+38 044 451 61 71
+38 067 463 46 03
Search :

00-00-0000 00 : 00(GMT+2)


Our partners:



Home > KIEV > The history of Kyivska Rus\'
The history of Kyivska Rus'

The History of Kiev

The History of Kiev (also spelled Kyiv as per Ukrainian: Київ), the largest city and the capital of Ukraine, is long and remarkable. The exact time of city foundation is hard to determine. The legend has it that the emergence of the great city on the future location of Kiev was prophesied by St. Andrew (d. AD 60/70) fascinated by the spectacular location on the hilly shores of the Dnieper river. The city is thought to have existed as early as the 5th century, initially as a growing trading post. Gradually acquiring the eminence as the center of the East Slavic civilization, Kiev reached its Golden Age as the center Kievan Rus' in the tenth–twelfth centuries. Its political, but not cultural, importance started to decline somewhat when it was completely destroyed during the Mongol invasion in 1240. In the following centuries Kiev was a provincial capital of marginal importance in the outskirts of the territories controlled by its powerful neighbors: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Muscovite Russia, later the Russian Empire. A Christian city since 988, it still played an important role in preserving the traditions of Orthodox Christianity, especially at times of domination by Catholic Poland, and later the atheist Soviet Union.
The city prospered again during the Russian industrial revolution in the late 19th century. In the turbulent period following the Russian Revolution Kiev, caught in the middle of several conflicts, quickly went through becoming the capital of several short-lived Ukrainian states. From 1921 the city was part of the Soviet Union, since 1934 as a capital of Soviet Ukraine. In the World War II, the city was destroyed again, almost completely, but quickly recovered in the post-war years becoming the third most important city of the Soviet Union, the capital of the second most populous Soviet republic. It now remains the capital of Ukraine, independent since 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Early Times to Mongol Invasion (1240)

Kiev was probably 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/Kiev is translated as "belonging to Kyi".
It is unclear when Kiev fell under the rule of the Khazar empire but the Primary Chronicle (a main source of information about the early history of the area) mentions Slavic Kievans 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 Kiev 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 Kiev 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 Kievian Letter and Schechter Letter.)
From Oleg's seizure of the city until 1169 Kiev was the capital of the principal East-Slavic state, known as Kievan Rus' (or Kyivan Rus') which was ruled by initially Varangian Rurikid dynasty which was gradually Slavisized. The Kievan Grand Princes had traditional primacy over the other rulers of the land and the Kiev princehood was a valuable prize in the intra-dynastic rivalry. In 968 the city withstood a siege by the nomadic Pechenegs. In 988 by the order of the Grand Prince Vladimir I of Kiev (St. Vladimir or Volodymyr), the city residents baptized en-masse in the Dnieper river, an event the symbolized the Baptism of Kievan Rus'. Kiev reached the height of its position of political and cultural Golden Age in the middle of the 11th century under Vladimir's son Yaroslav the Wise. The following years were marked by the rivalries of the competing princes of the dynasty and weakening of Kiev's political influence. In one of such wars (1169) Kiev was sacked by the Suzdalian troops of Andrei Bogolyubsky.

Mongol Invasion to 17th century

Devastated by the invading Mongols in 1240, it subsequently passed under the rule of the state of Halych-Volynia (prior to 1264) before falling to Gediminas (Gedimin) in 1321, and in 1362 became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During the 15th century Kiev has been ruled by Olelkovich dukes, successors of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas. By the order of Casimir Jagiellon, the Duchy of Kiev was abolished and the Kiev Voivodship was established in 1471. Lithuanian statesman Martynas Goštautas was appointed as the first voivode (palatine) of Kiev the same year; his appointment was met by hostility from locals.
The city was frequently attacked by Crimean Tatars and in 1482 was destroyed again by Crimean Khan Meñli I Giray. Despite its little remaining political significance, the city still played an important role as a seat of the local Orthodox metropolitan. However, starting in 1494 the city's local autonomy (Magdeburg rights) gradually increased in a series of acts of Lithuanian Grand Dukes and Polish Kings which was finalized by 1516 charter granted by Sigismund I.
After the 1569 Union of Lublin that formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Kiev (Pol. Kijów) with other Ukrainian territories was transferred to the Polish crown were it became a capital of Kijów Voivodship. Its role of Orthodox center strengthened due to expansion of Roman Catholicism under Polish rule. In 1632, Peter Mogila the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia established the Kiev Mogila Academy, an educational institution aimed to preserve and develop Ukrainian culture and Orthodox faith despite Polish Catholic oppression. Although ruled by the church, the academy provided students with educational standards close to universities of Western Europe (including multilingual training) and became the foremost educational center, both religious and secular.
In 1648 the Bohdan Khmelnytsky's cossacks triumphantly entered Kiev in the course of their uprising establishing the rule of their Cossack state in the city. This rule was short-lived, and in 1654 Khmelnytsky had to establish a protective Treaty of Pereyaslav with Muscovite Russia. The 1667 Treaty of Andrusovo put Kiev under the control of Russia for the centuries to come with the territory, slowly losing the autonomy which was finally abolished in 1775 by the Empress Catherine the Great.

