Ukrainians - History and Cultural Relations

The ancient history of Ukraine is rich, as the many archaeological remains testify. Kurgans, ancient villages, ramparts, and ruins of castles and monastery walls abound. Here, in the territory of Ukrainian Transcarpathia in the village of Beregovo in the Korolev region, the oldest human settlements in Europe—over 6,000 years old—were found. In the Stone Age, one of the oldest agricultural centers was organized on the lands of Pridnieper.

During the disintegration of primitive society feudal relations began to occur, tribal unions appeared (Polyans, Severyans, Drevlyans, White Croatians, Dulebs, Ulichs, Tivertses, etc.), and later, principalities ( knyazhestvas ) formed. Those of Kiev and Novgorod united as one state—Kievan Rus'—which became one of the most powerful in medieval Europe. In the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries Ukrainian territory expanded owing to the settling of the southwestern outskirts by peasant refugees and the founding of the Zaporozh Cossacks—the settlement of Slobozhanshina—in northeastern parts of the Ukraine and neighboring territories. The formation of Ukrainian Cossacks (Zaporozh Sech) stimulated the development of the lower Dnieper and the protection of the southeastern borders. The Sech was a military-administrative organization with broad democratic principles, self-government, and distinctive cultural features. It is likely that the Cossacks played a major role in the shaping of Ukrainian national identity.

The Ukrainian ethnic group consists of three components. The first is the main settlement of Ukrainians that generally coincides with the territory in which the Ukrainian ethnic group formed, the present administrative borders of the republic, and the regions of dense Ukrainian settlement beyond these borders. The second component encompasses Ukrainians who live outside the main ethnic settlement and who are territorially separated from it—both elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and abroad—as a result of increasing migration since the end of the nineteenth century. Recently, the word "diaspora" has been used in reference to these people. The subcultural groups—ethnic groups within the Ukrainian nation that have distinct cultural features (Gutsuls, Lemks, Boyks, Polyshuks, etc.)—comprise the third component.

The ratio of the size of the main settlement of the Ukrainians to the diaspora communities changes continually. From 1917 to 1989 the percentage of Ukrainians within the modern borders of the republic fell from 85.6 to 81 percent. Of the total number of Ukrainians, the percentage living in other countries of Europe rose from 6.6 to 11.1 percent. At the same time, the percentage of Ukrainians living in North America rose from 0.6 to 3.1 percent. The overall decrease in the number of Ukrainians in the world during this period—from 57,398,000 to 46,136,000 people—was caused by a number of factors, including the absence of a separate state and Ukrainian political disunity within different countries, great losses from wars that took place in the Ukraine, famine, and other demographic factors. Beyond the borders of the republic the total number of Ukrainians has decreased significantly as a result of the policy of national and territorial demarcation of Soviet republics in the beginning of the 1920s. At that point, large concentrations of Ukrainians, numbering in the millions, were left outside the borders of the Ukraine in the neighboring regions of Kuban, the northern Caucasus, Priazov, the central Chernozem region, and elsewhere.

The above-mentioned ethnic groups of Ukrainians differ in the level of their social and economic development and in other aspects. Under these circumstances, ethnic self-consciousness becomes very important—as long as it persists, the group continues to exist. A change in Ukrainian self-consciousness occurred in two spheres: the ethnogenetic one (i.e., starting from the onset of the Ukrainian nation they transformed their name from "Rusks" to "Ruthens" to "Ukrainians") and the spatial or territorial one, which developed as a consequence of their ethnic history.

The main formative centers of the Ukrainian nation were Middle Prednieper, the right bank of Kievshina, Periaslavshina, and Chernigov-Sivrshina. It was here that the name "the Ukraine" (meaning the "land" or "country") was established in the twelfth century, a term that afterward spread to incorporate the whole area of Ukrainian settlement and that became the cultural ethnonym. Almost until the seventeenth century (and in the western Ukrainian regions until the last decades), the older East Slavic names for the land and the people—"Rus'," "Ruska land," "Rusks," "Ruthens," and others—were still used.

The many interpretations of the origins of the Ukrainians can be coalesced into two general theories. The first, emerging from Russian historiography and promulgated in the former Soviet Union, postulates that Ukrainians—as well as the other Eastern Slavs-Russians and Belarussians—come from a single proto-Russian nation ("common cradle") that was part of the feudal state of Kievan Rus (ninth through twelfth centuries). Feudal relations, according to this theory, led to the breakup of this state and resulted in new economic, political, and cultural centers as early as the second half of the twelfth through the thirteenth centuries; specific conditions led to the formation of the three East Slavic groups—Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians. During the development of the Old Russian nation, the most important cultural characteristics evolved, common to all East Slavs; their common name ("Rusks") was preserved as well as a consciousness of their common origins and close ethnic ties. The Old Russian nation was a complex of local languages and cultural traditions, which later played a differentiating role in the formation of East Slavs. Unfavorable events abroad and destructive invasions temporarily slowed the economic and political development of ancient Russian lands and even exacerbated their feudal disunity. Within these ancient Russian lands, it was in the southwest that the early history of Ukraine began, in the territories of the Kiev, Peryaslav, Chernigov-Siversk, and Galician principalities. Adherents of the common cradle theory date the onset of the Ukrainian nation to the end of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century. At this time the ancient Russian state had already broken into separate feudal principalities; northwestern Russia (Rostov-Vladimir, Suzdal, and {later} Moscow) played a decisive role in the formation of another East Slavic nation—that of the Russians, which became more powerful.

