I am tired of hearing the stupidity like I heard today in one broadcast of France Culture (“Between East and West: Ukraine torn apart”). For example, that “Kyiv is a mother of Russian cities”. In addition, the so-called scientific web-sites Hérodote claim the following: “Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are three successor states of the Russian nation” or that Ukraine is “Little Russia” seem to be at least stupid.

Unfortunately, the French scientists use Russian point of view on Eastern Europe, repeating the propaganda, which was created during the Russian Empire and later during the USSR, necessary to justify invasions of countries such as Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus etc. So, the purpose of this article is to shed some light on Ukraine, its history and its language.

The web-sites Hérodote says: “Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are three successor states of the Russian nation.”. Saying that is as meaningless as saying that France, Italy and Spain are three successor states of the Italian nation. And I explain why.

The term “Russian nation” can be used only since the reign of Peter the Great of Russia (1682-1725). It was him, who introduced the term “Russian” to designate the inhabitants of the Tsardom of Muscovy (1547-1721) and the term “Russia” to designate his country on the maps. Before his reign, the country was known under such names as “Muscovy, Moschovia, Moscoviae” etc.

In the same article on the Hérodote web-site Ukraine is called as “Little Russia”. Firstly, the term “Russia” started to be applied only since the creation of the Russian Empire (1721-1917) on the order of Peter the Great. Secondly, why do we use the term invented by Russians to designate Ukrainian lands? So we can follow the same logic and call France as “Little England”. Why not? In 17th century the kings of England had also a title of King of France. But it doesn’t mean that French people are English. Does it?

Among the sources that can help to shed some light on the history of Eastern Europe, in particular Ukraine, are the Chronicles and ancient maps, composed by many travelers, including French traveler and scientist Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan (1595-1685), who called the territories of present-day Ukraine as “Ukraine”, and the territories of present-day Russia as “Muscovy” or “Tartary”.

Some other travelers called the territories of present-day Ukraine as “Rvssia”, while calling Russia as “Muscovy”. In particular, on the map dating from 1550 “POLONIA ET VNGARIA XV NOVA TABULA”, the term “RVSSIA” is used to mark only the territories of the Leopol city (now the city of Lviv – present-day Ukraine). The territories of Grodeck (now the city of Grodno – present-day Belarus) are called as “LITVANIÆ”, the territories of Smolensk (present-day Russia) are called “MOSCOVIA”.


On the maps dating from 15-16 centuries, you can find the folowing Latin names of present-day Ukraine: “Ruthenia Rubra” and “Ruthenia Negra”. For Belarus “Ruthenia Alba” (which is the name of their country – White Ruthenia). So, since when the word “Русь” (Rus – Ruthenia) became in French and English “Россия” (Rossiya – Russia)?

It is not rare to hear that Belorussians refer to the name “літвіны” (Litviny – Lithuanians), which doesn’t mean that present-day Belorussians are Lithuanians. 200 years ago Ukrainians used the term “русини” (rusyny – Ruthenians) to identify themselves. We cannot translate the term “русин” (rusyn – Ruthenian) as “Russian”. It is a big mistake. The term “Russian” writes as “россиянин” (rossiyanin). There is also another term: “руський” (rus’kyi – Ruthenian) and “русский” (russkiy – Russian). These terms are almost identical for the French & English ear, but they mean completely different things. You couldn’t easily tell the difference between “rus’kyi” and “russkiy”, if I pronounce these two words one after another.

Returning to Lviv region, which was called as “RVSSIA” or “Ruthenia”, I must say that King of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, Danylo Halytskyi (Daniel of Galicia) had the title, which, in different sources, sounds in Latin as: “Ruthenorum Rex” or “rex Rutheniae”, or “Rex Russiae”, all of them mean the King of Ruthenia. The name of Galicia region comes from the city of “Галич” (Halych) which is situated in Western Ukraine in Lviv region. Today we still call Lviv region as “Галичина” (Halychyna – Galicia). Nothing has changed for centuries…

Concerning the etymology of the word “Ukraine”

One of the biggest myths often repeated in France is the etymology of the name of Ukraine. In 18th century, Russians have decided that the name “Ukraine” comes from Russian word “край” (kray – edge), therefore “у края” (u kraya – at the edge) [of Russia]. The Russian propaganda in such a way explained that Russia was the real descendant of the Kyivan Rus and that Ukraine had no past, while introducing the term “Little Russia” in order to anchor even more Ukraine into Russia in the eyes of foreigners. But tell me, why should we translate the name of a country using a language of a neighboring country and not the language of the country for which you translate the name? If we follow the same method, using the Ukrainian language, so the word “Україна” (Ukraina – Ukraine) has the root “країна” (kraina – country). Therefore, the name Ukraine literally means “my country”. In the Middle Ages, people also called the principalities of the Kyivan Rus with the name Ukraine, for example, Ukraine of Galicia.

Concerning the Ukrainian language

The most wide-spread theory comes from come Russian “scientists” who say that the Ukrainian language was invented in 19th century by the General Staff of the Austrian army in order to “divide mother Russia”. These theories do not take into account the evidence that the Ukrainian language exists since the Kyivan Rus. Ukrainian historian and archeologist Mr. Serhiy Vysotskyi (1923-1998), has presented the evidence that bring even more support to the fact that the Ukrainian language is far from being a Russian dialect, but rather a language spoken in Kyivan Rus. His last work was published in 1998, after the fall of the USSR. His proofs are based on the graffiti left 900 years ago in the Saint Sophia’s Cathedral (built between 1011-1037) in Kyiv by the ancestors of Ukrainians and written in the language spoken in Kyiv in the Middle Ages. Ukrainians can understand what is written without translation, but Russian need it to be translated.

