Kyiv University

Image - Kyiv (Saint Vladimir) University (19th century). Image - Kyiv University (1910s). Image - Kyiv University (main building). Image - Kyiv University: Cybernetics Faculty building. Image - Kyiv University Botanical Garden.

Kyiv University (Київський національний університет імені Тараса Шевченка; Kyivskyi natsionalnyi universytet imeni Tarasa Shevchenka). Higher educational institution in Kyiv, one of the oldest and most important scholarly and cultural centers in Ukraine.

Opened in 1834, it was the second university (after Kharkiv University) to be established in Russian-ruled Ukraine. Several requests from the local nobility for a university in Kyiv, dating back to 1765, were turned down by the imperial government, which until 1831 accepted the dominance of Polish culture in Right-Bank Ukraine and in 1803 even had established a Polish school system under the supervision of Vilnius University. The Polish Insurrection of 1830–1 convinced Nicholas I that Right-Bank Ukraine had to be Russified, and to accomplish this the existing school system had to be replaced with a Russian one supervised from Kyiv. Thus, Kyiv University was established to oversee the new educational system. It inherited the library, collections, and faculty of the Kremianets Lyceum, a higher Polish school that was abolished as a result of the insurrection. The university was named after Saint Vladimir (Volodymyr the Great) and consisted, initially, of only one faculty—the philosophy faculty—which was subdivided into two departments—history and philology, and physics and mathematics. The following year the law faculty was added. The four-year program was designed to give a general, not a specialized, education. The university's autonomy was restricted: professors and faculty dean selected by the Professorial Council had to be approved by the minister of education, the elected rector had to be approved by the tsar, and the appointed curator of the school district kept a close watch over university affairs. Through a special school committee the university supervised all the schools in its school district until 1835. The first rector was a Ukrainian scholar, Mykhailo Maksymovych, but most of the professors were Poles. Of the 62 original students, 34 were Catholics, mostly Poles and some Uniates. Until the 1860s Poles from the Right-Bank Ukraine formed a majority of the student body, followed by Ukrainians from Left-Bank Ukraine.

Although the university was intended to be an instrument of Russification, it became a center of revolutionary activity and national awakening. In 1838 a clandestine student society, a branch of the Union of the Polish People, was uncovered in Kyiv. Many professors and students were expelled and the university was closed for half a year. New faculty were recruited from among the German graduates of Dorpat University and the reduced student body was placed under stricter surveillance. In 1841 a faculty of medicine, formed out of the abolished Vilnius Medico-Surgical Academy, was added. In the following year enrollment rose to its 1838 level (ca 260). At the end of 1845 Mykola Kostomarov, the professor of Russian history at Kyiv University, founded the clandestine Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood. The Russian government reacted to the revolutionary unrest in Central and Western Europe in 1848 by imposing new restrictions on the university: the rector and deans were appointed by the minister of education and approved by the tsar; lectures had to conform to a prescribed program and were monitored by the rector; the philosophy faculty was abolished; foreign scholars were denied teaching positions and Russian scholars were barred from studying abroad; and the enrollment of self-supporting students (excluding medical students) was restricted to 300. Student fees were doubled, while faculty salaries were cut. These measures had a disastrous effect on the quality of research and teaching at the university. Many chairs remained vacant, and many professors turned to outside work to supplement their income. The situation began to improve only at the end of the 1850s when the new tsar, Alexander II, assumed a more liberal policy.

As restrictions on the freedom of association were lifted, students and faculty became involved in social issues. In 1859 a group of Kyiv students, including Mykhailo Drahomanov, organized Sunday schools for workers and peasants, in which the Ukrainian language was used for the first time as the language of instruction. Two years later a number of students with a populist outlook, including Volodymyr Antonovych, joined the group and formed the first clandestine Hromada of Kyiv. The university reform of 1863 was intended to avoid the kind of student unrest that broke out in 1861. Universities were granted greater control of their curricula, research, and administration. Rectors, deans, and professors were again elected by the professorial councils. For the first time Kyiv University was included under the general statute governing universities. In the next two decades the university expanded slowly but steadily. New chairs were established and the faculty expanded from 49 in 1863 to 66 in 1884. The number of works published by faculty members increased dramatically. The school's official monthly Universitetskie izvestiia began to appear (1861–1919). In spite of its social liberalism, the new regime disapproved of the fledgling Ukrainophile movement: in 1862 the Sunday schools were suppressed and in the following year the student hromada was disbanded. The Polish Insurrection of 1863–4 led to the expulsion of many Polish students from the university. Increasing political activity among university students aroused grave concern in government circles. New repressions against Ukrainians in the mid-1870s included Drahomanov's dismissal from his teaching position.

Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, a new statute adopted in 1884 sharply reduced the autonomy of universities. The minister of education assumed the right to appoint rectors, deans, and professors. State funds for universities were reduced, while student fees were raised. Student organizations and meetings were banned. In Kyiv the new law provoked demonstrations, which led to the closing of the university for half a year. The general student strike in 1899 was supported by Kyiv students. In 1900, 183 students of Kyiv University were conscripted into the army as punishment for their participation in demonstrations. By 1905 the authorities realized that the 1884 university statute had to be replaced by a more liberal one. A number of drafts were prepared by successive education ministers, but none were signed into law. Although enrollment jumped from 2,313 in 1895 to 5,107 in 1910, the faculty grew only from 118 (in 1894) to 166 (in 1913) and the number of chairs did not change. Part of the faculty, particularly Timofii Florinsky, was hostile to the Ukrainian movement. During the Revolution of 1905 Ukrainian students demanded four chairs with Ukrainian as the language of instruction, and a year later the university itself requested two such chairs, but nothing came of these efforts. In 1907 Andrii Loboda and Volodymyr Peretts decided to give their lectures in Ukrainian, but were forbidden to continue. It was only in September 1917 that limited use of Ukrainian at Kyiv University was permitted. The Provisional Government approved its use as the language of instruction by four new chairs in Ukrainian studies: the chairs of literature, Ukrainian language, history, and the history of Western Ruthenian law. During Ukraine’s struggle for independence (1917–20), under the changing regimes , the normal activities of the university were hampered by political interference and inadequate funding. According to Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky's Ukrainization policy, Kyiv (or Saint Vladimir's) University was preserved as a Russian institution and a separate Ukrainian State University was established. In 1919 the Bolshevik authorities merged a number of institutes, higher schools for women, and the new Ukrainian university with the old university, which they renamed Kyiv State University.

