of Novgorod and Yurii Dolgorukii, the founder of Moscow (ruled 1149-57), was then able to settle accounts with the 'autonomists'. Significantly, however, a trend had been set. The 'northern' party again clashed with the 'southern' when Andrei Bogoliubskii attempted to appoint his protégé Feodor as metropolitan of Vladimir and effectively split the Rus Church in two. The attempt failed — Feodor was taken to Kiev in 1169 and executed. The severity of his fate indicated the seriousness with which the idea of a united Church was still taken: '[Kievan] Metropolitan Constantine charged him [Feodor] with all his transgressions and ordered him to be taken to the dog's island. And there they maimed him and cut out his tongue, as fitting for an evil heretic, and they cut off his right hand and gouged out his eyes, because he said abusive [things] about the Holy Mother of God.' Nevertheless, there were many signs of the 'northerners' developing an ideology and identity of their own under Bogoliubskii. Of particular importance was the cult of Our Lady of Vladimir. Originally imported from Constantinople in 1134 and known as the Virgin of Vyshhorod (a town near Kiev), the icon was one of the central symbols of the divine authority of the princes of Kiev. Its capture in dubious circumstances by Bogoliubskii and transfer to the north therefore symbolised his attempt to usurp the city's power. In 1395 the icon was transported to the Kremlin, where to this day it is used as a symbol of the continuity of Russia and Rus. Bogoliubskii also established new feast days and local saints and embarked on a grandiose scheme of church-building so that Vladimir could pose as a serious rival to Kiev. His scribes elaborated the idea that Vladimir had been founded and Christianised by Volodymyr (the normal date for its foundation is 1108, by Vladimir Monomakh, not Vladimir the Great), making it the second city of Rus and eventual successor to Kiev, both lands blessed by God — Bogoliubskii means 'lover of God'. The sack of Kiev in 1169 was supposedly therefore a deeply symbolic act, deliberately designed to undermine the city's sacred status.

    Other historians have argued that the Church remained relatively united and that the idea of Kievan autocephaly is a fantasy invented to serve later political purposes. Petro Tolochko continues to suggest that the Church, or at least its hierarchs, 'was the most consistent supporter of all-Rus-ian unity'. The good offices of the Church were the most likely means of keeping the peace between warring princes, and the ideology of the unity of Christ's realm in Rus remained a strong unifying force even after the arrival of the Mongols in 1240.

    According to the Ukrainian art historian Dmytro Stepovyk, the embryonic cultural difference between north and south can also be observed in forms of artistic expression, icon-painting in particular. In attempting to deconstruct the idea of a common Rus style, he has argued that 'the Byzantine notion of sacred art discarding all kinds of outside influence ... was only a starting point for developing the Ukrainian national templeal art', which drew on earlier pagan traditions and European influences to create a unique local style. Whereas Muscovy supposedly remained a slavish imitator of the Byzantine style of the twelfth-century Komnenos dynasty until as late as the eighteenth century, Kiev artists simply 'took what they needed' to form their 'own original school'.

    In contrast to the northern school in Vladimir, Pskov, Smolensk and eventually Moscow, with its 'plain use of space, regulated localisation of colour, [use of] reverse perspective, severe linearity' and 'excessively brilliant gilded pale-coloured shading', the Kievan school was characterised by its 'more reserved use of gold, localised on the aureole [halo] and with shading not of pale, but of deep red-brown gold'. In other words, whereas 'Muscovite' art actually exaggerated the Byzantine tradition — repetition of standardised and etiolated versions of the human form, flatness of colour and formalistic representations of the material world as a means of concentrating on the image of the divine — Kievan art was more naturalistic, humanistic and more 'organically' in touch with local tradition. In short, it had more colour and life. The widespread use of elaborate mosaics in a similar style supposedly attests to the artistic unity of the 'Kievan school' and to the wealth and growing cultural solidity of the south. It should perhaps be pointed out that the Russian art historian Igor Grabar argued more or less the opposite, namely that the national style developed in the north and was exported south to wean Kiev off its Byzantism.

