The first identifiable groups to populate what is now Ukraine were Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Goths, among other nomadic peoples who arrived throughout the first millennium B.C. These people were well known to colonists and traders in the ancient world, including Greeks and Romans, who established trading outposts which eventually became city states. Slavic tribes occupied central and eastern Ukraine in the sixth century A.D. and played an important role in the establishment of Kiev. Situated on lucrative trade routes, Kiev quickly prospered as the center of a powerful state of Kievan Rus. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus was, geographically, the largest state in Europe.
A Christian missionary, Cyril, converted the Kievan nobility and most of the population in 988. Conflict among the feudal lords led to decline in the 12th century. Kiev was razed by Mongol raiders in the 12th century.
Most of the territory was annexed by Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, but during that time, the Ukrainian people began to conceive of themselves as a distinct people, a feeling which survived subsequent partitioning by greater powers over the next centuries. In addition, Ukrainian peasants who fled the Polish effort to force them into servitude came to be known as Cossacks and earned a reputation for their fierce martial spirit.
In 1667, Ukraine was partitioned between Poland and Russia. In 1793, it was reunited as part of the Russian Empire.
The 19th century found the region largely agricultural, with a few cities and centers of trade and learning. The region was under the control of the Austrians in the extreme west and of the Russians elsewhere. Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples existing under other imperial governments and were determined to revive Ukrainian linguistic and cultural traditions and re-establish a Ukrainian nation-state. The Russians in particular imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian language and culture, even banning its use and study.
When World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia shattered the Hapsburg and Russian empires, Ukrainians declared independent statehood. In 1917 and 1918, three separate Ukrainian republics declared independence. However, by 1921, the western part of the traditional territory had been incorporated into Poland, and the larger, central and eastern part became part of the Soviet Union.
The Ukrainian national idea persevered during the interwar years, and Soviet reaction was severe, particularly under Stalin, who imposed terror campaigns, which ravaged the intellectual class. He also created artificial famines as part of his forced collectivization policies, which killed millions of previously independent peasants and others throughout the country. Estimates of deaths from the 1932-33 famine alone range from 3 million to 7 million.
After the German and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939, the western Ukrainian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, many Ukrainians, particularly in the west, welcomed them, but this did not last. German brutality was directed principally against Ukraine's Jews (of whom 1 million were killed) but also against many other Ukrainians. Kiev and other parts of the country were heavily damaged. Some Ukrainians began to resist the Germans as well as the Soviets. Resistance against Soviet Government forces continued as late as the 1950s.
Little changed for Ukraine over the next decades. During periods of relative liberalization--as under Nikita Khrushchev from 1955 to 1964--Ukrainian communists pursued national objectives. In the years of perestroika, under U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev, national goals were again advanced by Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine became an independent state on August 24, 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).