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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

History of the Ukraine
by Dmytro Doroshenko

printed by
The Institute Press, Ltd.
Edmonton, Alberta,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 4

 p44  Chapter III

* * * *

(The numbers link directly to the sections.)

(13) Beginning of the Breaking Up of the Kievan Princedom. (14) Invasion of the Polovtsi. (15) Strife of the Princes. (16) Formation of the Great Russian People.

* * * *

13. Beginning of the Breaking Up of the Kievan Princedom.

Yaroslav divided his princedom among his sons; to the eldest, Iziaslav, he gave Kiev and with it the supremacy over other parts of his realm; to his second son, Sviatoslav, he assigned Chernigov, only second in importance to Kiev; to Vsevolod he gave Pereyaslav; to Igor went Volynia; to Viacheslav was assigned Smolensk; and to his grandson Rostislav was allotted Galicia. From this moment the dismemberment of the Kievan State proceeded apace. Tendencies to particularism and independence of the central power were very strong, and led to decentralization. On the other hand, the descendants of Yaroslav soon became very numerous and their general inclination was to throw off the supremacy of Kiev and the Kievan prince.

There was as yet no settled rule of succession to the Kievan crown. It is only seldom that we see a son succeeding his father directly, especially if the heir were too young to be an efficient ruler. Generally the prince of Kiev was succeeded by his nearest brother, so that the head of the house occupied the throne. But this was not an invariable rule. Sometimes princes were elected by an assembly consisting of nobles, military followers, high ecclesiastics and ministers of State. Their choice always fell on a member of the princely dynasty of Rurik. The absence of any settled and fixed rule of succession led to strife and quarrels among the members of the dynasty, and this ultimately contributed to the ruin of the Kievan Princedom. The princes, being disunited and divided  p45  amongst themselves, were not able to resist the pressure of Nomadic hordes that succeeded each other in the South Ukrainian steppe.

In the meantime the descendants of Yaroslav quarrelled among themselves for the crown of Kiev or for richer and better minor princedoms. Very soon the stronger among them started the precedent of seizing their possessions from the weaker for the benefit of themselves or their sons.

The situation soon became very complicated, when shortly after Yaroslav's death a new Nomadic horde, the Torks, came from the East and invaded the Southern Ukraine. The princes, united this time by the common danger, defeated the Torks (1060). They partly exterminated them, and partly taking them prisoner, settled them on the borders as a defence against new invaders.

14. Invasion of the Polovtsi.

Very soon the Torks were followed by much stronger swarms of newcomers, the Polovtsi or Cumans, who were for more than a hundred and fifty years the terror of the population. The history of the Ukraine until the invasion of the Tatars in the first half of the Thirteenth century is almost exclusively a history of wars against the Polovtsi. The worst of it was that the princes used the hordes of Polovtsi in their internal quarrels. This gave to the nomads an excuse for interfering. They overran the southern territories, plundering, slaughtering and enslaving the peaceful population.

In 1068 Polovtsi defeated the three elder Yaroslavichi (sons of Yaroslav) on the river Alta and devastated the princedom of Pereyaslav. In consequence of this defeat the population of Kiev drove out Prince Iziaslav and he fled to Poland. Soon, however, he recovered Kiev with the help of Boleslav the Brave, King of Poland, who, as reward for his help, took the Galician town Peremishl. Five years later Iziaslav, who was an incompetent ruler, was again driven out of Kiev by his brothers Sviatoslav of Chernigov, and Vsevolod of Pereyaslav, and Sviatoslav  p46 Yaroslavich, an energetic and enlightened prince, took possession of Kiev, where he reigned from 1075‑1076. Iziaslav again sought refuge in Poland, but this time Boleslav could not help him, being menaced by the Czechs, though Iziaslav had at first won him over with large sums of money. Iziaslav then went to Mainz, bringing rich gifts to the Emperor, Henry IV, but received no help there. He also sent one of his sons to Rome to Pope Gregory VII, asking him to intervene on his behalf. In the meantime Sviatoslav died, and the throne of Kiev being vacant, Iziaslav, accompanied by the Polish army, recovered it, but only for a short time, as he died the following year. After his death the throne of Kiev was occupied by Vsevolod, the third son of Yaroslav (1078‑1093). His reign was filled with the wars with his nephews the Sviatoslavichi (sons of Sviatoslav) who constantly attacked and intrigued against him. Vsevolod, who died amidst these quarrels, was one of the most learned men of his time. Among his accomplishments was proficiency in five languages. His dynastic alliances were very wide. He himself was married to a Byzantine princess of the house of Monomach, his son Vladimir, who received the surname of Monomach because of his mother's family, married a daughter of the ill‑fated English king Harold. Vsevolod's daughter Praxedes was married to the Emperor Henry IV. This marriage was unhappy, and Praxedes returned to Kiev and entered a nunnery there. Vladimir Monomach's son was married to the Swedish princess Christine.