    The monk Alempius (Alimpyi) is held to have been the leading exponent of the Kievan school of icon-painting and mosaic art. The most spectacular example of his style (although actual authorship of the work is uncertain) is the great mosaic of the Orans Virgin above the altar of St Sofiia's. The Virgin is depicted in a local version of one of the three classic Byzantine poses, standing alone with her arms proffered outwards in prayer. Her serenity and transcendent calm, matched in the simple colours of the local stone, is one of the greatest achievements of Kievan art. At the same time, the Virgin is also a powerful symbol of the new Rus state, dressed in the clothes of an empress extending her protection, as the inscription above states, to Kiev, 'the Holy City, the Holy House of the Eternal. God is within and this house is unshakable'.

    In the same style is the St Demetrius mosaic, while the depiction of the Virgin is remarkably similar to the icon of the Orans (Panagia) Virgin, which some scholars have also attributed to Alempius, especially in terms of line and silhouette. Both works are now in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow (see page xx). Other icons attributed to Alempius or his school include the St Nicholas, while other known works, such as the mosaics for the church of the Assumption in Pechersk, have unfortunately been lost. One other surviving example of local Rus art is the twelfth-century Angel Rolling Up the Sky in Kiev's St Cyril church, with its beautifully delicate blue and cream (artist unknown).

    Ukrainian historians have also argued that Kieran architecture was in an adapted Byzantine style, strongly influenced by local 'indigenous' traditions. Kiev's St Sofiia's, for example, is not only modelled on the earlier church of the Tithes, it is argued, but on even more ancient predecessors. Moreover, it is claimed that Kievan architects had already mastered the use of stone, contrary to the normal assertion that before invited Byzantine masters introduced the practice all Rus buildings were made of wood. The configuration of St Sofiia's, in particular the proliferation of apses, naves and galleries, has no direct analogy in Constantinople. It has even been argued that St Sofiia's demonstrates elements of the Western European Romanesque style, as in the great cathedrals of Trier (1047) and Worms (1110-1200) — built after St Sofiia's. Most important, however, is the internal decoration, whose 'native' style is discussed on pages xx-x. In the north of Rus, in contrast, the Kievan style was first copied and then forgotten, as Moscow developed its own architectural culture with a pronounced eastern influence, the most obvious example of which is St Basil's in Red Square. Other local architectural schools appeared in Vladimir, Chernihiv, Halych (Galicia) and elsewhere as Kiev's authority began to diminish in the twelfth century.

    Further supposed differences are found in political culture. Forms of government varied between the principalities. The veche system (gatherings of nobles) was more prominent in Novgorod, Pskov and Polatsk, whereas princely autocracy was the norm in Vladimir and Rostov-Suzdal, though also in Halych. In Vladimir, Andrei Bogoliubskii began to compare himself to the Byzantine emperors, even to Solomon, although Ukrainian historians have cast doubt on the line of succession to the north-east, through Yurii Dolgorukii to Andrei Bogoliubskii, as Dolgorukii was only a junior son of Volodymyr Monomakh, born to a concubine (like many would-be autocrats, Bogoliubskii came to a sticky end, savagely murdered by assassins in 1175 — the illustrations on page xx show him obtaining the Vladimir icon and the ultimate consequences of the act.) Bogoliubskii's successor, Vsevolod III (ruled 1176-1212), was the first to style himself 'Grand Prince' — of Vladimir, not Kiev. The autocratic Byzantine idea of the ruler as Christ's prince on earth was therefore first copied in Vladimir rather than in Kiev, before being passed on to the tsars of Muscovy. The practice had not been original to Rus. When the early chronicles of Vladimir and Moscow referred to Volodymyr as 'tsar' they were attempting to justify their own practices by inventing a title he himself had never claimed.

