Capital of ancient Europe, cradle of early democracy
Long before the rise of modern European states, before Shakespeare wrote his plays in England, before Paris and Venice became synonymous with high culture and art, Kyiv was the capital of one of the greatest kingdoms in Europe — the Kyivan Rus. Contrary to a widespread misconception, the word “Rus” has nothing to do with Russia (a name created by Moscow tzar Peter many centuries later). One prominent historical theory relates the name Rus (Old Norse — “men who row”) to the Vikings that traveled the Dnipro river on longboats. Scandinavian lords would later become the princes of Kyiv and assimilate with the local Slavic tribes, laying the foundation for future Ukrainian culture.
Kyivan Rus was the largest culturally advanced Eastern European state more than 1000 years ago. It was a center of trade, religion, and fine arts. It was one of the first European countries with a codified system of laws, created by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. The establishment of Christianity in Kyiv by Prince Volodymyr the Great led to the development of philosophy, literacy, religious debate, and education.
Kyiv was also the cradle of early democracy in future Ukrainian lands. Due to their strong sense of independence and community, Kyivites upheld the tradition of the Viche — a regular gathering of citizens to discuss societal issues and plans for the future. In some cases, decisions of the Viche (passed by a simple majority of votes) challenged even the power of local or regional rulers.
The legacy of the Kyivan Rus holds strong in Kyiv and in the hearts and minds of all modern Ukrainians. Its most prominent symbol is the Ukrainian trident, the national coat of arms, based on the seal of Prince Volodymyr the Great.