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, Malaya Rus', Малая Россия, Malaya Rossiya, Малороссия, Malorossiya; Ukrainian: Мала Русь, Mala Rus'; or Rus' Minor from Greek: Μικρὰ Ῥωσία, Mikrá Rosía), is a geographical and historical term first used by Galician ruler Bolesław-Jerzy II who in 1335 signed his decrees as Dux totius Russiæ minoris.[1]

A Little Russia Governorate existed from 1764 to 1781, administered by the Collegium of Little Russia (originally founded in 1722) headed by Pyotr Rumyantsev (1725-1796). The Collegium of Little Russia had the task of liquidating any remnants of autonomy in Ukraine.[2][3]

With time, "Little Russia" developed into a political and geographical concept in Russia, referring to most of the territory of modern-day Ukraine before the twentieth century. Accordingly, derivatives such as "Little Russian" (Russian: Малороссы, Malorossy) were commonly applied to the people, language, and culture of the area. Prior to the revolutionary events of 1917 a large part of the region's élite population adopted a Little Russian identity which competed with the local Ukrainian identity. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, and with the amalgamation of Ukrainian territories into one administrative unit (the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) the word was phased[by whom?] out of circulation and when used took on a derogatory connotation denoting those Ukrainians with little or no Ukrainian national consciousness.[4] The term retains currency among Russian monarchists and Russian nationalists who deny that Ukraine and Ukrainians are distinct from Russia and Russians. By the late 1980s[citation needed], the term had become archaic, and Ukrainians regarded its anachronistic usage as offensive.[5]


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)[6]Greater Rus’) and Μικρὰ Ῥωσσία (Mikrà Rhōssía – Lesser or Little Rus’), respectively. Initially Little or Lesser meant the smaller part,[7] 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.[7] Later it lost its ecclesiastical meaning and became a fully geographic name.[7]

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.[8]

Historical usage[edit]

Nikolay Sergeyev. "Apple blossom. In Little Russia." 1895. Oil on canvas.
1904 map showing boundaries of Little Russia and South Russia when independent countries.
This original German map titled Europäisches Russland (European Russia) published in 1895–1990 by Meyers Konversations-Lexikon uses the terms Klein-Russland and Gross-Russland which literally means Little Russia and Great Russia, respectively.
"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.[9] He styled himself «dux totius Rusiæ Minoris» in a letter to Dietrich von Altenburg, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights in 1335.[9] 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).[9] The king Casimir III of Poland, was called "the king of Lechia and Little Rus'".[9] According to Mykhaylo Hrushevsky Little Rus' was the Halych-Volhynian Principality, and after its downfall, the name ceased to be used.[10]

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.[11] The term has been applied to all Orthodox Ruthenian lands of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.[11] Vyshensky addressed to "the Christians of Little Russia, brotherhoods of Lviv and Vilna" and Kopystensky wrote "Little Russia, or Kiev and Lithuania".[11]

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[12] and Ivan Sirko.[13][14] 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).[15]

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. 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.[16][unreliable source?] In his prominent work "Two Russian nationalities" Kostomarov uses Southern Russia and Little Russia interchangeably.[17] Mykhailo Drahomanov titled his first fundamental historic work "Little Russia in its literature" (1867–1870).[18] Different prominent artists (e.g. Mykola Pymonenko, Kostyantyn 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[edit]

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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.[19] 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[edit]

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."[20] 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.[21] This added new hostility and disapproval of the term by some Ukrainians.[19]

"Little Russianness"[edit]

Some Ukrainian authors define "Little Russianness" (Ukrainian: малоросійство,, translit. 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".[22] Mykhailo Drahomanov, who used the terms Little Russia and Little Russian in his historical works,[18] 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".[22] Ukrainian conservative ideologue and politician Vyacheslav Lypynsky defined the term as "the malaise of statelessness".[23] 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.[22]

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.[24][25] 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.[26]

Proposed state of "Little Russia"[edit]

On 18 July 2017 the head of the self-proclaimed state Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, announced the intention to form a federation with the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) called "Little Russia" ("Malorossiya"), with the goal of absorbing the "former Ukraine," which he declared a "failed state".[27][28] Also a constitution and a flag for the new state was published.[29] The same day the press service of the Luhansk People's Republic released a statement from Igor Plotnitsky (leader of the LPR) which stated that the LPR was "not taking part in the project".[30] Russian authorities publicly rejected the proposal.[31]

On 9 August 2017 Zakharchenko stated that the proposed state will not be named "Malorossiya" ("Little Russia") because "many feel repulsed by it.”[32]

