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Ukraine-UK relations – political, economic, cultural and other relations between the peoples of Ukraine and the United Kingdom from early times until the present.

The earliest references to relations between Ukraine and the UK date back to the period of Kyivan Rus. In 1017, after the invasion of England by King Canute of Denmark, Edward and Edmund, the sons of King Edmund II of England, were sent to Kyiv. Around 1074 Volodymyr Monomakh, the future grand prince of Kyiv, married Gytha, daughter of King Harold II of England. Edward, Edmund and Gytha were most probably accompanied to Kyiv by other Britons, though little is known about them. The Mongol incursion into Eastern Europe in the middle of the thirteenth century disrupted relations between the two countries and until the seventeenth century contacts between them were sporadic. From the fifteenth century grain and timber were exported from Ukraine to Britain via the Baltic Sea.

Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

From the beginning of the seventeenth century English diplomats began to show an active interest in Ukraine. In the 1620s, when Europe was divided into Catholic and Protestant camps, England viewed the Ukrainian Cossacks (who were Orthodox) as potential allies against Catholic Poland. In connection with this the English ambassador in Constantinople, Thomas Roe, informed his government about the Cossacks. British interest in Ukraine was renewed during the 1648-1657 war of the Ukrainian populace, led by Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, against Poland. The revolutionary forces led by Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War (1642-1651) viewed the Cossack-Polish War as a fight against a common enemy, Catholicism. Cromwell followed events in Ukraine and attempted to establish contacts with Khmelnytskyi.

In 1708-09 the British envoy in Moscow, Charles Lord Whitworth, kept London informed about matters concerning the anti-Russian alliance concluded by Ivan Mazepa and Charles XII of Sweden. The British representative in Bendery (Moldova), Captain James Jefferye, maintained contacts with Mazepa’s successor, Pylyp Orlyk. After the death of Charles XII in 1718, Great Britain became concerned by the increasing power of Russia and, through its ambassador in Sweden Lord Carteret, continued to maintain contacts with Orlyk, who was in Sweden at the time. While interned in Turkish-controlled Salonica from 1722 until 1734, Orlyk enjoyed the support of local British envoys.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a wider cross-section of British society began to take an interest in Ukraine. Accounts of the country and its people were written by scholars, diplomats and travellers such as Richard Knolles, Peter Heylyn, Paul Rycaut, Edward Brown, John Bell, Joseph Marshall, William Coxe and others. English periodicals such as Mercurius Politicus, The London Gazette and The Moderate Intelligencer covered events in Ukraine.

A number of Britons in the service of the Russian government or engaged in other activities in the Russian Empire had connections with Ukraine. In 1679-85 General Patrick Gordon of the Russian army was based in Ukraine and for a time commanded the Russian garrison in Kyiv. In 1783 Thomas Mackenzie founded Sevastopol after the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula, now part of Ukraine. In 1789-90 John Howard, the renowned English prison reformer, visited Kherson where there was an outbreak of typhus and where he himself contracted the disease and died. In the 1780s and 1790s the landscape architect William Gould designed parks in various Ukrainian towns. In 1795 Charles Gascoigne began the design and construction of an ironworks around which the town of Luhansk subsequently developed.

Nineteenth century

In the first half of the nineteenth century British connections with Ukraine continued mainly through the activities of Britons in the service of the Russian Empire. Particularly active at the time were various architects and engineers involved in the design and development of new urban areas, buildings and other structures in various Ukrainian towns. In 1816-34 Alexis Greig, an admiral of Scottish descent, was commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and governor of Mykolaiv and Sevastopol.

Interest in the Crimea increased in 1854-6 when Britain took part in the Crimean War against Russia. The British presence on the peninsula included Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole who organised assistance for wounded troops. A number of British military cemeteries remain in the Crimea, and events of the war have been described in the works of Alfred Lord Tennyson and other English poets.

In 1869 the Welshman John Hughes began the construction of a metal works and an associated workers’ settlement, which grew into the town of Yuzivka (from “Yuz”, as the name Hughes was pronounced), now the city of Donetsk. In a relatively short time the works became the largest producer of ferrous metals in the Russian Empire. In Western Ukraine, British investors were involved in a number of petroleum companies founded early in the twentieth century to exploit the oil resources in the Drohobych region: the Anglo-Austrian Company in Tustanovychi (1906), the Anglo-Polish Trading Company (1908) and an English company in Lviv (1912). At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century grain, sugar, livestock and iron ore were exported from Ukraine to the UK.

In several Ukrainian cities British consular offices were established to monitor the economic potential of the southern part of the Russian Empire and to serve the interests of British entrepeneurs: a consulate in Odesa in 1803, and consulates or vice-consulates in Kerch, Kherson, Feodosia, Mykolaiv, Sevastopol and Kyiv in the second half of the century. In 1904-14 Roman Zalozetskyi-Sas, a representative of British petroleum companies in Galicia, served as British honorary consul in Lviv.

