November 23, 2013

Omelyan Terletskyi: Geopolitical Approach to Ukraine

Volodymyr Hrytsevych is a graduate of Lviv I. Franko University

Candidate of Geographical Sciences, full member of Ukrainian Geographical Society

Author of over 200 scientific works

Co-author of determining the Geographical Center of Ukraine, co-author of the atlas publishers “Lviv. A Complex Atlas”


Omelian Terletskyi about the role of politico-geographical position of Ukraine in its development in different historical periods. Geopolitical ideas and scientific predictions about the political future of the Ukrainian state.

The beginning and the first half of the twentieth century was characterized by activation of scientific thought of conscious part of clerisy on the prospects of sovereignty and future of the Ukrainian state. This was caused by geopolitical shifts due to the First World War, the emergence on the world map of the large monster — USSR as a successor of the Russian Empire, the first in many centuries possibility (though not implemented) of creation of an independent Ukrainian state. That is why at this time there appeared a cohort of Ukrainian researchers whose work laid the scientific foundation of Ukraine's sovereignty, explained the territorial location of its ethnic lands, showed its historical continuity and prominent place in the history of Europe, recorded and developed cultural and civilizational heritage of our nation.

In the constellation of scientists we may mention Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Stepan Rudnytskyi, Hryhoriy Velychko, Myron Korduba, Yuriy Lypa, Ivan Krypyakevych, Volodymyr Kubiyovych and others. They had been greatly influenced by the activity of Ivan Franko, Mykola Mikhnovskyi, Borys Hrinchenko, etc. Each of these scientists deserves separate scientific exploration and publications. However, some names are still quite unknown or little known to the Ukrainian and world communities. So today we will remember Omelyan Terletskyi who made a unique contribution to the treasury of geopolitical awareness of the Ukrainian people.

Omelian Terletskyi at a younger ageHe was that sort of intellectual who timely stood up to defend the Ukrainian identity with flying scientific publications. As by his University education, so by his practical direction, Terletskyi combined two specialties: history and geography, which proved to be very valuable for his scientific researches. Omelyan Antonovych’s geopolitical ideas are of interest at our time, they can be considered intellectual property of the Ukrainian science. Here's an aspect of its artistic heritage, both political and geographical position of Ukraine in the context of scientific opinions of other authors of the time.

But before this we should note that in parallel with O. Terletskyi, in the same direction had been working other scientists. Especially outstanding was Rudnytskyi Stepan, who believed that the key in the political and geographical position of Ukraine is its having to do with major world trade routes and ways of political expansion of great powers. For Ukraine, according to the scientists, is important not only its neighboring, or regional, position, but also its global situation. In particular, with regard to the neighboring position — what matters here is its bordering surrounding countries, as for the regional position — it's Ukraine's being situated in the South-East of Europe, for the global situation is important its position at the crossroads of civilizations between Europe, Asia and Africa. S. Rudnytskyi points out that geopolitical situation of a state is a historical category, it varies over time and depends on the specific circumstances, states that influence it; it has features of the past and shapes the future position of the state. In the geopolitical situation of Ukraine, S. Rudnytskyi selects its “Middle East aspect of the situation on the northern coast of the Black Sea, which fact determines the shortest path for the expansion of great powers of Europe in some cases, to the Balkans, in others — to the Caucasus, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia”. He also highlights the disadvantages of the geopolitical situation of Ukraine regarding Russia.

In the above mentioned aspect, the most interesting is Omelyan Terletskyi's work “Nature's Influencing the History of Ukraine”, published in 1935.  What are the main ideas of this work?

First of all, it should be noted how the author understands the importance of the “situation”.  Here's what he, in particular, writes, “The geographical situation of the region is the most important of all the natural factors for the people who lives in this land. Ukraine is situated in the moderate area of ​​the Northern hemisphere... which is the most useful for the development of culture and civilization, and that is why in this area rose the most ancient cultural and civilization centers”. As for the peculiarities of the geopolitical situation of various historical state formations of the Ukrainian people, O. Terletskyi points out as follows, “All our states, be that Kievan state, or Galicia-Volhynia, or the state of the Cossack era, or our latest state, which emerged in 1917–1918, — they all were continental (landlocked) states”. And he continues, “This continental nature of the Ukrainian territory obviously had its consequences. The first and main consequence was that Ukraine has always had numerous and very heterogeneous neighbors.”

In the modern sense of the geopolitical situation of the state it is a set of its geospatial relations to political objects that are out of the state, but may affect its development.

O. Terletskyi primarily distinguishes among neighbors Poland, Muscovy and “nomads” from the East. Regarding the latter, he writes, “Ancient steppe dwellers had been tamed, and mainly with Ukrainian hands”. He correctly notes that Ukraine was the “faceshield” which defended the whole Western civilization from “nomads”.

