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Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine Features: The History of Russians in Ukraine

Prior to the 16th century an insignificant number of Russians (or more precisely, Muscovites) lived in Ukraine. The Russian presence in Ukraine increased dramatically following the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654. It consisted initially of garrisons in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities and the presence of Muscovite voivodes. Beginning in the time of Peter I, Russian landowners acquired increasingly larger holdings in the Cossack Hetman state and Slobidska Ukraine.

The Russian nobles often brought Russian serfs along with them to work, particularly in small-scale manufacturing enterprises. The tsarist authorities also forbade the Hetman state to trade with Western Europe as foreign commerce came to be controlled either by the government directly or by Russian merchants. The privileges thus accorded the Russians resulted in a further influx of Russian merchants or their agents into Ukraine, particularly to Kyiv and other larger centers. In the 18th century, there was a significant influx of Russian Old Believers into Ukraine. Having fled persecution at the hands of the Russian Orthodox church and the government, they established a number of settlements in the northern Chernihiv region. The exact number of Russians living in Ukrainian territories in the 18th century is unknown, but fragmentary data suggest that it was relatively small and mostly concentrated in Southern Ukraine.

Russians were virtually absent from Right-Bank Ukraine (other than in or near Kyiv) prior to the second and third partitions of Poland in 1793 and 1795. Even then only a small number of civil servants and military personnel and a still smaller number of merchants, craftsmen, and itinerant workers moved into the region. However, the political and administrative changes that dismantled the Cossack Hetman state and the Zaporizhia and imposed Russian imperial rule had cleared a wide path for Russian immigration to Left-Bank Ukraine.

By the early 19th century Russian civil servants, military men of various rank, landowners (particularly from the regions of Russia bordering on Ukraine), merchants, peddlers, craftsmen, and laborers had established themselves in Ukraine. The cities in Left-Bank Ukraine lost their right of Magdeburg law, and their economies, community life, and municipal governments increasingly fell under the control of recently arrived Russians. As a result the major cities of Ukraine developed an increasingly Russian character. Another wave of Russian immigration to Ukraine came in the 1880s, when Russians began flooding into the newly established industrial centers of the Donbas and the Dnieper Industrial Region as well as (to a lesser extent) Kharkiv…

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RUSSIANS IN UKRAINE. According to the census of 1897 there were 3.8 million Russians living in Ukraine. That figure suggests that they formed 11.7 percent of the total population of 27.8 million. A high proportion (42.3 percent) of the Russians in Ukraine lived in cities, particularly in comparison to the proportion (5.4 percent) of Ukrainians who lived in cities. The Russian inhabitants of Ukraine were not evenly distributed geographically. There were few of them (3 percent of the local population) in the long-settled forested steppe regions (with the exception of Slobidska Ukraine) and northern Ukraine. A larger number (1.2 million) lived in Southern Ukraine and Slobidska Ukraine (approximately 1 million). The Russian element in rural Ukraine tended to live either in separate villages or in separate sections of villages.

Russian villages commonly differed from Ukrainian ones in appearance and folkways. In general Russians in Ukraine considered Ukraine and Ukrainians to be an organically constituent element of the Russian state, and they assisted the imperial government in effecting its policies of centralization and Russification. They believed that Ukrainians were a Russian tribe, that their language was merely a dialect of Russian, and that their culture was a lesser variant of Russian culture. Even those Russians in Ukraine who espoused revolutionary and internationalist ideas sought to have them realized on an ‘all-Russian’ scale, and believed that Ukrainian strivings for the preservation of national identity and the development of the Ukrainian language detracted from the universality of their own cause. The general tendency of Russians in Ukraine to subsume all features of Ukrainian identity into an overriding imperial Russian one was buttressed by Russian state policies, a thoroughly Russified educational system, the Russian Orthodox church, and the Russian press…

Russian Old Believers in Vylkove, Odesa oblast.