By the 20th century, Kyiv University had established itself as one of the leading universities within the Russian Empire. It ran over 50 auxiliary facilities: 2 libraries, an astronomical and meteorological observatory, a botanical garden, various laboratories, cabinets, and 9 clinics. Its faculty included many prominent scholars, such as the historians Mykola Kostomarov, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Volodymyr Antonovych, Mytrofan Dovnar-Zapolsky, and Ivan Luchytsky; the literary scholar Mykola Dashkevych; the philologist Volodymyr Peretts; the jurist Oleksander Kistiakovsky; the economist Nikolai Bunge; the chemist Sergei Reformatsky; the physicists Mikhail Avenarius and Yosyf Kosonohov; the mathematicians Boris Bukreev and Dmytro Grave; the zoologists Aleksandr Kovalevsky and Aleksei Severtsov; the biologist S. Navashin; the anatomist Volodymyr Bets; and the pathologists Grigorii Minkh and Volodymyr Pidvysotsky. Some of these professors were graduates of Kyiv University. A number of learned societies were affiliated with the university: the Kyiv Society of Naturalists (est 1869), the Historical Society of Nestor the Chronicler (est 1873), the Kyiv Juridical Society (est 1877), the Kyiv Midwifery and Gynecology Society (est 1885), the Kyiv Physics and Mathematics Society (est 1890), the Kyiv Physico-Medical Society (est 1896), and the Kyiv Physics and Chemistry Society (est 1910).

In 1920 the Soviet regime began a radical restructuring of Ukraine's educational system. The universities were replaced by institutes of people's education and Kyiv University was reorganized into the Kyiv Institute of People's Education and the Kyiv Institute of Health Care (later the Kyiv Medical Institute). These institutes were Ukrainized rapidly. In 1933 Kyiv University was restored by merging the Kyiv Institute of Professional Education and the Kyiv Physical-Chemical-Mathematical Institute. The university consisted of six faculties: physics and mathematics, chemistry, biology, geology and geography, history, and literature and language. In 1937 two new faculties were opened: law and Western languages and literatures. The university was named after Taras Shevchenko in 1939. In the following year the physics and mathematics faculty was split into the mechanics and mathematics, and the physics faculties. Enrollment rose rapidly in the 1930s from 1,650 (1933) to 3,700 (1939). In spite of increasing funding and improved facilities, academic achievement was low because of countless political meetings, frequent revisions of the curriculum, and widespread purges. During the Second World War the university was evacuated to Kzyl-Orda in Kazakhstan, where it was amalgamated with Kharkiv University to form the Unified Ukrainian State University (1941–3). When it was reopened in Kyiv in 1945, the university consisted of 13 faculties and had an enrollment of 2,560. A strong emphasis was placed on making the university more responsive to the demands of industrial development.

Today Kyiv University is the most prestigious higher educational institution in Ukraine. The enrollment is approximately 26,000 undergraduate and close to 2000 graduate students. The university encompasses 15 faculties—philosophy, economics, history, law, mechanics and mathematics, cybernetics, physics, radio-physics, geology, geography, chemistry, psychology, sociology, and foreign students education—as well as 7 institutes—philology, journalism, international relations, biology, military studies, high technologies, and graduate studies. It has published the journals Naukovi zapysky (1935–49) and Visnyk Kyïvs’koho universytetu (in seven series since 1957) and the newspaper Kyïvs’kyi universytet.

During the Soviet period the faculty of Kyiv University included many noted scholars, such as the linguists Leonid Bulakhovsky, Mykola Hrunsky, and Pavlo Pliushch; the literary scholar Oleksander Biletsky; the pedagogue Mykyta Hryshchenko; the psychologist Hryhorii Kostiuk; the economist Kostiantyn Vobly; the biologists D. Protsenko, Dmytro Zerov, and Oleksander Markevych; the physicists Vadym Lashkarov and Sergei Vsekhsviatsky; the geologists Borys Chernyshov and Volodymyr Luchytsky; and the mathematician Viktor Hlushkov.

The main building of the university complex was built in 1837–42 by Vincent Beretti. Along with other buildings, it was heavily damaged during the Second World War, and was restored afterwards. In 1954 construction began on a new complex of buildings designed by Vadym Ladny, V. Kolomiiets, and V. Drizo. In 1994 the university was granted the national university status.

Vladimirskii-Budanov, M. Istoriia Imperatorskogo universiteta sv. Vladimira (Kyiv 1884)
Zhmuds’kyi, O. (ed). Istoriia Kyïvs’koho universytetu (Kyiv 1959)
Kyïvs’kyi universytet za 50 rokiv radians’koï vlady (Kyiv 1967)
Belyi, M., et al (eds). Kievskii universitet. Dokumenty i materialy, 1834–1984 (Kyiv 1984)

Bohdan Struminsky, Taras Zakydalsky

[This article was updated in 2013.]

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