Christmas in August? Well, it is very hot in Thailand right now. . . plus, this is the only stamp I own from the post-1991 independent republic of Ukraine (Україна — Ukraina), aside from a few on-cover definitives. I happen to like Christmas stamps as a topical, so there you go.
Sometimes called the Ukraine, it is a sovereign state in Eastern Europe, bordered by Russia to the east, northeast and south; Belarus to the northwest; Poland and Slovakia to the west; Hungary, Romania and Moldova to the southwest; and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively. Ukraine is currently in territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014 but which Ukraine and most of the international community recognize as Ukrainian. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 233,062 square miles (603,628 square kilometers), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world. It has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world.
The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key center of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus’ forming the basis of Ukrainian identity. Following its fragmentation in the 13th century, the territory was contested, ruled and divided by a variety of powers, including Lithuania, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. A Cossack republic emerged and prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, but its territory was eventually split between Poland and the Russian Empire, and later merged fully into Russia.
During the 20th century three periods of independence occurred. The first of these periods occurred briefly during and immediately after the German occupation near the end of World War I and the second occurred, also briefly, and also during German occupation, during World War II. However, both of these first two earlier periods would eventually see Ukraine’s territories consolidated back into a Soviet republic within the USSR. The third period of independence began in 1991, when Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the aftermath of its dissolution at the end of the Cold War. Ukraine has maintained its independence as a sovereign state ever since. Before its independence, Ukraine was typically referred to in English as “The Ukraine”, but sources since then have moved to drop “the” from the name of Ukraine in all uses.
Following its independence, Ukraine declared itself a neutral state. Nonetheless it formed a limited military partnership with the Russian Federation and other CIS countries and a partnership with NATO in 1994. In the 2000s, the government began leaning towards NATO, and a deeper cooperation with the alliance was set by the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan signed in 2002. It was later agreed that the question of joining NATO should be answered by a national referendum at some point in the future. Former President Viktor Yanukovych considered the current level of co-operation between Ukraine and NATO sufficient, and was against Ukraine joining NATO.
In 2013, protests against the government of President Yanukovych broke out in downtown Kiev after the government had decided to suspend the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement and seek closer economic ties with Russia. After this began a several-months-long wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Euromaidan, which later escalated into the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to the overthrow of President Yanukovych and his cabinet and the establishment of a new government. These events formed the background for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, and the War in Donbass in April 2014. On January 1, 2016, Ukraine applied the economic part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union.
Ukraine has long been a global breadbasket because of its extensive, fertile farmlands and is one of the world’s largest grain exporters. The diversified economy of Ukraine includes a large heavy industry sector, particularly in aerospace and industrial equipment.
Ukraine is a unitary republic under a semi-presidential system with separate powers: legislative, executive and judicial branches. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Taking into account reserves and paramilitary personnel, Ukraine maintains the second-largest military in Europe after that of Russia. The country is home to 42.5 million people (excluding Crimea), 77.8 percent of whom are Ukrainians “by ethnicity”, followed by a sizeable minority of Russians (17.3 percent) as well as Romanians/Moldovans, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians and Hungarians. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodoxy, which has strongly influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.
There are different hypotheses as to the etymology of the name Ukraine. According to the older and most widespread hypothesis, it means “borderland”, while more recently some linguistic studies claim a different meaning “homeland” or “region, country”. “The Ukraine” was once the usual form in English, but since the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, “the Ukraine” has become much less common in the English-speaking world, and style-guides largely recommend not using the definite article. “The Ukraine” now implies disregard for the country’s sovereignty, according to U.S. ambassador William Taylor.
Neanderthal settlement in Ukraine is seen in the Molodova archaeological sites (43,000–45,000 BC) which include a mammoth bone dwelling. The territory is also considered to be the likely location for the human domestication of the horse.
Modern human settlement in Ukraine and its vicinity dates back to 32,000 BC, with evidence of the Gravettian culture in the Crimean Mountains. By 4,500 BC, the Neolithic Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture flourished in a wide area that included parts of modern Ukraine including Trypillia and the entire Dnieper-Dniester region. During the Iron Age, the land was inhabited by Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians. Between 700 BC and 200 BC, it was part of the Scythian Kingdom, or Scythia.
Beginning in the sixth century BC, colonies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Byzantine Empire, such as Tyras, Olbia and Chersonesus, were founded on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea. These colonies thrived well into the 6th century AD. The Goths stayed in the area but came under the sway of the Huns from the 370s AD. In the 7th century AD, the territory of eastern Ukraine was the center of Old Great Bulgaria. At the end of the century, the majority of Bulgar tribes migrated in different directions, and the Khazars took over much of the land.
Kievan Rus’ was founded by the Rus’ people, who came from Scandinavia across Ladoga and settled in Kiev around 880 AD. Kievan Rus’ included the central, western and northern part of modern Ukraine, Belarus, far eastern strip of Poland and the western part of present-day Russia. According to the Primary Chronicle the Rus’ elite initially consisted of Varangians from Scandinavia.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, it became the largest and most powerful state in Europe. It laid the foundation for the national identity of Ukrainians and Russians. Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine, became the most important city of the Rus’.
