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Historical Context Surrounding the Russo-Ukrainian War

I don't tend to read much about modern politics, but content about the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian conflict and invasions has become ubiquitous. Most of these posts and videos document Russia's movements into Ukraine, damage of Ukrainian cities and the Ukrainian refugee situation. I've found that I have been consuming Ukrainian sympathetic media with no context.

I've been aware of this imbalance for some time, but now that the conflict has started to come up in conversation and more importantly affect my life, I feel it necessary to educate myself on the situation as a whole.

This essay will dive into the history of the surrounding region, how Russia and Ukraine became the nations they are now, and the basis of Russia's claim to the Ukrainian territory.

By the end of this essay I would like to be able to defend either side, regardless of whom I support.

Shared History: Kievan Rus'

The region of both Russia and Ukraine shares the same early history, so we will begin by exploring the rise and fall of the Kievan Rus' and then diving into the aftermath that lead to both Russia and Ukraine up until around the 20th century.

The Kievan Rus' was a state that developed after Viking immigration in the 9th century. Rurik became elected ruler of Novgorod and his sons began conquering the surrounding regions/tribes and establishing the Rus'; Oleg conquered Kiev in 882 while Igor and his son worked on the rest of the region. Most of this early history is gathered from a document called the primary chronicle. The fidelity of this document has recently come under scrutiny as significant anachronisms have been discovered.

Between 980-1054 the Rus' had entered a golden age in which they accepted Byzantium orthodox Christianity. This is curious as Byzantium had sent missionaries into the Rus' in order to convert them in response to an invasion... This conversion will later become a basis for claiming Byzantine empire.

At this point in the 11th century it was one of the most powerful states in Europe.

Kievan Rus' Golden Age

The Rurik dynasty began to experience some internecine turmoil and fell after Mongol invasions in the mid 13th century.


Several principalities were united to create the Kingdom of Ruthenia in 1253. In 1349 it was overthrown by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


In 1648 there was a Cossack uprising against the Commonwealth and Poland which eventually lead to a brutal war with the Russian Tsar, Poland, the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire. A treaty was eventually signed that split territory of the Cossack Hetmanate between Russia and Poland. In 1686 Moscow obtained some control over Kiev through an annexation that I am not entirely sure I understand... But it seems that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople had some authority to make such a statement.

  • 1768 Bar confederation is formed at the fortress of Bar by Polish nobles to defend the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from Russian influence
  • 1768 Koliivshchyna
    • major rebellion sparked by Russian investment to Ukrainian locals to fight against the Bar Confederation and fired by other internal issues that had been building up
  • Throughout this time 1764-1781 Catherine the great had been extending russian territory into central ukraine and began a suppressive process of russification within the region
  • Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth falls in 1795 and western region of modern day Ukraine is taken by russia, the east by the Habsburgs.


The Duchy of Moscow then rose against the Mongols in 1380. Ivan III now claims to be the "Grand Duke of all Rus'". He notably made claim to the Byzantine Empire after the fall of Constantinople and married the last heir to the Byzantine Empire making claim to leadership.

Ivan's son was crowned Tsar of Russia following developments of the Third Rome claims. Russia pushed through famine, Polish-Lithuanian invasion and [the 13 years war].

Territorial Expansion of Russia

In 1721 under the leadership of Peter the Great Russia was an empire and a European great power.

Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 but fails miserably.