Truth, Understanding, Insight

Early History of Ukraine and Russia

30th November 2022, gah


The intent of this article is to examine the links between modern day Russia and Ukraine.

From the earliest documented history of the area from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, an area that encompasses the areas now known as Belarus and Ukraine, it was inhabited by Slavic tribes. In the north, in the area around the city of Novgorod, was inhabited by Ilmen Slavs. Other tribes included the Kryvichi, Drevlyans, Volhynians, Polans, Radimichs, Dregovichs and Vyatichs. Further north, in the area now occupied by Estonia, Leningrad, Karelia, Volodga and north western Russia were Finnic tribes which included the Chuds and Veps. To the area to the east of the Volga River were the Finnic tribes of Mordvins, Merya, Mari and Muromians.

The Slavic and Finnic tribes were family clans who lived agrarian lives with no central authority (king or ruler). Their religion was polytheistic.

Kievan Rus Map

For Ukrainian and Russian history during the 9th – 12th centuries historians rely on manuscripts known as the Hypatian Codex. These manuscripts were found in the Hypatian Monstery in the 18th century by the Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin and are believed to have been written in the 15th century, with the earliest manuscript written in 1377 AD. There are three parts to the Hypatian Codex; the first part is known as the “Primary Chronicle” which details the history of Kievan Rus up until 1110 AD. The second part is the “Kyiv Chronicle”, which details the history from 1110-1200 AD. The third part is the “Galician-Volhynian Chronicle” and covers the years from 1220-1292 AD.

According to the Primary Chronicle, during the 9th century the Turkish speaking Khazars and Varangians (Viking Norsemen) started to exert their influence in the region and the Slavs were forced to pay tribute to them. In 862 AD the Slavs fought the Varangians and were successful in driving them from their lands. Shortly after this conflict it is recorded that the Slavic tribes allowed the Varangians to govern them with more central rule and laws. It is unclear whether this occurred through conquest by the Varangians or mutual agreement. The Primary Chronicle indicates that the Slavs went to the Varangians with the thought “Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to the law”. Perusal of any history of the nations of Ukraine or Russia will start their history with rule by the Varangians.

There were three Varangian brothers; Sineus, Truvor and Rurik, who took control over their regions of Izborsk, Beloozero and Novgorod respectively. Sineus and Truvor died within two years of ascension to being rulers and Rurik subsequently became the sole ruler over all three areas. Two other Varangians who were part of Rurik’s group, Askold and Dir, left for Constantinople and on their way through conquered a city on a hill that came to be known as Kiev. Rurik, and his successors, the Rurikids became the ruling dynasty of Russia until 1610.

When Rurik died in 879 AD his young son Igor was entrusted to the care of his kinsman Prince Oleg of Novgorod, who succeeded him and became regent. On becoming regent Oleg commenced military campaigns of the area to consolidate his control. Oleg captured Kiev from Askold and Dir, who were killed. Oleg moved the capital of the region from Novograd to Kiev as he recognised its importance in natural resources and trade routes through the region. These military conquests created the region to be known as Kievan Rus. In 907 AD the Slavs, under Oleg, were successful in attacking Constantinople, which was used to achieve a favourable trade agreement with the Byzantines.

Oleg was succeeded by Rurik’s son Igor, who continued the expansion of Kievan Rus. He attacked Constantinople twice, in 941 and 944 AD. In 945 AD a favourable peace treaty was signed between Igor and the Byzantines. Later that same year, Igor was killed by two Slavs while exacting tribute from them. Igor had placed heavy tribute on the conquered areas, which led to discontent of the conquered tribes.

Igor was succeeded by his son Sviatoslav 1 of Kiev. As Sviatoslav was too young to rule, Igor’s wife, Olga served as regent between 945-963 AD. Olga was a Varangian woman and sought revenge for the death of her husband Igor at the hands of the Drevlian tribe.

Sviatoslav ruled from 963 AD until his assassination in 972 AD by the Pecheneg Khan at the instigation of the Byzantines. While Norse by heritage, he adopted Slavic customs, dress and appearance. He led successful military campaigns to triple the size of his empire by conquering the Khazaria, Volga Bulgars, Alans and Danube Bulgars.

Sviatoslav had three sons, Oleg and Yaropolk by his wife and Vladimir by a Slavic servant woman named Malusha. On Sviatoslav’s death all three sons vied to become ruler of Kievan Rus. Oleg was killed and Yaropolk took power from 972 – 980 AD. Vladimir fled to Norway and returned with a force of Varangians to take back the kingdom from Yarapolk who was killed in an ambush in 980 AD.

Vladimir the Great and conversion of Kievan Rus to Christianity

Vladimir continued the use of military campaigns that had been a feature of the previous Kievan Rus rulers, to extend and strengthen the Kievan Rus empire. In the areas that came under his influence he had a number of pagan shrines built to honour different deities.

Around 987 AD the Byzantine Emperor Basil II asked Vladimir for military aid to help defend his empire. At this time the Byzantine empire was plagued by insurrection and wars. In return Basil II was either asked for, or offered, his sister Anne in marriage to Vladimir. At the time Anne was betrothed to Otto III, the Holy Roman Emperor. As part of the agreement for the marriage Vladimir was required to convert to Christianity. The marriage resulted in three factors that greatly influenced the future of Kievan Rus: 1. conversion of Kievan Rus to Christianity, 2. establishment of the Varangian Guard and 3. assimilation of Byzantine culture.