An ethnogenic theory of Ukrainian ethnicity based on autochthonous origins has been put forward in the twentieth century and has been gaining support. The theory was proposed by M. Grushevsky, a historian of the twentieth century. He considers Ukrainians direct descendants of the most ancient population of the territory that is now Ukraine, from which Russians and Belarussians subsequently separated and formed distinct nations. The existence of a single Old Russian nation is denied, as is the disintegration of one common Slavic unity into three ethnically separate East Slavic countries. On the basis of this, Grushevsky dates the history of the Ukrainian nation back to the fourth, not the twelfth, century and links Ukrainians with the East Slavic tribes, Ants. The anthropological, psychophysical, linguistic, and other features of Ukrainian culture are explained by this differentiation.

According to the ethnogenic theory, the earliest name for Ukrainians was "Ruthens," which in the tenth through twelfth centuries was used only for Ukrainians, and later by other East Slavs. The northeastern group, however, adopted the general name "Russians" in the original meaning of "governed by Rus'."

Subgroups of Ukrainians have formed over the centuries, and they retain certain distinctive cultural features. The best known among them are the Ukrainian highlanders (Gutsuls, Lemks, and Boyks); in western Ukraine, the Polishuks, Pinchuks, and Litvins; and in the Ukrainian marshland, the Polesye. Lemks live in the northwestern regions of Transcarpathia and some regions of neighboring Poland. They got their name from using the particle lem (only) in their speech. A theory of the origin of the names "Lemks" and the neighboring "Boyks" has recently been proposed that suggests that the names were taken from "Lemko" (hypothetically, the founder of a kindred or a tribal leader). Some researchers make a connection between the origins of the Lemks and the tribes of White Croatians, the majority of whom, in the sixth through seventh centuries, moved from the Carpathian region to the Balkans. There are questions about the origin of the name "Gutsuls"; the people of this subgroup are noted for the distinctive features of their life-style and are famous for their crafts—metalwork, pottery, and rug making. Some link it with the Romance term guts (bandit), which originated in connection with a mass upheaval of "national avengers" ( oprishky ) in the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries. Others trace the word back to kochul (shepherd), or tie it to the Old Russian tribe of Ulichs.

The "Litvins"—in the past an ethnonym of a group of Ukrainians widespread in the marshlands of the Ukraine—are associated with political and state relations of the twelfth through sixteenth centuries, when this part of the Ukraine belonged to the Lithuanian principality; the name "Polishuks," first noted in seventeenth-century documents and maps, denotes the Ukrainian and Belarussian population within the marshland Polesye.

Certain names of groups of people, unities, and collectives reflect complex ethnogenetic processes. These are tuteyshie (local) names of separate groups in Polesye and Volin that do not have a defined ethnic identity. "Cherkasy," a name popular in official Russian documents of the sixteenth through seventeenth centuries, was used for a large segment of the Ukrainian population of the middle Pridnieper, the Zaporozh Cossacks in particular. Some researchers associate it with the city of Cherkasy, around which there were many Cossack settlements, others with the northern Caucasian Adygs, Black Klobuks, and other Turkish-speaking peoples. At least as late as the second half of the seventeenth century the Sevruks—descendants of the ancient tribes of the Silver land, who inhabited the valleys of the Desna, Seim, and Sula rivers—maintained their own name and distinctive culture. It is believed that they played a role in the formation of the Eastern Slavs and that they are genetically related to the "severa" of the manuscripts.

As noted above, the old name for Ukrainians, "Ruthens," is still popular in western Ukraine. According to the latest Ukrainian laws in those regions, such as Transcarpathia, this name may be used in defining ethnic origins. Some names of Ukrainians are etymologically related to religious factors: "Latinniks" (Ukrainians who adhere to the Roman Catholic religion, classified with the Ukrainian-speaking Poles), "Kalakuts" (groups of Kholmshina and Podlashie who adopted Roman Catholicism and Polish self-awareness but retained Ukrainian as their language), "Volokhs" (the Orthodox population of Bukovina, both the Roman- and Ukrainian speaking).

In the past, there were smaller ethnographic groups among Ukrainians. In the last decades the number of such groups has decreased and their members have tended to assimilate into neighboring groups. The majority of them, such as the Opolyans, Nistrovyans, Sotaks, Pidgoryans, and others in the regions of the western Ukraine, were actually local groups with some unique cultural features rather than distinct ethnic groups. Nowadays regional peculiarities of culture more or less exist alongside a gradual spreading of common customs and beliefs brought about by the ethnic consolidation of the Ukrainians.

In the past, interethnic relations in the Ukraine were influenced by a variety of factors, especially the political disunity of the territory; Ukrainians lived in several countries (Poland, Austria-Hungary, Russia) and were thus dependent on the rulers of these nations (Russians, Poles, Austrians, Romanians, etc.). Often relations between nations were determined by the social statuses of groups in the population; thus, interactions between the enslaved Ukrainians and the ruling ethnic groups (Germans, Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs, etc.) were difficult. At the same time, comembership in a social-status category led to much interethnic contact (between Ukrainians and Moldavians, for example). Mixed marriages were common among such groups, which were linked by common economic and political interests.

There are some tensions between the Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches in the western regions, and between the Moscow Patriarchy and the Orthodox church in Ukraine, although, officially, by the decision of the council of the Russian Orthodox Church of 25-27 October 1990, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted independence.

Currently, a policy encouraging autonomy for all ethnic groups, regardless of their nationality, religion, or language, has been officially declared and is being implemented. All the parties and social groups support these ideas. The Law on National Minorities adopted in 1992 grants all citizens of Ukraine equal civil, political, social, and economic rights and freedoms, including national and cultural autonomy, education in the native language, the creation of national cultural societies, and so on. Any direct or indirect restrictions of the rights and freedoms of citizens based on ethnicity are prohibited and punishable. In the referendum held on 1 December 1991, more than 90 percent of the population, including the majority of representatives of all the ethnic groups living in Ukraine, supported the idea of national independence.

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