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The War in Ukraine — Ukraine before the First World War (pre-1914)

A guide to better understanding the current crisis


The territory of what is the modern country of Ukraine has been controlled politically by a number of state entities. Much of the territory was controlled by Rus' principalities in the Middle Ages. Rus' dominion faded during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland conquered portions of modern-day Ukraine in the 14th century. The establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569 led to large portions of Ukraine being subsumed under the Commonwealth's control. A Cossack state, commonly known as the Cossack Hetmanate or Zaporizhian Host, under Russian protection was established in 1648 and persisted until 1764. The Partitions of Poland led territories of modern Ukraine to fall under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy and the Russian Empire. Conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire led to the incorporation of Crimea into Russia under the rule of Catherine the Great (1762-1796).

Do give a sense of fluctuations in rule over the territories that would become the modern state of Ukraine, major modern Ukrainian cities fell under the control of a variety of historical state actors. Kyiv served as the capital of the Kieven Rus', fell under the control of the Mongol Golden Horde, became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland, came under the control of the Cossack Hetmanate, and was absorbed into the Russian Empire. Lviv was part of the Halych-Volyn Principality in the 13th century, came under Polish rule in the 14th century, was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and came under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy during the Polish Partitions. The region where Odessa would eventually emerge was ruled during the middle ages by the Mongol Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire, successively. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792, the region fell under the control of the Russian Empire led by Catherine the Great, and the modern port city of Odessa was established in 1795. 

For further information on Ukrainian history prior to the Great War, navigate to the section on "History of Ukraine," beginning on page 161 and ending on page 180, from:

Kubijovyč, Volodymyr, ed. “H.” In Encyclopedia of Ukraine: Volume II: G-K, 108–293. University of Toronto Press, 1988.

And for further information on Ukrainian history in the early modern period, see:

Plokhy, Serhii. "Ukraine." In Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, edited by Jonathan Dewald, 89-93. Vol. 6. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. Gale eBooks (accessed March 7, 2022).