Vladimir was baptised in the city Cherson and urged those in his army and Kievan Rus also to be baptised. Pagan practices and rites were suppressed in Kiev and Novgorad. Vladimir adopted the Byzantine rites and liturgies of the Orthodox Church in the Slavic language. The Bible had been previously translated approximately a century earlier into Old Church Slavonic by Cyril and Methodius c868 AD. Vladimir built a number of churches including the Desiatynna, which was designed by Byzantine architects.

Kievan Rus was linked militarily to the Byzantine empire by the establishment of the Varangian Guard c988 AD, a military force of 6000 Varangians based in Constantinople that became the elite troops of the Byzantine emperors until the early 14th century.

Kievan Rus reached the height of its power and influence under Vladimir the Great. Trade and the economy flourished, churches and cites were built. Schools were founded to encourage literacy and provision was made for the poor.

Vladimir was succeeded by Svaitopolk I who reigned from 1015-1019 AD. His reign was unremarkable other than being known for murdering three of Vladimir’s sons. His rule was short and he was deposed by another son of Vladimir, Yaroslav I, who reigned from 1019-1054 AD. Yaroslav continued in the Rus tradition of leading military campaigns and brokering treaties with Constantinople. He married Ingergerd Olofsdotter, the daughter of Olaf Skotkonung the King of Sweden, and formed alliances with other nations through the marriages of his children. During his reign the impressive medieval St Sophia’s Cathedral in Novgorod was built. Following the death of Yaroslav, Kievan Rus was fragmented into separate states, partly by infighting between his sons and partly by insurgence of principalities and cities.

Map of Europe in 1278

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin has written an article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” which is published on the : Kremlin website

Putin has consistently reiterated his belief that Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian people are one people as they are all descended from Ancient Rus ruled by the Rurik dynasty. They share the same language (Old Russian), culture and Orthodox religion. Putin refers to Kiev, as worded by Oleg the Prophet, “Let it be the mother of all Russian cities”. In Putin’s article he outlines the fragmentation of Ancient Rus and re-alignment of borders over the past one thousand years.

To fully understand the position of Russia with respect to Ukraine the article by Putin is worthy of a read. It outlines his understanding of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine as well as their relationship with other Western nations. Some of the more pertinent quotes from Putin’s article are replicated here:

“Ukraine and Russia have developed as a single economic system over decades and centuries.”

“Until 2014, hundreds of agreements and joint projects were aimed at developing our economies, business and cultural ties, strengthening security and solving common social and environmental problems.”

“In essence, Ukraine’s ruling circles decided to justify their country’s independence through the denial of its past, however, except for border issues. They began to mythologize and rewrite history, edit out everything that united us, and refer to the period when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an occupation.”

“Step by step, Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia.”

Interestingly Putin writes “we will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia. And to those who will undertake such as attempt, I would like to say that this way they will destroy their own country”.

Putin’s beliefs are clearly on display to the world in his article. He sees Ukraine as a part of Russia and it is his objective to ensure that they remain as one people.

Bible prophecy

Bible prophecy relates what will happen in the future and allows us to be observers of world events looking over what is happening.

Ezekiel 38:2 mentions Russia; “Son of man, set thy face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal and prophecy against him.” (ASV). It is important to note that different Bible translations deal with the word “Rosh” in different ways. Some translations such as the NIV, KJV, RSV translate the “prince of Rosh” as “chief prince”. The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the words “nasi rosh”. The discrepancy in translation comes from the Latin Vulgate versus Septuagint transcripts that are used in the different Bible translations. The Alexandrine Jews, appointed by Ptolemy Philadelphus, the king of Egypt (285-246 BC), translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek (the Septuagint). Their rendering of this verse was “Gogue, prince of Ros, Mesoch and Thobel”. The Latin Vulgate, (largely the work of Jerome), commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 AD, translation of the Old Testament used Ros as a noun rather than a proper name. It has been suggested that Jerome translated Rosh as a noun rather than a proper name based on its usage in the Old Testament. Rosh is not referred to in any other passages as a proper name, whereas Meshech and Tubal are. In Genesis 10:2 and 1 Chronicles 1:5 Meshech and Tubal are named as two of the seven sons of Japheth. Meshech and Tubal are also mentioned in Ezekiel 27:13; 32:26. In these four instances Rosh is not named with Meshech and Tubal. Reference to a Hebrew concordance shows that the word “Rosh” is used in the original text in Ezekiel 38:2 and is considered by modern scholars to be a proper name.

Rosh, Meshech and Tubal have long been associated with the land areas known as Kievan Rus, Moscow and Tobolsk. Ezekiel 27:13 associates Tubal and Meshech as trading in brass, which is composed of copper and zinc. Russia currently ranks 8th in the world for copper production and 11th for zinc production. Founded in 1590 Tobolsk is the historic capital of Siberia, and is the second oldest Russian settlement east of the Ural Mountains. It is named after the River Tobol. Historically Moscow is first mentioned in the Kyiv Chronicles of 1147, however archaeology shows that it had existed since Neolithic times. Moscow is positioned on the Moscow River and developed as a trading route. Historically Rosh is known as Kievan Rus, with its capital Kiev, founded by the Rurik dynastry.

This article is not intended to consider the later day role of these nations, as this is a subject all of its own. The intent of this article is to examine the links between modern day Russia and Ukraine. Modern day Russia encompasses the land mass of Meshech and Tubal, while modern day Ukraine encompasses the land mass of Rosh. For any later day Bible prophecy to be fulfilled there needs to be a merging of modern Russia and Ukraine. Putin has a vision, based on his own reasons, for once again drawing together Russia and Ukraine as they had been under Vladimir the Great who oversaw the peak of greatness of Kievan Rus.