The second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth saw an increasing British interest in Ukrainian literature. The Slavist William Morfill wrote several articles on Ukrainian literature as well as a description of the Ukrainian language for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the earliest input to this publication on a Ukrainian topic. British periodicals published articles on Ukrainian culture by the scholars Mykhailo Drahomanov and Fedir Vovk, who maintained contacts with local Slavists. Ethell Lillian Voynich and others translated the works of Taras Shevchenko, and translations of Ukrainian folk tales were made by William Ralston and others. Ukrainian themes figured in literary works published by a number of British authors.

Information about the presence of Ukrainians in the UK before the end of the nineteenth century is scarce and concerns only particular individuals. The first sizeable group of Ukrainians to enter the country were economic migrants from Western Ukraine, who arrived in the period from the 1890s to the outbreak of the First World War and settled in Manchester.

1900-1945

From the early years of the twentieth century British interest in Ukraine began to be increasingly associated with the political aspirations of Ukrainians in both the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Before the outbreak of the First World War Vladimir Stepankowsky, a political émigré from Ukraine, and the British writer George Raffalovich were particularly active in disseminating information about Ukraine and seeking to enlist support for the Ukrainian cause from influential Britons.

In the early years of the war the British authorities regarded Ukrainian political activity as being largely pro-German and, as a result, from November 1916 to July 1917 pro-Ukrainian literature was banned in the UK. During the war (as well as during the Second World War) some of the Ukrainians in Manchester were detained in internment camps, mainly on the Isle of Man, as “enemy aliens” on account of their Austrian citizenship.

After the establishment of the Ukrainian People's Republic (UNR) in 1917, the British government began to take a greater interest in events in Ukraine, though the official stance towards Ukrainian national aspirations was lukewarm. In December 1917 John Picton Bagge was appointed British representative to the government of the UNR. In early 1918 the UK was ready to recognise the UNR, but decided against this after Ukraine signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers. In the following year, attempts by the Directory of the UNR to secure the support of the Allies also proved unsuccessful.

After the war the UK's position regarding the Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia was more sympathetic. During the 1919 Paris Peace Conference the British government opposed Polish claims to the territory of Eastern Galicia, and considered the possibility that it might be incorporated into a non-Bolshevik Russia or become an independent state under the protection of the League of Nations. Under pressure from France, however, the UK eventually had to accept Polish sovereignty over the territory, albeit subject to promises of autonomy for the Ukrainian population (which were subsequently not honoured). In inter-war Western Ukraine there were British vice-consuls in Lviv and Boryslav.

Between the two world wars a number of bodies in the UK were involved in the dissemination of information about Ukraine and campaigning for Ukrainian causes. These included the diplomatic missions of the UNR and of the Western Ukrainian People's Republic (ZUNR), as well as the Ukrainian Bureau and representatives of the Ukrainian monarchist and nationalist movements. A number of British citizens also became involved in Ukrainian affairs, including members of an Anglo-Ukrainian Committee formed in 1931 by supporters of the hetmanite movement, and a separate Anglo-Ukrainian Committee, formed in 1935, which had links with the Ukrainian Bureau.

Two major episodes in inter-war Ukrainian history, the 1930 "Pacification" of Ukrainian villages in Eastern Galicia by the Polish authorities, and the man-made Famine of 1932-33 (Holodomor) in Soviet Ukraine, prompted reactions in the UK. In 1930 Mary Sheepshanks visited Eastern Galicia, on behalf of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, to investigate reports of the Pacification and subsequently publicised her findings. In 1932 a group of UK Members of Parliament submitted a petition to the League of Nations regarding the Ukrainian minority in Poland. Malcolm Muggeridge, the Moscow correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, and the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones both reported on the Holodomor. A number of British organisations attempted to organise relief for famine sufferers, and questions about the famine were raised in Parliament. The British government, however, avoided criticism of the Polish government in relation to the situation of the Ukrainians in Poland, and of the Soviet government with regard to the Holodomor. Throughout the inter-war period the UK sought to preserve the status quo in Europe and did not offer support for Ukrainian national aspirations, regarding them as a destabilising factor which was being fuelled by revisionist powers such as Germany and Austria.

The situation changed somewhat with the invasions of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union at the start of the Second World War, when British officials briefly considered the possibility of supporting the Ukrainian national movement in Western Ukraine. After the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, however, the latter became an ally of the UK and it was no longer in the UK’s interest to promote the idea of Ukrainian independence. In the closing stages of the war Ukraine only figured in British foreign policy in the context of diplomatic negotiations relating to the incorporation of Western Ukraine into the USSR and the establishment of a new Soviet-Polish border.

In the inter-war period trade links between Ukraine and the UK continued in the overall context of trade between the USSR and the UK. It is difficult, however, to quantify the Ukrainian SSR’s share of Soviet exports and imports to/from the UK. A large proportion of British grain imports probably originated in Ukraine; other Ukrainian exports to the UK included manganese ore from Nikopol. In 1923 a group of British businessmen formed the British Association of Ukraine Trade and steps were taken to form a British Ukrainian Bank to facilitate trade between the Ukrainian SSR and the UK.

