Part of the great desolate expanse of Scythia, the Eurasian steppe and the ‘fateful corridor’ along which tribes and nomadic peoples traveled for tens of thousands of years in their migrations towards the Danube and the ‘West’. The place where the Rus and the Eastern Slavs first settled permanently, having navigated the Dnieper in their carved out wooden boats known as monoxyla. Cradle of medieval Russian civilization and center of the Kiev Principality (9th-13th c.). Black earth trodden by the hooves of horses ridden by Huns, Mongols, Poles, Muscovites, Cossacks and the forces of Napoleon. Divided over the centuries between Poland, the Duchy of Lithuania, tsarist Russia, and the Ottoman and Austrian Empires.

Homeland of the great Central European Jewish diaspora that experienced successive pogroms and mass expulsions. Cities and countryside exhausted by Stalinist programs of development, German tanks, reckless industrialization, and the Chernobyl disaster (1986). Bone of contention between the Ukraine and Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991).

The Ukraine, rich in natural resources, is the second largest country in Eastern Europe. It straddles a delicate position between East and West and is undergoing a difficult period in which political life is taking on a more democratic and stable character. The country covers the entire northern region of the Black Sea from the Danube Delta to the shallow Sea of Azov, while the Crimean peninsula in the southern part of the country, extends far into the Black Sea basin and is divided into eastern and western parts. Throughout the interior are scattered Scythian burial mounds (kurgan) with monumental graves, the only built remains of Scythian civilization. By contrast, along the extensive littoral there are thickly distributed remains of the ancient Greek city-states established in the northern part of the Black Sea coast that gradually disappeared in Late Antiquity (3rd-6th c.) in the context of the great migrations. The only exception to this pattern was the Greek settlements along the southern Crimean coast that were protected by the mountains until almost the end of the Byzantine period. Nevertheless, the Greeks never ceased to be a presence in this distant outpost of the Greek diaspora. Odessa has much to tell us about that presence. And the area of Mariupol’ even more. While in ‘golden’ Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, Hagia Sophia is a reminder of the first period of Christianization and the spiritual bonds that link the Ukraine to Byzantine Constantinople.