The Financial Times claimed (on 22 July 2017) that the idea behind the (18 July) announcement actually came from circles close to Kremlin via the Russian nationalist Zakhar Prilepin. Prilepin said in an interview that the rationale behind the proposed state was that the separatists no longer could be called separatists because they were now supporting a unified state.[33]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Ефименко, А.Я. История украинского народа. К., "Лыбедь", 1990, стр. 87.
  2. ^ МАЛОРОСІЙСЬКА КОЛЕГІЯ (Collegium of Little Russia) at the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia (in Ukrainian). "Осн. завдання М. к. в цей період полягало в остаточному знищенні будь-яких залишків самоврядування на Україні, збільшенні податків і зборів для царської казни тощо."
  3. ^ МАЛОРОСІЙСЬКА КОЛЕГІЯ (Collegium of Little Russia) at the Jurist Encyclopedia (in Ukrainian).
  4. ^ Compare: Steele, Jonathan (1994). Eternal Russia: Yeltsin, Gorbachev, and the Mirage of Democracy. Harvard University Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-674-26837-1. Retrieved 3 December 2016. Several centuries later, when Moscow became the main colonizing force, Ukrainians were given a label which they were to find insulting. [...] The Russians of Muscovy [...] were the 'Great Russians'. Ukraine was called 'Little Russia', or Malorus. Although the phrase was geographical in origin, it could not help being felt by Ukrainian nationalists as demeaning. 
  5. ^ Russia rejects new Donetsk rebel 'state', BBC News (19 July 2017)
  6. ^ Vasmer, Max (1986). Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (in Russian). 1. Moscow: Progress. p. 289. 
  7. ^ a b c (in Russian) Соловьев А. В. Великая, Малая и Белая Русь // Вопросы истории. – М.: Изд-во АН СССР, 1947. – № 7. – С. 24–38.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ a b c d Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. – Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи» (1998), ISBN 966-7217-56-6 – с. 274.
  10. ^ Грушевський М.С. Історія України-Руси, том I, К. 1994, "Наукова думка", с. 1–2. ISBN 5-12-002468-8
  11. ^ a b c Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. – Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи» (1998), ISBN 966-7217-56-6 – с. 276.
  12. ^ «…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.
  13. ^ 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 Archived 2007-03-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "Листи Івана Сірка", изд. Института украинской археографии, К. 1995, с. 13 и 16.
  15. ^ Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. – Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи», 1998. – с. 279.
  16. ^ 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 Archived 2007-02-11 at the Wayback Machine., «Вестник Юго-Западной Руси», № 1, 2006 г.
  17. ^ Костомаров М. Две русские народности // Основа. – СПб., 1861. – Март.
  18. ^ a b Михаил Драгоманов, Малороссия в ее словесности, Вестник Европы. – 1870. – Июнь
  19. ^ a b Ukrainians in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine
  20. ^ Analysis of the events of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine by Prof. Y. Petrovsky-Shtern Retrieved May 23, 2007
  21. ^ (in Russian) Mikhail Smolin, "Преодоление «украинства» и общерусское единство(Overcoming the "Ukrainianness" and the all-Russian unity), «Вестник Юго-Западной Руси», №1, 2006 г.
  22. ^ a b c 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).
  23. ^ Ihor Hyrych. "Den". Lypynsky on the imperative of political independence Retrieved May 23, 2007
  24. ^ (in Ukrainian) Serhiy Hrabovsky. "Telekritika". "Sour Milk of Andriy Danylko" Retrieved on May 23, 2007
  25. ^ (in Russian) НРУ: Верка Сердючка – позор Полтавы,, 22 May 2007
  26. ^ (in Russian) Алексей Радинский, Полюбить Сердючку, Korrespondent, 17 March 2007
  27. ^ Litvinova, Daria (18 July 2017). "Separatists in Ukraine declare creation of new 'state' Malorossiya". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 18 July 2017. 
  28. ^ Ukraine Separatists Criticized Over Call For Creation Of 'Little Russia', Radio Free Europe (18 July 2017)
  29. ^ From “Malorossiya” With Love?, Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab (18 July 2017)
  30. ^ Malorossiya project is personal initiative of self-proclaimed republic's leader — Kremlin, TASS news agency (18 July 2017)
  31. ^ "Russia rejects new Donetsk rebel 'state'". BBC News. 2017-07-19. Retrieved 2017-11-30. 
  32. ^ Separatists leader Zakharchenko rules out Malorossiya as name, Kyiv Post (10 August 2017)
    Russia-Backed Separatist Leader Says 'Little Russia' A Bust, Radio Free Europe (10 August 2017)
  33. ^ Call for new Ukraine state serves Moscow’s goals, Financial Times (22 July 2017)