19th century to 1917 Revolution

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

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 Kiev'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 Saints Cyril and Methodius whose members put forward the idea of federation of free Slavic people with Ukrainians as a distinct group among them rather than a part of the Russian nation (the society was quickly suppressed by the authorities).
Following the gradual loss of Ukraine's autonomy, Kiev 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 Kiev (by clandestine book-printing, amateur theater, folk studies etc.)
During the Russian industrial revolution in the late 19th century, Kiev 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 center, 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 train tram line of the Russian Empire was established in Kiev (arguably, the first in the world).
At that time, a large Jewish community emerged in Kiev, developing its own ethnic culture and business interests. This was stimulated by the prohibition of Jewish settlement in Russia proper (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) — as well as further eastwards. In fact, the Pale of Settlement (Russian: черта оседлости) banned Jews from Kiev as well, fencing off the city's districts from the Jewish population.
The development of aviation (both military and amateur) became another notable mark of distinction of 1900s Kiev. Prominent aviation figures of that period include Kievites Pyotr Nesterov (well-known aerobatics pioneer) and Igor Sikorsky. The world's first helicopter was built and tested in Kiev by Sikorsky.

Ukrainian Revolution and Independence

In 1917 the Central Rada (Tsentralna Rada), a Ukrainian self-government body headed by the famous historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky, was established in the city. Later that year, Ukrainian autonomy was declared. On November 7, 1917 it was transformed into an independent Ukrainian People's Republic with the capital in Kiev. During this short period of independence, Kiev experienced rapid growth of its cultural and political status. Academy of Sciences and professional Ukrainian-language theaters and libraries were established by the new government.
Later Kiev became a war zone in the lasting and bloody struggle between Ukrainian, Polish and Russian Bolshevik governments in the time of Russian Revolution, Polish-Ukrainian War and Polish-Soviet War.


The Bolsheviks took control of Kiev in 1918 and then finally in 1920. After the Ukrainian SSR was formed in 1922, Kharkiv was declared its capital. Kiev, being an important industrial center, continued to grow. In 1925 the first public buses run on Kiev streets, and ten years latter - the first trolleybuses. In 1927 the suburban areas of Darnytsia, Lanky, Chokolivka, and Nikolska slobidka were included into city. In 1932 Kiev became the administrative center of newly created Kiev Oblast.
In 1932-33, the city population, as most of the other Ukrainian territories, suffered from Holodomor. In Kiev, bread and other food products were distributed to workers by food cards according to daily norm, but even with cards, bread was in limited supply, and citizens were standing overnight in lines to obtain it.
In 1934 the capital of Ukrainian SSR was moved to Kiev, opening a new page in Kiev history. At that time, the process of destruction of churches and monuments, which started in 1920s, reached the most dramatic turn. Many hundreds year old churches, and structures, such as St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral, Fountain of Samson, were demolished. The other, such as Saint Sophia Cathedral were confiscated. City population continued to increase mostly by migrants. The migration changed the ethnic demographics of the city from the previous Russian-Ukrainian parity to predominantly Ukrainian, although Russian remained the dominant language.
In the 1930s, Kievans also suffered from the controversial Soviet political policy of that time. While encouraging lower-class Ukrainians to pursue careers and develop their culture (see Ukrainization), the Communist regime soon began harsh oppression of political freedom, Ukraine's autonomy and religion. Recurring political trials were organized in the city to purge "Ukrainian nationalists", "Western spies" and opponents of Joseph Stalin inside the Bolshevik party. As numerous historic churches were destroyed or vandalized, the clergy repressed.
In the late 1930s, clandestine mass executions began in Kiev. Thousands of Kievites (mostly intellectuals and party activists) were arrested in the night, hurriedly court-martialed, shot and buried in mass graves. The main execution sites were Babi Yar and the Bykivnia forest. Tens of thousands were sentenced to GULAG camps. In the same time, the city's economy continued to grow, following Stalin's industrialization policy.

World War II

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany occupied Kiev on 19 September 1941 (see the Battle of Kiev). Overall, the battle proved disastrous for the Soviet side but it significantly delayed the German advances. The delay also allowed the evacuatuation of all significant industrial enterprises from Kiev to the central and eastern parts of the Soviet Union, away from the hostilities, where they played a major role in arming the Nazi fighting Red Army (see, for example, Kiev Arsenal factory).
Before the evacuation, the Red Army planted more than ten thousand mines throughout Kiev, controlled by wireless detonators. On September 24, when the German invaders had settled into the city, the mines were detonated, causing many of the major buildings to collapse, and setting the city ablaze for five days. More than a thousand Germans were killed in what was "the biggest and most sophisticated booby trap in history."