The Varangians later assimilated into the Slavic population and became part of the first Rus’ dynasty, the Rurik Dynasty. Kievan Rus’ was composed of several principalities ruled by the interrelated Rurikid knyazes (“princes”), who often fought each other for possession of Kiev.
The Golden Age of Kievan Rus’ began with the reign of Vladimir the Great (980–1015), who turned Rus’ toward Byzantine Christianity. During the reign of his son, Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054), Kievan Rus’ reached the zenith of its cultural development and military power. The state soon fragmented as the relative importance of regional powers rose again. After a final resurgence under the rule of Vladimir II Monomakh (1113–1125) and his son Mstislav (1125–1132), Kievan Rus’ finally disintegrated into separate principalities following Mstislav’s death.
The 13th century Mongol invasion devastated Kievan Rus’. Kiev was totally destroyed in 1240. On today’s Ukrainian territory, the principalities of Halych and Volodymyr-Volynskyi arose, and were merged into the state of Galicia-Volhynia.
Danylo Romanovych (Daniel I of Galicia or Danylo Halytskyi) son of Roman Mstyslavych, reunited all of south-western Rus’, including Volhynia, Galicia and Rus’ ancient capital of Kiev. Danylo was crowned by the papal archbishop in Dorohychyn 1253 as the first King of all Rus’. Under Danylo’s reign, the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia was one of the most powerful states in east central Europe.
In the mid-14th century, upon the death of Bolesław Jerzy II of Mazovia, king Casimir III of Poland initiated campaigns (1340–1366) to take Galicia-Volhynia. Meanwhile, the heartland of Rus’, including Kiev, became the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, ruled by Gediminas and his successors, after the Battle on the Irpen’ River. Following the 1386 Union of Krewo, a dynastic union between Poland and Lithuania, much of what became northern Ukraine was ruled by the increasingly Slavicized local Lithuanian nobles as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. By 1392 the so-called Galicia–Volhynia Wars ended. Polish colonizers of depopulated lands in northern and central Ukraine founded or re-founded many towns. In 1430, Podolia was incorporated under the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland as Podolian Voivodeship. In 1441, in the southern Ukraine, especially Crimea and surrounding steppes, Genghisid prince Haci I Giray founded the Crimean Khanate.
In 1569, the Union of Lublin established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and much Ukrainian territory was transferred from Lithuania to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, becoming Polish territory de jure. Under the demographic, cultural and political pressure of Polonisation, which began in the late 14th century, many landed gentry of Polish Ruthenia (another name for the land of Rus) converted to Catholicism and became indistinguishable from the Polish nobility. Deprived of native protectors among Rus nobility, the commoners (peasants and townspeople) began turning for protection to the emerging Zaporozhian Cossacks, who by the 17th century became devoutly Orthodox. The Cossacks did not shy from taking up arms against those they perceived as enemies, including the Polish state and its local representatives.
Formed from Golden Horde territory conquered after the Mongol invasion the Crimean Khanate was one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the 18th century; in 1571 it even captured and devastated Moscow. The borderlands suffered annual Tatar invasions. From the beginning of the 16th century until the end of the 17th century, Crimean Tatar slave raiding bands exported about two million slaves from Russia and Ukraine. According to Orest Subtelny, “from 1450 to 1586, eighty-six Tatar raids were recorded, and from 1600 to 1647, seventy.” In 1688, Tatars captured a record number of 60,000 Ukrainians. The Tatar raids took a heavy toll, discouraging settlement in more southerly regions where the soil was better and the growing season was longer. The last remnant of the Crimean Khanate was finally conquered by the Russian Empire in 1783. The Taurida Governorate was formed to govern this territory.
In the mid-17th century, a Cossack military quasi-state, the Zaporozhian Host, was formed by Dnieper Cossacks and by Ruthenian peasants who had fled Polish serfdom. Poland exercised little real control over this population, but found the Cossacks to be a useful opposing force to the Turks and Tatars, and at times the two were allies in military campaigns. However the continued harsh enserfment of peasantry by Polish nobility and especially the suppression of the Orthodox Church alienated the Cossacks.
The Cossacks sought representation in the Polish Sejm, recognition of Orthodox traditions, and the gradual expansion of the Cossack Registry. These were rejected by the Polish nobility, who dominated the Sejm.
In 1648, Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Petro Doroshenko led the largest of the Cossack uprisings against the Commonwealth and the Polish king John II Casimir. After Khmelnytsky made an entry into Kiev in 1648, where he was hailed liberator of the people from Polish captivity, he founded the Cossack Hetmanate which existed until 1764.
Khmelnytsky, deserted by his Tatar allies, suffered a crushing defeat at Berestechko in 1651, and turned to the Russian tsar for help. In 1654, Khmelnytsky signed the Treaty of Pereyaslav, forming a military and political alliance with Russia that acknowledged loyalty to the Russian tsar.
