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Ruthenia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ruthenia or Ukraine

Outsiders have often given Ukraine the name Ruthenia, which is confusing. Ruthenia is an exonym, a name for a place that is only used outside that place. But Ukraine, an endonym, is the name Ukrainians give their country.

Exonyms and Endonyms

There are exonyms and endonyms. According to Lexico, “many exonyms can be considered insensitive and preference is given to the endonym.” (See Exonym [other examples], in Lexico). Ruthenia, an exonym, would mean a small Ukraine, which is insensitive. However, it has often been the meaning of the exonym Ruthenia, since the state of Kievan Rus’, today’s Ukraine, was founded in the 9th century by Varangians, Vikings from Sweden mainly. Kievan Rus’, was vandalized by Mongols in the 13th century. (See Mongol Invasion of Kievan Rus’, Wikipedia.) Since the Mongol Invasion, Ukraine has been under external control except for the years when it was a Cossack Hetmanate, from 1648 to 1764. Ivan Mazepa was the Cossack Hetman of Zaporizhian Host in 1687–1708. He died in Turkey, where he and Charles XII of Sweden had fled after their defeat at the Battle of Poltava (8 July 1709).

In 1764, the Cossack Hetmanate was incorporated by Russia as the Little Russia Governorate headed by Pyotr Rumyantsev, “with the last remnants of the Hetmanate’s administrative system abolished in 1781.” So, there was a Little Russia Governorate, or Little Russia, la petite Russie.

However, despite the Cossack Hetmanate, Ukraine was under foreign domination for 600 years. The Cossack Hetmanate fell to Peter I at the Battle of Poltava.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Ukraine rose for a few years and would rise again after the dissolution of the USSR, the Soviet Union.

Ukraine has been independent since 1991, but Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014. The current war is a continuation of the annexation of Crimea.

In short, the Latin word Ruthenia reflects the foreign domination of Ukraine. The Russian army entered Ukraine in February 2022, when it was directed to do so by Vladimir Putin. President Putin may think that Russia will defeat Ukraine, but Ukraine will probably survive.

At a NATO-Russia summit in 2008, Vladimir Putin “told US President George W. Bush that ‘Ukraine is not even a state!'” while the following year Putin referred to Ukraine as “Little Russia.” (See Vladimir Putin, Wikipedia.)

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© Micheline Walker
14 April 2022