Babi Yar, a location in Kiev, became a site of one of the most infamous Nazi WWII war crimes. During two days in September 1941, at least 33,771 Jews from Kiev and its suburbs were massacred at Babi Yar by the SS Einsatzgruppen, according to their own reports. Babi Yar was a site of additional mass murders of captured Soviet citizens over the following years, including Roma, POWs and anyone suspected in aiding the resistance movement), perhaps as many as 60,000 additional people. The role of Ukrainian collaborators in this massacre of Jews, now thoroughly documented, is still a matter of painful debate in Ukraine.
A quickly established by local patriots underground resistance was active until the liberation from Nazi occupation. During the war, Kiev was heavily bombarded, especially in the beginning of the war and the city was largely destroyed including many of its architectural landmarks (only one building remained standing on the Khreschatyk, a main street of Kiev).
While the whole of Ukraine was a '[Third] Reich commissariate', under a Nazi Reichskommissar, the region surrounding Kiew (as the Germans spell its name) was one of the six subordinate 'general districts', February 1942 - 1943 Generalbezirk Kiew, under Generalkommissar Waldemar Magunia (b. 1902 - d. 1974, also NSDAP)
The city was liberated by the Soviet Army advancing westward on 6 November 1943. For its role during the War, the city was later awarded the title Hero City.


Post-World War II Ukrainian SSR

Post-wartime in Kiev was a period of rapid socio-economic growth and political pacification. The arms race of the Cold War caused the establishment of a powerful technological complex in the city (both R&D and production), specializing in aerospace, microelectronics and precision optics.
Dozens of industrial companies were created employing highly skilled personnel. Sciences and technology became the main issues of Kiev's intellectual life. Dozens of research institutes in various fields formed the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR.

Coat of arms of Kiev during the Soviet era

Kiev also became an important military center of the Soviet Union. More than a dozen military schools and academies were established here, also specializing in high-tech warfare (see also Soviet education).
This created a labor force demand which fed migration from rural areas of both Ukraine and Russia. Large suburbs and an extensive transportation infrastructure were built to accommodate the growing population.
However, many rural-type buildings and groves have survived on the city's hills, creating Kiev's image as one of the world's greenest cities.
The city grew tremendously in the 1950s through '80s. Some significant urban achievements of this period include establishment of the Metro, building new river bridges (connecting the old city with Left Bank suburbs), and Boryspil Airport (the city's second, and later international).
Systematic oppression of pro-Ukrainian intellectuals, conveniently and uniformly dubbed as "nationalists", was carried under the campaign against a resurrected by propaganda "Ukrainian nationalism" threat to a Soviet way of life. In cultural sense it marked a new waive of Russification in the 1970s, when universities and research facilities were gradually and secretly discouraged from using Ukrainian. Switching to Russian, as well as choosing to send children to Russian schools was expedient for educational and career advancement. Thus the city underwent another cycle of gradual Russification.
Every attempt to dispute Soviet rule was harshly oppressed, especially concerning democracy, Ukrainian SSR's self-government, and ethnic-religious problems. Campaigns against "Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism" and "Western influence" in Kiev's educational and scientific institutions were mounted repeatedly. Due to limited career prospects in Kiev, Moscow became a preferable life destination for many Kievans (and Ukrainians as a whole), especially for artists and other creative intellectuals. Dozens of show-business celebrities in modern Russia were born in Kiev.
In the 1970s and later 1980s–'90s, given special permission from Soviet government, a significant part of the city's Jews migrated to Israel and the West. After Ukraine became independent in 1991, a new Jewish university, International Solomon University was founded by Professor Alexander Tetelbaum to create new educational and cultural opportunities for Jews and Ukrainians.
The Chernobyl accident of 1986 affected city life tremendously, both environmentally and socio-politically. Some areas of the city have been polluted by radioactive dust. However, Kievans were neither informed about the actual threat of the accident, nor recognized as its victims. Moreover, on May 1, 1986 (a few days after the accident), local CPSU leaders ordered Kievans (including hundreds of children) to take part in a mass civil parade in the city's center—"to prevent panic". Later, thousands of refugees from accident zone were resettled in Kiev.

Independent Ukraine

After 57 years as the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union, Kiev became the capital of independent Ukraine in 1991 .
The city was the site of mass protests over the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election by supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko beginning November 22, 2004 at Independence Square. Much smaller counter-protests in favor of Viktor Yanukovych also took place.
Kiev hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2005 on May 19 and May 21 in the Palace of Sports.

The current city mayor is Leonid Chernovetsky.

On material by


© 2007

tel.:  +38044 451 61 71    +380 67 463 46 03


Проект РА