Ukrainians. The East Slavic nation constituting the native population of Ukraine; the sixth-largest nation in Europe. According to the concept of nationality dominant in Eastern Europe the Ukrainians are people whose native language is Ukrainian (an objective criterion) whether or not they are nationally conscious, and all those who identify themselves as Ukrainian (a subjective criterion) whether or not they speak Ukrainian (see Ukrainian language). Isolated attempts to introduce a territorial-political concept of Ukrainian nationality on the Western European model (eg, by Viacheslav Lypynsky) were unsuccessful until the 1990s. Because territorial loyalty has also been manifested by the historical national minorities living in Ukraine, the accepted view in Ukraine today is that all permanent inhabitants of Ukraine are its citizens (ie, Ukrainians) regardless of their ethnic origins or the language in which they communicate. The official declaration of Ukrainian sovereignty of 16 July 1990 stated that ‘citizens of the Republic of all nationalities constitute the people (narod) of Ukraine.’

The name. The oldest recorded names used for the Ukrainians are Rusyny, Rusychi, and Rusy (from Rus’), which were transcribed in Latin as Russi, Rutheni, and Ruteni (see Ruthenians). In the 10th to 12th centuries those names applied only to the Slavic inhabitants of what is today the national and ethnic territory of Ukraine. Later a similar designation was adopted by the proto-Russian Slavic inhabitants of the northeastern principalities of Kyivan Rus’Russkie (of Rus’), an adjectival form indicating that they were initially subjects of (‘belonged to’) Rus’. Beginning in the 16th century Muscovite documents referred to the Ukrainians as Cherkasy, alluding perhaps to the fact that in and around the town of Cherkasy there were many Cossack settlements. In the 17th- and 18th-century Cossack Hetman state the terms Malorosiiany and Malorosy, from Mala Rus’ (Rus’ Minor, the name introduced by the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 14th century to refer to the lands of Halych metropoly and reintroduced by Ukrainian clerics in the 17th century), became accepted by the inhabitants as their designation. Those terms were retained in a modified Russian form and used officially under tsarist rule and by foreigners until 1917 (see Little Russia). By the 1860s, however, some opposition to the terms became evident in Russian-ruled Ukraine, on the ground that they were as pejorative as the term khokhol.

The modern name Ukraintsi (Ukrainians) is derived from Ukraina (Ukraine), a name first documented in the Kyiv Chronicle under the year 1187. The terms Ukrainiany (in the chronicle under the year 1268), Ukrainnyky, and even narod ukrainskyi (the Ukrainian people) were used sporadically before Ukraintsi attained currency under the influence of the writings of Ukrainian activists in Russian-ruled Ukraine in the 19th century. In late 18th- and early 19th-century tsarist nomenclature ‘Ukrainians’ was used only in reference to the inhabitants of Slobidska Ukraine. In 19th-century Polish usage the people so designated were the inhabitants of Kyiv gubernia. Western Ukrainians under Austro-Hungarian rule used the term to refer to their ethnic counterparts under Russian rule but called themselves ‘Ruthenians.’ The appellation ‘Ukrainian’ did not take hold in Galicia and Bukovyna until the first quarter of the 20th century, in Transcarpathia until the 1930s, and in the Prešov region until the late 1940s. In the 20th century Malorosiiany or Malorosy has been a derogatory term used by Ukrainians to designate Ukrainians with little or no national consciousness.

Population. (See map: Ukrainians: World Distribution.) Until the final quarter of the 19th century the Ukrainians, with few exceptions, lived on their aboriginal lands, which now, basically, constitute Ukrainian ethnic territory. In the last few decades of the 19th century Ukrainians under Russian rule began a massive emigration to the Asian regions of the empire, and their counterparts under Austro-Hungarian rule emigrated to the New World. The number of Ukrainians outside of their homeland had grown from 1 million in 1880 to over 14 million by 1989. Thus, approximately one-quarter of all Ukrainians in the world today live outside of Ukraine. The greatest number live in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe (44 million); they are followed in number by those in Asia (ie, within the former USSR, 5 million), North and South America (2.5 million), and Australia (35,000). (See Table 1.) The constant pressure of Russification on Ukrainians in the USSR, especially those living outside Ukraine, who generally had an underdeveloped national consciousness, has resulted in a decline in the total number of Ukrainians and Ukrainians speaking Ukrainian (81.1 percent in 1989) on the territory of the former USSR, and a change in the national composition of Ukraine.