The Fall of Rus

The Mongols sacked Kiev in 1240. Although this event is commonly taken to mark the formal end of Rus, it need not necessarily have been the case. One prince, Danylo of Halych (ruled 1237-64), attempted to rebuild Rus from the west. If he had been more successful in resisting the Mongols and in creating a link between Halych and Kiev, and if Poland, Hungary and Serbia had joined a promised crusade in his support, then the main successor state to Rus might have looked more like modern Ukraine. Alternatively, embryonic Ukrainian and Russian polities might have developed in parallel, one in the south under Danylo and one in the north under Andrei Bogoliubskii's grandson Alexander Nevskii (ruled 1252-63) in Novgorod-Pskov and/or Vladimir-Suzdal. Even in the north there were rival centres of power. Novgorod's mercantile democracy could have triumphed over Muscovite absolutism in the fifteenth century, rather than vice versa. North and south might have cooperated, as with the brief alliance against the Mongols between Danylo and Alexander Nevskii's brother Andrei in the 1250s, or they might have moved further apart.

    The translatio imperii theory (according to which Moscow, via Vladimir, was regarded as the direct and only successor of Kiev) much beloved of future Russian historians, was certainly not the only possibility. The others were closed off by circumstance rather than destiny. Rus could not be rebuilt in the south, as two-thirds of the territory of modern Ukraine was lost to the Mongols. The 'northern' option won out, temporarily at least, but the north enjoyed no monopoly. The Kingdom of Galicia and Volhynia enjoyed a century's afterlife after 1240, until Galicia was occupied by Poland in 1349. Indeed, for Ukrainian 'Occidentalists' such as the historian Stefan Tomashivskyi (1875-1930), Galicia-Volhynia was the first true 'national Ukrainian state'. Whereas Rus was a multinational agglomeration like the Frankish empire in the west, too much under the influence of Byzantium, Tomashivskyi's school argued that Galicia-Volhynia was an ethnically distinct entity moving rapidly away from Vladimir-Suzdal in the north. Galicia, he argued, was also more unambiguously in the European cultural sphere. Under Roman (ruled 1199-1205), Danylo and Lev I (1264-1301), Galicia-Volhynia interacted on equal terms with its neighbours Poland and Hungary in joint defence of Europe against the Mongols, and developed a social structure and conception of royal authority that was more typically feudal than the patrimonial system of Rus. Latin culture penetrated the Galician court and economic ties were mainly with the Baltic and Danube river basins rather than the Volga and Lagoda systems around which Vladimir now based its trade (the once-shared Dnieper system, the 'route from the Varangians to the Greeks', now being in serious decline).

    Tomashivskyi's school have also argued that Galicia-Volhynia was also more 'European' in its geography and economy. They have therefore sought to exempt themselves from the agro-cultural determinism propagated by Richard Pipes and others, which argues that the infertile territory of Russia proper is unable to support an accumulative, city-based culture, and in the absence of urban civil society has historically been forced into collective social life and authoritarian state power as the only means of maintaining order. Muscovite Russia has been unable to sit still and husband its own meagre resources and has always been an aggressive power coveting its neighbours' territory. Galicia and Volhynia on the other hand, along with the Kievan heartland when it was not under foreign threat, provided a fertile forest-protected haven where towns and civic culture were able to develop — an important point in keeping western Ukraine at the centre of the Ukrainian national myth (the steppe zone of south-east Ukraine was at this time still a no-man's-land). Whereas Vladimir and then Muscovy were natural prey to the Golden Horde and soon came to ape its patrimonial authoritarianism, Ukrainian historians have argued, Kiev and Galicia developed a more 'European' political culture. Ukrainians point out with pride that it is Kiev, not Moscow, that contains a statue celebrating the Magdeburg law (city self-government) which persisted in Ukraine until 1835 — unfortunately not long after the monument was erected in 1802-3 (the monument has the word 'Independence' graffitoed on it — in Russian).

    Danylo floated the idea of a more formal link with the Catholic West as a means of resisting the Golden Horde, to whom Moscow was already paying tribute. Ukrainian historians have claimed that his representatives accepted a papal crown in 1253, and even that his negotiations with Innocent IV led to his 'conversion' and a form of 'union' with Rome in 1246-7, Danylo's predecessor Roman having first considered a similar proposal in 1204. Danylo was supposedly recognised as 'King of Rus', underlying Halych's supremacy over Vladimir in the north. Significantly, this claim was codified in local historicist mythology, with the main Galician chronicle, the Hypatian Codex, formulating the idea that Halych, not Vladimir, was the real successor to Kiev.