I present to you a fragment of graffiti from Saint Sophia in Kyiv. It says “Maty ne hotyachy dytycha bizha het”. In Ukrainian language it looks like this: “Мати не хотячи дитинча біжить геть” (Maty ne hotyachy dytyncha bizhyt het – The mother who doesn’t want her baby runs away). Not a big difference, isn’t it?

Saint Sophia Graffiti in Kyiv

However, in the Russian language it gives you the following: “Мать не хотя ребëнка бежит вон” (Mat ne hoya rebenka bezhit von). Sounds different, right?

There are also a lot of different other graffiti (around 300). Among them we see that in the Middle Ages Ukrainians used the same vocative cases, such as: Лука – Луці (Luka – Lutsi), Владика – Владико (Vladyka – Vladyko), etc. There are a lot of linguistic features in these graffiti that we still use in the Ukrainian language and in general, in Slavic languages except Russian. Examples of vocative cases below:


О горе тобі Андрониче (O hore tobi Andronyche) – O woe to you Andron (Andronyche for the vocative case). What is interesting, that whoever wrote it, used Ukrainian “тобі” (tobe – to you), and not Russian “тебе” (tebe – to you).

O woe to you Andronyche

Other interesting sources are the following works: “Lexys” (1569) by Lavrentiy Zyzaniy and “Lexicon” (1627) by Pamvo Berynda. In their essence, both works are dictionaries. They explain the Church Slavonic words in Ruthenian (old Ukrainian) language, spoken in 16-17 centuries. An incredible number of Ruthenian words are identical or are very close to the modern Ukrainian language.

Brits about the Ukrainian language

“The Hutchinson dictionary of world history” (1993) says the following: “Ukraine formed the heartland of medieval state of Kievan Rus which emerged in the 9th century”. Another source: “Dictionary of Languages” published by Andrew Dalby in 1999 says about the languages the following: “Ukrainian has longer history than Russian”.

Written historical sources have something to say

The biggest proof that Ukraine is the successor of the Kyivan Rus, together with the old maps, comes from the Primary Chronicle (also known as the Tale of Bygone Years) [written in 1113]. The first use of the word “Ukraine” in the known written sources is dated under 1187. The passage speaks about the death of Volodymyr Hlibovych (Duke of Pereyaslav – now the city of Pereiaslav-Khmelnytskyi, located in Kyiv region). Let me quote the Primary Chronicle. “Complete Collection of Ruthenian Chronicles” (called in France as Russian Chronicles [PSRL]) published in 1908 in the Russian Empire [Volume 2, pages 652-673]. Since they have been published in Russia by the Russians during the Russian Empire, you cannot blame me for wishing to rewrite the history.

« ѡ нем же Оукраина много постона » – Ukraine has moaned (cried) a lot for him. (Literally – Ukraine was in deep mourning because of his death).

Another passage of the same Chronicle, dated under 1189, says that Duke Rostyslav Berladnyk arrived in “Ukraine of Galicia”.

« И еха и Смоленьска в борзѣ и приѣхавшю же емоу ко Оукраинѣ Галичькои » – And he was heading from Smolensk to Borz, and he arrived in Ukraine of Galicia.

Ruthenian lands in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Consolidation of all laws of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), which Ukraine was a part of, consists of three legal versions (1529, 1566, 1588), all three are written in the Ruthenian language (old Ukrainian) and later were translated into Latin and later into Polish (reprinted in 1744).

Statue of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

In the passages where it is explained to what territories this Statute applies, we can read the following:

“Мы, рады корунные, духовные и светские, и рицеръство все и станы иншие одное а нероздельное Речы Посполитое з Великое и зъ Малое Польски, Великого князства Литовъского, Киева, Волыня, Подляша, земли Руское, Пруское, Поморское, Жомоитъское, Ифлянтъское и места корунъные – ознаймуемъ всимъ вобецъ, кому належить, на вечную тое речы паметь, ижъ, под тымъ небеспечънымъ часомъ без короля пана зверхнего мешкаючи, старалихмося о тое вси пильне на з[ъ]езде варъшавъскомъ, яко бысмо прыкладом продковъ своихъ сами межы собою покой, справедливость, порадокъ и оборону речы посполитой задержати и заховати могли.”

Transliteration: (…Rechi Pospolitoe z Velykoy I z Maloe Polski, Velykoho knyazstva Litovskoho, Kyeva, Volynya, Podlacha, zemli Ruskoe, Pruskoe, Pomorskoe, Zhomoitskoe, Iflyantskoe…)

Translation: (…Poland of Grand and Little Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kyiv, Volyn, Podlachia, lands of Ruthenia, Prussia, Pomorskoe, Samogotia, Livonia…)

The fact that Muscovy (present-day Russia) wasn’t a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania means that “zemlie Ruskoe” (lands of Ruthenia), means “Lviv region” (in broad sense – “Ukrainian lands that were a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania”) and therefore has nothing to do with Russia, and, consequently, cannot be translated as “Russian lands”.

written by Denys Kolesnyk