In 1657–1686, came “The Ruin”, a devastating 30-year war amongst Russia, Poland, Turks and Cossacks for control of Ukraine, which occurred at about the same time as the Deluge of Poland. The wars escalated in intensity with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Defeat came in 1686 as the “Eternal Peace” between Russia and Poland divided the Ukrainian lands between them.
In 1709, Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1639–1709) defected to Sweden against Russia in the Great Northern War (1700–1721). Eventually Peter recognized that to consolidate and modernize Russia’s political and economic power it was necessary to do away with the hetmanate and Ukrainian and Cossack aspirations to autonomy. Mazepa died in exile after fleeing from the Battle of Poltava (1709), where the Swedes and their Cossack allies suffered a catastrophic defeat.
The Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk or Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhian Host was a 1710 constitutional document written by Hetman Pylyp Orlyk, a Cossack of Ukraine, then within the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It established a standard for the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, well before the publication of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. The Constitution limited the executive authority of the hetman, and established a democratically elected Cossack parliament called the General Council. Pylyp Orlyk’s Constitution was unique for its historic period, and was one of the first state constitutions in Europe.
The hetmanate was abolished in 1764; the Zaporizhska Sich abolished in 1775, as Russia centralized control over its lands. As part of the partitioning of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper were divided between Russia and Austria. From 1737 to 1834, expansion into the northern Black Sea littoral and the eastern Danube valley was a cornerstone of Russian foreign policy.
Lithuanians and Poles controlled vast estates in Ukraine, and were a law unto themselves. Judicial rulings from Krakow were routinely flouted, while peasants were heavily taxed and practically tied to the land as serfs. Occasionally the landowners battled each other using armies of Ukrainian peasants. The Poles and Lithuanians were Roman Catholics and tried with some success to convert the Orthodox lesser nobility. In 1596, they set up the “Greek-Catholic” or Uniate Church; it dominates western Ukraine to this day. Religious differentiation left the Ukrainian Orthodox peasants leaderless, as they were reluctant to follow the Ukrainian nobles.
Cossacks led an uprising, called Koliivshchyna, starting in the Ukrainian borderlands of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1768. Ethnicity was one root cause of this revolt, which included Ukrainian violence that killed tens of thousands of Poles and Jews. Religious warfare also broke out among Ukrainian groups. Increasing conflict between Uniate and Orthodox parishes along the newly reinforced Polish-Russian border on the Dnieper River in the time of Catherine II set the stage for the uprising. As Uniate religious practices had become more Latinized, Orthodoxy in this region drew even closer into dependence on the Russian Orthodox Church. Confessional tensions also reflected opposing Polish and Russian political allegiances.
After the Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire in 1783, New Russia was settled by Ukrainians and Russians. Despite promises in the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the Ukrainian elite and the Cossacks never received the freedoms and the autonomy they were expecting. However, within the Empire, Ukrainians rose to the highest Russian state and church offices. At a later period, tsarists established a policy of Russification, suppressing the use of the Ukrainian language in print and in public.
In the 19th century, Ukraine was a rural area largely ignored by Russia and Austria. With growing urbanization and modernization, and a cultural trend toward romantic nationalism, a Ukrainian intelligentsia committed to national rebirth and social justice emerged. The serf-turned-national-poet Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) and the political theorist Mykhailo Drahomanov (1841–1895) led the growing nationalist movement.
After the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), Catherine the Great and her immediate successors encouraged German immigration into Ukraine and especially into Crimea, to thin the previously dominant Turk population and encourage agriculture.
Beginning in the 19th century, there was migration from Ukraine to distant areas of the Russian Empire. According to the 1897 census, there were 223,000 ethnic Ukrainians in Siberia and 102,000 in Central Asia. An additional 1.6 million emigrated to the east in the ten years after the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1906. Far Eastern areas with an ethnic Ukrainian population became known as Green Ukraine.
The Russian post in the 19th century was a monopoly of the state through the Imperial Post. Most state post offices, however, were in towns, leaving many rural areas a long distance from the nearest post office. The Zemstvo (“Rural”) post was introduced in 1864 to fill this gap and at first it operated without official approval. In 1870, a law was passed formalizing the arrangements and which stated that “The Rural post is authorized to carry ordinary correspondence, also journals, circulars, remittances, registered letters, and other mail from the post town, to all more or less distant portions of the district as may be deprived of postal communications.”
The law also stated that “The Rural post is authorized to employ special postage stamps on the express understanding that their design differs entirely from those used by the Imperial Post”. The postmen were also not allowed to use the post-horn emblem of the Imperial Post on their bags.
The first Zemstvo post was established at Vetluga in 1864 but no stamps were used. The first Zemstvo stamp was issued by Schlisselburg in September 1865. According to Chuchin, in 1864 there were 36 Zemstvo governments with 371 districts and stamps were used in 162 districts. By 1892, there was a Zemstvo post in 150 districts but not all issued stamps and in some the post was free.