Table 2 illustrates the rather high natural population growth of Ukrainians (approx 18 to 20 per thousand per year) until 1914. Thereafter there have been exceptional decreases because of the First and Second world wars, the Soviet famines (the Famine of 1921–3, the Famine of 1946–7, and especially the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3), and the impact of urbanization in the last 60 years. Since the Second World War the natural population growth of Ukrainians has decreased (see Population of Ukraine), and since the mid-1980s it has been one of the lowest among the nations of Eastern Europe.

Origins. Archeological and linguistic evidence indicates that at the dawning of the Christian era the lands between the Oder River or the Vistula River and the middle Dnieper River basins were inhabited by proto-Slavic tribes. The southern Ukrainian steppes were dominated by Iranian peoples and then Turkic nomadic peoples, although some Slavic agrarian colonization occurred. From the 7th century AD on, proto-Ukrainian tribes are known to have inhabited Ukrainian territory: the Volhynians, Derevlianians, Polianians, and Siverianians and the less significant Ulychians, Tivertsians, and White Croatians. The question of whether the Ukrainians of Transcarpathia and the Maramureş region were there before the Magyar expansion of the 9th and 10th centuries or arrived as colonists from Galicia or Podilia has not been settled. At any rate, they were already occupying those lands in the 13th century. The relatively late appearance of the Lemkos has been attributed to a pastoral migration of the 13th to 15th centuries. Even more recent in origin is the population of Southern Ukraine and Slobidska Ukraine, which arose out of ongoing colonization from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

That the Ukrainians share certain linguistic traits with the two other East Slavic nations, the Belarusians and Russians, has been interpreted variously. That the three nations shared a religion and a ruling dynasty in the time of Kyivan Rus’ has been used to hypothesize the existence of an ‘ancient Rus'’ nationality, that is, one proto-Rus’ people, that disintegrated under the impact of Mongol, Lithuanian, and Polish domination during the 13th and 14th centuries. That originally Muscovite concept became dogma in the USSR and has often been repeated in the West; among Ukrainian scholars it was advocated by Myron Korduba. A second theory states that a single, proto-Ukrainian people lived in the area from the Carpathian Mountains to the White Sea, and that the Russians and Belarusians later separated from it. That thesis has been supported by many Ukrainian scholars. A third hypothesis proposes that a complex interethnic process unifying as well as dividing the Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians occurred. The vast territory encompassed by the Kyivan Rus’ federation of principalities made the existence of a single people as well as political unity (with the exception of the reigns of Volodymyr the Great, Yaroslav the Wise, and Volodymyr Monomakh) virtually impossible, and from the very beginning there were territorially different cultural substrata: Iranian, Turkic, and perhaps even Thracian in Ukraine, Baltic in Belarus, and Finno-Ugric in Russia.

Ethnocultural features. The ethnocultural features of the Ukrainians are most evident when viewed historically and ethnographically by region. Yet there are features of folk culture and folkways common to all Ukrainians. Ukrainian villages and folk architecture were distinct from the Russian, as were certain implements (see Plow), various means of transportation (the chumak wagon, the Zaporozhian Cossack boat, Carpathian rafts), folk dress and folk musical instruments. With the advent of Christianity (see Christianization of Ukraine) traditional and pagan practices were absorbed into the Christian calendar (see Burial rites, Christmas, Demonology, Easter, Harvest rituals, Kupalo festival, New Year, Spring rituals, and Wedding); many are popular even today. The Ukrainians observed the spring ritual much more than did the other East Slavs. A unique feature of the Ukrainian folk tradition was the kolodka, for which there is no analogous ritual among the other Slavs. Ukrainian folk oral literature and poetry (especially the dumas), rich embroidery, ceramics, and other crafts and elaborate folk dances are world-renowned.

The peasant commune, or hromada, played a major role in Ukrainian life well into the 20th century. The large clan, however, was abandoned by the Ukrainians sooner than by other Slavic nations. As early as the 18th century the small, two-generation family prevailed. Family customs and celebrations retained many unique features. Ukrainian wedding traditions in particular had well-defined ceremonial stages (from betrothal to the postwedding festivities) and involved traditional foods (eg, the korovai) and special musicians (troisti muzyky) and songs. Folk customs connected with birth were more developed than among the Russians and Belarusians.