Vsevolod himself was inactive and delicate in health, but his son Vladimir Monomach had all the gifts necessary to a monarch. He was energetic and active, having high ideals of monarch's duties. He success­fully defended the Ukraine from the Polovtsi and acquired general regard and admiration. He inherited his father's literary gifts. We have from him his autobiography and a very interesting "Instruction" to his children.

After his father's death, to avoid quarrels, he surrendered the crown of Kiev to Sviatopolk Iziaslavich, son of  p47 his uncle, and himself took the princedom of Chernigov. However, the quarrels of the princes continued and embraced all the Ukrainian territories. The southern parts, Kiev and Pereyaslav, were especially exposed to the attacks of the Polovtsi. Hardly a year passed that they did not invade whole districts, carrying ruin and desolation. Sometimes their hordes came as far as Kiev, burned and devastated the suburbs and plundered the famous monastery Pecherski (from the Ukrainian pechera — catacomb) where the Chronicles were being written.

The Chroniclers, some whom wrote almost amidst these invasions, have left us very dramatic descriptions of these scenes and events, such, for instance, as the disastrous battle on the river Stuhna (1094) where the young prince Rostislav, Vladimir Monomach's brother, was drowned, the capture by the Polovtsi of the town Torchesk in Volynia, of the plunder by the Khan Bonyak of the Pecherski monastery and others, evidently written by eye‑witnesses. The Chroniclers depicted the dramatic scenes of how prisoners were captured by the Polovtsi and dragged into slavery, and how they lamented and wailed in their misfortune. These pages of the old Chronicles anticipate the "Laments of the Prisoners" of later times during the centuries of the wars of the Ukrainians with the Turks and the Tatars.

Prince Sviatoslav Yaroslavich tried in vain to propitiate the Polovtsi with rich presents. He even took to wife a daughter of Khan Tugar. But it was of no avail, chiefly because the Ukrainian princes themselves let these hordes interfere in their family quarrels over lost or stolen inheritances. Life in the Ukraine became unbearable. Then the princes decided to solve their complications and satisfy the grievances of the disinherited in an amicable way. Upon the initiative of Vladimir Monomach an assembly of princes took place in 1097 near Kiev by the lake Lubcha. Here it was decided that every prince was to hold the seat of his father, and henceforth the succession should be from father to son. Thus the dismemberment of Yaroslav's State was sanctioned and smaller  p48 princedoms were confirmed in the possession of the descendants of the sons of Yaroslav as allotted to them by their father. The assembled princes also decided to leave in peace and harmony, and took oath to this effect by kissing the cross. But the members of the Convention had hardly had time to reach their respective homes when the oath was broken in a most brutal way by Prince David of Volynia, who kidnapped the young Prince Vassilko of Terebovla in Galicia, and had him blinded. This crime provoked a new war among the princes and a new repartition of princedoms.

It is only in the first part of the Twelfth century when the throne of Kiev was occupied by Vladimir Monomach (1099‑1125) that there was again peace and order in the Ukraine. Owing to his energetic dealings with the Polovtsi the safety of the southern frontiers was assured for about fifty years. Vladimir Monomach reunited under his supremacy the greater part of Yaroslav's princedom. His dynastic alliances throughout Europe in Byzantium, England and Scandinavia are reminiscent of Yaroslav's time. Vladimir Monomach's reign is also important for the revision of the laws and customs which were set down in writing by Yaroslav in a Codex known as "Ruska Pravda".