Around 800 Russian Zemstvo stamps were issued in Ukraine between 1866 and 1917 at 39 locations. The first stamps were issued at Verkhnodniprovsk, Katerynoslav Guberniya, and in Dniprovsk, Tauridia Gubernia — both of which are now located in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.
Nationalist and socialist parties developed in the late 19th century. Austrian Galicia, under the relatively lenient rule of the Habsburgs, became the center of the nationalist movement.
Ukrainians entered World War I on the side of both the Central Powers, under Austria, and the Triple Entente, under Russia. More than 3.5 million Ukrainians fought with the Imperial Russian Army, while 250,000 fought for the Austro-Hungarian Army. Austro-Hungarian authorities established the Ukrainian Legion to fight against the Russian Empire. This became the Ukrainian Galician Army that fought against the Bolsheviks and Poles in the post-World War I period (1919–23). Those suspected of Russophile sentiments in Austria were treated harshly.
World War I destroyed both empires. The Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the founding of the Soviet Union under the Bolsheviks, and subsequent civil war in Russia. A Ukrainian national movement for self-determination re-emerged, with heavy Communist and Socialist influence. Several Ukrainian states briefly emerged: the internationally recognized Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR, the predecessor of modern Ukraine, was declared on June 23, 1917, proclaimed at first as a part of the Russian Republic; after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Ukrainian People’s Republic proclaimed its independence on January 25, 1918), the Hetmanate, the Directorate and the pro-Bolshevik Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (or Soviet Ukraine) successively established territories in the former Russian Empire; while the West Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Hutsul Republic emerged briefly in the Ukrainian lands of former Austro-Hungarian territory.
A series of five definitive stamps were issued by the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918. They were printed imperforate on thin paper and then on thicker paper with perforations. The 10 and 20-shah stamps were designed by the artist Anton Sereda and the 30, 40, and 50-shah stamps by Heorhiy Narbut, a master graphic artist and president of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts in Kiev.
Also in 1918, Russian stamps were overprinted with a trident for use in Kiev, Odessa, Yekaterinoslav, Kharkiv, Poltava, Podolia, and Kherson. There are hundreds of different stamps with many varieties of overprint. The stamps have been widely forged. In 1918 and 1919, Eastern Galicia had internal autonomy as the West Ukrainian National Republic. Stamps of Austria were overprinted for use in the region. A Ukrainian Soviet republic was declared on March 14, 1919, and a set of stamps were issued for famine relief in 1923. Ukraine used the stamps of the Soviet Union thereafter until the end of 1991, apart from during World War II.
Act Zluky (Unification Act) was an agreement signed on January 22, 1919 by the Ukrainian People’s Republic and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic on the St. Sophia Square in Kiev. This led to civil war, and an anarchist movement called the Black Army or later The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine developed in Southern Ukraine under the command of the anarchist Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War. They protected the operation of “free soviets” and libertarian communes in the Free Territory, an attempt to form a stateless anarchist society from 1918 to 1921 during the Ukrainian Revolution, fighting both the tsarist White Army under Denikin and later the Red Army under Trotsky, before being defeated by the latter in August 1921.
Poland defeated Western Ukraine in the Polish-Ukrainian War, but failed against the Bolsheviks in an offensive against Kiev. According to the Peace of Riga, western Ukraine was incorporated into Poland, which in turn recognized the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in March 1919. With establishment of the Soviet power, Ukraine lost half of its territory to Poland, Belarus and Russia, while on the left bank of Dniester River was created Moldavian autonomy. Ukraine became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in December 1922.
The war in Ukraine continued for another two years; by 1921, however, most of Ukraine had been taken over by the Soviet Union, while Galicia and Volhynia (West Ukraine) were incorporated into independent Poland. Bukovina was annexed by Romania and Carpathian Ruthenia was admitted to the Czechoslovak Republic as an autonomy.
A powerful underground Ukrainian nationalist movement arose in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s because of Polish national policies, which was led by the Ukrainian Military Organization and the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The movement attracted a militant following among students. Hostilities between Polish state authorities and the popular movement led to a substantial number of fatalities, and the autonomy which had been promised was never implemented. A number of Ukrainian parties, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, an active press, and a business sector existed in Poland. Economic conditions improved in the 1920s, but the region suffered from the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The Russian Civil War devastated the whole Russian Empire including Ukraine. It left over 1.5 million people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless in the former Russian Empire territory. Soviet Ukraine also faced the Russian famine of 1921 (primarily affecting the Russian Volga-Ural region). During the 1920s, under the Ukrainization policy pursued by the national Communist leadership of Mykola Skrypnyk, Soviet leadership encouraged a national renaissance in the Ukrainian culture and language. Ukrainization was part of the Soviet-wide policy of Korenization (literally indigenization). The Bolsheviks were also committed to universal health care, education and social-security benefits, as well as the right to work and housing. Women’s rights were greatly increased through new laws. Most of these policies were sharply reversed by the early 1930s after Joseph Stalin became the de facto communist party leader.
