The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Resources at the Library of Congress

A cartouche showing Eastern European characters around a sign with the word "Ukraine,"

This 1648 map is one of the first to use “Ukraine” as the name for the region. Geography and Map Division.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the latest violent development in a long and turbulent history in the land of the steppes, and the Library has international resources on the region that go back for hundreds of years.

You can learn a lot here, from one of the first maps that used the name “Ukraine” for the area (in 1648), to the poetry and writings of national hero Taras Shevchenko in the 19th century, to up-to-the-minute news and analysis from the Congressional Research Service. You can also watch an hourlong seminar, Putin, Ukraine, and What’s Likely to Happen, hosted by the Library’s Kluge Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recorded just before Russia invaded.

This article is a brief summary of the Library’s holdings regarding the region. Some descriptions are from official Library documents.

First, it helps to know that Ukraine roughly translates as “frontier” and its location between Europe and Asia has meant that human beings have traipsed through it, going east or west, for thousands of years. It has been included in any number of empires, divided into many different configurations and called by any number of names before it declared independence in its current boundaries in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our primary documents thus refer to the region by the name (or names) it was known at the time. The maps, lithographs, books and manuscripts shine through with illuminations and hand-coloring from centuries long past.

The Library’s overview to its Ukrainian collections is a backbone of reference material, but you may want to get started with the CRS reports that will keep you abreast of breaking news. The CRS is the branch of the Library that provides non-partisan news and intelligence to members of Congress, and analysts have filed dozens of short- and long-form reports on the situation in Ukraine.

For example, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: New Financial and Trade Sanctions brings together the world’s latest response to the Russian invasion.  Curious about exactly how much of Russian financial reserves are being tied up by sanctions? Here’s a chart that spells it out as of this week:

If you’d like to know what the Ukrainians have to defend themselves, there’s a summary of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Earlier, CRS analysts reported on Russian Military Buildup Along the Ukrainian Border, as well as U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine.  More in-depth analysis can be found in a 40-page report from last October, Ukraine: Background, Conflict with Russia, and U.S. Policy, including this summary:

“Ukraine has undergone dramatic changes since the country’s 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity (also known as the Euromaidan Revolution). Forced to confront a Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, a Russian-led separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, and a tightening of Russian control in the nearby Sea of Azov and Black Sea, Ukraine has developed a military capable of territorial defense, reversed a decline in economic growth, implemented reforms, maintained a democratic path, and gained formal independence for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.”

If you’re interested in law, from the country’s constitution to its form of government and international treaties, this guide is a concise starting point.  From the Law Library, there are also the collected legal reports from Ukraine (and many other countries) that include copies of legislation and national government programs.

Statue of a tall man with a severe expression, left hand on the lapel of his morning coat, right hand by his side, palm open

Shevchenko statue in Washington, D.C. Photo: Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

No one looms larger in the national identity than Shevchenko, the poet, writer, artist, intellectual and nationalist leader. Born into serfdom in 1814, he railed against the Russian empire and its oppressions, wrote, painted, dazzled and rebelled with poems that forecast a revolution. He was imprisoned and exiled, sent into harsh labor at a remote work camp for years. It wrecked his health. He was released, wrote feverishly for a few years and died in St. Petersburg at the age of 47.

The Ukrainian Weekly, in a 1934 editorial, put his legacy this way: “Rarely in the world’s history has an individual gripped the hearts, the imagination, and the intellect of a nation to such an extent and degree as Taras Shevchenko has done to that of the Ukrainian people.”

The Library holds more than 800 items by and about Shevchenko, copies of his poems in multiple languages and works about his influence. His is the Ukraine of the steppe and blue skies, the rolling land and the yearning people, written in a cadence and vision that would remind many Americans of Walt Whitman.

Here are the opening lines of “My Testament.”

When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

There is a statue of the man in Washington, at 22nd and P Street NW, built with congressional funds during the Cold War (it was seen as a rebuke to the Soviet Union, which then controlled Ukraine). The unveiling in 1964 drew a crowd of 30,000 marching for Ukrainian independence. The keynote speaker was Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former President and, during World War II, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, who held up Ukraine as one of the “captive nations” of Russian rule. There were critics — the Washington Post editorialized the statue was a folly, devoted to “the implausible goal of Ukrainian nationhood.”

Historically, the Library’s collections go back centuries. Amid dozens of books, histories and manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries, the Library holds two major items that are important to Ukrainian identity.

