European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

24 August 2015

“No longer a borderland”

The last chapter of the second edition of Anna Reid’s famous book Borderland. A Journey through the history of Ukraine has the following paragraph:

“The biggest change since I lived in Ukraine is that it now feels like a real country. Though plenty of people would have got cross if you had said so, it used to have something of a make-believe, provisional air. With nearly quarter of a century and two patriotic revolutions under its belt, that has all gone. Ukraine is no longer a borderland. It is its own place and here to stay”.

I would be one of those people who would get cross – as for me,  a Ukrainian, my beloved native country was always a very real one (so real that it is physically painful) and never ever a “Borderland”. The same feeling was shared by Ukrainian chroniclers and historians thorough centuries, yet their works, due to lack of translations and financial reasons, were not widely known. The works of the eminent Ukrainian historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky  are now  available in English translation. The British Library holds his monumental multi-volume work Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusi (History of Ukraine-Rus’; Edmonton, 1997-;  ZD.9.a.1557) translated and published by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.

                        Hrushevskyi, Mykhailo. Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy. Tom 1. (Lviv, 1898) Ac.763

For many outsiders the history of Ukraine often appeared merely as an appendix to greater imperial histories or later that of the USSR (often misnamed “Russia”). No wonder that when in 1991 Ukraine emerged as an independent state it came as a shock to some Western scholars. The British historian Andrew Wilson published a book with the telling title The Ukrainians: unexpected nation, which has now been translated into Ukrainian. The observations of travellers and discoverers of Ukraine are very revealing and helpful. Yet Ukraine, which is celebrating its 24th anniversary of its independence in 1991 today, remains Terra Incognita for many people, although a lot was written about its rich history over the centuries in many countries and in various languages and collected in libraries throughout the world.  Type the word “Ukraine” in our catalogue  – and a surprising variety of items will present itself for your research: old maps, books  and pamphlets, musical scores and oral history, journals and newspapers,  microfilms and microfiches,  electronic resources and archived websites.

For many years map enthusiasts delighted to look at the famous 17th-century maps by Sir Guillaume de Beauplan  held in our Map Collections (Maps 39780.(1.); Maps 39780.(2.); Maps K.Top.110.73.) and read his  Description d’Ukranie, qui sont plusieurs provinces du Royaume de Pologne; contenuës depuis les confins de la Moscovie jusques aux limites de la Transilvanie; ensemble leurs moeurs, façons de vivre, & de faire la guerre (Rouen, 1660; 1056. l.14.(3)) or its translations into English, Russian and Ukrainian.

BeauplanUkraineGeneral Depiction of the Empty Plains (in Common Parlance, Ukraine) Together with its Neighboring Provinces created 1648 by Beauplan (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 The medieval state of Kievan Rus, Ukraine as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack state, gradual absorption by the Russian empire, bloody 20th century with two world wars, Holodomor, Holocaust, Stalinist persecutions etc. – all these subjects have been studied by numerous historians, especially in  the last two decades.  Ukraine’s rich history – “one of the bloodiest histories in the world” (in the words of Anna Reid) – inspired many poets, philosophers, writers and composers.  Just check the entries about Ivan Mazeppa in our catalogue. Works by Byron, Victor Hugo, Aleksandr Pushkin, Juliusz Slowacki, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and others who were inspired by some aspects of Mazeppa’s life (or rather legends about him) are an integral part of our collections.

The British Library holds various materials about state-building in Ukraine. Amongst rare editions we have the text of the first Ukrainian Constitution 1710 Pacta  Constitutiones Legum Libertatumque Exercitus Zaporoviensis (Lausanne, 1916; 9454.h.8; pictured above) and books about its author Pylyp Orlyk, 19th-century Geneva editions by political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov, an early translation of Hrushevsky into English (The Historical Evolution of the Ukrainian Problem, translated by George Raffalovich and published in London in 1915; 9455.bbb.32; pictured below), various publications by the League of Liberation of Ukraine, some of them digitised for Europeana 1914-1918, interwar periodicals (in print and/or on microfilms) published  outside Soviet Ukraine etc.


The most recent history of Ukraine (the Orange Revolution in 2004, Maidan in 2013-2014, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas) are also represented in numerous articles, books and photo albums published in and outside Ukraine. As Ukraine celebrated its “fragile independence” (the title of a charity photo exhibition soon to be opened in London) it is worth remembering its powerful national anthem Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (Ukraine has not yet died, nor her glory, nor her freedom) and following the developments in Ukraine more closely than ever before. “Ukraine is no longer a borderland. It is its own place, and here to stay”. And ready to be studied more deeply by the younger generation of scholars.

NezalezhnaUkrainaDSC_6812Periodical Nezalezhna Ukraina (Independent Ukraine) Issue 1 November 1928. Published in Geneva by Ukrainskyi Revoliutsiinyi Komitet.  P.P.3554.nx

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian studies 

References and further reading

Applebaum, Anne. Between East and West: across the borderlands of Europe (London, 1995). YC.1996.a.2541

IAkovenko, Natalia. Narys istoriï serednʹovichnoï ta rannʹomodernoï Ukraïny (Outline history of medieval and early modern Ukraine) (Kyïv, 2006) YF.2008.a.9009

Polonska-Vasylenko, Natalia. Two conceptions of the history of Ukraine and Russia. London, 1968 X.709/3687

Plokhy, Serhii. Ukraine and Russia: representations of the past (Toronto, c2008). m08/.19199

Plokhy, Serhii. The origins of the Slavic nations: premodern identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. (Cambridge, 2006). YC.2007.a.12739 and m06/.33417

Reid, Anna. Borderland. A Journey through the History of Ukraine. (London, 2015). Online resource ELD.DS.12324

Snyder, Timothy. The reconstruction of nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999. (New Haven, Conn.; c2003). YC.2005.a.5172 and m03/22676

Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. (London, 2010).  YC.2011.a.10280

Yekelchyk, Serhy. Ukraine : birth of a Modern Nation. (New York-Oxford, 2007) YK.2008.a.13391 and m07/.24664

Wilson, Andrew. The Ukrainians: unexpected nation (3rd edition;   New Haven, Conn.; 2009) YC.2010.a.15137




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