Starting from the late 1920s with a centrally planned economy, Ukraine was involved in Soviet industrialization and the republic’s industrial output quadrupled during the 1930s. The peasantry suffered from the program of collectivization of agriculture which began during and was part of the first five-year plan and was enforced by regular troops and secret police. Those who resisted were arrested and deported and agricultural productivity greatly declined. As members of the collective farms were sometimes not allowed to receive any grain until unrealistic quotas were met, millions starved to death in a famine known as the Holodomor or the “Great Famine”.
Scholars are divided as to whether this famine fits the definition of genocide, but the Ukrainian parliament and the governments of other countries have acknowledged it as such.
The Communist leadership perceived famine as a means of class struggle and used starvation as a punishment tool to force peasants into collective farms.
Largely the same groups were responsible for the mass killing operations during the civil war, collectivization, and the Great Terror. These groups were associated with Yefim Yevdokimov (1891–1939) and operated in the Secret Operational Division within General State Political Administration (OGPU) in 1929–31. Evdokimov transferred into Communist Party administration in 1934, when he became Party secretary for North Caucasus Krai. He appears to have continued advising Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov on security matters, and the latter relied on Evdokimov’s former colleagues to carry out the mass killing operations that are known as the Great Terror in 1937–38.
On January 13, 2010, Kiev Appellate Court posthumously found Stalin, Kaganovich and other Soviet Communist Party functionaries guilty of genocide against Ukrainians during the Holodomor famine.
Following the Invasion of Poland in September 1939, German and Soviet troops divided the territory of Poland. Thus, Eastern Galicia and Volhynia with their Ukrainian population became reunited with the rest of Ukraine. For the first time in history, the nation was united.
In 1940, the Soviets annexed Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. The Ukrainian SSR incorporated the northern and southern districts of Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and the Hertsa region. It ceded the western part of the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to the newly created Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. These territorial gains of the USSR were internationally recognized by the Paris peace treaties of 1947.
German armies invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, initiating nearly four years of total war. The Axis initially advanced against desperate but unsuccessful efforts of the Red Army. In the encirclement battle of Kiev, the city was acclaimed as a “Hero City”, because of its fierce resistance. More than 600,000 Soviet soldiers (or one-quarter of the Soviet Western Front) were killed or taken captive there, with many suffering severe mistreatment.
Although the majority of Ukrainians fought in or alongside the Red Army and Soviet resistance, in Western Ukraine an independent Ukrainian Insurgent Army movement arose (UPA, 1942). Created as forces of the Ukrainian Government in exile, it fell under the influence of the underground (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, OUN) which had developed in interwar Poland as a radical reaction to Polish policies towards the Ukrainian minority. Both supported the goal of an independent Ukrainian state on the territory with a Ukrainian ethnic majority. Although this brought conflict with Nazi Germany, at times the Melnyk wing of the OUN allied with the Nazi forces. Some UPA divisions also carried out massacres of ethnic Poles, which brought reprisals. After the war, the UPA continued to fight the USSR until the 1950s. At the same time, the Ukrainian Liberation Army, another nationalist movement, fought alongside the Nazis.
In total, the number of ethnic Ukrainians who fought in the ranks of the Soviet Army is estimated from 4.5 million to 7 million. The pro-Soviet partisan guerrilla resistance in Ukraine is estimated to number at 47,800 from the start of occupation to 500,000 at its peak in 1944, with about 50% being ethnic Ukrainians. Generally, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s figures are unreliable, with figures ranging anywhere from 15,000 to as many as 100,000 fighters.
Most of the Ukrainian SSR was organised within the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, with the intention of exploiting its resources and eventual German settlement. Some western Ukrainians, who had only joined the Soviet Union in 1939, hailed the Germans as liberators. Brutal German rule eventually turned their supporters against the Nazi administrators, who made little attempt to exploit dissatisfaction with Stalinist policies. Instead, the Nazis preserved the collective-farm system, carried out genocidal policies against Jews, deported millions of people to work in Germany, and began a depopulation program to prepare for German colonization. They blockaded the transport of food on the Kiev River.
The vast majority of the fighting in World War II took place on the Eastern Front. By some estimates, 93% of all German casualties took place there. The total losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian population during the war are estimated at between 5 and 8 million, including an estimated one and a half million Jews killed by the Einsatzgruppen, sometimes with the help of local collaborators. Of the estimated 8.7 million Soviet troops who fell in battle against the Nazis, 1.4 million were ethnic Ukrainians.
German stamps were used in Ukraine between November 14, 1941, and 1943 overprinted UKRAINE in small letters. After liberation, Soviet stamps were used once again.
The republic was heavily damaged by the war, and it required significant efforts to recover. More than 700 cities and towns and 28,000 villages were destroyed. The situation was worsened by a famine in 1946–47, which was caused by a drought and the wartime destruction of infrastructure. The death toll of this famine varies, with even the lowest estimate in the tens of thousands. In 1945, the Ukrainian SSR became one of the founding members of the United Nations organization, part of a special agreement at the Yalta Conference.
