Topical question: is Ukraine Russian?

Metropolitan Archbishop Feofan Prokopovich. (© Doctor)

Historian Jean-Paul Lefebvre Fillotcolumnist Le Vernon Democratan expert on the Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe, given his family and religious ties with these countries, kindly answered this obviously provocative question, referring to history of Ukraine and Russia and to the gratitude of Ukrainian friends.

Many Russians today consider themselves to be the people from which Ukrainians and Belarusians.

This is the principle of the “Russian trinitarian nation”, imposed since the 16th century. Recognized as the global ethnological norm—at least until 1923, as the map accompanying this article shows—the concept is a founding element of the Russian Empire. It was taken up by Vladimir Putin in an essay published in 2021 entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

“Russian trinitarian nation”

principle” Trinitarian Russian nation » regroups « Great Russians (Russians), vol. Little Russians (Ukrainians) and white russians (Belarusians), all from the “Old Russian” people of Kievan Rus.

Kievan Rus or ” Kievan Rus East Slavic principality that existed from the 9th to the 13th century and is undoubtedly the progenitor of modern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

“Kievan Rus” became Christian with the baptism of its overlord, Prince Vladimir I of Kiev, known as Volodymyr the Great, in 988. At that time, the evangelization of the country was led by the Orthodox missionary monk Kirill, who translated the Gospels, the Psalter and Byzantine services in Old Church Slavonic (Slavonic) and Cyrillic was introduced.


This concept of a “trinitarian Russian nation” has its origins in the desire of the Orthodox Church since the end of the 16th century to unite these three Slavic peoples in order to respond to the discrimination that the Orthodox in Poland-Lithuania are victims of.

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This state, one of the largest in Europe, extends over the current territories of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, part of Estonia and a large part of Ukraine.

The author of this concept of the “trinitarian Russian nation” is Metropolitan and Archbishop Feofan Prokopovich (1681-1736), adviser to Tsar Peter the Great, professor at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy. He declares the Russian people trinitarian, since the royal title reads: “Tsar of Great, Lesser and White Russia.”

Moreover, the archimandrite (father of the abbot) of the monastery of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, Innokenty Gizel, an opponent of Poland-Lithuania, offers with his book “Kyiv Synopsis” a “spiritual constitution” for Russians, so that Belarusians and Ukrainians, whom he considers representatives of the “Old Russian people”.

Cossack rebellion

If Ukrainians are dominated by Poles-Lithuanians, then in the 16th century there were several uprisings. The most important is led by the Cossack leader Severin Nalivaiko in 1594. His successors – Peter Sahaydachnil, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, in 1648.

In 1701, at their request, Tsar Peter the Great integrated the Ukrainian Cossacks into his empire. They become autonomous vassals of the Russian overlord and fight against the Ottoman Empire and Poland. In 1793, the Russian Empress Catherine II suppressed the autonomy of the Cossacks in Ukraine and occupied their territory up to the Black Sea. Since then, three-quarters of modern Ukraine became Russian, until the October Revolution of 1917.

Short independence

Following the explosion Russian and Austrian empires, in 1917, the Ukrainians sought independence, which they proclaimed on March 17, 1917 under the leadership of Mikhail Hrushevsky, then on January 22, 1918, they officially proclaimed the independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. This new state was recognized by France and Britain. But the advance of the Red Army forced the young government to flee Kyiv in February 1918.

That Civil War, which reigns between the Bolshevik troops and the so-called White Tsarist Russian troops, sows complete confusion. By the end of 1919 and the first half of 1920, the Bolsheviks finally gained the upper hand over all the forces that opposed them.

Since then, part of the former Russian Empire of Ukraine, with Kyiv as the capital is part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

In 1921, part of the former Austrian Empire with Lvov (Lvov in Russian) as its main city became the territory of Poland.

A small Transcarpathian Ukraine, the former Hungary, was attached to Czechoslovakia. Finally, the Ukrainian minority of Bukovina joins Romania.

Soviet Ukraine

That Bolsheviks who first came to power brushed aside this ideology of the “Russian trinitarian nation”, reproaching it for supporting, Trotskyists, conservative nationalism. But the following Stalinist period was marked by a revival of imperial concepts, even if the status of Ukrainians and Belarusians as autonomous peoples of the USSR did not change.

Thus, Stalinist historians consider “Kiev Rus” the “common cradle” of the three Slavic peoples, relying on the principle of the “Old Russian people”.

Moreover, the Soviet government fully adheres to the principle of the “Russian trinitarian nation”, as evidenced by the works of the Soviet academician Nikolai Derzhavinpublished in 1944 and entitled “The Origin of the Russian People: Great Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian.”
It should be noted that Stalin has a particular eye on any Ukrainian national awakening that is interpreted as a threat to the integrity of the Soviet Union.

After invasion of Poland in 1939, by German and then Soviet troops, the USSR annexed Polish regions with a Ukrainian majority (for example, the Ternopil region in western Ukraine), then in 1940, areas with a Ukrainian minority in Romania.

The ethnic map of Europe in 1923, compiled by the British, confirms the concept of the
The ethnic map of Europe in 1923, compiled by the British, confirms the concept of the “Russian trinitarian nation” (green zone). (© Doctor)

In 1941, the Ukrainians sought Ukrainian independence initially welcomed the German troops. But when they realize that the Nazis have come to plunder the country and turn them into slaves, they en masse join the Resistance, and then the Red Army.

Four cities – Odessa, Kerch, Sevastopol and Kyiv were awarded the title of “Hero City”.

In 1945, by order of Stalin, Transcarpathian Little Russia, the former Hungary, as well as several Romanian islands in the Black Sea, which he nevertheless gave to Ukraine, were annexed to Ukraine. In 1954, Ukrainian Nikita Khrushchev transferred the fully Russian-speaking Crimea to Ukraine.

Second independence

After the liberalization of the Soviet regime under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, the first independent political party of Ukraine, Rukh, was founded. July 16, 1990 Parliament.

The full independence of Ukraine was proclaimed on December 1, 1991. The next week, the USSR no longer existed. It is being replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which recognizes the borders of the former Soviet republics that have become independent, including the borders of Ukraine.

Crimean crisis :
Conflicts of interest quickly arise between Ukraine and Russia, which are too long to explain in a short article. The most important thing concerns the Crimea.
Paramilitary groups take control of Crimea and Sevastopol. In March 2014, the separatists organized a referendum on self-determination.

With a positive result, these territories are recognized as independent by Russia, but not by the international community. As for the Ukrainian government, it accuses Russia of invasion and armed occupation.

free trade agreement :
President Petro Poroshenko signs a free trade agreement with the European Union on June 27, 2014, which the Russian government sees as the start of Ukraine’s accession to NATO.

Donbass war :
In the eastern part of Ukraine (Donbass) there is a popular pro-Russian uprising against the Ukrainian government. Then two republics were born: the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, recognized by Russia on February 21, 2022.

Invasion of Ukraine :
Three days later, the Russian army shelled several Ukrainian cities for the first time, including the capital.

The troops then entered Ukraine, to the amazement of the population, who did not expect an attack from a “brotherly country” in terminology sometimes used by the two belligerents.

Is Ukraine still Russian?

Is Ukraine still part of the “Russian trinitarian nation”? I asked this question to Ukrainians living in France. They all express a certain embarrassment to answer. Deep inside their hearts bleed because they did not expect a violent attack on their country from Russia.

Sometimes, with relatives or friends on both sides, they hope that the wisdom of the Russian and Ukrainian leaders will lead to a ceasefire and fruitful diplomatic negotiations.

Jean-Paul Lefebvre Fillot

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