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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of

in Foreign Comments
and Descriptions

by Volodymyr Sichynsky

published by
Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Inc.
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 1

 p17  Preface

The world-wide interest in Ukraine and the Ukrainian problem, which grows increasingly from day to day, compels us to look more deeply and more thoroughly into this extremely important problem of Europe. For a full grasp of the problem an accurate knowledge of the historical background is indispensable.

To provide this, we have prepared this booklet. It consists of a collection of memoirs, descriptions and comments on Ukraine by foreign travelers and observers, both official and private, who visited Ukraine. They had ample opportunity to see Ukraine with their own eyes, to meet and talk with the Ukrainian upper classes and with the Ukrainian common people.

These excerpts — the descriptions, itineraries, reports, diaries, memoirs and commentaries — were written by men of various nationalities, social standings and ages. For the most part they were Western European authors: English, French, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, German and others, who came to Ukraine without any material ties to the upper Ukrainian classes. Moreover, like as not they came to Ukraine indifferent to or unfavorably disposed towards the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. Regardless of their predisposition, however, as soon as they became acquainted with the local conditions, the customs and culture of the Ukrainian people, their writings usually became sympathetic, especially when they compared the Ukrainians with their neighbors. In order to provide the reader with such comparisons, we have included the writings and views of various authors on the broader territorial complex of Eastern Europe, without limiting it too strictly to the territory of Ukraine.

The volume thus provides authentic information on Ukraine — its geography, its cultural and economic progress and development,  p18 and especially its customs, habits, national aspirations, military organization, production, arts and psychological traits.

In presenting this material in English the author has included English and foreign authors. In this task the author is indebted to the rich and vast collection of the New York Public Library, which contains priceless ancient originals and European editions in various languages which cannot be obtained even in the oldest European libraries.

As a background for these comments, it may not be out of place to indicate briefly the high points of the geopolitics and history of Ukraine, and to define the various names of territories and peoples.

Ukraine, which includes within its ethnographical boundaries almost 1,000,000 square kilometers of territory and a population of 42,000,000, is an extremely important factor in the geopolitical and economic relations of Eastern Europe. Ukraine, as one of the largest countries of the Black Sea system, has an easy contact with the Mediterranean Sea and the entire complex of economic and cultural relation­ship of the Mediterranean basin. Its natural boundary along the northern shore of the Black Sea — from the delta of the Danube to the Caucasus with a total length of over 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) — bounds more of the Black Sea than any other country. The population of the Black Sea basin numbers about 140 million; and the Ukrainians alone constitute over 30 per cent of this. Most of the rivers in Ukraine flow into the Black Sea, and the sources of all save the Dnieper River are on Ukrainian territory. The river system, taken together with the ports on the Black Sea and on the Sea of Azov, provides the most important arteries for the transportation of wheat, lumber, agricultural products and the underground wealth of Ukraine: coal, anthracite, iron ore, manganese and oil.

Ukraine has been inhabited for many millennia. Prehistoric and proto­historic cultures flourished on its territory as invaders from east and west surged over it and subjugated or mingled with its indigenous population. However we enter upon firmer  p19 ground in the first centuries of the Christian era, when the Greek geographer Ptolemy mentions the Roxolani, a term which survived into the Kozak period in the XVIIth century. The Roxo-Alani or White Alans, together with the Alans seem to have emerged as the Slavic-speaking Antae who in the IV‑Vth centuries had their own state organization under the leader­ship of elders and princes.​a

We can dimly trace through the writings of the Byzantine historians and Arab geographers the transformation of this state into that of Kiev, called Rus by its citizens, its friends and its enemies.

This is believed by some to have originated in the territory of Taman (the present‑day Kuban area on the northern side of the Caucasus), where in the early Middle Ages the power­ful principality of Tmutorokan existed, which the Greeks called "Maeonian Rus."​b

