Anna Yaroslavna -- Ukrainian Queen of France and other interesting facts
Well, don't just take my word for the fact that Ukraine has an ancient and great culture that far exceeds that of Russia. Read this from the wonderful journal called The Ukrainian Observer.
Early European Travels to Ukraine
In the Middle Ages, enlightened Europe regarded Ukraine as part of its social, cultural and economic realm. Commerce depended to no little extent on the benevolence of Ukrainians, who at the time were associated with Kyiv and the country called Rus. The traditionally European Mediterranean Sea had been expropriated by stern Arabs and later Turks. So the main trade route between West and East ran north-south along the Dnieper River. This was the legendary path of the Varangians (which is what the Slavs called the Vikings). There was also a land route: Kyiv - Prague - Krakow - Regensburg (a German trade center on the Danube).
European monarchs were perfectly aware of Rus's natural and human resources from reports by merchants and envoys. In 907, Kyiv Prince Oleh gave an unexpected demonstration of his power, when he appeared beneath the walls of Constantinople leading a fleet of thousands of small ships.
The first mail order bride from Kyiv
And there was other evidence of Rus's growing international rating. In May 1049, King Henry I of France married Princess Anna of Kyiv, the eldest daughter of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Henry was illiterate, and Anna multilingual. A French monastery chronicler of the time described her as one of "Europe's most educated women," who had come from a country that "has more unity, happiness, power and space than France." After Henry's death, Anna ruled as regent for six years.
An ornament of the Greek world
The best measure of any medieval ruler's wealth and power was always his capital, which would attract visitors from afar, who would in turn spread the word of what they'd seen during their stay. Kyiv was no exception to this rule.
In the summer of 1018, German writer Titmar Merzeburg left the hospitable capital of Rus. His heavy carriage was part of a lengthy trade caravan that had been making its way along a narrow road through a thick Czech forest. Amid the snorting of his beasts of burden and the clatter wagon wheels, he must have worked out how part of his travel book would be dedicated to Kyiv and the land of the East Slavs. The work would astonish Europeans with descriptions of the city's hundreds of domed churches, eight swarming markets and countless population. Kyiv was a northern rival to Constantinople, he wrote.
Merzeburg's book, of course, allows for some inaccuracies. For example, the author most likely exaggerated the number of Kyiv's churches. However, he was obviously impressed by the scale and grandeur of the city, which he describes as "an ornament of the Greek world."
[...]Sitting in his cozy residence in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, British Ambassador Thomas Rowe composed an urgent report to the English crown. In subtle detail, he described a recent attack on Istanbul by Zaporizhzhian Cossacks. It was on 9 June 1624. For an entire day, the Cossacks besieged the gates of the city. Then, at sunset, they rolled up their banners and retired to their ships with their booty. They hadn't achieved a decisive victory; however neither had they suffered a counter attack as they withdrew. This daring military offensive opened Rowe's eyes to two new truths. The Ottoman Empire, which all of Europe had deemed frightfully undefeatable, was entering its decline. And the Ukrainian people, although deprived of a state to represent them, had created a first-class fighting force, the Cossacks, who were not only defending their lands and kin but had gone on the offensive.
Cossacks in Europe
Seventeenth Century Europe was being exhausted by its wars of religion and succession. In the Thirty Years War alone (1618-1648), all the major continental powers and several small principalities took part. These smaller, primarily German, participants were particularly dependent on the arms of mercenaries. Popularly known in Europe as steppe hussars, the Cossacks fought for the side that paid them best. Being Orthodox, the Ukrainians weren't likely to get too involved in the Catholic-Protestant disputes that underlay the conflict.
But their mercantile motives often brought the Ukrainians into reproach. "We fight for our honor but you make war for money," one French general was quoted as telling his Cossack comrade during a campaign in Voltaire's Cossacks under Louis XIV. "Each fights for what he most lacks," the Cossack replied with ease, as he passed a bag of gold coins to his adjutant.
The French general then decides to teach the barbarian warrior a lesson and reports to the French king that the Cossacks are shirking their duties and spend most of their time getting drunk. So Louis XIV ordered a contest between the Ukrainians and other foreign mercenaries, during which the Cossacks showed up both Germans and Swiss recruits.
The first Ukrainian nationalist - an English professor
In 1810, a meeting of European Slavists was held at Cambridge University. The speaker was Professor Eduard Daniel Clark, an avid traveler. The subject of discussion was a travel book he had written, which offended the sensibilities of some of his colleagues. None in attendance denied that the enlightened absolutism of rulers like Catherine the Great was in large part a publicity campaign to mask the military ambitions of the Romanovs. It was argued that the thumping of soldiers' boots had always drowned out whatever poetic verses might be sung in St. Petersburg.
But Clark's work, his opponents contested, bordered on Russophobia, with its panegyrics of Ukrainian honor. In particular, the scholars rejected his view that Ukrainians were an entirely separate ethnic group with their own age-old traditions, unique national character and language that differs from both Polish and Russian. Unfortunately, Clark's views were supported by empirical evidence rather than scholarly analysis. In fact, he wasn't even a Slavicist. His audience couldn't accept his assertions that Ukrainians, with their well-kept houses and neatly hoed gardens, more resembled the Dutch or Norwegians than Russians.
During his travels, Clark was probably one of the last Europeans to see Ukraine as an autonomous agricultural territory on the edge of a vast nomadic steppe. For shortly thereafter, the country was fully absorbed into the poor and slave-like conditions of the Russian empire. Clark was probably also the first to recognize Ukraine's potential to regain that same autonomy, but before that would happen, the country would have to go through the worst throes of Russianization, becoming recognizable only as a province of its bigger brother to the east.