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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a nation (natsiia; nation in the historical sense) in the USSR; the principal population of the Ukrainian SSR, numbering 35,284,000 people (1970 census), or 74.9 percent of the Ukrainian SSR’s total population. Ukrainians also reside in other republics of the USSR, including the RSFSR (3,346,000 people), Kazakh SSR (930,000), Moldavian SSR (507,000), Byelorussian SSR (191,000), Kirghiz SSR (120,000), and Uzbek SSR (115,000). The total number of Ukrainians in the USSR is 40,753,000 people.

Outside the USSR, Ukrainians live in the socialist countries of Poland (approximately 300,000 persons), Czechoslovakia (more than 70,000), Rumania (approximately 70,000), and Yugoslavia (approximately 40,000) and in a number of capitalist countries of Europe. There are a considerable number of Ukrainians in the Americas—approximately 1 million in the USA, 600,000–700,000 in Canada, 150,000–160,000 in Argentina, and more than 100,000 in Brazil. A small number, approximately 30,000, live in Australia. The Ukrainians living abroad are primarily the descendants of Ukrainians who emigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily from the western Ukraine.

Ukrainians speak the Ukrainian language. Believers are, for the most part, members of the Orthodox Church. In the western regions some Ukrainians, under pressure from the Polish feudal lords, became members of the Uniate Church in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Ukrainians, like the Russians and Byelorussians, are Eastern Slavs. All have a common ethnic origin, the ancient Russian nation, which formed out of closely related Eastern Slavic tribes in the tenth century and created its own state, Kievan Rus’. The three fraternal nations—Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians—gradually became differentiated between the 12th and 14th centuries as a result of socioeconomic and cultural development amid the political disunity in the ancient Russian lands caused by feudal disintegration. Sometime in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Ukrainians emerged as an independent ethnic community, with its own distinctive language, culture, and way of life. The formation of the Ukrainian nationality was centered in the Dnieper Region—the Kiev Region, Poltava Region, and Southern Chernigov Region—and this ethnic core attracted the people of other Ukrainian lands.

Despite the seizure in the 14th century of most of the Ukrainian lands by the Polish-Lithuanian feudal lords, the 16th and 17th centuries saw the consolidation and strengthening of the Ukrainian people. Among the factors that contributed to this were the further socioeconomic and cultural development of the Ukrainians, the struggle of the toiling masses, primarily the feudally dependent peasantry and the rank and file cossacks, against the Lithuanian, Polish, and Hungarian Catholic feudal aggression, and the devastating raids of the Turkish and Tatar invaders.

The 17th century was marked by the strengthening of money-commodity relations and the emergence of bourgeois relations among the Ukrainians. The most important event in the ethnic history of the Ukrainians was the reunification of the Left-bank Ukraine with Russia in 1654. Of great historical significance, the reunification played an enormous role in the subsequent economic, political, and cultural development of the Ukrainians and protected the Ukrainian people from foreign enslavement. In the 1790’s the Right-bank Ukraine became part of Russia. The reunification of the Ukraine and Russia contributed to the growth of their productive forces and to the mutual cultural enrichment of the two fraternal peoples; it united and reinforced both nations in the struggle against foreign invaders and against enslavers at home.

The formation of the Ukrainians into a bourgeois nation, a process begun in the 17th century, was completed in the 19th century, after the abolition of serfdom and the establishment of capitalist relations. The rapid development of various industries in the principal Ukrainian lands, which had become part of Russia, led to the formation of the working class—the vanguard of the Ukrainian toiling masses. Together with the workers of other nations, primarily the heroic Russian proletariat, the Ukrainian working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, waged a determined struggle against tsarism, the Ukrainian and Russian landowners, and capitalists for social and national liberation. The revolutionary movement in the Ukraine exerted a considerable influence on the liberation struggle of the workers in the parts of western Ukraine that were under Austro-Hungarian oppression—eastern Galicia, northern Bucovina, and Transcarpathia.

After the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, which overthrew the power of the landowners and bourgeoisie, the working masses of the Ukraine, along with the workers of other Soviet peoples, defeated the counterrevolution, supported by the bourgeois Ukrainian nationalists, both at home and abroad. They created their own sovereign national state—the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR), which united the Ukrainian lands within the USSR. With the construction of socialism, the Ukrainians formed a socialist nation. The western Ukraine became part of the Ukrainian SSR in 1939, northern Bucovina and the Khotin, Akkerman, and Izmail districts of Bessarabia in 1940, and Transcarpathia in 1945. Thus, the age-old Ukrainian lands were reunited in the Ukrainian SSR.