Russian Old Believers in Vylkove, Odesa oblast

OLD BELIEVERS [Russian: starovery]. A grass-roots religious movement that emerged in 17th-century Muscovy as a reaction against the centralist policies of the Russian Orthodox church under Patriarch Nikon (1652-67). Nikon reformed Muscovite religious rites, customs, and particularly liturgical books, and many Muscovite parish priests and faithful defended the old rites and texts and rejected the new, despite the support the latter were given by Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich and the Muscovite government. Led by A. Petrovich, I. Neronov, and other archpriests, the Old Believers grew into a mass movement even though the Orthodox sobor of 1666-7 anathematized them and the government and church officials persecuted them as schismatics and state criminals. Fleeing from brutal persecution, they founded communities in Russia’s borderlands in the north, the Don region, and beyond, in Left-Bank and Right-Bank Ukraine, Bukovyna, and Bessarabia, in particular in the Chernihiv region and well as Podilia, Kherson regions, and the Danube Delta.

In Ukraine, as elsewhere, the Old Believers lived in separate settlements and ghettos. They considered outsiders to be unclean and thus kept contact with them to a minimum. They differed from their Ukrainian neighbors in virtually all aspects: in religion and rite, language (they spoke Russian), the construction and internal arrangement of their houses, and folkways. The Old Believers facilitated the Russification of certain parts of Ukraine, particularly the northern Chernihiv region, which is now part of Briansk oblast in the Russian Federation…

Old Believers in Ukraine.

Old Believers in Ukraine

UNION OF THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE. The largest and most extremist of the Russian Black Hundreds organizations, founded in Saint Petersburg in October 1905. It was led by A. Dubrovin and, from 1910, N. Markov. It fanatically defended tsarist autocracy, an indivisible Russian Empire, and Orthodoxy, and its members terrorized and murdered ‘traitors’ and enemies: Jews, liberals, socialists, revolutionaries, and participants in the non-Russian national movements. Enjoying the moral and financial support of Tsar Nicholas II, the government, the police, and even Russian Orthodox bishops and members of the Holy Synod, the union founded 900 branches throughout the Russian Empire and published a daily, Russkoe znamia, and other reactionary propaganda.

In Ukraine, where it was particularly strong in the cities of Odesa, Kyiv, and Chernihiv and at the Pochaiv Monastery in Volhynia gubernia, it disseminated militantly anti-Semitic and anti-Ukrainian views through periodicals such as its own Pochaevskii listok and the right-wing Kyiv daily newspaper Kievlianin. During the Revolution of 1905 the union’s ‘combat bands,’ consisting mostly of lumpen and criminal elements, instigated many vicious anti-Semitic pogroms, particularly in Odesa, Yalta, and Chernihiv gubernia. In the 1907-12 Third Russian State Duma at least 32 deputies were union members. In 1913 the union inspired the infamous anti-Semitic Beilis affair in Kyiv…

Tsar Nicholas II receives deputies of Kyiv right-wing Russian organizations (including the Kyiv Club of Russian Nationalists)

Tsar Nicholas II receives deputies of Kyiv right-wing Russian organizations (including the Kyiv Club of Russian Nationalists)

KYIV CLUB OF RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS. A political and cultural organization established in 1908 to promote Russian national consciousness in the western borderlands of the Russian Empire and to defend Russian interests against ‘Polish pressure and Ukrainophilism.’ The club became one of the most powerful pressure groups in the Russian Empire owing to the unusually energetic political activity of its leadership and the social prominence of its members. At its height, it numbered some 700 members, largely drawn from the Russian and Russified elite of Kyiv. From its inception, the Kyiv Club of Russian Nationalists stood at the fore front of the struggle against the Ukrainian national movement before 1917.

