Little Russia

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A fragment of the “new and accurate map of Europe collected from the best authorities...” by Emanuel Bowen published in 1747 in his A complete system of geography. Left-bank Ukraine is shown as “Little Russia”. Great, White, and Red Russias are also seen, and the legend “Ukrain” straddles the Dnieper river near Poltava.

Little Russia, sometimes Little Rus’ (Russian: Малая Русь or Малороссия; Ukrainian: Мала Русь or Rus' Minor from Greek: Μικρὰ Ῥωσία), is a territory of former Cossack Hetmanate after its annexation by Tsardom of Muscovy and transformation of the Cossack Hetmanate into the Little Russia Governorate in 1764. At the same time Kyrylo Rozumovsky resigned as the Hetman of Zaporizhian Host. The Little Russia Governorate was administered by the Collegium of Little Russia headed by Pyotr Rumyantsev. The purpose of the Collegium of Little Russia was to liquidate any remnants of autonomy in Ukraine.[1][2]

With time it developed into a political and geographical term in the Russian language referring to most of the territory of modern-day Ukraine before the twentieth century. Accordingly, derivatives such as "Little Russian" (Russian: малоросский) were commonly applied to the people, language, and culture of the area. Prior to the revolutionary events of 1917 a large part the region's elite population were followers of Little Russian identity which competed with the local Ukrainian identity. After the collapse of the Russian Empire, and with the amalgamation of Ukrainian territories into one administrative unit the word was phased out of circulation and when used took on a derogatory connotation denoting those Ukrainians with little or no national consciousness. The term retains currency among Russian monarchists and nationalists who deny that Ukraine and Ukrainians are distinct from Russia and Russians. Because Ukraine and its people have undergone the process of nation-building over the last seven hundred years, Little Russia, even in the historic context, can only loosely be considered an equivalent for the word Ukraine.[citation needed] By the late 1980s, the term had become an archaic one, and its anachronistic usage was considered strongly offensive by Ukrainians.[3]


The toponym translates as Little or Lesser Rus’ and is adapted from the Greek term, used in medieval times by patriarchs of Constantinople since the fourteenth century (it first appeared in church documents in 1335). The Byzantines called the northern and southern part of the lands of Rus’ as: Μεγάλη Ῥωσσία (Megálē Rhōssía)[4]Greater Rus’) and Μικρὰ Ῥωσσία (Mikrà Rhōssía – Lesser or Little Rus’), respectively. Initially Little or Lesser meant the smaller part,[5] as after the division of the united Rus' metropolis (ecclesiastical province) into two parts in 1305, a new southwestern metropolis in the land of Halych-Volynia consisted of only 6 of the 19 former eparchies.[5] Later it lost its ecclesiastical meaning and became a fully geographic name.[5]

In the seventeenth century the term Malorossiya was introduced into Russian. In English the term is often translated Little Russia or Little Rus’, depending on the context.[6]

Historical usage

Nikolay Sergeyev. "Apple blossom. In Little Russia." 1895. Oil on canvas.

File:1904 Map showing Little Russia and South Russia.pdf

File:Europaisches russland fragment.jpg
This original German map titled "Europäisches Russland" (European Russia) published in 1895–1990 by Meyers Konversationslexikon uses the terms Klein-Russland and Gross-Russland which literally means Little Russia and Great Russia, respectively.
File:In Little Russia.jpg
"In Little Russia". Photo by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, between 1905 and 1915.

The first recorded usage of the term is attributed to Boleslaus George II of Halych.[7] He styled himself «dux totius Rusiæ Minoris» in a letter to Dietrich von Altenburg, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights in 1335.[7] The name was used by Patriarch Callistus I of Constantinople in 1361 when he created two metropolitan sees: the one called Great Rus' in Vladimir and Kiev and the other one called Little Rus' with the centers in Galich (Halych) and Novgorodok (Navahrudak).[7] The king Casimir III of Poland, was called "the king of Lechia and Little Rus'".[7] According to Mykhaylo Hrushevsky Little Rus' was the Halych-Volhynian Principality, and after its downfall, the name ceased to be used.[8]

In the post-medieval period, the name of Little Rus' is known to first be used by Eastern Orthodox clergy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, for example by influential cleric and writer Ioan Vyshensky (1600, 1608), Metropolitan Matthew of Kiev and All Rus' (1606), Bishop Ioann (Biretskoy) of Peremyshl, Metropolitan Isaiah (Kopinsky) of Kiev, Archimandrite Zacharius Kopystensky of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, etc.[9] The term has been applied to all Orthodox Ruthenian lands of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.[9] Vyshensky addressed to "the Christians of Little Russia, brotherhoods of Lvov and Vilna" and Kopystensky wrote "Little Russia, or Kiev and Lithuania".[9]

The term was adopted in seventeenth century by Tsardom of Russia to refer to the Cossack Hetmanate of Left-bank Ukraine, when the latter fell under Russian protection after the Treaty of Pereyaslav (1654). From 1654 to 1721, the official title of Russian Tsars, gained the wording (literal translation): "The Sovereign of all Rus': the Great, the Little, and the White."

