The historic roots of Ukraine's problemsFebruary 22, 2014
Do you want to understand what's going on in Ukraine?
A look at the maps of the region in our TimeMap of World History will immediately show the historic roots of the underlying issue. This is that the country is divided into two halves. Culturally, the people of the western half look towards Europe, while those in the eastern half look towards Russia. The capital, Kiev, lies right on the dividing line.
Look at this map, showing Russia and the ex-Russian regions in 2005. Find Ukraine (it's just above the Black Sea).
Now, using the date panel below the map, jump backward through history to 1960 - there is the region of Ukraine, a part of the Soviet Union. Jump backwards again, and it belongs to the Russian empire. Peddle back to 1789 - and now see what's happening? The parts to the west of Kiev do not belong to the Russian empire. And during the centuries preceding this date, western Ukraine is part of the world of central Europe, not Russia. You have to go back to the Middle Ages (1215 map) to find it part of the Russian world again.
What these maps show is that, for centuries in the later Middle Ages and early modern period, western Ukraine was part of Poland, or Austro-Hungary, or even the Ottoman empire, rather than Russia.
Why not browse through our maps of central and eastern Europe, this time going through history in the right direction: start here for central Europe and her for Eastern Europe. If you're interested in how the modern world came out of the morass of history, you'll find it fascinating.
By Peter Britton