Specific features of the historical development of the various parts of the Ukraine and the differences in geographical conditions determined the emergence of several ethnographic regions—the Central Eastern (Southeastern), Northern (Poles’e), and Western (Southwestern). Within these regions still smaller regions and separate ethnographic groups of Ukrainians are distinguished, such as the Litviny and Poleshchuki in the Poles’e and the Hutzuls, Boiki, and Lemki—Ukrainian mountaineers—in the southwest. Although the folk culture of each group has its own distinctive features, the folk cultures of all groups have certain features in common.

The traditional Ukrainian peasant dwelling before the October Revolution of 1917 was the khata, a dwelling, generally whitewashed on the inside and out, with two or sometimes three rooms, a clay floor, and a pyramidal or gabled (Poles’e) thatched roof. In the Poles’e and a number of other regions in Galicia, houses had no chimneys or only partial ventilation as late as the early 20th century. Both the wall opposite the entrance and the hearth, located to the right or left of the entrance, were decorated with painted floral designs. Diagonally across from the hearth was the paradnyi ugol (the corner of the room with icons and other religious objects), decorated with rushniki (decorative embroidered towels); a table or high chest (skrynia) also stood here. Benches (lavy) were placed along the walls, and a plank bed (pit) was placed between the hearth and facing wall. A clothing rack (zhertka) was hung above the bed. A cupboard (misnyk) for the dishes was mounted on the wall or in the corner near the entrance. In addition to the house, usually positioned with its fronton facing the street, the peasant homestead included one or more outbuildings, depending on the prosperity of the owner. Ukrainian villages were always noted for their lush greenery.

Ukrainian folk costumes were distinctive and colorful. The women’s costume consisted of an embroidered shirt (sorochka) that came down below the knees, over which were worn a narrow wraparound skirt (plakhta), a wide cloth belt (derga), and a small dress apron (zapaska); beginning in the 19th century, the wraparound skirt was replaced by a sewn skirt. Various types of vests were worn in cool weather, for example, a tight-waisted vest that extended over the hips (kirsetka) and a loose, wide vest (keptar”).Unmarried girls braided their hair into a single plait, which they wound around the head; flowers were worn in the hair or a garland, made of paper flowers, with trailing bright-colored ribbons. Women wore various types of caps (cheptsy), covered by a turban-like headgear (namitka) or kerchief.

The men wore a shirt and trousers—narrow trousers in the Poles’e and the Carpathians and sharovary-type trousers (extremely wide trousers gathered into boots) elsewhere. A vest, which was made of fur among the Hutzuls and other mountaineers, was also usually worn. Headgear included straw hats (bryli) or felt or lambskin hats. In moderately cold weather, men and women wore an overcoat (svita), usually full-length, made of homespun cloth. In winter, various sheepskin coats (kozhukhi), usually long, were worn.

The process of building a socialist society in the USSR has wrought great changes in the material and spiritual culture of the Ukrainians. Cities have been reconstructed, and new, modern major industrial centers have been built. Ukrainian villages have also experienced changes. They have undergone electrification and radiofication and have been provided with a variety of amenities. Most have an administrative-economic center, modern dwellings, and various sovkhoz or kolkhoz farm structures, usually located on the outskirts. The tradition of planting numerous trees and gardens has been steadfastly preserved in the settlements. The khaty have been replaced by modern dwellings, whose design still retains the best elements of folk architecture. The interior has been radically altered and now resembles that of urban dwellings. Rooms are furnished with contemporary factory-made furniture, and numerous new household items and appliances, such as refrigerators and television sets, have become a part of everyday life.

Ukrainians of today wear the common European-type clothing, although they still retain, especially in the rural areas, elements of Ukrainian national dress and the national dress of other peoples of the USSR.

The social and family life of the Ukrainians has been fundamentally reorganized in the process of socialist construction. The old way of life, based on class antagonism, has been replaced by a new socialist, collectivist way of life, typified by the unity.of personal and social interests. New family relations, characterized by equal rights for all family members, have been formed.

Socialism and internationalism have provided the basis for the further development of traditional Ukrainian folk poetry, music, dance, and various decorative arts, such as painting, embroidery, ceramics, wood carving, and carpet weaving.

The socialist transformation in all the Ukrainian lands has contributed to the consolidation of the Ukrainian socialist nation; the distinctive ethnographic features of individual regions and groups are gradually disappearing. At the same time, the Ukrainians are developing closer ties with other Soviet peoples. The Ukrainian socialist nation of today and all the socialist nations and nationalities of the USSR together constitute a new historical community—the Soviet people.

For the history, economy, and culture of the Ukrainians, see.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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