The term Little Rus' has been used in letters of the Cossack Hetmans Bohdan Khmelnytsky[10] and Ivan Sirko.[11][12] The Archimandrite of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Innokentiy Gizel wrote that the Russian people is a unity of three branches: Great Russia, Little Russia and White Russia under the only legal authority of the Moscow Tsars. The term Little Russia has been used in Ukrainian chronicle by Samiylo Velychko, in a chronicle of the Hieromonk Leontiy (Bobolinski), in "Thesaurus" by Archimandrite Ioannikiy (Golyatovsky).[13]

The usage of the name was later broadened to apply loosely to the parts of the Right-bank Ukraine when it was annexed by Russia in the end of the eighteenth century upon the partitions of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Russian Imperial administrative units the Little Russian Governorate and eponymous General Governorship were formed and existed for several decades before being split and renamed in subsequent administrative reforms.

Up to the very end of the nineteenth century Little Russia was a prevailing designation for much of the modern territory of Ukraine controlled by the Russian Empire as well as for its people and their language as can be seen from its usage in numerous scholarly, literary and artistic works. For instance, "Little Russia" has been preferred by the famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in his private diary (1857–1858).[14] Ukrainophile historians Mykhaylo Maksymovych, Nikolay Kostomarov, Dmytro Bahaliy, Volodymyr Antonovych acknowledged the fact that during Russo-Polish wars "Ukraine" had only a geographical meaning of borderlands of both states but "Little Russia" was an ethnic name of Little (Southern) Russian people.[14] In his prominent work "Two Russian nationalities" Kostomarov uses Southern Russia and Little Russia interchangeably.[15] Mykhailo Drahomanov titled his first fundamental historic work "Little Russia in its literature" (1867–1870).[16] Different prominent artists (e.g. Mykola Pymonenko, Konstiantyn Trutovsky, Nikolay Sergeyev, photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, etc.), many of whom were natives from the territory of modern-day Ukraine, used "Little Russia" in titles of their paintings of Ukrainian landscapes.

The term "Little Russian language" was used by the state authorities in the first Russian Empire Census conducted as late as in 1897.

From Little Russia to Ukraine

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The term Little Russia (that traces its origin to the medieval times) used to be widely used as the name for the geographic territory.[citation needed] Since the middle of the seventeenth century the modern name "Ukraine" (Ukrayina) (first found in the twelfth century chronicles) was used sporadically, until it was reintroduced in the nineteenth century by a conscious effort of several writers concerned with the awakening of the Ukrainian national awareness.[17] It was not until the twentieth century when the modern term "Ukraine" started to prevail while Little Russia gradually fell out of use.

Modern context

Although originally "Little Russia" (Rus' Minor) was merely a geographic, linguistic and ethnological term, it is now archaic and its usage in the modern context to refer to the country Ukraine and the modern Ukrainian nation, its language, culture, etc., is considered an improper anachronism. Such usage is typically perceived as an imperialist view that the Ukrainian territory and people ("Little Russians") belong to "one, indivisible Russia."[18] Regardless of whether they are aware or not of its origin, today many Ukrainian nationalists consider the term to be disparaging, indicative of an "older brother" attitude,[citation needed] and of imperial Russian (and Soviet) suppression of the Ukrainian national idea. In particular, it has continued to be used in Russian national discourse, where modern Ukrainians are presented as a single people in a united Russian nation.[19] This added new hostility and disapproval of the term by some Ukrainians.[17]

"Little Russianness"

Some Ukrainian authors define "Little Russianness" (Ukrainian: малоросійство, malorosiystvo) as a provincial complex they see in parts of the Ukrainian community due to its lengthy existence within the Russian Empire and describe it as an "indifferent, and sometimes a negative stance towards Ukrainian national-statehood traditions and aspirations, and often as active support of Russian culture and of Russian imperial policies".[20] Mykhailo Drahomanov, who used the terms Little Russia and Little Russian in his historical works,[16] applied the term Little Russianness to Russified Ukrainians, whose national character was formed under "alien pressure and influence", and who consequently adopted predominantly the "worse qualities of other nationalities and lost the better ones of their own".[20] Ukrainian conservative ideologue and politician Vyacheslav Lypynsky defined the term as "the malaise of statelessness".[21] The same inferiority complex applied to the Ukrainians of Galicia with respect to Poland ("gente ruthenus, natione polonus"). The related term Magyarony applied to Magyarized Rusyns in Carpathian Ruthenia who advocated for the union of that region with Hungary.[20]