First is a copy of the Ostrog Bible, the first complete Slavic Bible, published in Ostroh in 1581, in Cyrillic type. This is in modern-day Ukraine, but was in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the time. The printer Ivan Fyodorov published it with the Ruthenian (another name for parts of Ukraine) Prince Konstantin Ostrogski. It became a foundational text of Orthodox Christianity, hugely influential in the faith’s development.

Second is the Beauplan Map of 1648, one of the first maps to denote Ukraine as a unique entity. Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan was a French military engineer and architect, working for Wladislaw IV Vasa, king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, who ruled much of the territory at the time.

The Library’s 19th century holdings on Ukraine are anchored by the remarkable collection of Gennadii Vasil’evich Yudin, a Siberian businessman and book collector. The Library acquired the collection in 1906, and while it spans the tsarist Russian empire, it contains a wealth of material on Ukraine, such as the complete set of an important journal of Ukrainian history, literature, folklore and language, “Kievskaia Starina.” The Library is the only library in the Western Hemisphere that holds a complete set of Kievskaia Starina with the index. Remarkably, we have the tsars’ copies of books on Ukrainian geography and history, including the Crimean War in the mid 19th century,

There’s Jewish history in the region, too, partially stemming from the Pale of Settlement era, when imperial Russian policy forced Jews to live in mostly rural areas in the western parts of the empire, including modern-day Ukraine. A researcher has used Library maps as part a historical collection, “An Atlas of the Shtetl,” that shows where Jews lived across the region. The Library also has some of the only copies of the world’s first illustrated children’s books in Hebrew, published in Odessa in 1917, chronicled in The Russian Revolution and Jewish Children’s Book Publisher. There’s also a fascinating look at Jewish cultural and publishing history in Ukraine during the early 20th century in  “The Mystery of Yakiv Orenshtain’s Little Red Riding Hood.”

In politics of past eras, you’ll find original documents in the papers of presidents, diplomats, national security and foreign policy experts in the Manuscript Division. They trace the arc of U.S. relations with Ukraine, from the limits of Woodrow Wilson’s principles of self-determination, at least as they applied to Ukraine following World War I, to former Jimmy Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s leadership of the American-Ukrainian Advisory Committee and his defense of Ukraine’s right to choose its own political identity — a decision that reverberates today.

Subscribe to the blog— it’s free! — and the largest library in world history will send cool stories straight to your inbox.

13 Comments

  1. Jenna Conner-Harris
    March 3, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    Hello. I am trying to put together a “history is today” exhibit at school for students, and wanted to see if I could work directly with someone there to put together primary source information for my gifted and talented learners. Also, would you guys have access to PEOPLE that would be guest speakers on Zoom for this topic?!?

  2. ADEL GHOUARI
    March 3, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    This represents a very difficult situation never seen in Europe. It’s a very dangerous for the whole world!!!. I’m from Algeria and I would like to say that I’m so sorry for the people of Ukraine and also for the Russian too . This Putin is a criminal!!. ❤️. Save our earth

  3. ADEL GHOUARI
    March 3, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    All solidarity with the people of Ukraine ❤️

  4. lidens911
    March 6, 2022 at 7:11 am

    Hello!!! I love history too. Please allow me to express my personal opinion!!! In 1978 I saw the film “The Unknown War” voiced by US actor Burton Stephen Lancaster. I also love Ukraine. But I condemn neo-fascism and I condemn neo-nazism.

  5. JudithEllen
    March 6, 2022 at 9:04 am

    Through connecting with Ukraine’s poets, both then & now, we can learn much about their history & culture from their writings. In addition, poetry can help us to feel closer to each other during this time of great challenge & heartbreak. The poetry of love from any country can help to soothe & heal. Now is the time to prepare for sharing & celebrating the best during National Poetry Month in April.

  6. Diane K
    March 6, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Many thanks for this concise and well-written update on RU’s invasion of Ukraine, including the history of the Crimean invasion. I benefitted a great deal from the 2021 CRS 41pg publication, and hope that it will be updated as events unfold.

  7. Susan Garfinkel
    March 8, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    Yet another Library of Congress resource related to the Jewish community in Ukraine (and all across the former Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement) is a blog post (//blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2020/05/sholem-aleichem-the-yiddish-mark-twain/) and related Today in History entry (//www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/may-15/#sholem-aleichem-beloved-yiddish-author) on beloved Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, who based his foundational and humorous stories of shtetl life on his own upbringing in Ukraine. Most widely known today are his tales of “Tevye the Milkman” that inspired “Fiddler on the Roof,” a 1964 Broadway musical adapted to film in 1971. Due to unrest in Ukraine after 1905, the author (born Solomon Rabinowitz, 1859-1916) traveled between U.S. and European cities before settling in New York in 1914. His funeral procession in May, 1916, was until that time the largest ever recorded.