Post-war ethnic cleansing occurred in the newly expanded Soviet Union. As of January 1, 1953, Ukrainians were second only to Russians among adult “special deportees”, comprising 20% of the total. In addition, over 450,000 ethnic Germans from Ukraine and more than 200,000 Crimean Tatars were victims of forced deportations.
Following the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the new leader of the USSR. Having served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukrainian SSR in 1938–49, Khrushchev was intimately familiar with the republic; after taking power union-wide, he began to emphasize “the friendship” between the Ukrainian and Russian nations. In 1954, the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav was widely celebrated. Crimea was transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.
By 1950, the republic had fully surpassed prewar levels of industry and production. During the 1946–1950 five-year plan, nearly 20% of the Soviet budget was invested in Soviet Ukraine, a 5% increase from prewar plans. As a result, the Ukrainian workforce rose 33.2% from 1940 to 1955 while industrial output grew 2.2 times in that same period.
Soviet Ukraine soon became a European leader in industrial production, and an important center of the Soviet arms industry and high-tech research. Such an important role resulted in a major influence of the local elite. Many members of the Soviet leadership came from Ukraine, most notably Leonid Brezhnev. He later ousted Khrushchev and became the Soviet leader from 1964 to 1982. Many prominent Soviet sports players, scientists, and artists came from Ukraine.
On April 26, 1986, a reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history. This was the only accident to receive the highest possible rating of 7 by the International Nuclear Event Scale, indicating a “major accident”, until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011. At the time of the accident, 7 million people lived in the contaminated territories, including 2.2 million in Ukraine.
After the accident, the new city of Slavutych was built outside the exclusion zone to house and support the employees of the plant, which was decommissioned in 2000. A report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization attributed 56 direct deaths to the accident and estimated that there may have been 4,000 extra cancer deaths.
On July 16, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. This established the principles of the self-determination, democracy, independence, and the priority of Ukrainian law over Soviet law. A month earlier, a similar declaration was adopted by the parliament of the Russian SFSR. This started a period of confrontation with the central Soviet authorities. In August 1991, a faction among the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union attempted a coup to remove Mikhail Gorbachev and to restore the Communist party’s power. After it failed, on August 24, 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence.
Kiev artist Alexander Ivachnenko was ordered by the Ministry of Communications of the USSR to design a stamp dedicated to July 16 Declaration of State Sovereignty. He offered some sketches that were discussed in the Communications Ministry and the Supreme Council of the Republic. On one of the first choices, a girl symbolizing Ukraine was dressed in a shirt, tunic and barefoot. The inscription on the stamp read “Mail of the USSR”. This was issued on July 10, 1991.
In 1992, the Ukrainian Post Office overprinted stamps of the Soviet Union with stylized tridents for use in Kiev, Lviv and Chernihiv. Other Soviet stamps overprinted with similar designs are not believed to have been postally valid. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine declared its independence and the first stamps of the new republic were issued on March 1, 1992.
Since 1992, a variety of commemorative and definitive stamps have been issued by the Ukrainian Postal Service or Ukrposhta (Укрпошта). Ukraine has followed a fairly conservative stamp release policy. Until the middle of 1994, all of Ukraine’s stamps were prepared abroad, either in Canada, Russia, Austria, or Hungary. Since 1995, virtually all stamps have been printed at the Kyiv Polygraphic Concern, also known as Derzhznak.
A referendum and the first presidential elections took place on December 1, 1991. More than 90% of the electorate expressed their support for the Act of Independence, and they elected the chairman of the parliament, Leonid Kravchuk as the first President of Ukraine. At the meeting in Brest, Belarus on December 8, followed by the Alma Ata meeting on December 21, the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine formally dissolved the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Ukraine was initially viewed as having favorable economic conditions in comparison to the other regions of the Soviet Union. However, the country experienced deeper economic slowdown than some of the other former Soviet Republics. During the recession, Ukraine lost 60% of its GDP from 1991 to 1999, and suffered five-digit inflation rates. Dissatisfied with the economic conditions, as well as the amounts of crime and corruption in Ukraine, Ukrainians protested and organized strikes.
A high inflation rate during Ukraine’s early years of independence caused stamp values to soar. Whereas the first stamps of of 1992 were inscribed 15 kopiok, by 1996 the values on some issues had reached 100,000 karbovantsiv. In 1994, non-denominated stamps (showing ethnographic scenes) were released with assigned rates for domestic correspondence or for overseas air mail letters. Pegged to the U.S. dollar, the values of these stamps were adjusted weekly to reflect exchange rate variations. Inflation also played havoc with official postal tariffs. Through the first four and one half years of independence, postal rates underwent ten major upward adjustments.
During 1992 and 1993 (and in some instances 1994 and 1995), various locales in Ukraine found themselves short of postage stamps or stuck with unusable old Soviet stamps or stationery. These local post offices were forced to prepare provisional stamp issues as well as provisional surcharges on postal stationery. Research on these many provisional releases as well as on overprints of former Soviet stamps and on the plethora of other postal markings from this time period is ongoing. To date, many hundreds of local provisional stamps have been identified from dozens of locales.