    Other Ukrainians, including the doyen of historical studies, Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, have seen the Galician-Volhynian experience as transitory. Without a secure hold on Kiev they do not see how it could have been a true Ukrainian state. Whatever the case, Poland sought to eradicate all links to Rus in Galicia relatively quickly after it occupied the region in 1349. Further to the east, on the other hand, elements of Rus statehood survived in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus and Samogitia founded in the fourteenth century (often misrepresented in Western historiography as the 'Kingdom of Lithuania'), and even in the Principality of Moldavia (see pages xx-x). Kiev, after all, was also a successor to Kiev. Ukrainian historians reject Russian suggestions that little of significance remained in the former capital after 1240.


It is vital to begin our story with an honest assessment of the Ukrainians' and Russians' common past. The balance of argument supports the claim that the Rus possessed a unity of sorts, at least in terms of the embryonic higher culture that sat above the various tribal cultures. The Orthodox of southern Rus were already different in many respects from their cousins in the north-east, and subsequent events meant their fates would diverge yet further, but as yet there was no well-developed contemporary ideology of difference between the northern and southern Rus. The idea of Rus unity was admittedly only partially developed, but that of an 'other Rus' was hardly developed at all and is largely a projection of later historians. Internal quarrels tended to pit prince against prince rather than one ethnic group against another. Significantly, it has been easier for Ukrainian historians to take the whole history of Rus and change its subject from 'the Rus' or 'the Russians' to that of 'Ukrainians' than to write a general history of discord between north and south — in other words to write the Russians out of the picture.

    The point of the argument that Rus was a Ukrainian or proto-Ukrainian state is obviously to provide the Ukrainians with a myth of their emergence as a separate nation — as with the Slovak claim that the Great Moravian empire (833-907) was an early Slovak state rather than the original common homeland of both the Czechs and Slovaks, or the Norwegian historians who have portrayed rulers such as Olaf (1015-30) and Haaken IV (1217-63) as definitively independent of Denmark. However, it is perfectly possible to argue that the Rus were a single people, or a pre-national unit, and that the embryonic differences that already existed in 1240 became much greater as a result of the fall of Rus, leading to the formation of a truly separate Ukrainian identity by the seventeenth century (see chapters three and four). This is not to subsume the history of one people under that of the other: Rus was simply that which existed before the modern Ukrainian and Russian nations developed. Still less is it to deny the Ukrainians a proper beginning to their history.

    Nor would it deny the Russians a proper beginning to their history. True, for most Russians the idea of Kiev as the 'mother of Russian cities' is still central to their understanding of their origins as a nation. Moreover, Ukrainian historians have hardly made it easy for Russians to accept the idea of their descent from Andrei Bogoliubskii by lacing their account of Russian 'ethnogenesis' with overtones of miscegenation. However, other possibilities do exist. The 'Eurasianist' and mystic philosopher Lev Gumilev (1912-92), whose views on other questions if not on this particular issue have been highly influential on Russian nationalism in the 1990s, has dated the emergence of the Russian 'superethnos' to the post-thirteenth-century synthesis of Rus and Mongol influences. In theory, this approach could allow the Ukrainians to enjoy a separate history of their own, although it tends to be assumed that the Mongol influence affected all the Rus equally. Other alternative theories of Russian origin could date their 'ethnogenesis' to a direct influence from Byzantium unmediated by Kiev, to the democratic traditions of Novgorod, to 'the formation of the Moscow state' or to the 'indigenous' traditions developed after the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Once again, any of these alternative myths of origin could in principle allow the Ukrainians to be disentangled from Russian history. In practice, none of these approaches is yet common.

    This is not just an academic problem. Until the equation of 'Rus' and 'Russia' is no longer universal, modern-day Russians are bound to suffer an existential blackout whenever they are confronted with Ukrainian historiography. They will also have a distorted understanding of their own national origins. Most importantly, however, they will continue to find it difficult to engage with the political reality of an independent Ukrainian state.

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