One of its first actions was a motion condemning the 1908 Duma bill to introduce Ukrainian as a language of instruction in elementary schools. Through its publications and lecture program, as well as articles in the newspaper Kievlianin and inNovoe vremia, the club attempted to raise public awareness concerning the dangers of the Ukrainian movement, which it viewed as a Polish-Austrian-German-Jewish intrigue. Kyiv Club members also worked behind the scenes, with some success, to pressure the administration to close down Ukrainian organizations and periodicals, and to prevent any public commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Taras Shevchenko’s death (1911) or the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth (1914). The government decision to shut down all Ukrainian institutions in January 1915 was the culmination of this campaign…

Viktor Dubrovsky - The Ukrainian-Muscovite dictionary (1918)

Viktor Dubrovsky – The Ukrainian-Muscovite dictionary (1918)

RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN UKRAINE. Discounting the Russian garrison stationed in Kyiv from 1654, the first substantial Russian settlements in Ukraine (mainly of Old Believers) arose in the northern Chernihiv region in the second half of the 17th century. From there they spread in the 18th and 19th centuries to Right-Bank Ukraine and Southern Ukraine. Because of their religious isolation from the Ukrainian milieu, their original dialects (mostly southern Russian and some central Russian) were relatively little affected by the Ukrainian language. Ukrainian settlers came into contact with Russian rural colonists in Slobidska Ukraine in the 17th century and in Southern Ukraine in the late 18th century. Except for those living in compact colonies, most of the Russian Old Believers, serfs, military settlers, and refugees were assimilated by the dominant Ukrainian peasantry. In the process Ukrainian Steppe dialects and Slobidska Ukraine dialects were influenced to varying degrees by Russian.

Ukraine’s lower urban strata and inhabitants of suburbs and workers’ settlements in the Donbas and Dnipropetrovsk oblast speak a variety of Russified dialects which evolved through the Russification of local Ukrainian residents and the constant influx of Russians, who migrated or were sent to Ukraine. The slang and argot of the Russian lumpen and criminal elements in the large cities (Odesa, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and the cities of the Donbas) became widespread in the Soviet period. Because of Russification pressures, a ‘Ukrainian’ provincial variant of literary Russian developed among the gentry and intelligentsia in the tsarist period, and among Communist Party functionaries and the technical intelligentsia in the Soviet period…

The text of the Ems ukase

The text of the Ems ukase

RUSSIFICATION. The rapid expansion of Muscovy and then of the Russian Empire was connected with the Russification of the indigenous peoples of eastern Europe and northern and central Asia. Ukraine came under increasing Russification pressures after the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654. Ukrainian autonomy was gradually restricted and finally abolished. In 1720 it was forbidden to print books in Ukrainian. During the reign of Catherine II a wide Russification program was implemented. Russian became compulsory in the schools and in publications. The language of instruction at the Kyivan Mohyla Academy was switched to Russian. Russian was adopted as the administrative language in the Orthodox church, and Church Slavonic, used for sermons, had to be pronounced in the Russian way.

The imperial government sharply increased its Russification efforts in the second half of the 19th century: the Valuev circular (1863) and the Ems Ukase (1876) blocked the development of Ukrainian literature until the Revolution of 1905. The national revival and de-Russification of Ukraine that began with the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917-20) was interrupted by the Soviet occupation in 1919-20. With the consolidation of Soviet power the Russians regained their dominant position in Ukraine. Russian became the language of the Communist Party and government. The Ukrainization of the Soviet Ukrainian government and the educational and cultural institutions in the 1920s met with much opposition from Russians and Russified elements. In 1932-3 the Party switched to an extreme anti-Ukrainian course: the cultural, state, and Party activists who had implemented Ukrainization were arrested and either imprisoned or shot. In contrast to the tsarist period, under the Soviet regime Russification encompassed all Ukrainian territories, administrative and ethnic, and all social strata, including the peasantry…


The preparation, editing, and display of the IEU entries about the history of Russians in Ukraine were made possible by the financial support of the CANADIAN FOUNDATION FOR UKRAINIAN STUDIES.


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