Vladimir Monomach gained such authority, love and respect that after his death his son Mstislav (1125‑1132) succeeded to the throne of Kiev without any contention. His short reign was a continuation of his father's policy. He was universally respected and beloved and carried on with success his father's reign, giving dignity to the house of Monomach. Mstislav also continued his father's policy of international dynastic alliances, and among his sons-in‑law were kings of Sweden, Denmark and members of the Imperial house of Byzantium. The lesser princes felt his strong hand, and those who rebelled against his authority were severely pursued and brought to obedience. But after Mstislav's death it was clearly evident once more that decentralizing forces and aspirations were stronger than the bonds with which Vladimir Monomach and his  p49 son had succeeded for some time in keeping together all Yaroslav's lands under the Kievan supremacy.

15. Strife of the Princes.

The quarrels, to begin with, started among the numerous representatives of the house of Monomach in which the Chernigov house, descendants of Sviatoslav Yaroslavich, soon joined claiming in their turn the crown of Kiev. These wars lasted from 1132 to 1146, and several European rulers became involved. Kiev changed hands several times, but at last the grandson of Vladimir Monomach, Iziaslav II of the Mstislavich family, won the crown from his uncle, Monomach's youngest son Yuri (George), surnamed the Longhanded,​a who held the Great Russian princedoms Rostov and Suzdal from his father. When, after only a short reign, Iziaslav II died in 1154, "the whole city and the princedom of Kiev wept bitterly", wrote the Chronicler, "and bewailed their prince more than a father, because he was a noble and just prince, a good Christian and a warrior covered with fame". It was as if the citizens of Kiev were bewailing and burying with him their own might and fame. After Iziaslav's death, new wars sprang up among the pretenders to the throne of Kiev, and during this strife the growing hostility between the Ukrainians and the Great Russians became evident. When Prince Andrew, son of Yuri the Longhanded, who hated the Ukrainians for their independent character and love of freedom, and in his youth refused to live in Ukraine, now came with his Russian army and took Kiev in 1169. He let his Great Russians plunder Kiev during several days; in order to humble the ancient capital he left his lieutenant there and carried away everything portable of the city's wealth to his residence newly founded in Vladimir in Suzdal. He also tried, but unsuccess­fully, to transfer to Vladimir the seat of the Metropolitan in order to completely deprive Kiev of its importance. Soon, however, Andrew, who was hated among his own followers for his autocratic and cruel character, fell a victim to conspirators and was killed in 1176.

 p50  Kiev never recovered from the plunder and ruin of 1169. It still continued for some time to be the object of wars of different pretenders. The importance of the city as a commercial centre was lost, owing to its insecurity against invaders, its wealth was ruined and its brilliant civilization lost for ever. It still continued to be important as the seat of the Metropolitan and the centre of religious life but, at the opening of the Twelfth century, it ceased altogether to be a political centre and the capital of the Rus. The old State Rus of the Kievan princes ceased to exist and fell into several princedoms with many political centres.

The process of the formation of separate princedoms out of the great State united by Yaroslav, began to be quite obvious even at the end of the Eleventh century, Galicia was the first to be independent. It was the hereditary seat of the descendants of Prince Rostislav, Yaroslav's grandson. These princes succeeded in defending their land from the neighboring Poland and Hungary, and colonized free areas down to the rivers not only with Ukrainians, but also with pacified nomadic tribes, Pechenegs, Torks, Berendeis and others, who had to protect the border from the Polovtsi. Of Rostislav's three sons, Volodar, Vassilko and Rurik, the eldest, Volodar, founded a dynasty that for a century occupied the throne of Galicia. Volodar's son, Volodimirko, made the town Halich on the Dniester his capital. Galicia being the most western of Ukrainian lands was out of the reach of nomadic invasions and very soon became a densely populated and prosperous State.