  8. StuArt
    March 9, 2022 at 11:51 pm

    If there is an issue with NATO countries supplying Ukraine
    Why not non NATO countries supplying Ukraine ??
    Those NATO countries supplying the non NATO countries with materials needed to support Ukraine.

  9. David Dzidzikashvili
    March 19, 2022 at 7:50 am

    What Ukraine needs today is not just your prayers and words of courage, but weapons! Weapons to enforce the No Fly Zone, since everyone seems to be too scared of Putin to enforce even the bare minimum of the No Fly Zone over human corridors to evacuate the civilians, women, children & the elderly.
    What is happening in Mauripol is genocide and ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians. 80% of the city had been destroyed and the Russians are actively bombing the civilian targets, while refusing to let them evacuate. This is the most evil, the most deliberate murderous action against the civilian population since the WW2!
    Ukraine immediately needs those Mig29 fighter jets, S-300/S400 anti air systems, more drones, more anti-tank/anti-armor systems, smart artillery systems and the Biden administration would do a lot if the US will start to transfer the Patriot missiles to the Ukrainian Defense forces. The Ukrainian forces need anti-artillery radar systems, to be able to identify and geo-locate the artillery fire, since this had been the #1 killer of the Ukrainian civilians: artillery & rockets from the Russian Mir!
    The civilized world has to wake up and wake up now! Prayers and kind thoughts are welcome, but they don’t kill the Russian invaders. Bullets & missiles do! More weapons to Ukraine immediately!

  10. Olha Buchel
    March 22, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    People in Ukraine need financial support, clothes, medications, military uniforms, military vests. That is what all Ukrainian communities are collecting now. Libraries can also help by organizing auctions, exhibits, making videos about Ukraine, raising awareness. Proceeds from auctions can used for the needs of Ukrainians. Libraries should engage more with communities. That is how social capital is being built especially during extreme events.

  11. Jayne Peterson
    April 3, 2022 at 11:30 am

    You’d think that if any club finds out a prospective member is being bullied simply for attempting to join said club, then that club would support the prospective member and defend them from such bullies. Like, “Wait. You’re harassing people because they want to join our club? Um, no. We’re not having none of that.” Is this not common sense?

    Why on God’s green Earth is it taking NATO so long to act? How many 1,000’s more will die while talking heads in suits squabble about red tape?

    I guess now I know why it took world powers so long to act against Hitler: pride, greed and fear. Pro Human Tip: Sometimes doing the right thing requires a bit of sacrifice. One should focus on what is right, without too much consideration on what they may sacrifice in doing the right thing.

    As for nuclear threats: Putin is not as crazy as Kim Jong Un. Putin in conniving and ruthless, but he’s not stupid or insane. He knows any nuclear/bioweapon attacks will be met with grave consequences. Yet he’s counting on the world being frozen by fear, which is allowing him free reign in his murderous endeavors. Call Putin’s bluff, please…and stop him!

  12. Jayne Peterson
    April 3, 2022 at 11:33 am

    In the real world, if any club finds out a prospective member is being bullied simply for attempting to join said club, then that club would support the prospective member and defend them from such bullies. Like, “Wait. You’re harassing people because they want to join our club? Um, no. We’re not having none of that.” Is this not common sense?

    Why on God’s green Earth is it taking NATO so long to act? How many 1,000’s more will die while talking heads in suits squabble about red tape?

    I guess now I know why it took world powers so long to act against Hitler: pride, greed and fear. Pro Human Tip: Sometimes doing the right thing requires a bit of sacrifice. One should focus on what is right, without too much consideration on what they may sacrifice in doing the right thing.

    As for nuclear threats: Putin is not as crazy as Kim Jong Un. Putin in conniving and ruthless, but he’s not stupid or insane. He knows any nuclear/bioweapon attacks will be met with grave consequences. Yet he’s counting on the world being frozen by fear, which is allowing him free reign in his murderous endeavors. Call Putin’s bluff, please…and stop him!

  13. Nick Cohen
    April 28, 2022 at 9:28 pm

    This article is a fraudulent manufactured narrative to fit into the USA’s geopolitical and military expansionist plans.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.