The Ukrainian economy stabilized by the end of the 1990s. On September 2, 1996, Ukraine switched to a new currency, the hryvnia; it was decreed to be 100,000 times the value of the severely deflated karbovanets. By November, stamps appeared denominated in the new currency.
After 2000, the country enjoyed steady real economic growth averaging about seven percent annually. A new Constitution of Ukraine was adopted under second President Leonid Kuchma in 1996, which turned Ukraine into a semi-presidential republic and established a stable political system. Kuchma was, however, criticized by opponents for corruption, electoral fraud, discouraging free speech and concentrating too much power in his office. Ukraine also pursued full nuclear disarmament, giving up the third largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world and dismantling or removing all strategic bombers on its territory in exchange for various assurances.
In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, then Prime Minister, was declared the winner of the presidential elections, which had been largely rigged, as the Supreme Court of Ukraine later ruled. The results caused a public outcry in support of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who challenged the outcome. During the tumultuous months of the revolution, candidate Yushchenko suddenly became gravely ill, and was soon found by multiple independent physician groups, to have been poisoned by TCDD dioxin. Yushchenko strongly suspected Russian involvement in his poisoning. All of this eventually resulted in the peaceful Orange Revolution, bringing Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to power, while casting Viktor Yanukovych in opposition.
Activists of the Orange Revolution were funded and trained in tactics of political organization and nonviolent resistance by Western pollsters and professional consultants who were partly funded by Western government and non-government agencies but received most of their funding from domestic sources. According to The Guardian, the foreign donors included the U.S. State Department and USAID along with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, the NGO Freedom House and George Soros’s Open Society Institute. The National Endowment for Democracy has supported democracy-building efforts in Ukraine since 1988. Writings on nonviolent struggle by Gene Sharp contributed in forming the strategic basis of the student campaigns.
Russian authorities provided support through advisers such as Gleb Pavlovsky, consulting on blackening the image of Yushchenko through the state media, pressuring state-dependent voters to vote for Yanukovych and on vote-rigging techniques such as multiple ‘carousel voting’ and ‘dead souls’ voting.
Yanukovych returned to power in 2006 as Prime Minister in the Alliance of National Unity, until snap elections in September 2007 made Tymoshenko Prime Minister again. Amid the 2008–09 Ukrainian financial crisis the Ukrainian economy plunged by 15%. Disputes with Russia briefly stopped all gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 and again in 2009, leading to gas shortages in other countries. Viktor Yanukovych was elected President in 2010 with 48% of votes.
The Euromaidan (Євромайдан, literally “Eurosquare”) protests started in November 2013 after the president, Viktor Yanukovych, began moving away from an association agreement that had been in the works with the European Union and instead chose to establish closer ties with the Russian Federation. Some Ukrainians took to the streets to show their support for closer ties with Europe. Meanwhile, in the predominantly Russian-speaking east, a large portion of the population opposed the Euromaidan protests, instead supporting the Yanukovych government. Over time, Euromaidan came to describe a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, the scope of which evolved to include calls for the resignation of President Yanukovych and his government.
Violence escalated after January 16. 2014, when the government accepted new Anti-Protest Laws. Violent anti-government demonstrators occupied buildings in the center of Kiev, including the Justice Ministry building, and riots left 98 dead with approximately fifteen thousand injured and 100 considered missing from February 18-20. Owing to the violent protests, members of Parliament voted on February 22 to remove the president and set an election for May 25 to select his replacement. Petro Poroshenko, running on a pro-European Union platform, won with over fifty percent of the vote, therefore not requiring a run-off election. Upon his election, Poroshenko announced that his immediate priorities would be to take action in the civil unrest in Eastern Ukraine and mend ties with the Russian Federation. Poroshenko was inaugurated as president on June 7, 2014.
The ousting of Yanukovych prompted Vladimir Putin to begin preparations to annex Crimea on February 23, 2014. Using the Russian naval base at Sevastopol as cover, Putin directed Russian troops and intelligence agents to disarm Ukrainian forces and take control of Crimea. After the troops entered Crimea, a controversial referendum was held on March 16, 2014, and the official result was that 97 percent wished to join with Russia. On March 18, Russia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Crimea signed a treaty of accession of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol in the Russian Federation. The UN general assembly responded by passing resolution 68/262 that the referendum was invalid and supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Separately, in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, armed men declaring themselves as local militia seized government buildings, police and special police stations in several cities and held unrecognized status referendums. The insurgency was led by Russian emissaries Igor Girkin and Alexander Borodai as well as militants from Russia, such as Arseny Pavlov.
Talks in Geneva between the EU, Russia, Ukraine and the United States yielded a Joint Diplomatic Statement referred to as the 2014 Geneva Pact in which the parties requested that all unlawful militias lay down their arms and vacate seized government buildings, and also establish a political dialogue that could lead to more autonomy for Ukraine’s regions. When Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election held on May 25, 2014, he vowed to continue the military operations by the Ukrainian government forces to end the armed insurgency. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the military campaign.
