History of Kiev

Kiev (spelt as Kyiv in Ukrainian language) has a long, rich, and often turbulent history that dates back to the 5th century. It is one of the oldest and historically richest cities in Eastern Europe. It is said that Kiev was founded by three brothers – Kyi, Shcheck, Khoriv, and their sister Lybid, leaders of the Polyanian tribe of the East Slavs. The eldest brother Kyi was bestowed with the honour of having the city named after him. In Ukrainian Kyiv means “city of Kyi”.

In 882 Prince Oleg of Novgorod and his men-in arms captured Kiev. It was during this period that Kiev became the first ever capital of Kievan Rus, the forerunner of the Russian empire. Kiev was a strong hillside fortress city which oversaw and guarded the main East European trade route via the River Dnieper which linked the Greeks and the Norse Vikings. It was a major centre for trade between the Mediterranean and Baltic nations. Kiev was the catalyst in the expansion of the medieval Eastern Slavic nation and became the Slavs political and cultural centre

The river Dnieper provided Kiev with a flourishing trade route and the states power grew during the reigns of Prince Vladimir the Great 978 – 1015, and later his son, Prince Yaroslav the wise 1019 – 1054. Both Vladimir and Yaroslav arranged marriages designed to enhance their power. Vladimir married the sister of the Byzantine Emperor. Yaroslav’s granddaughter, Eupraxia, married Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor. Prince Yaraslav arranged marriages for his sister and three daughters to the Kings of Poland, France, Hungary and Norway. Vladimir adopted Christianity as the religion of his realm in 988 and had the inhabitants of Kiev baptised. This was a calculated move in order to strengthen political, economic and cultural relations with the Byzantium Empire and other Christian countries of Europe.

This period became known as the Golden age of Kiev and by the 11th century was geographically the largest state in Europe. In fact Kievan Rus had a population of almost 50,000 people, considerably more than London. Under the guidance of Prince Yaroslav the Cathedral of St. Sophia was built, the East Slavic code of law was introduced and it is widely thought that he established the region’s first schooling system. Cyril and Methodius acted as Christian missionaries and spread religious faith and introduced the Cyrillic alphabet. Indeed Kiev became one of the most advanced states of that time, rich in culture, education and wealth. As the population of Kievan Rus grew, so did the infrastructure and at one point there were approximately 400 churches and eight markets in Kiev.

The decline of Kievan Rus began with the death of Prince Vladimir Monomakh in the year 1152. By the 12th century conflict and warring factions among the feudal lords together with a shift in trade routes undermined Kiev’s economic importance and plunged the state into a period of decline. In 1220 the Mongol – Tatar’s began a series of invasions and in 1238 a Mongol army led by Batu, grandson of Genghis Khan, invaded central Rus and lay siege to Kiev until its eventual capture in the autumn of 1240. Most of the population was killed and much of the city was destroyed and in the 14th century what was left of Kiev and the surrounding area fell to the powerful Grand Duke of Lithuania who captured it in 1362. By the mid 14th century the territories of Ukraine fell under the rule of three external powers, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Poland and the Golden Horde who were a mixture of Turks and Mongols.

It was not until 1516 that Kiev took a step forward when the Grand Duke Sigismund granted the city a charter of autonomy, thus revitalising trade again. In 1569 a pact between Poland and Lithuania, called the Union of Lublin, gave Kiev and the Ukrainian lands to Poland. During the 17th century a religious Ukrainian brotherhood was established to oppose the Polish Roman Catholic church and to promote Ukrainian nationalism. There was also increasing unrest amongst the Cossacks who opposed the Polish crown. This eventually led to the revolt of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and the Cossacks with the help of the Crimean Tatars, entered Kiev triumphantly in 1649. Khmelnytsky and the Cossacks under threat from Polish and Lithuanian armies eventually sought the protection of the Russian Tsar and signed the Pereyaslav Agreement in 1654, effectively submitting Ukraine to Moscow. What followed was a prolonged period of confusion and destruction which eventually lead to the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667. This agreement meant that Ukraine was divided between Poland and Russia. In 1686 yet another treaty was agreed by Poland and Russia called the Treaty of Eternal Peace, this gave complete control of Kiev to Russia.