The so‑called Norman theory (which contends that Rus as a state was originally organized by the Normans of Scandinavia) is unsupported by any documentary and archeological sources and contradicts what we can learn from archeology and a study of the older documents. It cannot be denied, however, when we enter the historical period, that there were dynastic relations between the rulers of Kiev and the Scandinavian royal houses, although the Slavic element definitely predominated. Rus was always known as an official and literary name, connected with the ducal dynasties and ducal troops. In the Latin and other old Western European sources the names Rus, Ros, Rosi, were assigned to the present territory of Ukraine, under the forms Ruthenia, Ruteni and Ruthenians, while the Greek name Russia, was rarely used. Significantly, the old English sources used the name Rus exclusively; and only the more recent writers began to substitute the name Russia for that of Rus. In such a serious work as Hakluyt's Collection of Voyages and Travels, in the edition of 1809, the terms Russia and Russians for the first time supplanted the names Rus, Rutheni and Ruthenians contained in the pertinent old texts (Vol. I, p113).

 p20  The power­ful Kievan State (Xth century) and the subsequent Galician-Volynian State rapidly became the centers of culture and wealth. The extensive relations of Ukraine of the Kievan period with the East and the West, dynastic, diplomatic, commercial and cultural, called off many comments on Rus‑Ukraine, particularly from the Greek and Arab writers.

The constant struggle of Ukraine of the ducal period of the X‑XIIIth centuries against the Eastern nomadic tribes, who impeded normal relations with the countries of the Black Sea basin, weakened the national organization; and with the invasion of the Tatars in the XIIIth century, Ukraine was completely cut off the Black Sea. It was a great loss for the country, which nevertheless had lasted almost four centuries before it became a component part of the Lithuanian, and later the Polish state systems.

In the XIV‑XVIth centuries, Ukraine, although deprived of its state organization, did not lose its strong cultural and organizational character. Cut off from the Black Sea and deprived of its Byzantine connections Ukraine sought new contacts in the West. It was at that time that there began in Ukraine a nation-wide transformation of the entire mode of life: changes in the community system, organization of labor, production, and the like. In the cities artisan guilds, religious and secular brotherhoods and vast cultural and national movements sprang up among the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainian culture, particularly its literature, language and arts, exercised a tremendous influence upon the neighbors of Ukraine, especially Lithuania and Poland.

Meanwhile Ukraine still retained its old names, Rus and Ruthenia, which were widely used in Western Europe. In contrast to this, the territories northeast of Ukraine were known as Muscovy or Moscovia, and included only a few northern principalities which had once belonged to the Kievan State.

The life and habits of Muscovy developed in a complex of different conditions — natural, tribal and cultural. Muscovy, inhabited by a mixture of Mongolo-Finnic tribes, accepted only  p21 the superficial aspects of the Slavic language and culture from the Kievan center, and maintained its oriental Asiatic psychology and mentality, always inimical to the West which it did not know and feared.

Western European and Oriental sources until the end of the XVIIIth century draw a clear distinction between Rus‑Ukraine and Muscovy, and apply to the principality of Moscow designations such as Mosco, Moscia, Moscovia, Moscovit, Moskovia and Muscovia and it has been only in recent times that this correct appellation has been gradually replaced by the term Russia. One of the most outstanding examples of this is Voltaire's The History of Charles XII. In the London edition of 1817 (pp115‑121) the translator, following the French text, retained such terms as Muscovia, Muscovites and the like; in the new edition of the book of 1908 (pp156‑160), however, the same text contains the name Russia. It is obvious that this inexactness and inconsistency in terminology has created much confusion and difficulty in the appreciation and knowledge of affairs in Eastern Europe.

Insofar as the name of the Ukrainian territory and of the Ukrainians themselves is concerned, in the XVII‑XVIIIth centuries there originated in Muscovy the names Chirkasy, Chirkasians, from the town of Chirkasy (Cherkassy) in Ukraine, which were applied to Ukraine and the Ukrainians. Some foreign travelers in Ukraine, following the Muscovite sources, have used these terms in their writings.

The name Ukraine was known in the oldest Ukrainian chronicles (those of Kiev, Volhynia and Galicia), and with the opening of the XIIth century became the national and popular name of the country. The earliest historical data on the Slavic tribe of Ucrans on the Baltic Sea date back to the Xth century. Also, the first of the Western European maps of the XVI‑XVIIth centuries designates the Ukrainian territory (on both sides of the Dnieper) as Ucran and Ucrania. The same transcription, Ucrania, was employed in the oldest latin books, and survives today in such European languages as Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, and Hungarian. The terms Ukraina and Ukraine were  p22 widely used in the XVI‑XVIIIth centuries. They are found constantly in Western European chronicles, documents, diplomatic notes, literature, and especially on maps designating the Ukrainian territory.

