From Indifference to Obsession: Russian Claim to Kyiv History in Travel Literature of the 18th–early 19th Century


  • Kateryna Dysa



history of Kyiv, travel literature, travelogues, eighteenth century, nineteenth century, travelers in Kyiv, UUkraine in Russian Empire


In this article, I discuss a relatively recent development of Russian interest in Kyiv as a place with symbolic and historical significance for Russian history, which makes it a desirable target in an ongoing war. I trace the changing attitude of Russian travelers towards Kyiv’s history from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. Earlier generations of visitors came to Kyiv primarily to visit holy places, with no knowledge of the city’s historical significance, and because it was a more affordable alternative to travel abroad. However, at the end of the eighteenth century, after Catherine II’s royal visit, the publication of guidebooks, and the ascend of history as a discipline, and interest among Russian educated elites, Kyiv’s past became an obsession for many Russian travelers. Their travel accounts were motivated by a search for the past glory of Kyiv. For Russian travelers and authorities, history became one of the key means of appropriation of Kyiv, with a new generation of travelers searching for material evidence connecting Kyivan Rus to the Russian past. However, they were unable to find much material evidence and often used their imagination to present Kyiv as a site of Kyivan Rus history, ignoring the city’s non[1]Russian heritage.