Is Ukraine really an ancient state and what is a country if it’s not a nation?

Rashmee Roshan Lall
2 min readMar 20, 2022
The colours of the Ukrainian flag. Photo by Tina Hartung on Unsplash

Vladimir Putin has somewhat contemptuously said that Ukraine is not an ancient state; it’s not even a nation.

British-Ukrainian novelist Marina Lewyka, whose family hails from the east of the country, takes a nuanced view of Mr Putin’s assertion. She recently wrote (paywall) as follows:

“I don’t like Putin but he is technically right when he says that Ukraine is not an ancient state.”

It sounded fairly controversial but Ms Lewycka went on to explain her thinking:

“Most states, as we currently think of them, are relatively new. But although Ukraine is not ancient, Kyiv is — hence its importance to his project. Kievan Rus, a federation of mostly East Slavic peoples that was dominated by the city, existed from the 9th century. Kyiv was Russia’s first capital until Moscow was built. The western side of Ukraine, on the other hand, was part of the Habsburg Catholic empire and only incorporated into the Tsarist empire relatively recently.”

She concluded by acknowledging that contentious ideas about the past can’t really be allowed to get in the way of a peaceful present.

“Who knows what Putin believes, but he seems to be counting on the idea that the pull of ancient history will prevail. Amid the current horrors, one thing seems clear: whatever nation they identify themselves with most, the peoples of Ukraine and Russia will lose out in this conflict.”

It’s an important point. Next, we’ll examine these very different terms — countries, nations, peoples, races. What is a country if it’s not a nation?

Click here, here, here and here to read the others in this series.

Tomorrow: What is a country if it’s not a nation?

Originally published at on March 20, 2022.



Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London