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The founding of Kievan Rus at the end of the 9th century is considered to be the beginning of Ukrainian statehood. In the 12th century, the state collapsed into hostile principalities, which fell to the Golden Horde of the Mongol Khans in the 13th century. At the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, much of the territory of modern Ukraine became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.


After the Polish-Lithuanian union in 1569, Ukraine was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita. The shores of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, as well as Crimea, belonged to the Crimean Khanate, a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. In the second half of the 17th century, Left-bank Ukraine and the lands of the Cossacks, i.e. the area east of the Dnieper River, came under Russian control. The partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795 divided the remaining territories of Ukraine between Russia and Austria. The Crimean Khanate also fell under Russian rule in the final third of the 18th century.

After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, various political forces fought in Ukraine between 1917 and 1918. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Soviet Russia and the Central Powers recognised the independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, proclaimed in January 1918. After the November Revolution in Germany and the end of World War I, and the withdrawal of the Central Powers’ forces, several Ukrainian armies fought in Ukraine against the Red Army. By 1920, the Soviet Red Army had prevailed.

The lands of West Ukrainian People’s Republic, proclaimed in November 1918 in Eastern Galicia and Bukovina, which had previously belonged to Austria-Hungary, came under Polish, Romanian and Czechoslovakian rule. In 1922, the Ukrainian SSR was formally one of the four founding members of the Soviet Union. The secret Additional Protocol to the Non-Aggression Pact between the USSR and Germany, signed in 1939, designated the Ukrainian-populated areas that belonged to Poland and Romania as part of the sphere of influence of the USSR, which the latter annexed and added to the Ukrainian SSR in 1939–1940. In 1945, the Ukrainian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations. However, Ukraine was not an independent state until 1991.

During the rule of Vladimir the Great, the Kievan Rus' state was Christianized in 988. The Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, built in the 11th century, has survived until today. (Wikipedia)

Ritualistic Polovets stone sculptures from the 9th to 13th centuries in Izyum, Kremenets Mountains in Eastern Ukraine. (www.donmining.info)

A woman on a Ukrainian village street, pictured 1905–1915. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/Library of Congress)

Ukraine’s national colours are thought to originate from the colours of the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia that existed in Ukraine’s territory in the 12th century. In the 19th century, they became the national colours of Ukraine, and in the 20th century, the symbolic colours of the Ukrainian state. The colours are said to symbolise the Ukrainian landscape with its light blue skies and yellow wheat fields.

Ukraine’s small coat of arms with a trident (tryzub) symbol. The trident is an antique symbol that was used by the Rurik dynasty, the rulers of the Kievan Rus' state. The Ukrainian People's Republic established this as the official coat of arms of Ukraine in 1918.


In the 1920s, Ukrainian language and culture initially flourished in the Ukrainian SSR, which was part of the communist Soviet Union. In the second half of the 1920s, Russification and the suppression of Ukrainian identity intensified under the guise of the three ideological pillars of socialism: industrialisation, collectivisation and the cultural revolution.


The Cossacks, who had lived in eastern Ukraine on the coasts of the Azov Sea and the Black Sea for centuries, were deprived of their status, and many were stripped of their civil and political rights they had had until 1936.

The violent collectivisation of agriculture between 1929 and 1932 – that is, the liquidation of individual households and various cooperatives, the forcing of peasants into collective farms and the requisitioning of grain and other agricultural products – ended in the Great Famine of 1932–1933, known as the Holodomor. Several million people died of starvation or disease. In parallel with collectivisation and the Holodomor, more than a million wealthier peasants, the so-called kulaks, were deported to Siberia and northern Russia with their families. The urban population, especially Ukraine’s intellectual elite, was severely affected by Stalin’s Great Purge of 1936–1938, with around 270,000 people falling victim to the NKVD. The political struggle for the rights of Ukrainians in Poland was led by Ukrainian political parties and the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, Організація Українських Націоналістів), founded as an underground organisation in 1929.

