Istoriia Rusov

Istoriia Rusov (History of the Rus’ People). An important document of Ukrainian political thought from the end of the 18th or beginning of the 19th century, of unknown authorship. It vividly depicts the development of Ukraine, its people, and statehood from the remote past to 1769, focusing mostly on the periods of the Cossacks, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and the Hetman state. The historical outlook embodied in the work is that of traditional Cossack historiography. The underlying principle of Istoriia Rusov is that each nation has a natural, moral, and historical right to an independent political development; its main theme is the struggle of the Ukrainian nation against foreign (Russian or Polish) domination. The author made ample use of contemporary historical sources and supplemented them with various legends, personal recollections, and 18th-century archival materials. It was not the writer's intention, however, to present an objective history of Ukraine; rather, he presented history as he believed it should have been. According to Elie Borschak, Istoriia Rusov is a historical legend, a political exposition in a historical form. It is written in the Russian literary language of the time with a large admixture of Ukrainian words. Because of censorship, the author often concealed his true thoughts or attributed them to historical personalities by quoting fictitious speeches or correspondence.

The authorship of the book has not been determined. Archbishop Heorhii Konysky was first thought to be the author, but this hypothesis was later rejected. Many historians, including Vladimir Ikonnikov, Oleksander Lazarevsky, Mykola Vasylenko, and Dmytro Doroshenko, claimed that the author was Hryhorii A. Poletyka. Others, among them Vasyl Horlenko, Anatolii Yershov, and Elie Borschak, held that it was Vasyl Poletyka, Hryhorii’s son. Mykhailo Hrushevsky suggested that the work was coauthored by father and son. Several specialists—Mykhailo Slabchenko, Pavlo Klepatsky, Andrii Yakovliv, and Mykhailo Vozniak—proposed that the author was Prince Oleksander Bezborodko. Other names have been suggested, including Nikolai Repnin (by Mykhailo Drahomanov), Vasyl Lukashevych (by Mykola Petrovsky), and Opanas Lobysevych. Some scholars claim the work was written in the 1760s–1770s (Lazarevsky, Doroshenko, Slabchenko, Vozniak); others give the 1790s as the date (Yakovliv, Borys Krupnytsky); still others suggest it was written as late as 1815–25 (Horlenko, Yershov, Borschak). The book probably originated in the Novhorod-Siverskyi region, was copied several times, and edited again sometime between 1815 and 1822. The author, or authors, of Istoriia Rusov belonged to the Novhorod-Siverskyi patriotic circle and were connected with Oleksander Bezborodko by official, personal, and ideological-political interests.

Istoriia Rusov was first mentioned in 1825. For a long time the work circulated in manuscript. It was extremely popular and had a strong influence on the development of Ukrainian historiography in the 19th century. The historical-literary works of Mykola Markevych, Yevhen Hrebinka, Izmail Sreznevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Amvrosii Metlynsky, Mykola Kostomarov, Panteleimon Kulish, and, above all, Taras Shevchenko were based on Istoriia Rusov.

The work was published first by Osyp Bodiansky in Chteniia v Imperatorskom obshchestve istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh (1846) and in a separate edition. A Ukrainian translation by V. Davydenko, edited and introduced by Oleksander Ohloblyn, was published in 1956 in New York; a more recent Ukrainian translation, by Ivan Drach, appeared in Kyiv in 1991. That same year a reprint of the original 1846 edition was published in Kyiv.

Doroshenko, D. ‘Istoriia Rusov iak pam’iatka ukraïns’koï politychnoï dumky druhoï polovyny 18 v.,’ Khliborobs’ka Ukraïna, vol 3 (1921)
Iakovliv, A. ‘Do pytannia pro avtora Istoriï Rusiv,’ ZNTSh 154 (1937)
Vozniak, M. Psevdo-Konys’kyi i Psevdo-Poletyka (‘Istoriia Rusov’ u literaturi i nautsi) (Lviv-Kyiv 1939)
Borschak, E. La légende historique de l'Ukraine. Istoriia Rusov (Paris 1949)
Ohloblyn, O. ‘Where Was Istoriya Rusov Written?’ AUA 3 (1953)
Yakovliv, A. ‘Istoriya Rusov and Its Author,’ AUA 3 (1953)
Shevel’ov, Iu. ‘Istoriia Rusov ochyma movoznavtsia,’ in Zbirnyk na poshanu prof. d-ra O. Ohloblyna (New York 1977)
Kravchenko, V. Poema vol’noho narodu: ‘Istoriia Rusiv’ ta ïï mistse v ukraïns’kii istoriohrafiï (Kharkiv 1996)
Ohloblyn, O. Do pytannia pro avtora ‘Istorii Rusov’ (Kyiv 1998)
Mishuhov, O. Ievropeis’kyi kontekst ‘Istorii Rusiv’ (Kyiv–Kherson 1999)

Oleksander Ohloblyn

[This article was updated in 2003.]

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