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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

The Story of the Ukraine
by Clarence Manning

published by
Philosophical Library
New York,

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 3

 p24  Chapter Two

Rus′ and Ukraine

Perhaps no single circumstance has done more to confuse the opinions of the world about Ukraine than the strange confusion that has taken place over the name of the country. The old name definitely and clearly was Rus′ but that name has been preempted by the northern offshoot of Rus′, Russia, and the people have been compelled for the sake of clarity to adopt another local title, Ukraine, which was early applied to a part of the country.

The origin of the word Rus′ is obscure but we can trace it back in history well before the Christianization of the country, for it appears in the records of the Byzantine Empire early in the ninth century A.D., and the treaties made between the Emperors of Constantinople and the Princes of Rus′ show that the name referred to a very definite political entity, but as they do not concern questions of boundaries, we are not able to define accurately the territory to which they refer. Yet it is clear that Rus′ in its essence referred to the valley of the Dnyeper River, the southern part of the Varangian Road by which the Scandinavian Vikings penetrated from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

For centuries scholars have been debating the origin and meaning of the name. Since the earliest passages that are preserved in the Rus′ language are clearly old Scandinavian, there has been a prevailing opinion that Rus′ was the name of one of the Scandinavian tribes that spread over Europe during the eighth and ninth centuries. They appeared along the Dnyeper about the same time that the  p25 Normans were settling in France, and like them they adopted the language of the population, which in this case was a race speaking an East Slavonic language. Historians have been inclined to connect this with the old legend of the conquest of Kiev and Novgorod by Rurik and his two brothers, who were invited to rule the country because it was a rich land and there was no order in it. It is an old fable common to many lands and places, but there is no evidence as to its truth and if there were, we would still be far from knowing the actual meaning of the word.

A not less vocal group has felt that this story was not too dignified and has sought some other origin. Many have regarded it as a Slavonic borrowing from Iranian or they have tried to find some place name which could serve as a source. It is all in vain and for all intents and purposes we can only go back to recorded history and accept the fact that when that history first became definite, the word Rus′ was applied to the population of the Dnyeper valley and of the valley of the Volkhov that formed the northern end of the Varangian Road. Kiev on the south and Novgorod on the north were the two fortresses on this line of transport and they formed the two centres of the earliest Rus′.

Yet even then Kiev was the more important of the two, for it lay not only on the north-south route but also on the east-west route from central Asia. It was then called the capital of Rus′ and as we learn more of the settlement of the country, we realize how the area of Rus′ expanded until it covered with rare exactness the territory between the Carpathians and the Don that forms the modern Ukraine.

It is by no means certain that the princes who went to the north and east into the territory of the various Finnic tribes and founded those centres which were later to be the heart of Moscow thought of themselves as forming  p26 part of Rus′. They are recorded in the ancient Chronicles as returning to Rus′, and the area to which they return is consistently that of Kiev and of Ukraine. The same is true of the area of Novgorod, which practically broke away from the south and went its own way after the trade between Kiev and the Scandinavians fell into abeyance and the merchants of Novgorod worked with Baltic area and to the northeast.

Later the region around Kiev came to bear the title of Mala Rus′, Little Russia, but this was clearly not a sign of inferiority. It was a common system of the past. In Poland the area around Krakow was called Little Poland to distinguish it from the Great Poland away from the nation's capital. Ancient Greece was called Greece to distinguish it from Magna Graecia, that great area of Sicily, south Italy, the shores of Asia Minor and the Black Sea, where Greek colonies had been planted in the barbarian world.

It was not until 1169, when prince Andrey Bogolyubsky definitely decided to transfer the centre of the state to the northeast, that we have definite proof of the connection of the word Rus′ in any form with the northern principalities that were to form the origin of Moscow. Then he carried away with him the head of the Orthodox Church and attempted to create in another area a state of Rus′. Yet he did not find it too satisfactory and for some centuries the word almost dropped out of use in the north as the Princes of Moscow preferred to name their country after their capital. Russian historians of all ages and of all schools of thought have always spoken of the Grand Principality and Tsardom of Muscovy as the name of the country until the seventeenth century.

Rus′ remained, except for official titles of the Tsars of Moscow in their most formal aspects, as the name of the area around Kiev. The Princes of Galicia who assumed  p27 the title of Kings of Rus′ in the thirteenth century used it to assert their lordship over the area that had fallen into the hands of the Tatars. They still continued to call a citizen of their lands a Rusin and the adjective that used for it was Rus′sky.

On Muscovite territory there came other changes, for during these years Moscow developed a sharp aversion to Kiev and everything for which it stood. The whole tradition of the Third Rome, which was hostile to everything outside the land, taught that Moscow was the centre of Christian civilization and that Kiev, like Constantinople and like the First Rome, had definitely fallen into heresy. Now and then the tsars might employ the word Rusia, but even this was too much of a concession for their stubborn pride and it was not until Tsar Alexis in the seventeenth century began to nourish hopes of recovering the area around Kiev that he gave any significance to the use of the word Rus′.