A woman, who had been declared a kulak, leaving her dispossessed home with her child. Kulaks were wealthier farmers, who were accused of oppressing poorer farmers. (Holodomor Research and Education Consortium)

Villagers in front of blackboards on which authorities marked the names of people that hid grain and other foodstuff during the famine. If the community failed to fulfil the quota, the entire village would be punished. (Holodomor Research and Education Consortium)

Woman, weakened by hunger, at the Kharkiv market in 1933. (Alexander Wienerberger. vitacollections.ca/HREC)

Graves of people who have died due to starvation near Kharkiv in 1933. (Alexander Wienerberger. vitacollections.ca/HREC)

Starved child near Kharkiv in 1933. (Alexander Wienerberger. vitacollections.ca/HREC)

Nälga surnud talumees Harkivis 1933. a. (Alexander Wienerberger. vitacollections.ca/HREC)

A farmer has died of starvation in Kharkiv in 1933. (Alexander Wienerberger. vitacollections.ca/HREC)


The secret protocols to the non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany, signed on 23 August 1939, designated the areas inhabited by Belarusians and Ukrainians in eastern Poland and northern Bukovina as part of USSR’s sphere of influence.

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and unleashed World War II in Europe. On 17 September, the Germans were joined by the Soviet Union, conquering eastern Poland.

In the summer of 1940, the Soviet Union annexed northern Bukovina from Romania. All this took place under the guise of liberating their “brothers” who had allegedly suffered persecution by Poles and Romanians. The Soviet Union launched repressions in western Ukraine and western Belarus similar to those already carried out in the Ukrainian SSR. From the autumn of 1939 until the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union in June 1941, the NKVD deported nearly 1.25 million people from both western Ukraine and the “old” Ukrainian SSR.

Until the summer of 1941, the USSR was an ally of Germany, and raw materials and industrial and agricultural products transported from the USSR to Germany supported Germany’s military efforts. Then, in 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and in 1945, the Soviet Union, allied with Western Europe and the United States, forced Germany to surrender. As a result of the international agreements of 1945, the Soviet Union, which had established its empire in Eastern Europe, as well as its successor Russia, retained the eternal halo of the “saviour of Europe”. The territories annexed or conquered by military force between 1939 and 1940 remained part of the USSR. Although the Western democracies did not recognise the annexation of the Baltic States by the USSR, it failed to hinder USSR’s international position, and realpolitik prevailed.

Joint parade of the German and USSR forces in the conquered Brest-Litovsk in 22.09.1939. (Wikipedia)

Red Army soldiers inspecting weapons taken as spoils from the crushed Polish army in Lviv.

The city of Wieluń in Poland after the German Air Force’s air raid in 1939. (Wikipedia)

Memorial for the victims of totalitarianism in Piatykhatky forest in Kharkiv Oblast. Thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals, murdered during the Great Terror of 1937–1938, as well as Polish officers detained in 1940, have been buried to its mass graves.

Soviet postage stamp „The liberation of brotherly nations in Western Ukraine and in Western Belarus.” 17.09.1939.

The memorial was hit by a Russian missile in 2022.

Soviet propaganda poster depicting the conquest of the area of Ukraine as liberation of Ukrainian farmers from the yoke of the so-called Polish “pan” (sir).

Text on the poster:

„We give our helping hand to our brothers, for them to straighten their backs and throw their despicable whip-state into the darkness of the ages.”


After the start of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union in June 1941, Ukraine quickly fell under German occupation. Some of the politicians who had emigrated returned to Ukraine with hopes of taking advantage of the war to restore Ukrainian independence. Germany considered such attempts hostile and these participants were sent to concentration camps, including one of the leaders of OUN, Stepan Bandera.


German-occupied Ukraine became an area subject to the Holocaust; more than a million Ukrainian Jews were killed. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were also repressed by the Germans, many of whom were sent to Germany as Ostarbeiter – forced labourers.

In Ukraine, both the Ukrainian nationalists and the Polish underground resistance movement Armia Krajowa fought a guerrilla war against the Germans and later the Red Army. There were also many bloody clashes between Ukrainians and Poles, often with civilian casualties. The communist partisans supported by the USSR fought against the Germans, Ukrainian nationalists and Poles. Millions of Ukrainians fought in the Red Army during the war, and the Germans also formed various battalions of Ukrainians, some of whom were later assembled under the Waffen-SS.

The military wing of the OUN, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Українська Повстанська Армія, UPA), fought a guerrilla war against both the German occupation authorities and the returning Red Army. Roman Shukhevych became the leader of the UPA, leading the partisan struggle against Soviet rule in western Ukraine until his death in March 1950. Stepan Bandera, the founder of the military wing of the OUN, was released from concentration camp in autumn 1944 and lived in Munich after the war. He was assassinated there by a KGB agent in 1959.

Repressions continued when the Soviet authorities returned to Ukraine. All the Crimean Tatars, more than 200,000 people, were deported to Central Asia and were only allowed to return in the late 1980s. More than 180,000 people in western Ukraine were repressed on charges of collaborating with an underground resistance movement. In 1947, another 76,000 Ukrainians were deported in order to suppress the resistance. The Soviet Union was able to suppress the armed resistance movement in Ukraine by the mid-1950s.

