Rus vs Ukraine
by Ihor Hyrych
The Ukrainian Week #9, 2012

The Ukrainian ethnonym is actually quite recent. It emerged in the 19th century when the national issue arose on the European political level. So, why were Ukrainians forced to quit using their original names "Rus" and "Rusky" as they were widely known in the medieval and even earlier times?

Ukraine as a geographical name was first used to define the frontier terrain of the Pereyaslav Principality in the Hypathian Codex in 1187. As a territory Ukraine was present on Guillaume de Beauplan's map from the mid-17th century which made this geographical name well-known in Western Europe. Scholars claimed that the word originated from okrayina, a Ukrainian word to describe the outskirts on the frontier between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Steppe. Muscovite military commanders used the name with the same meaning for Slobozhanshchyna (Sloboda Ukraine was a historical region which developed in the 17th century) which was colonized by people from Naddniprianshchyna (Dnieper Ukraine). The territory of modern Ukraine, except for the Crimea and Halychyna, in the 17th century was called "Great Ukraine".

During the uprisng of Bohdan Khmelnytsky from 1648 to 1657 Ukraine included Kyiv, Bratslav and Chernihiv Provinces which were all ruled by the Hetman. In fact, various historical sources show that several territories were called Ukraine over the 13-18th centuries. In the 19th century the name turned into a geographical place name even though it was rarely mentioned in politics. Ethnically, at that time the population of the modern Ukraine territories identified themselves as Ruthenians. After the Russian Empire was declared in 1721 and the Left-bank Hetmanate and Slobozhanshchyna were annexed to it in the 18th century, the need arose to differentiate between the population of the then Ukrainian provinces and ethnic Russians, especially after Muscovites monopolized the Kyiv Rus heritage with its Rus name.

Some say Ukrainians lost the ideological battle when they quit using the traditional Rus name because the whole world knew the Old Rus state.This mixed old Ukrainian history with the Russian background.

The new word to define the nationality always made the Ukrainian elite uncomfortable, hence the reluctance of some Ukrainian historians to use old-Ukrainian rather than old-Rus, or Ukraine-Rus rather than Kyiv Rus which was more a tribute to the Russian interpretation of history. Both latter terms are artificial, yet the first one sounds more familiar due to the Soviet history, while the second one was forgotten after the empire banned teaching Ukrainian history from the Ukrainian perspective. By contrast, the French or Germans were never embarassed to refer to their Gaulish or Frankish background as old-French or old-German history is respectively known.

Notably, the original war between Ukrainian and Russian intellectuals for historical memory in the 19th century was the battle for independence of the so-called Kyiv Rus heritage. Its winner got the legitimate right in the eyes of the educated part of society to stake their claim over Ukrainian terrain.
              TERRA INCOGNITA
     Guillaume de Beauplan's map dated 1648
     promoted Ukraine's new name in Europe
          (click the image to enlarge it)
In their early days the first Ukrainian budyteli (literally translated as "awakeners" as they were activists campaigning for national, cultural and language revival of slavonic peoples) faced a tough challenge: the old ethnonym rusky (Ruthenian) and the new malorusky (Little Russian) had an inevitable common root with the Russians and automatically became part of the Russian cultural environment, the Russian World. Therefore, Taras Shevchenko, Mykola Kostomarov and Panteleimon Kulish, leaders of the "Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius" chose Ukraine as the name for the territory of Naddniprianshchyna which was totally different from Russia. This embodied the heroic folklore image of the Cossack Epoch (16-18 centuries). Middle Naddniprianshchyna embodied the national spirit. It was supposed to cover the entire millennium of Rus-Ukrainian history, from the times of princes until "new times".

Dropping historical ethnonyms was not uncommon among European nations. Romanians, for instance, quit using their earlier secular Vlach, Moldovan and Transilvanian names to adopt a new political name. Eventually, they took the mythological name that brought them closer to the heroic background of the Roman Empire. Initially their neighbours saw this as unreasonable, strange and impudent but the Romanian state promoted the new name effectively. In the late 19th century nobody felt as irritated with it as the Russian and Poles were with the name Ukraine in the early 20th century.

Scenarios of origin
In his book "The Name of Ukraine" published in Prague in 1927 Serhiy Shelukhin, a  historian and law expert,
insisted that the name Ukraine traced back to  pre-Rus  times  originating  from  ukry,  a powerful unknown
ancient people. He offered this hypothesis as a  counter-weight  to the claims  about  the name coming from
the word okrayina, translated as suburbs, that was  popular  in Russia. The most popular and academically
reasonable scenario, though, was offered by Lonhyn Tsehelsky, a writer and civil activist, in his "Rus-Ukraine
and Muscovy-Russia"  brochure, first published  in 1901. He  described  how Muscovy usurped the historical 
name of Ukraine-Rus , revealing the imperialistic background of using Rus during the tsarist colonial policy of
the 19th century and proved that dropping the name for Ukraine, the new one, made sense, particularly to
those Ukrainians who had once struggled to preservr their identity and not melt in one pot.

Why the Russian World? 