In August 2014, a bilateral commission of leading scholars from the United States and Russia issued the Boisto Agenda indicating a 24-step plan to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. The Boisto Agenda was organized into five imperative categories for addressing the crisis requiring stabilization identified as: (1) Elements of an Enduring, Verifiable Ceasefire; (2) Economic Relations; (3) Social and Cultural Issues; (4) Crimea; and, (5) International Status of Ukraine. In late 2014, Ukraine ratified the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement, which Poroshenko described as Ukraine’s “first but most decisive step” towards EU membership. Poroshenko also set 2020 as the target for EU membership application.
In February 2015, after a summit hosted in Belarus, Poroshenko negotiated a ceasefire with the separatist troops. This included conditions such as the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front line and decentralization of rebel regions by the end of 2015. It also included conditions such as Ukrainian control of the border with Russia in 2015 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Ukrainian territory. The ceasefire began at midnight on February 15, 2015. Participants in this ceasefire also agreed to attend regular meetings to ensure that the agreement is respected.
On January 1, 2016, Ukraine joined the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with European Union, which aims to modernize and develop Ukraine’s economy, governance and rule of law to EU standards and gradually increase integration with the EU Internal market.
In recent years, Ukraine has released several dozen stamps annually. In general, these issues have been of increasing beauty and sophistication. Almost all new issues contain fluorescent tags, most applied in unique shapes or patterns.
In early 2015, I received this nice Ukrainian Christmas stamp from a fellow participant in the A Month of Letters challenge that, along with the definitives included on the envelope (and a postcard bearing a single stamp), constitutes my entire modern-period collection of the country. I think I need to add some more!
As it’s a fairly recent stamp, I couldn’t find the Scott catalogue number (can somebody help me out on that?). Indeed, the only details I could find come from the Universal Postal Union’s online catalogue. The UPU have assigned the number UA054.14 under their numbering system. The 2-hryvnia stamp was issued on November 28, 2014, depicting a stylized angel in a Ukrainian traditional artistic design. The inscription reads “Merry Christmas!/Happy New Year!” in Ukrainian. The stamp was printed at the Ukraina Printing Plant and perforated 14¼ x 14¾.
The Ukrainian Christmas festivities start on Christmas Eve, which is celebrated on January 6, following the Julian calendar. The Christmas celebrations end on January 19, the date of “Jordan” or Epiphany. Christmas Eve (Sviatyi Vechir — “Holy Evening”) is filled with numerous customs and rituals, including decorating house and dinner table with special attributes (didukh, garlic, hay and others) and performing koliadky (‘carols’). Each ritual has its own meaning and purpose, as such a few wisps of hay on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem. One the most prominent customs of the night is a special supper, called Sviata Vecherya (Holy Supper).
Kutia (sweet grain pudding) is traditionally served at the Ukrainian Christmas dinner table. It is often the first dish in the traditional twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper (also known as Svyaty Vechir) and is rarely served at other times of the year.
At the end of the Sviata Vechera, the family often sings Ukrainian Christmas carols. In many communities, the ancient Ukrainian tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations. The Ukrainian song “Shchedryk” became the basis for the world famous Christmas carol, “Carol of the Bells”. Another well-known carol is Boh predvičnyj narodivsja.
When the children see the first star in the eastern evening sky, symbolizing the trek of the Three Wise Men, the Sviata Vecherya may begin. In farming communities, the head of the household now brings in a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, the staff of life through the centuries. Didukh means literally “grandfather spirit” so it symbolizes the family’s ancestors. In city homes, a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table.
Small ornaments in the shape of a spider (known as pavuchky, literally “little spiders”) and spider webs are traditionally a part of Ukrainian Christmas tree decorations. They represent the “Legend of the Christmas Spider”, an Eastern European folktale which explains the origin of tinsel on Christmas trees. It is most prevalent in Ukraine. In the story, a poor but hardworking widow lives in a small hut with her children. One summer day, a pine cone falls on the earthen floor of the hut and takes root. The widow’s children care for the tree, excited at the prospect of having a Christmas tree by winter. The tree grows, but when Christmas Eve arrives, the family can’t afford to decorate it. The children sadly go to bed and fall asleep. Early the next morning, they wake up and see the tree covered with cobwebs. When they open the windows, the first rays of sunlight touches the webs and turns them into gold and silver. The widow and her children are overjoyed. From then on, they never live in poverty again.
Other versions replaces sunlight with a miracle from Father Christmas, Santa Claus, or the Child Jesus, and tells the story primarily from the perspective of the spiders who wished to see the Christmas tree.
The origins of the folk tale are unknown, but it is believed to have come from either Germany or Ukraine. In Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, finding a spider or a spider’s web on a Christmas tree is considered good luck. Ukrainians create small Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of a spider (known as pavuchky, literally “little spiders”), usually made of paper and wire. They also decorate Christmas trees with artificial spider webs. The tradition of using tinsel is also said to be because of this story. It may be based on an older European superstition about spiders bringing luck (though not black spiders in Germany), or conversely that it is bad luck to destroy a spider’s web before the spider is safely out of the way.