Ukrainian Insurgent Army fighting two occupiers.

Vasily Rudyak’s squad of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1944.

Ostarbeiter‘s ID.(digital.kenyon.edu/bulmash/1466)

Stepan Bandera (1909–1959). (Wikipedia)

Roman Shukhevych (1907–1950). (Wikipedia)

An emblem worn on Ostarbeiter´s clothes (digital.kenyon.edu/bulmash/1466)

Family of twice deported Crimean Tatars in a railway station in the 1960s. The Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return home. Revenants, who had returned on their own initiative, were deported again.

Flag of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (rozetka.com.ua)



With their defeat in the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s decline reached its lowest point in what Vladimir Putin, who was elected president of Russia in 2000, called the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. The communist world system collapsed, communist parties were overthrown in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, and the Soviet republics became independent states. Ukraine declared independence on 24 August 1991.


In the 21st century, President Putin began to restore Russian influence. In order to discredit the peoples who fought against USSR’s occupation during the Second World War, Russian propaganda has implemented accusations of Nazism on the international stage for many years. Year after year, Russia has increasingly turned to military threats or aggression. Each new aggression tests the international community’s and national governments’ pain thresholds: how far can Russia go before it is met by a response that would force it to retreat or abstain from further aggression?

In 2014, Russian aggression against Ukraine began. Today, after eight years of war, the limits of the international community’s tolerance have been strongly tested. In the years since the annexation of Crimea, it has become clear that economic sanctions will not be able to overturn the plans of Vladimir Putin, who is increasingly ruling Russia as a dictator. Until direct military action was initiated in several regions of Ukraine on 24 February, there were noticeable tendencies towards the policy of non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea fading in a similar way to the non-recognition by the West of the occupation of the Baltic states during the Cold War. Russia’s sudden attack did not produce the expected results, and the Ukrainian state and people are fighting resolutely against the aggressor.

Revolution on Granite, 2 to 17 October 1990. A group of students set up shelter-half tents on Kyiv's October Revolution Square in protest against the signing of a new union treaty between Soviet Republics, and against the conscription of young men in military service outside of Ukraine. The square is now named Independence Square (Майдан Незалежності). (pastvu.com/782512)

Protest during the Orange Revolution on Kyiv’s Independence Square on 22 November 2004. The Orange Revolution followed the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election as a series of protests against electoral fraud. Pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who was initially declared winner, eventually withdrew, and Viktor Yushchenko ultimately won during a fair election. (Wikipedia)

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Independence Square in Kyiv on 8 December 2013. Protests, also known as Euromaidan or the Revolution of Dignity, broke out at the end of 2013, when the Ukrainian government stopped preparations for the signing of the European Union Association Agreement. The protest eventually grew into a nationwide anti-government movement. The pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office and he subsequently fled to Russia. Taking advantage of Ukraine’s internal weakness, Russia started a war against Ukraine, and occupied the Crimean peninsula as well as part of Eastern Ukraine. (Wikipedia)

Euromaidan protester on Institute Street in central Kyiv on 20 February 2014. Around him lie other protesters that have been killed by snipers. (Scanpix/AFP/Sergei Supinsky)

Mariupol Theatre, hit by a Russian missile on 16 March 2022. In order to draw attention to a bomb shelter beneath the theatre, “Children” (Дети) was written on the ground in the front and back of the building. (Reuters/Scanpix)


Näitus Ukraina 20. sajandi kriisides / Ukraine in 20th century crises / Украина в кризисах 20 века
Eesti Mälu Instituut, 2022 / Estonian Institute of Historical Memory, 2022 / Эстонский институт исторической памяти, 2022
Kuraator / Curator / Куратор: Meelis Maripuu / Меэлис Марипуу
Koostajad / Compiled by / Составители: Meelis Maripuu, Aivar Niglas / Меэлис Марипуу, Аивар Ниглас
Toimetaja / Edited by / Редактор: Toomas Hiio, Martin Andreller / Тоомас Хийо, Мартин Андреллер
Tõlge / Translation / Перевод: Refiner Translations OÜ, Elmar Gams, Marju Meschin / Рефинер Транслатион ЗАО, Эльмар Гамс, Марью Мешин
Kujundaja / Designer / Дизайнер: Marko Poolamets / Марко Пооламетс
SA Eesti Mälu Instituut
Tõnismägi 8, 10119, Tallinn