In the 20th century the Ukrainians have absorbed many features of modern European secular culture. Such modernization, coupled with rapid urbanization, and the militant atheism and antireligious propaganda under Soviet rule, have resulted in the disappearance of many customs, widespread indifference to traditions, and spiritual impoverishment. In recent years, however, various attempts at reviving some of the lost customs have been made, particularly those connected with Christmas and Easter.

National consciousness. The people of Rus’ did not have a common national consciousness, but they showed an allegiance to their rulers, their clans, their towns and regions, and later their church. They did know that they were different from their neighbors and their enemies, and they had a sense of loyalty and concern for the ‘land of Rus’,’ judging by what was written in the extant literature and chronicles of the period. Some notion of a Rus’ language also existed, as evidenced in Metropolitan Ilarion's Sermon on the Law and Grace, the Primary Chronicle, and the epic Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor's Campaign). After the fall of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia in the 14th century and its partition among Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, and Moldavia the Ukrainians began developing more than a territorial consciousness. Their awareness that they were a different people was reinforced by their distinct church rite and use of the bookish Slavonic-Ruthenian language. The common fate of the ‘Ruthenian’ Ukrainians and Belarusians in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth resulted in the evolution of a cultural, religious, and partly national awareness that set them off from the neighboring ‘Muscovites.’ That Ruthenian identity became fragmented after the 1569 Union of Lublin. A rebirth of historical memory about Kyivan Rus’ occurred during the ‘Orthodox Renaissance’ of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, which revived the literary and architectural traditions of Kyivan Rus’.

In the Cossack Hetman state of 1648–1782 a ‘Little Russian’ or ‘Cossack-Ruthenian’ consciousness emerged. After the complete absorption of the Hetman state by the Russian Empire in the 1780s, the majority of Left-Bank Ukraine's Cossack elite became loyal subjects of the empire. That did not exclude the nurturing of a local patriotism and culture (see, eg, Ivan Kotliarevsky), but it resulted in the widespread growth of a Little Russian mentality.

In Western Ukraine, after the partitions of Poland the indigenous elite (most of them clergy) rid themselves of Polish influence. They did not assume an Austrian identity, but they remained loyal subjects as long as the Austrians kept the Poles in check. Unlike the ‘Little Russian’ elite, the Old Ruthenians of Galicia and the assimilationist Magyarones of Hungarian-ruled Transcarpathia did not participate in empire-building.

During the 19th century the former identification with the Ukrainian Cossack state was superseded by cultural Ukrainophilism. The cultural rebirth that occurred was manifested primarily through the rise of a modern Ukrainian literature. From the 1860s on, however, a Russophile movement became prominent in Austrian-ruled Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia. More an attempt at fending off Polish and Hungarian influences than a true acceptance of Russian hegemony, Russophile attitudes eventually gave way to populist and, later, nationalist ones.

The watershed in the development of modern Ukrainian national consciousness was the struggle for independence (1917–20). For the first time many Russified Ukrainians became aware they were not Russians, and the existence of a nation-state, albeit brief, consolidated Ukrainian national identity, and forced the Bolsheviks to create the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and even to accede to the policy of Ukrainization in Soviet Ukrainian society through most of the 1920s.

A concerted effort to reverse the growth of Ukrainian national consciousness was begun by the Stalinist regime in the late 1920s, and continued with minor interruptions until the most recent times. The man-made Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, the deportations of the so-called kulaks, the physical annihilation of the nationally conscious intelligentsia, and terror in general were used to destroy and subdue the Ukrainian nation. Even after Joseph Stalin's death the concept of a Russified though multiethnic Soviet people was officially promoted, according to which the non-Russian nations were relegated to second-class status. The creation of a sovereign and independent Ukraine in 1991, however, pointed to the failure of the policy of the ‘merging of nations’ and to the enduring strength of the Ukrainian national consciousness.

National consciousness has not prevailed among all Ukrainian ethnographic groups. The inhabitants of the Kuban, for example, have vacillated among three identities, Ukrainian, Russian (supported by the Soviet regime), and ‘Cossack.’ The lingiustic and religious identities of some groups (eg, the Latynnyky) have been in conflict. Not all so-called Rusini or Rusnatsi of Yugoslavia's Bačka region consider their roots to be Ukrainian, nor do many immigrants from Transcarpathia and the Lemko region and Prešov region in the New World or, to a lesser extent, the inhabitants of those regions today.

(See also History of Ukraine, Physical anthropology, and Population of Ukraine.)

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Volodymyr Kubijovyč, Vsevolod Naulko, Bohdan Struminsky, Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]


Encyclopedia of Ukraine