We begin our journey with a historical figure, who is said to first mention the city of Kyiv in his addresses to the people. According to biblical theory, Apostle St Andrew travelled a lot, once visiting the territory now known as Ukraine. Born in Bethsaida as an ethnic Jew, he made a long journey from his motherland to preach God’s message to the pagan people of Eastern Europe. Whilst doing this, he saw the hills surrounding the now booming metropolis of Kyiv, and said that a mighty city named Kyiv would be built on the very spot.
Supporters of this version of the birth of Kyiv assume St Andrew as the real founder of the city, and that Kiy, Shchek, Khoryv and their sister Lybid are just transformed symbols from legend. Kiy, for example, might come from the Old Russian word for “crook”, something St Andrew carried with him on his journeys. Likewise, Khoryv is a name for Mountain Sinai and is mentioned many times in the Bible. Then there’s Shchek, which might come from the Hebrew Shekina, meaning the dwelling of God’s presence. And finally, Lybid is also the name of the river that could have been poetically interpreted as a girl’s name. All of the aforementioned supports the theory that the original founder of Kyiv might indeed be Jewish St Andrew, a man with a talent for writing beautiful prose.
If the authenticity of the previous legend is to be doubted, let’s look at another, which features four western foreigners. Some claim that Kyiv was indeed founded by Kiy, Shchek and Khoryv along with their sister Lybid, but that the siblings were Polyany (modern Poland) tribesmen, thus making them Ukrainian progenitors. Other legends state that the brothers came from Iran, or even that they were of Scandinavian origin. No matter from where the brothers originate, they were seen as strangers to these lands.
From Far Off Lands
Throughout the ages, Ukraine and its capital Kyiv have continued to develop into the beautiful region we see today. With regards to the capital itself, it’s a known fact that many of the city’s most picturesque and well-known landmarks were constructed by insightful foreigners who helped embellish the once modest town. For example, St Andrew’s Church on Andriivskiy Uzviz was finished in 1754 under the careful direction of Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Later, he also worked on Mariinskiy Palace. Even though he was Italian, Rastrelli managed to capture the essence of the Ukrainian land, which explains why his works fit Kyiv so perfectly.
Ukraine had a difficult life throughout all these years. There were many natives and foreigners who selfishly wanted to grab a plot of land for themselves without thinking about its people. Another vivid example of a foreigner who had a great impact on the history of Ukraine is Karl XII. By his treaty with Hetman Mazepa and Catherine the Great, he rid Ukraine of the Zaporizhska Sich and Cossack oppression.
It is also important to point out those whose social politics truly helped the nation. In 1861, Oleksandr II continued his father’s reforms and cancelled serfdom, which had previously acted as a sore thumb on Ukraine’s history for many years prior. According to the statistics, before the reign of Oleksandr II, more than 50% of citizens of the Russian Empire were born slaves. It meant they were under rule of their masters until their death, and, incidentally, were paid far less than that needed to live sustainably. Oleksandr I cut the rate of serfdom by half, while his son, Oleksandr II, cancelled serfdom completely, introducing a far more ‘European’ approach towards labour.
Here at Home
In 1828, having visited the south of Ukraine and been so inspired by it, German prince Duke Friedrich Ferdinand von Anhalt-Köthen breathed life into one of his ideas. He began a sanctuary project called Askania Nova to conserve the beauty of Ukrainian wildlife. The sanctuary continues to exist today, covers over 333km2, and represents thousands of biota species, including those that are now in the Red Book. Unfortunately for the Duke, the Red Army seized all of his lands and belongings in 1919.
In 1869, Welsh entrepreneur John Hughes arrived in Ukraine to buy a plot of land and start a business here. His steel plant grew rapidly, and very soon turned into a village, and then a town that was then named after him – Yuzivka. While it was renamed Donetsk in 1924, Hughes’ plant remained an instrumental part of the region. Having introduced a wave of new technology, it quickly became the country’s key industrial centre.
Another famous figure in Ukrainian history, born and raised in Russia (even though the two countries were one during the mid-20th century), is Mykola Amosov – a talented prodigy in his field, who saved many lives with both his hands and intellect. After graduating from Archangelsk Medical Institute, he headed the Kyiv Medical Institute. Thanks to his innovations and techniques, heart surgery became much safer and more widespread, allowing patients necessary treatments without endangering their lives.