The second princedom to throw off the supremacy of Kiev was the Chernigov or Sieveryane. It was already practically an independent State during the lifetime of its prince Mstislav the Brave (1024‑1036), and later one under Sviatoslav Yaroslavich it became even more so. This was a very vast territory covering the whole basin of the Desna and Seim, the upper Sula and Psiol, and the region of the upper Oka. Along with the city of Chernigov, Novgorod Sieversk was an important centre of this  p51 princedom. The descendants of prince Sviatoslav multiplied and formed a vast family, members of which strictly observed the order of succession according to age. The eldest of the family resided in Chernigov and was head of the whole princedom, the second in age had Novgorod Sieversk, and so on, the importance of the princedom being regulated in accordance with the age of the prince. Active and enterprising, the princes of Chernigov expanded greatly. Besides, they often seized and held the thrones of Kiev, Pereyaslav, Volodimir in Volynia, and even Galicia. Whereas the south of the princedom of Chernigov suffered greatly from the invasions of the Polovtsi and in the last half of the Twelfth century was almost ruined and devastated, the northern parts, protected by their great forests, to the north of the river Desna and Seim, were very well populated, rich and prosperous; here the lands of the princes and of the aristocracy were situated.

The city of Chernigov became, in the first half of the Twelfth century, an important political and commercial centre, second only to Kiev. Great architectural monuments of the period are still to be found in Chernigov, whose churches were not destroyed like those of Kiev and are the oldest extant examples of the Ukrainian architecture of the time. Recent excavations brought to light remarkable finds of the goldsmith's craft, showing local, independent treatment of Greek, West European and Roman models.

Almost simultaneously with the princedom of Chernigov, the princedom of Pereyaslav grew independent of Kievan supremacy. The town of Pereyaslav, on the left bank of the Dnieper, already in the Tenth century ranked after Kiev and Chernigov in importance. At the end of the Tenth century, under the pressure of the Pechenegs, the population of this princedom was obliged to retire almost to the town of Pereyaslav, behind the line of fortifications on the river Trubizh. When, in the battle of 1034, the strength of the Pechenegs was broken, the frontier of the princedom of Pereyaslav advanced considerably  p52 to the south and south-east, only to be withdrawn again under the onslaught of the Polovtsi. They devastated the land and kept the town of Pereyaslav in constant blockade. The struggle went on for generations. The princes of Pereyaslav made a practice of settling subdued and civilized nomads, such as Pechenegs, Torks and others, on the border lands. This brought about an important mixture of these races in the population of the northern and western parts of the present province of Poltava. This has been scientifically confirmed by anthropological investigations.

The town of Pereyaslav was protected by a whole system of fortifications against the steppes, remnants and traces of which in the form of earthen mounds and walls are to be seen even now. The capital already in the Tenth century was an important and ancient settlement. The bishop of Pereyaslav had at one period the dignity of metropolitans. At the end of the Eleventh century the town was surrounded with walls, towers and several gates, and adorned with beauti­ful churches and secular buildings among which was a public bath, built according to Byzantine fashion. There are reasons to suppose that Chronicles were written in Pereyaslav recording historical events concerning this princedom. At any rate, other Chronicles have preserved quite a number of heroic legends and poetic fragments concerning Pereyaslav and its historic task of first meeting and repulsing the onset of the nomadic hordes. That, of course, accounts for the growth of the chivalrous and warlike spirit that contributed to the development of chivalrous poetry and heroic traditions about this princedom.

The princedom of Volynia, a rich territory well protected by the great forests and rivers and on the north side by great marshes, was for a long time strictly dependent on the princes of Kiev, who considered it as their own to dispose of. Only in the middle of the Twelfth century a strictly speaking Volynian dynasty was founded by the sons of Prince Iziaslav II of the Mstislavich family. In the first quarter of the Thirteenth century the  p53 crown of Volynia was in the possession of a very able prince Roman who succeeded in uniting Volynia with Galicia. Under his son Daniel the two princedoms formed one power­ful Volyno-Galician State. The capital of Volynia was situated in the town of Volodimir which was well fortified and populated. Here were settled many foreign merchants and especially Germans. Volodimir, built at the beginning of the Twelfth century, was famous even throughout foreign lands, and when the Hungarian Prince Andrew came in 1232 with his army, it is recorded he said that he had not seen a more beauti­ful city even in Germany.

Contemporary with the separation of Volynia was also that of the princedom of Turovº and Pinsk, the former territory of the Dregovichi, which, besides the Ukrainian population, included the White Russians. Though poor, this land was well protected by its great forests and marshes. The capital of the princedom was the town of Turivº and the bishopric of the same name, founded in the beginning of the Twelfth century.

