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Viktor VasnetsovThe Invitation of the VarangiansRurik and his brothers arrive in Staraya Ladoga.

Kievan Rus’ dates to the Rurik dynasty. Prince Rurik was a Varangian Viking who entered an East Slavic territory. He and his two brothers were asked to rule future Ukraine because of political strife. Prince Rurik’s brothers died, so Rurik alone founded Kievan Rus’, “a loose federation in Eastern Europe and Northern Europe” (see Kievan Rus’, Wikipedia).

Viktor Vasnetsov, Oleg of Novgorod

The Primary Chronicle and the Russkaya Pravda

The Primary Chronicle or Tale of Bygone Years (12th century) is a written history. Although it is not altogether accurate, it remains a precious document. For instance, it provides the name of a few Varangian Princes who ruled Kievan Rus’, an independent state. The first Varangian Prince is Prince Oleg (879–912), who protected Varangian traders from Khazar incursions.

Sviatoslav I (943–972), Grand Prince of Kiev was given a Slavic name. Prince Sviatoslav’s father, Igor of Kiev, was assassinated when Sviatoslav was a child. His mother, Olga of Kiev, avenged Igor’s death by burying Drevlians alive. They had come to fetch her believing she would marry a Drevlian ruler. Olga reigned until her son grew of age. Prince Sviatoslav moved his capital from Kiev to Pereyaslavets in current-day Romania. Prince Sviatoslav was a conqueror. Under his rule, Ukraine would grow to be the largest country in Europe.

Prince Vladimir the Great (980–1015) introduced Christianity in Kievan Rus’ and imposed it by decree on the people of the state of Kievan Rus. His sons, one of whom is Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054) “assembled and issued its first written legal code, the Russkaya Pravda, shortly after his death.” The “absence of capital and corporal punishment” in the Russkaya Pravda “reflects Norse jurisprudence.” (See Russkaya Pravda, Wikipedia.)

Sviatoslav I by Eugène Lanceray (1886)
St Olga by Mikhail Nesterov in 1892

Varangians were the bodyguards of Byzantine emperors, but Kievan Rus’ was sacked by Mongols in the 1240s (See Mongol invasion, Wikipedia). It was a devastating loss. Constantinople, the former Byzantine Empire, did not fall to the Ottoman Empire until 1453. Kievan Rus’, an independent state, was never reborn. However, as we have noted in earlier posts, in 1648, Cossack Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky “led an uprising against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth which led to the creation of an independent Ukrainian Cossack state.” In 1654, he “allied the Cossack Hetmanate with Tsardom of Russia thus placing central Ukraine under Russian control.” (See Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Wikipedia). Ukrainians will nevertheless enjoy a degree of independence until Ivan Mazepa, a Cossack Hetman, and Swedish King Charles XII are defeated by Peter I, Peter the Great of Russia, at the Battle of Poltava on 8 July 1709. Catherine the Great ended Cossack Hetmenates in 1764.

Yet, although Ukraine did not gain its independence until the collapse of the USSR, the former Soviet Union, Ukraine is pushing back Vladimir Putin‘s forces so energetically that one expects Ukraine to survive. Nationhood is not always defined by borders. Ukraine is an ancient culture.

A Timeline

Conclusion

On Good Friday, I remembered the sayings of Jesus on the Cross. Regarding the objectionable invasion of Ukraine, the first saying would be the most important, but forgiving would be difficult: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do ( Luke 23:34).” One would like a multinational army to fight alongside Ukrainians and push out the Russians. Providing weapons seems insufficient. But would Vladimir Putin see intervention as other than humanitarian? At any rate, Putin is not at liberty to destroy a country. Will autocracies replace democracy?

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Sources and Resources

Wikipedia, abundantly
Bohdan Chmelnyskyj or Hetmanat (German)
Armed Forces of Ukraine, Wikipedia
The Cossacks of Ukraine, Britannica
Photo credit: Wikipedia, all images

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Vikings of the East: the Kievan Rus’

© Micheline Walker
22 April 2022
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