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Ukraine maps chart Crimea’s troubled past & Ukraine

Bridget KendallBy Bridget KendallDiplomatic correspondent, BBC NewsContinue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story


If Crimea were to join Russia after the planned referendum on 17 March, it would be the latest of many changes to the map of Ukraine during the country’s troubled past.

Passions are being fired by history, as the old maps in the British Library‘s collection reveal.

Crimea, a small peninsula in the Black Sea, below Russia and Ukraine, is now the focus and flashpoint of the crisis, threatening to loosen ties with Kiev or even return to Russian rule.

In the 18th Century, it was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, ruled by the Khan of the Crimean Tatars.

1769 map courtesy of the British LibraryThis 1769 map shows the Crimean peninsula in the centre, in yellow for Turkey and Little Tartary; Russia is shown in blue

That lasted until Russia’s Catherine the Great (seen below) took it from the Tatars, annexed it and made it part of the Russian Empire.

Image of Catherine the Great on a map inscription, courtesy of the British Library

And there it stayed, part of Russia, right up until 1954 when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, on a whim, gifted it to Ukraine.

1932 map showing the Crimean Autonomous Republic inside the Russian Federation, courtesy of the British LibraryThe Crimean Autonomous Republic inside the Russian Federation is shown neighbouring the Ukrainian Republic inside the Soviet Union, on the left in pink, and the Russian Federation inside the Soviet Union in green in this 1932 map.

That didn’t matter when this was all Soviet territory.

But in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed. And overnight, Russia and Ukraine became separate countries with Crimea still in Ukraine.

1996 map of Ukraine is how the country looks at present, courtesy of the British LibraryThis 1996 map of Ukraine is how the country looks at present

As for the main part of Ukraine, it’s always been pulled two ways. Western Ukraine has always been tied to Europe, for good reason.

Take Lviv – as its now called – in the far west.

Lviv on modern map of Ukraine, courtesy of the British Library

On the map above, it is shown in the centre as the orange area, and labelled in the Russian Cyrillic text. It remained part of Soviet Ukraine, known as Lvov – a Russified version of its name – until the USSR collapsed in 1991, when it reverted to the name of Lviv.

1775 map showing Lviv labelled as Leopoldstat, courtesy of the British Library

On this map of 1775, where it is labelled as Leopol, it had become part of the Austrian empire, where it was also known as Lemberg.

And in 1940, by now part of Poland, it came under Soviet rule, part of a carve-up – a secret deal – between Hitler and Stalin.

The above map shows the annexation that was included in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, courtesy of the British LibraryThe above map shows the annexation that was included in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939

Many Crimean Tatars were deported by Stalin in 1944 at the end of World War Two, accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany. They were later allowed to return home, but remain wary of coming under Moscow’s rule again.

Some Ukrainian nationalists even saw Stalin as a bigger enemy than Hitler. That’s why there’s still so much suspicion of Moscow, the old occupying power.

And that’s why we keep hearing President Putin warning of the threat from right-wing extremists in Western Ukraine.

Old fears and mistrust – still shaping attitudes today.

Yet the further east you go in Ukraine, the more people see Russia not as enemy, but part of the family.

18th century map courtesy of the British Library

In this 18th Century map, Russia’s lands go right up to Kiev.

And Kiev is where Russia started a thousand years ago, the birthplace of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.

It’s almost sacred. That’s why President Putin doesn’t want to let it go.

And those deep seated emotions are what make this crisis so dangerous.

The worry is that if Ukraine’s maps do need to be redrawn again, it may only provoke new violence.

Maps courtesy of the British Library in London, which has one of the world’s greatest collections of maps and cartographic materials.

Photos by Emma Lynch


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