In the former chapters we related how Ukrainian colonization extended, in the beginning of the Eleventh century, to the south-east as far as the southern shores of the Azov Sea to the peninsula Taman. The name of this territory is recorded in the Chronicles as Tmutorokan. At the same time the records about this Tmutorokan are so vague that historians do not agree as to where exactly this land was situated. Most of them think that Tmutorokan was on the site of the former Greek colony Phanagoria or Tamatarcha, on the Taman peninsula. During the Eleventh century Tmutorokan kept up a lively contact with Kiev and Chernigov. There was in that region a monastery that seems to have been dependent on the Kievan Pechersky Lavra. This outpost of the Kievan State played an important part in the commercial and cultural relations of the Eastern Slavs with Transcaucasus, Persia and the Hellenized Asia Minor. The flourishing time of the Tmutorokan was however short; already the presence in our steppe of the Pechenegs (Patzinaks) was  p54 a warning sign. The invasion of the Polovtsi put an end to this eastern expansion of the Kievan State. From the end of the Eleventh century we have no records about it whatever in the Chronicles. There is vague information about Tmutorokan again at the end of the Twelfth century, but it leads to the conclusion that at that time the Tmutorokan was politically dependent on Byzantium and thus lost to Ukraine. ​b

Lost also were the territories situated in the nearest south and south-east, such as now form the southern Poltava province. In the middle of the Twelfth century the southern boundary was the river Vorskla, and the town Poltava existed already at that time under the name of Ltava. But very soon, under the pressure of the Polovtsi, the line of Ukrainian settlements receded as far as Pereyaslav, and when, in the year 1187, the three Sieveran princes set out on their well known campaign against the Polovtsi which is the subject of the remaining oldest Ukrainian epic "Slovo o polku Igoreve" (Tale of the Expedition of Igor), they had only to cross the river Seim to find themselves in the "unknown steppe of the Polovtsi". Where did the population of the present Poltava, Kharkov and Kursk provinces vanish?

16. Formation of the Great Russian People.

We have already related how it receded to the north and north-west into more naturally protected wooded territories of the northern Chernigov and Volynia. A certain number of these refugees did not stop there, but having traversed the great forests of Bryansk, went further north, across the territory of Vyatichi and settled on the spaces between the upper Volga and Oka that were already to a certain extent colonized by the Northern Slavic tribes from Novgorod. These spaces had previously been sparsely occupied by Finnish tribes. This Finns were, in course of time, assimilated by the Slavs. Out of the blending of the Finnish people with Eastern Slavs from two different tribes, Northern and Southern, the Great Russians were gradually formed.  p55 Up to recent times, historians attributed to the Southern Ukrainian settlers a preponderant part in the formation of the Great Russian race, though not denying the colonization of the basin of the upper Volga and the Oka by North Eastern Slavs of Novgorod. But recent investigations, both archaeological and anthropological, have convinced them of the limited part played by the Ukrainian settlers. Thus, for instance, Spitsin, a well known Russian archaeologist, decidedly denies a mass colonization of North Russia by the refugees from the Ukraine. Firstly, he does not consider the danger of the Polovtsi invasion sufficiently strong, and insists on the readiness of the Ukrainians to fight and oppose the raids of the nomads. In his opinion, the Ukrainian population never lost their courage in the struggle to such an extent as to flee and abandon their land altogether. On the contrary, he sees in the Chronicles the tendency to look down upon the "infidel", and the readiness to take revenge on them at every opportune moment. Besides, Spitsin considers as improbable, nay impossible, a mass emigration from the South to the North: "abandon the fertile black earth", he says, "for the sands and marshes, the steppe for the forest, a warm climate for a cold, assured harvests for scanty ones, the oxen for horses, the cottage for the blockhouse, large villages for isolated settlements, an easy life for hard work: hardly would one do so, moved only by slight cause".

Formerly, the fact that names of Ukrainian towns were given to new settlements in Russia from the Twelfth century: Pereyaslav, Peremishl, Zvenihorod, Halich, Volodimir, Yuriev and others, was insisted on as proof of colonization. Spitsin accounts for these names as having been given officially by the princes, who were from the Ukrainian south. Further, these duplicate names belong to towns and princely residences, but not to villages, thus they are official and not popular names.