Another criticized aspect labeled as "Little Russianness" is a stereotypical image of uneducated, rustic Ukrainians exhibiting little or no self-esteem. Examples of such characterization are popular Ukrainian singer and performer Andriy Danylko whose uncouth stage persona is an embodiment of this perception; Surzhyk-speaking Verka Serduchka has also been seen as perpetuating this demeaning image.[22][23] Danylko himself usually laughs off such criticism of his work and many art critics point instead towards the fact that his success with the Ukrainian public is rooted in an unquestionable authenticity of Danylko's artistic image.[24]

See also

Further reading


  1. Collegium of Little Russia at the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia
  2. Collegium of Little Russia at the Jurist Encyclopedia
  3. Eternal Russia:Yeltsin, Gorbachev, and the Mirage of Democracy by Jonathan Steele, Harvard University Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0-674-26837-1 (page 216)
  4. Vasmer, Max (1986). Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (in русский). 1. Moscow: Progress. p. 289.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 (Russian) Соловьев А. В. Великая, Малая и Белая Русь // Вопросы истории. – М.: Изд-во АН СССР, 1947. – № 7. – С. 24–38.
  6. Some works of modern scholars that make such distinction are:
    Paul Robert Magocsi "The Roots of Ukrainian Nationalism: Galicia As Ukraine's Piedmont", University of Toronto Press (2002), ISBN 0-8020-4738-6
    Serhii Plokhy, "The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus", Cambridge University Press (2006), ISBN 0-521-86403-8
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. – Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи» (1998), ISBN 966-7217-56-6 – с. 274.
  8. Грушевський М.С. Історія України-Руси, том I, К. 1994, "Наукова думка", с. 1–2. ISBN 5-12-002468-8
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. – Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи» (1998), ISBN 966-7217-56-6 – с. 276.
  10. «…Самой столицы Киева, також части сие Малые Руси нашия». "Воссоединение Украины с Россией. Документы и материалы в трех томах", т. III, изд-во АН СССР, М.-Л. 1953, № 147, LCCN 54-28024, с. 257.
  11. Яворницкий Д.И. История запорожских казаков. Т.2. К.: Наукова думка, 1990. 660 с. ISBN 5-12-001243-4 (v.1), ISBN 5-12-002052-6 (v.2), ISBN 5-12-001244-2 (set). Глава двадцать шестая
  12. "Листи Івана Сірка", изд. Института украинской археографии, К. 1995, с. 13 и 16.
  13. Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. – Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи», 1998. – с. 279.
  14. 14.0 14.1 In his private diary Taras Shevchenko wrote "Little Russia" or "Little Russian" twenty one times, and "Ukraine" 3 times ("Ukrainian" – never) and ("Kozak" – 74). At the same time in his poetry he used only "Ukraine" (and "Ukrainian" – never). Roman Khrapachevsky, Rus`, Little Russia and Ukraine, «Вестник Юго-Западной Руси», № 1, 2006 г.
  15. Костомаров М. Две русские народности // Основа. – СПб., 1861. – Март.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Михаил Драгоманов, Малороссия в ее словесности, Вестник Европы. – 1870. – Июнь
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ukrainians in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine
  18. Analysis of the events of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine by Prof. Y. Petrovsky-Shtern Retrieved May 23, 2007
  19. (Russian) Mikhail Smolin, "Преодоление «украинства» и общерусское единство" (Overcoming the "Ukrainianness" and the all-Russian unity), «Вестник Юго-Западной Руси», №1, 2006 г.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Ihor Pidkova (editor), Roman Shust (editor), "Dovidnyk z istorii Ukrainy", 3-Volumes, "Малоросійство" (t. 2), Kiev, 1993–1999, ISBN 5-7707-5190-8 (t. 1), ISBN 5-7707-8552-7 (t. 2), ISBN 966-504-237-8 (t. 3).
  21. Ihor Hyrych. "Den". Lypynsky on the imperative of political independence Retrieved May 23, 2007
  22. (Ukrainian) Serhiy Hrabovsky. "Telekritika". "Sour Milk of Andriy Danylko" Retrieved on May 23, 2007
  23. (Russian) НРУ: Верка Сердючка – позор Полтавы,, 22 May 2007
  24. (Russian) Алексей Радинский, Полюбить Сердючку, Korrespondent, 17 March 2007