With the XVIth century the knightly military order of the Zaporozhian Sich on the middle Dnieper, which in the beginning was the principal military base against foreign encroachment, especially that of the Tatars and Turks, became in time the nucleus of the new Ukrainian statehood of the Kozak period. Therefore, alongside the name Ukraine, there also appeared such terms as Kozak land, Kozak nation, and the like.

The originality of the republican system of Ukraine — with freedom for the individual, less known in Europe, the liberal laws which took human dignity into account, the knight-like rules of the military system, the democratic principals of government — all this was interesting for Western Europe. As a consequence, Ukraine attracted many travelers and official foreign missions.

The economic and cultural development of Ukraine during the times of Hetmans Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Ivan Mazepa was paralleled by the growth of production, science, arts, and industry, all of which contributed considerably to the tightening of the economic and cultural ties with Western Europe.

The Ukrainian Kozak military force, which threw off the domination of the Polish nobility over Ukraine, continued to wage a determined struggle against the Muscovite intrusion, which aimed at the conquest of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Crimea.

It is worth noting that the conquest of the coasts of the Black and Azov Seas was an achievement of the Kozaks. Likewise the development of Ukrainian intellectual life during the 17‑18th centuries — centered in the Kievan Academy — was due exclusively to the Ukrainians themselves. Moreover, the Kievan Academy, which Western European scholars regarded as a university, played a great role in the progress of Eastern European civilization, especially for Muscovy.

 p23  The second half of the XVIIIth century abounds in priceless descriptions of Ukraine by various English writers who had an opportunity to compare the life in Ukraine with that in Muscovy, Poland and other neighboring countries.

With the destruction of the independent statehood of Ukraine by Russian imperialism at the end of the XVIIIth century, the complete liquidation of the Ukrainian military organization, the Zaporozhian Sich, followed. Subsequently, the gradual suppression of Ukrainian autonomy (the liquidation of the Hetmanate) was pressed by Moscow. Soon the Russian Tsars introduced serfdom, excessive taxes, and an unrestricted administration and court system into Ukraine. Even the name Ukraine was proscribed and banned. Tsar Peter I forbade the use of the term, the Muscovite State, and imposed a new one, the Russian Empire, or in short, Russia. The name was quickly accepted by the outside world, as Russian officials through ministries and embassies did everything possible for its adoption by foreign publications. Russian historians and theoreticians began writing treatises endeavoring to "prove" that the tsars were the successors and heir of the Kievan princes, and that the name Rus was nothing else but Russia.

After appropriating the name Rus for their own use, the Russians exercised great efforts to destroy the terms Ukraine and Ukrainians. The drastic persecutions of the Ukrainian national movement in the XIXth century, the prohibition of the use of the Ukrainian language in schools and in print (Ukase of 1876) and even the proscription of the name Ukraine itself — all aimed at the complete Russification of the Ukrainians. Yet Moscow failed. These new and artificial names were designed to make the Russian Empire synonymous with the Russian people and to make it appear that the Russian people were subdivided into "Great Russians" and "Little Russians," although there is reason to believe that in the beginning "Little Russia" came into use to denote the real Rus exactly as Little Greece was Greece  p24 and Great Greece (Magna Graecia) was the territory into which Greek influence had more or less superficially penetrated.

None of the Russian Tsars succeeded in making the Ukrainians over into Russians. Ukrainians felt that "Little Russia" was a term used to disparage their national pride and origin.

The irresistible drive of the Ukrainians toward the goal of national independence, coupled with the renaissance of their literature and their awareness that they were being economically exploited by Muscovy, brought about in 1917 their revolution and establishment of their Ukrainian National Republic.

Thayer's Notes:

a The Antae are mentioned by Procopius (6c A.D.): at some length in Wars, VII.14.2‑31 ff. and 22.3‑21 ff.; and more incidentally in Anecdota, XI.11, XVIII.20, XXIII.6 and Wars, V.27.2, VII.40.5, VIII.4.9.

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b The Kuban area is not in present-day Ukraine, and was not in Ukraine when Sichynsky wrote, having been annexed by Russia from the Cossacks in the late 18c.

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Page updated: 24 Jul 22