In this way it is proved that the chief Slav elements that settled in the basin of the upper Volga and Oka came  p56 from Novgorod and other North Slavic tribes, and that the Ukrainians made only an unimportant contribution.

There were, too, aboriginal elements that entered as a constituent part in the formation of the Great Russians. "We are obliged to admit," says Kliuchevsky, "a certain part played by the Finnish tribes in the formation of our anthropological type. Our Great Russian physiognomy does not exactly express the general Slavic type. Other Slavs noticing common features, observe, however, certain anthropological particularities of the Great Russian type, such as the high cheek bones, sallow skin, dark hair, and especially the peculiar Great Russian nose with its broad base. All these must be attributed to Finnish influence". Kliuchevsky insists also on the Finnish influence which modified the Russian language.

Platonov also notices the part played by the Finns in the formation of the Russian type that brought about the changes of anthropological and linguistic character in the Slavic colonists settled among Finns. Some of the modern Russian historians such as Presniakov, Liubavski, and Pokrovski, for instance, do not consider the process of colonization as a peaceful one. They speak of a conquest and of the submission of the aboriginal population already skilled in agriculture, and as civilized as the colonists themselves. Pokrovski writes: "Great Russia is built on the bones of the Finns and in the veins of the modern Great Russian flows at least 80% of Finnish blood". He calls also the Muscovian State that united and consolidated the Great Russian nation, "a prison of peoples", as the Empire of the Romanovs was also later called.

It is not only the mixture of Finnish blood that played a decisive part in the formation of the Great Russian type. Geographic as well as climatic influences were equally important. There was the struggle with forest and marshes to gain even a small patch of the poor ground that yielded but a scanty harvest and there was the northern climate that demanded from the population an enormous effort in exchange for small results. The colonists settled among the poor and thinly scattered Finnish population.  p57  There were no towns and life was excessively primitive. The political power of princes was also very patriarchal, being based on the support of the landed aristocracy. These peculiar conditions put their stamp on the formation of the national type of the Russian, very different from the Ukrainian. In opposition to Ukrainian individualism, Russians show a strongly developed solidarity, a tendency to support common interests, a readiness to sacrifice the individual to the welfare of the community, and give preponderance to common interests over the individual. The struggle with implacable nature, incessant toil in hard conditions of life, was favorable to the development of hardiness, caution and perseverance, also resistance and energy. Thus a nation was formed, strong and healthy, hardy and active, that showed a remarkably well developed instinct for state building and an innate tendency to imperialistic expansion. At the same time the Ukrainians and the White Russians were unable to maintain their own State and their national independence, and already in the Fourteenth century fell under foreign domination. The Russians, who as a scattered conglomeration of small princedoms, fell under the yoke of the Tatars in the Thirteenth century, but during the next two centuries they united, threw off Tatar domination and emerged, at the end of the Fourteenth century, a united and mighty Muscovian autocratic State.

Although Russians and Ukrainians are seen to be clearly differentiated as early as the first half of the Twelfth century, by their strongly marked features of different ethnical type, and by their national character and political ideals, and although there existed a growing antagonism between Kiev and Suzdal, the Russian political centre of the time, particularly on the part of Kiev because of the plunder of the city in 1169 by Prince Andrew (Andrei) of Suzdal, nevertheless Ukraine and Russia belonged to the same political system, were ruled by the same dynasty, and shared as Head of the Church the Metropolitan of Kiev, and thus to a certain extent, had a common life. However, this can be said  p58 only of the upper classes, especially the clergy. A complete breach and separation was brought about by the invasion of the Tatars in 1237‑1240, and the ruin and devastation following them. Subsequently the two peoples, Russians known under the name of Muscovians, and Ukrainians, went each their own way. The differences in their political, cultural and social life grew deeper and deeper until two different types were created: Russians then called Muscovians; and Ukrainians; with White Russians taking the middle way, though nearer to the Ukrainians.

Thayer's Notes:

a His name is usually given in its original Slavic form, Yuri Dolgoruky or Dolgoruki. (This note mostly to help search engines catch this page.)

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b A good brief article, with information on archaeological excavations that have identified the site and a bit of bibliography, can be found at Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine.

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Page updated: 11 May 22