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Kyiv (Kiev) History

It might have begun life as a humble trading port on the banks of the Dnieper River, but by the 10th century, Kyiv (Kiev) had become home to the Varangian Vikings and a major trading hub to boot. After the Varangians were pushed out, the city became capital of the early Slavic state of Rus.

But the richness of Kyiv (Kiev) created enemies and over the following centuries, the city was attacked on numerous occasions. None succeeded until the arrival of the Mongols in the mid 13th century, who wreaked havoc on Rus, leaving the state in ruins. As a result, when the Lithuanians invaded in the early 1320s, Kyiv (Kiev) was unable to resist and was eventually incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

With the Union of Lublin in July 1569 the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was created and Lithuania's ownership of Kyiv (Kiev) was transferred to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. Ukrainian Cossacks fought back, and the city briefly enjoyed a period of independence before the Russians turned up in 1654. Russian rule throughout the 18th and 19th centuries transformed the city, bringing rapid industrialisation and making Kyiv (Kiev) one of the wealthiest cities in Europe and a primary Christian centre.

The boom was not to last, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 heralded the onset of Bolshevik rule. Although not the original capital of the Ukrainian SSR (Kharkhiv was the first for 15 years), its position as the first city of Ukraine brought unwanted attention from Stalin in the 1930s, who oversaw a series of purges of the city’s intelligentsia. More bloodshed followed in the 1940s, with Kyiv (Kiev) suffering greatly during WWII due to the Battle of Kyiv (Kiev) in 1941 and 1943.

Hidden behind the Iron Curtain, Ukraine settled down to decades of Communist rule, administered from Kyiv (Kiev). As in other Soviet states, purges were common and ordinary people watched.

Independence finally came on 24 August 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Today, Kyiv (Kiev) is once again the capital of a country in war, this time a civil war in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The outcome remains to be seen.

Did you know?
• During their anti-religious campaigns of the 1920s, the Soviets wanted to turn Saint Sophia's Cathedral into a war memorial park.
• The Mongols removed the original famed domes of St Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery when they invaded in 1240.
• St Volodymyr's Cathedral nearly lost its bells in 1929 when the Bolsheviks tried to commandeer them and melt them down.