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History of Kyiv

Posted by Vasilisa on 13 Jul 2009


Kyiv is one of the oldest and most important cities of Eastern Europe and has played a pivotal role in the development of the medieval East Slavic civilization as well as in the modern Ukrainian nation.

Kyiv was founded in the 5th century by East Slavs. The legend of Kyi, Schek and Khoryv speaks of a founder-family consisting of a Slavic tribe leader Kyi, the eldest, his brothers Schek and Khoriv, and also their sister Lybid, who founded the city. Kyiv/Kyiv is translated as "belonging to Kyi".

The non-legendary time of the founding of the city is harder to ascertain. Scattered Slavic settlements existed in the area from the 6th century, but it is unclear whether any of them later developed into the city. Eighth century fortifications were built upon a Slavic settlement apparently abandoned some decades before. It is unclear whether these fortifications were built by the Slavs. If it's the former, it is also uncertain when Kyiv fell under the rule of the Khazar empire and whether the city was founded by the Khazars but the Primary Chronicle (a main source of information about the early history of the area) mentions Slavic Kyivans telling Askold and Dir that they live without a local ruler and pay a tribute to Khazars in an event attributed to the 9th century. At least during the 8th and 9th centuries Kyiv functioned as an outpost of the Khazar empire. A hill-fortress, called Sambat (Old Turkic for "High Place") was built to defend the area. At some point during the late ninth or early tenth century Kyiv fell under the rule of Varangians (see Askold and Dir, and Oleg of Novgorod) and became the nucleus of the Rus' polity. The date given for Oleg's conquest of the town in the Primary Chronicle is 882, but some historians, such as Omeljan Pritsak and Constantine Zuckerman, dispute this and maintain that Khazar rule continued as late as the 920s (documentary evidence exists to support this assertion — see the Kyivian Letter and Schechter Letter.) Other historians suggest that the Magyar tribes ruled the city between 840 and 878, before migrating with some Khazar tribes to Hungary.

During the eighth and ninth centuries, Kyiv was an outpost of the Khazar empire. Starting in the late ninth century or early tenth century Kyiv was ruled by the Varangian nobility and became the nucleus of the Rus' polity, whose Golden Age (eleventh to early twelfth centuries) has from the nineteenth century become referred to as Kyivan Rus'. In 968, the nomadic Pechenegs attacked and then besieged the city.[4] In 1203 Kyiv was captured and burned by Prince Rurik Rostislavich and his Kipchak allies. In the 1230s the city was sieged and ravaged by different Moscovite princes several times. In 1240 the Mongol invasion of Rus led by Batu Khan completely destroyed Kyiv,[5] an event that had a profound effect on the future of the city and the East Slavic civilization. At the time of the Mongol destruction, Kyiv was reputed as one of the largest cities in the world, with a population exceeding one hundred thousand.

 The Podil neighborhood of Kyiv. 1890 postcard.In 1321, the greatly diminished city and surrounding area was conquered by Gediminas for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. From 1569 the city was controlled by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as a capital of Kijów Voivodeship, transferred by then to the Polish Crown. In the 17th century, Kyiv was transferred under rule of Russia. In the Russian Empire Kyiv was a primary Christian centre, attracting pilgrims, and the cradle of many of the empire's most important religious figures, but until the 19th century the city's commercial importance remained marginal.

 Kyiv City in early 19th century.In 1834, St. Vladimir University was established in Kyiv (now known as National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv). The great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko cooperated with its geography department as a field researcher and editor.

The gates to the Monastery of the Caves in the 1890s.From the late 18th century until the late 19th century, city life was dominated by Russian military and ecclesiastical concerns. Russian Orthodox Church institutions formed a significant part of Kyiv's infrastructure and business activity at that time. In the late 1840s, the famous historian, Mykola Kostomarov (Nikolay Kostomarov in Russian), founded the secret political society, the Brotherhood of Saint Cyril and Methodius whose members put forward the idea of federation of free Slavic people with Ukrainians as a distinct and separate group rather than a subordinate part of the Russian nation (the society was quickly suppressed by the authorities).

Following the gradual loss of Ukraine's autonomy, Kyiv experienced growing Russification in the 19th century by means of Russian migration, administrative actions and social modernization. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city was dominated by Russian-speaking population, while the lower classes retained Ukrainian folk culture to a significant extent. However, enthusiasts among ethnic Ukrainian nobles, military and merchants made recurrent attempts to preserve native culture in Kyiv (by clandestine book-printing, amateur theater, folk studies etc.)

 Kyiv City, 1930.During the Russian industrial revolution in the late 19th century, Kyiv became an important trade and transportation center of the Russian Empire, specializing in sugar and grain export by railroad and on the Dnieper river. As of 1900, the city also became a significant industrial centre, having a population of 250,000. Landmarks of that period include the railway infrastructure, the foundation of numerous educational and cultural facilities as well as notable architectural monuments (mostly merchant-oriented). The first electric tram line of the Russian Empire was established in Kyiv (arguably, the first in the world).

Kyiv prospered again during the late nineteenth century industrial revolution in the Russian Empire, when it became the third most important city of the Empire and the major centre of commerce of its southwest. In the turbulent period following the 1917 Russian Revolution, Kyiv became the capital of several short-lived Ukrainian states and was caught in the middle of several conflicts: World War I, the Russian Civil War, and the Polish-Soviet War. Kyiv changed hands sixteen times from the end of 1918 to August 1920.[6]

 Ruins of Kyiv, as seen during World War II.From 1921 the city was a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a founding republic of the Soviet Union. Kyiv was greatly affected by all the major processes that took place in Soviet Ukraine during the interwar period: the 1920s Ukrainization as well as the migration of the rural Ukrainophone population made the recently Russophone city partly Ukrainian-speaking and propped up the development of the Ukrainian cultural life in the city; the Soviet Industrialization that started in end-1920s turned the city, a former centre of commerce and religion, into a major industrial, technological and scientific centre, the 1932-1933 Great Famine devastated the part of the migrant population not registered for the ration cards, and Stalin's 1930s Great Purge almost eliminated the city's intelligentsia

 Orange-clad demonstrators gather in the Independence Square in Kyiv on November 22, 2004.In 1934 Kyiv became the capital of Soviet Ukraine. The city boomed again during the years of the Soviet industrialization as its population grew rapidly and many industrial giants were created, some of which exist to this day.

In World War II, the city again suffered significant damage, but quickly recovered in the post-war years, becoming once again the third most important city of the Soviet Union. The catastrophic accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant occurred only 100 km north of the city. However, the prevailing northward winds blew the most substantial radioactive debris away from the city.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine was proclaimed in the city by the Ukrainian parliament on August 24, 1991. Kyiv is the capital of independent Ukraine.


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