On the Dnieper River, Kyiv is the Ukrainian capital and its administrative, cultural and economic centre. As the powerful capital of Kievan Rus, as well as a religious and trade centre, the city was pivotal in Eastern Europe’s history. Occupied by Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Russia, Kyiv was finally made capital of independent Ukraine in 1991.
Archaeological findings trace civilization in Kyiv back to the Stone Age. Between the sixth century and the third century BC the area was under the influence of first Scythia and then Sarmatia. The city was founded by prince Kyv of the Slavic Polyans tribe in 482. Four hundred years later the Varangian prince Oleg of Novgorod took Kyiv and made it the capital of Kievan Rus, the first unified state of the East Slavs, uniting Finnish and Slavic tribes. During the tenth century, trade was extended between the Baltic and Black Seas, shaping Kyiv’s economy. The state, with Kyiv at its heart, gradually dominated Medieval Europe. Christianity was introduced in 988 leading to the construction of the Desyatynna Church, St Sophia’s Cathedral (built from 1037) and, the religious and cultural centre of Kievan Rus, the Kyivan Caves Monastery (1051). By the early thirteenth century, Kyiv was one of Europe’s largest cities.
Internecine struggles following the death of Yaroslav the Wise led to a break-up of the state principalities. In 1223 Genghis Khan’s grandson, Batu Khan, invaded Kievan Rus and much of Kyiv was destroyed when the city was sacked by Mongols in 1240. The Lithuanian state took control of the city in 1362 and in 1484 Kyiv adopted the Magdeburg law of self-governance. Much reconstruction was undertaken during this period and the city was fortified against Tatar invasions, although it was burned during an attack in 1416 and in 1482 was plundered by the troops of Crimean khan Mengli Girai.
In 1569 Kyiv passed from Lithuanian to Polish control. In 1654 on the union of Ukraine and Russia the much diminished city was controlled by Moscow. By this time Moscow had long since eclipsed Kyiv in importance. Russian rule was consolidated, and Tsarist decrees suppressed the Ukrainian language and culture. Further misfortunes befell Kyiv when fires in 1718 and 1811 caused great damage, although the city did recover some of its commercial importance in the eighteenth century and was linked to Moscow by rail in the mid-nineteenth century.
Long a centre of suppressed nationalist sentiment, Kyiv was involved in the revolutionary events of 1905. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Ukraine declared itself independent in 1918 with Kyiv its capital, but this was short-lived. After a Bolshevik invasion Kyiv was occupied in 1920 and its capital status transferred to Kharkiv until 1934. Despite increased industrial activity in the 1930s, the Soviets destroyed a large number of religious monuments. World War II, when Kyiv was under German occupation, spared little of what remained. Thousands were killed during this period including most of the city’s Jewish population. In 1943 Russian troops expelled the Germans and Kyiv came once again under Soviet rule.
In the postwar period Kyiv became a centre for underground nationalist gatherings, many of which took the form of literary groups. Intellectuals and writers were executed in the city during the Stalinist purges. Much of the city was rebuilt and in the second half of the twentieth century industry developed. At the fall of Soviet Union, Kyiv became the capital of independent Ukraine.
The political, economic and cultural centre of the Ukraine, Kyiv is also an important port. Its industries include engineering, metallurgy, chemicals and food processing. Kyiv’s many educational institutions include Kiev’s state university founded in 1833 and a polytechnic founded in 1898. The airport serves both domestic and international traffic. Rail links connect Kyiv to Moscow, Warsaw, Odessa and Kjarkiv while the city itself has a metro system. The Kyiv TV Tower, completed in 1973, is at 385 m the tallest lattice tower in the world.
Places of Interest
An abundance of Baroque and Byzantine architecture attest to Kyiv’s rich history. The old town contains the eleventh century cathedral of St Sophia which has been turned into a museum for frescoes and tapestries. The Podil district is the old merchant’s quarter and port. It contains the Baroque church of Mykola Prytysko built in 1631. Once the cultural heart of Kievan Rus, the Caves monastery contains the Baroque Dormition cathedral, churches and museums. The city’s other museums include the Folk Architecture Museum and Rural Life, a grouping of traditional villages, and the Historical Treasures Museum.