In fact it was not until the time of Peter the Great that the name Rossiya — Russia — came into common use and even then Peter introduced it with the idea of asserting his power as a European sovereign and he did it against the usage of the European states, which continued to refer to him as Tsar or Emperor of Moscow. Even later the great poets of the eighteenth century continued to use the adjective Rossiysky and the ordinary form that was employed during the nineteenth century, i.e. Russky, was of rare occurrence.

Through the centuries, regardless of the ups and downs of the two states, of the political issues of union and disunion, there remained a sharp differentiation between Moscow and Rus′. It was not until Moscow saw itself in a position to make itself the heir of Kiev in the eyes of the world that it preempted very definitely the name of Rus′, proclaimed that Rus′ was Russia, and dangled  p28 it before the eyes of the world to win belief that both Kiev and Moscow belonged together under the aegis of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In earlier ages Moscow had been content to seek the support of Rus′ on the basis of the Orthodox religion, when it desired to secure cooperation. Then it was Orthodox Moscow and Orthodox Rus′ against the Roman Catholic Poles and Lithuanians. That idea could not appeal in the eighteenth century, when Peter was manifesting little interest in the traditional religion of the people and was trying to change all the old established customs. A new basis had to be found and this new equation was the result. The injustice of the action was appreciated even by the Poles, who had maintained to the end of their national existence their control of the province of Rus′. An Encyclopedia put out by the Polish National Committee during the First War (Vol. II, No. 5, p867) summed it up well. "In very deed, Russia stripped Ukraine of everything; she even appropriated its very name of 'Rus' (Ruthenia), she annexed its history of pre‑Tatar times, she declared the language was a Russian dialect." It is a clear statement of conditions.

Yet even that was not the only cause of confusion, for in the Austro-Hungarian provinces which were stripped away after the division of Poland, the government of the Hapsburgs carefully created for the people the name of Ruthenians. This was but a Latinized form of the name Rus′ and was at first used merely in Latin correspondence. Early travellers spoke of Ruthenia as extending from near the region of Prague in Bohemia to the land of the Tatars. It was not to remain long in that range of activity for with the development of the Union of Brest Litovsk, and the growing loss of the leaders of Rus′, Ruthenia and Ruthenians came to be used as a mark of inferiority and of contempt. It was used to separate these people from the Poles and from their other neighbors in Austria-Hungary.

 p29  Throughout the Hapsburg lands, Ruthenia became the common term. There was Ruthenia proper and then there was White Ruthenia, Red Ruthenia, Black Ruthenia, all sections inhabited by various branches of the people that had once dominated in Kiev. In the nineteenth century it was almost the only term allowed in the province of Galicia, as the ancient Halich was now named. It was the term that had to be employed by Franko and the writers around him, if they were to be allowed even moderate relief from the censor­ship.

Under such circumstances, with the old name Rus′ taken over by the Muscovite Russians and the name Ruthenia forced upon part of the race by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is small wonder that the people themselves turned to the other title of Ukraine. It was an old word which is first found in literature about the year 1187, to denote that portion of Rus′ on the left bank of the Dnyeper facing the Polovtsy. By 1213, two years before the signing of the Magna Charta in England, it was applied to the exposed sections of the country on the right bank of the same river. The word means the "Frontier," the Borderland, and it originally referred to that section of Rus′ which lay facing the no‑man's land where Slav and Turk struggled for mastery. It was the land where the Kozaks developed and it is small wonder that the people, faced with the loss of their traditional name, selected this term which bore witness to the most heroic period of their history.

Its choice is intelligible and it was made certain when the poet Shevchenko in his Kobzar and Haydamaki, and many other poems, emphasized again and again that "Ukraina's weeping." The word made its way despite official prohibition, for to the Russians the land was always Little Russia and to the Austro-Hungarians, Ruthenia. Ukraine might occasionally be used to include the two sections but it was always dangerous. There was always the  p30 possibility that the censors would object and punish the bold author as an advocate of separatism.

Yet it triumphed. As the First War drew to its close, Ukraine became more and more the common appellation and after the Russian Revolution and the collapse of Austria-Hungary, it became the term that was used to apply to ancient Rus′ almost universally. There was no one now to continue the old nomenclature and it was as Ukraine and under the Ukrainian banner that the Republic fought in 1919 and 1920. It was under this title that the Soviets conquered the young country and deprived it of its independence and it was under this title that they introduced it to the United Nations Organization.

All this may seem a petty linguistic and philological dispute, and it has been presented as such by all the enemies of the Ukrainian people. Yet as is so often the case in such discussion, the mere debate about words has veiled a deeper psychological and social division. It has been used to ignore the fact that the differences between Rus′ and Russia are not passing and superficial, but that they go to the very depths of psychology and thought of the people, they concern the attitude toward the world, toward civilization and human rights; and to‑day with a world in confusion the difference between Russia and Ukraine is summed up in the use of the national names. Ukraine exists to‑day on the territory of ancient Rus′, where it shall be since the dawn of history and where it will remain.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22