1945-1990

After the cooling of relations between the West and the Soviet Union in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the UK and its allies considered what role might be played by the Ukrainian national movement in the event of a future war with the USSR. British officials also focused considerable attention on the situation of Ukrainian displaced persons and refugees in continental Europe and former members of the Galicia Division who had surrendered to the British Army. In the end, however, the West adopted a policy of mutual understanding with the USSR and the Ukrainian question was set aside. A 1947 British proposal for the establishment of direct diplomatic relations with the Ukrainian SSR remained unanswered, and official contacts between the UK and Ukraine continued only in the overall context of relations between the UK and the USSR.

At a non-governmental level British contacts with Ukrainians increased with the arrival in the UK of large numbers of post-war Ukrainian immigrants (see Ukrainians in the United Kingdom), who began to engage in wide-scale dissemination of information and campaigning in support of Ukrainian independence. From the 1950s some Ukrainian organisations in the UK maintained links with the Scottish League for European Freedom and the British League for European Freedom. Links between Ukrainians and Britons were also forged through the Anglo-Ukrainian Society (established in 1953) and the Mazepa Society (1967-1985).

Several UK Members of Parliament took an interest in Ukrainian affairs. In 1951 Geoffrey Cooper and William Teeling raised questions in the House of Commons in support of the introduction of Ukrainian language broadcasts by the BBC World Service for which the Ukrainian community had been campaigning since 1946. In 1960 John Cordeaux initiated a parliamentary debate on government policy relating to the official designation of the nationality of Ukrainians in the UK. In 1975 William Whitlock formed an Anglo-Ukrainian group in Parliament which existed until 1983. In 1983-87 Stefan Terlezki, a post-war immigrant from Ukraine, served as MP for the Cardiff West constituency.

From the 1960s to the 1980s various British organisations and individual Britons voiced support for members of the dissident movement in the Soviet Union, which included many Ukrainians. One of the earliest authoritative reports in the West concerning the repression of Ukrainian dissidents was an article published in The Times on 7 February 1968, regarding the trial of Viacheslav Chornovil. Prominent among the organisations which actively supported Ukrainian and other Soviet victims of repression was Amnesty International, based in London.

Information on economic ties between Ukraine and the UK during the Cold War period is rather scant. It is known, however, that in 1958-1967 exports from the Ukrainian SSR to the UK included manganese ore, pig iron, potash and wheat, and that in return Ukraine imported machinery, chemicals, fibres and textiles from the UK.

Within the framework of agreements on cultural relations between the UK and the USSR, various performing arts groups from Ukraine visited the UK, including the Veriovka Ukrainian Folk Choir and the Virsky Folk Dance Ensemble. The Dynamo Kyiv football team played in the UK and competitors from Ukraine took part in other sports events. In the 1950s twin town arrangements were established between Odesa and Liverpool (1956), Donetsk and Sheffield (1956), Luhansk and Cardiff (1958), and Yalta and Margate.

At the end of the 1980s contacts between Ukraine and the UK increased as a consequence of the liberalisation of the political system in the USSR. In 1988 Horlivka and Barnsley became twin towns, as did Kyiv and Edinburgh in 1989. In 1990 there was a month-long series of British events in Kyiv, including a trade fair and an exhibition depicting life in modern Britain, and in the same year Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Ukraine. Various British academic and other institutions began to invite increasing numbers of visitors from Ukraine.

Since 1991

Relations between Ukraine and the UK intensified after Ukraine’s declaration of independence in August 1991. In November of the same year the UK opened a Consulate General in Kyiv and, on 31 December, recognised Ukraine’s independence. On 10 January 1992 diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, as a result of which the Consulate General became the British Embassy in Ukraine. Simon Hemans was appointed the UK’s first ambassador to Ukraine. In October 1992 Ukraine opened its embassy in London, headed by Sergiy Komissarenko, Ukraine’s first ambassador to the UK.

Fully-fledged relations between Ukraine and the UK began to develop on the basis of a range of bilateral and other agreements in various spheres: political, military, economic, humanitarian, cultural etc. Members of the British Royal Family, Government and Parliament began to make official visits to Ukraine, and Ukrainian Presidents and other dignitaries made the first reciprocal visits to the UK. Co-operation between Ukrainian and British governmental, commercial, academic, cultural and other bodies intensified. New twin town arrangements were established, including Vinnytsia–Peterborough (1991) and Lviv–Rochdale (1992). A new influx of migrants from Ukraine arrived in the UK, and significant numbers of post-war immigrants and their descendants began to visit Ukraine. In February 2002 Ukraine opened a Consulate-General in Edinburgh.

The British Council has been operating in Ukraine since 1992 and has established centres in Kyiv, Donetsk, Lviv, Odesa and Kharkiv. In the same year the BBC World Service introduced a Ukrainian-language service, and members of the UK Parliament formed an All-Party Parliamentary Ukraine Group. Other organisations established to foster relations between Ukraine and the UK include the British-Ukrainian Law Association (established 1993), the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce (1997), the Ukrainian-British City Club (2005), Friends of Ukraine (Scottish Foundation) (2005), and the British Ukrainian Society (2007).

Roman Krawec

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