Summary of The Gates of Europe

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  • Comprehensive
  • Background
  • Engaging


Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy provides an authoritative, systematic and absorbing survey of Ukraine’s complex history. He shows that Ukraine – which impelled the exiled Greek poet Ovid to exclaim, “How near I am to the ends of the Earth!” – is anything but marginal. It was the birthplace of Russia, the center of the Orthodox Reformation and the “breadbasket of Europe.” Now it is the center of a battle over the reach of Western influence. Ukraine’s name means “borderland,” and for millennia its lands demarcated East and West, Catholic and Orthodox, Europe and Asia. Ukraine has long been a crossroads, its culture a multiethnic contact zone. In the complex history of Eastern Europe, Ukraine’s borders have shifted again and again, through treaty, war, partition and annexation. Plokhy’s chronology gives evenhanded attention to each phase of Ukraine’s past, from ancient times to today’s conflict. Readers seeking a thorough account of current events and politics must look elsewhere, but getAbstract reckons this volume will satisfy those seeking to understand the intricate play of forces that gave rise to today’s Ukraine.

About the Author

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, the director of the university’s Ukrainian Research Institute, and the author of nine books on Ukraine and Russia, including The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union.



A Multiethnic Country

The lands that make up modern Ukraine changed hands repeatedly, as many times as Eastern Europe’s political landscape shifted. Wars and partitions redefined its borders. Movements of populations across and within Ukraine gave rise to a multiethnic country “much praised for the cultural hybridity of its society.” Democracy existed millennia ago among Ukraine’s earliest ancestors, the Slavs. Popular revolts and declarations of autonomy and independence punctuate Ukraine’s history. The Soviet Union considered the Ukrainians “the most restive and rebellious ethnic minority under its rule.” Cultural and political differences among Ukrainians themselves hampered development of a common national identity and political purpose, and frequently stymied Ukraine’s bids for independence.

Ukraine’s boundaries are the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south; Russia to the east; Belarus to the north; and Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova to the west. Steppes dominate the southern part of the country. The Dnieper basin has rich farmland that earned Ukraine the title “breadbasket of Europe.” Forests cover the northern part of the country. The Dnieper...

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