Until 1917 Ukrainians called their northern neighbors velykorosy, ( the great Russians). based on the ideological
reasoning behind the triune (Russian tribe). In the  USSR  times, when Soviet identity was constructed artificially,
the resulting Soviet nation was referred to as russky. Modern Russia replaced it with rossiyanie, yet the Kremlin
still wants to see a supranational term in  the word russki used as an umbrella name for Russians, Ukrainians and

Mykhailo Maksymovych split Ukrainian history into four phases, including Ukraine-Rus of the princedom epoch, Ukraine of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth period, Cossack Ukraine and the New Times Ukraine, by contrast to the Russian threefold scheme of Kievan Rus, Muscovy Rus and Peter's or Petersburg Rus.

The sole fact that Ukraine was used as a name for the nation signaled the intention of Ukrainian intellectuals to segregate from the cultural heritage, the state and the history of their neighbours. And the move turned out extremely revolutionary in terms of its impact. The new name drew a clear line between the interests of the two nations and set up the ground for national, cultural, historical and philosophical differentiation. Moreover, the national revival and the expansion of the literary language in the 19th centurycould not have happened without the new ethnonym.

The term Ukraine denoted a completely different historical status of the Ukrainian territory. The new name offered a different perspective on the terrain imperial intellectuals had presented as the source of Russian statehood where the ancestors of Muscovite tsars had once ruled. The Orthodox culture, allegedly common for Russians, Ukrainian and Belorusians, had been cherished (promoted as the cradle of the three brotherly nations concept in Soviet times) and the Great Rus had sprouted from Little Rus. Moreover, it changed the understanding of Naddnipryanshchyna's colonial status in the Russian empire and the existence of Ukraine's own statehood along with its cultural, religious and language traditions.

Imperial spin doctors realized this. Therefore they only allowed the name Ukraine in Naddnipryanshchyna during the revolution of 1905-1907. Until then newspapers and magazines would face penalties for using the name on maps, while artistic groups with Ukrainian signs were closed down all together. After the Coup of June 1907 a new wave of imperialistic chauvinism and political reaction surged through the country. As a result Ukrainians were qualified as "people of foreign race".

Semantically, Ukrainian identification did not take over the dominating Russian one overnight. Mykhailo Maksymovych created orthography based on the common Rus roots concept. It allowed Ukrainians to see vowels spelled as they were in Russian, while in fact reading them the way they sounded in their native Ukrainian words. The word дом  (house - ed.) was supposed to be read as dim,  the way it sounds in Ukrainian rather than dom as in Russian. Maksymovych's orthography caused national psychological dualism and therefore it grew popular among Galicia Russophiles.

In the mid-19th century Ukraine-Rus was coined as a new term to replace the Old Rus or Kyiv (Kievan) Rus.
Paulin Swiecicki, a great supporter of Ukraine,  began  using  the name Ukraine-Rus intentionally in "Selo",
("Village"), a Lviv- based newspaper, in the early 1860s. And it turned into a historiography term in the 1880s
when Oleksandr Baranivsky used it to describe the princedom epoch in his history textbook. Historian Volodymyr
Antonovych also preferred this name. When Kyiv and Lviv Ukrainians started talks about coordinated action in
1885 they agreed to use the name Ukraine for the territories inhabited by Ukrainians both in Austro-Hungarian
and Russian Empires.

It took a while for the Ukrainian name  to catch on. In the 1880s activists in Eastern Halychyna still used Rus in
the titles of their societies while the "Dilo" ("Action"- ed.) publication used Mykhailo Maksymovych's orthography
in the early 1890s. Even the reorganized Taras Shevchenko Academic Society was still described as a Ukrainian-
Rus Society, as was the Rus-Ukrainian Radical Party, the first national-oriented political force of Eastern Halychyna.


Mykhailo Hrushevsky called on intellectuals to drop the Little Russian and Ruthenia concept. He was active in Lviv starting from 1894, exactly when Rus was ultimately replaced by Ukraine.  The process was accompanied by the fading Russophile attitude and the victory of modern national thinking in Halychyna.

Despite the massive rise of national identity in the early 20th century, colleges in Halychyna still had almost 50% Russophiles. Professor Kyrylo Studynsky, the future President of the Taras Shevchenko Academic Society, complained about this in a letter to Mykhailo Hrushevsky. Russian-Ukrainian ambivalence and the evolution of the ethnonym Ukrainian under the tsarist rule in Naddniprianshchyna was more visible that the Polish-Ukrainian ambivalence in Eastern Halychyna. Even Volodymyr Antonovych , a prominent Ukrainian historian, was listed among scholars of both nationalities, let alone other historians, including Ivan Luchytsky and Volodymyr Naumenko who mostly qualified politically as Russians until 1917. Mykhailo Hrushevsky was among the first intellectuals who identified himself as a Ukrainian. In the mid-1890s a large group of the Naddnipryanshchyna elite joined him, including Oleksandr Lototsky, Serhiy Yefremov, Vasyl Domanytsky, Oleksandr Cherniakhivsky, Ivan Lypa, Mykola Mikhnovsky, Borys Hrinchenko and many more.

Ukrainians reached the point of no return before WWI. Rus was no longer associated with Ukraine and from that point on, the name only referred to Moscow. In his "Revival of the Nation" Volodymyr Vynnychenko used rusky (from Rus -ed.) only for Russians.

The Ukrainian ethnonym contained a new genetic code. It preserved identity and promoted a modern national culture, preventing Ukrainians from melting with Russians in the big imperial pot. The name which was used more and more commonly denoted a new national quality and the breakaway from the long-lasting Orthodox universalism that could have pushed the Ukrainian dilemma in the Russian direction in the 19th century with no option to return.



May 12, 2013

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