History of Ukraine: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Humans have lived in Ukraine for tens of thousands of years, with rulers from faraway claiming the lands and its peoples fighting back to take it from them. Learn about the long history of Ukraine in this lesson.

Going Way Back

Do you live in a part of the country where you feel like you're caught between two places? Perhaps you live between an ocean and a city, or between mountains and a desert, or even on an island in the middle of a lake. Some places in the world are important because they lie between two important spaces. The country of Ukraine is one such place, because it's right in between Europe and Asia. Throughout its long history, it's been a part of both places.

First Country

The ''founding father'' of Ukraine was Prince Volodymyr, who lived around 1000 AD. Volodymyr is called ''the Great'' because he unified the Ukrainians and established a capital city at Kiev. Volodymyr liked to attack his enemies, conducting raids on the mighty Byzantine Empire in modern-day Turkey. Once Ukraine had become a country, however, other people started to raid them. The famous Mongols showed up at their doorstep in 1220 AD and took over the country. Other European countries decided that they wanted a bite of this pie too, and by 1350 Ukraine was ruled by the Mongols to the east, Poland to the west, and Lithuania to the north. Imagine every time you become independent, a new group of people show up at your door!

Ukraine and neighboring peoples
Ukraine and surrounding regions

Outside Rule

For about 300 years, Poland and Lithuania controlled Ukraine. In Lithuania's east region, Ukraine became powerful under the rule of the Grand Duke Vytautas the Great. In Poland's west region, Ukrainians suffered because Poland took over property and power. To escape the foreign rulers, some Ukrainians traveled south, calling themselves Cossacks. The Cossacks proved to be a very important part of Ukrainian history because they grew powerful enough to start fighting back against outsiders. A Cossack prince named Dmytro Wyshnevetskyi built a base on an island called Khortytsya, from which the Cossacks began to push back against the outsiders.

Cossack warriors on horseback
Cossacks

By 1600, the Cossacks ruled most of Ukraine. Even so, they weren't always united as a people. They preferred to attack neighbors, especially Poland, rather than rule the country. Poland was particularly unhappy about this and frequently tried to take over Ukraine again. In order to survive against this larger enemy, the Cossacks made a peace treaty with Russia, but this only made Russia try to take over the region instead of Poland! Queen Catherine of Russia managed to make Ukraine part of the Russian Empire by 1720.

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