Nowadays Ukraine's neighbors are: Poland, Russia, Belarus, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova. Today Ukraine has seven landlocked neighbors of the first order. Plus, there are fifteen landlocked neighbors of second order. At present, this diversity of local ties is a positive sign, because they provide an alternative and a certain freedom in choosing relations.

In the medieval ages the statehood building tradition of the Ukrainian nation was established by Kyiv Rus state that stretched in the Eastern Europe from the Black (at those times — Rusean or Pontus) Sea in the South to the Baltic (then Varyagean) Sea in the North, from the Syan in the West to the Volga in the East. At the beginning of its existence, Kyyivan state suffered from expansion of the neighboring countries that claimed to own Eastern Europe. They had been attracted not only by new settlements, but also by natural resources of our region. Natural ways of foreign expansion were the Dnipro, the Dvina, the Volga, the Caspian Sea, and others. According to Ivan Krypyakevych, the Galicia-Volhynia state was a notable geopolitical factor in Europe and in our country's history, because: firstly, it inherited the political tradition of the Kyyivan state, then enriched and developed it in the context of contemporary European political trends; secondly, the position of the Galicia- Volhynia Kingdom significantly influenced political processes in Europe; thirdly, by its political position, territory, political, economic, military potential, cultural level, it was one of the greatest states and was developing on a sole ethnic basis; fourthly, in line with contemporary political traditions, the state was regulated by a system of government organizations; and finally, fifthly, thanks to intense relations with Western Europe, it had avoided one-sided orientation to Byzantium, unproductive Asian influences.

 It's safe to say that the development of Galicia-Volhynia Kingdom was connected with its geographical position: the country was placed in the way that by the shortest line was connecting the Baltic Sea with Pontus (the Black Sea), and after the fall of Kyiv, it took over the main trade and political functions. An important communication function was played by the East-West road, and the economy of Western lands was at a high level. The population was more dense here than in the East. A close proximity to the West brought Ukrainian people new cultural influences and heritage. Galicia-Volhynia Kingdom had been the main political center of Ukraine due to its persistent geopolitical position, for a whole century.

The special geopolitical situation arose in the times of the Ukrainian Cossack Hetman State. The center of the political organization of the second Ukrainian state was the then a Cossack state — a wide strip of land from the Dniester and the Southern Bug in the West to the River Donets in the East. As a result of military operations, Ukrainian lands had shrunk — without Galicia, Western Polissya and Western Volhynia, which then became the neighbors of the first order, but not for long. The main bulk of its territory lay on the right bank of the Dnipro, along its left tributary the Desna River, to Bryansk (Starodubshchyn) in the North, down to Putyvl, Lebedyn and Kharkiv and the Donets River in the East, and down along the Dnipro River to the Black Sea in the South.

In historical terms the geopolitical situation of our land was not always the same. Omelyan Terletskyi notes that during Princes Oleg, Igor and Sviatoslav the Brave's times Ukrainian politics was directed towards the Black Sea. At those times, the position of Ukraine had a number of advantages that led to flourishing of the Kyyivan Rus’ state. By the time of the Cossack era the situation had deteriorated because civilized Arab and Byzantine provinces had declined, and on their ruins were “sitting” hordes of barbarian Ottoman Turks. Ukrainians were far from many civilized nations. He mentions the war between Ukraine and “Poland” and the relationship with the “Moskovia”, and in particular, that Russia appreciated the importance of ports of Odesa and Kherson for trading Ukrainian wheat. The text contains even such an emotional phrase as follows, “Russians lived only on what they got from Ukraine.”

Since the mid-19th century the geopolitical situation had been improving due to the revival of trade across the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal.

Based on the results of his research, O. Terletskyi draws the following conclusions:

  • “...Ukraine lies on the shortest path leading from Central Europe to the rich Asia India”
  • “...Ukrainian people cannot now complain about the geographical situation of its land. Thanks to it, the international situation of Ukraine is gradually getting better”;
  • “...On the basis of it all, the geographical position of Ukraine does it good.”

Very interesting and prescient are the author's thoughts about the future of Ukraine within the USSR. Here's what he, in particular, wrote, “... The current Soviet Ukraine even if it were an independent state, would not stand firmly on the Black Sea and would not have a safe front from the side of the Sea, unless it takes away the Crimea from Russia”.

This was written in 1935!

Elsewhere, the author notes, “…in the future, when Ukraine becomes independent, and has the Crimean Peninsula in its possession, it will firmly be established on the shores of the Black Sea”. Thus, according to O. Terletskyi, the Crimea is a very important geopolitical element of Ukrainian state.

To sum it all up, we can say that Omelyan Terletskyi made ​​an interesting and useful research of geopolitical situation of Ukraine in different periods of its existence. He objectively assessed characteristics of such situation, correctly outlined prospects and peculiarities of the Ukrainian statehood building. The ideas expressed by the scientist, remain relevant to the current generation of scientists and politicians.

Omelian Terletskyi at an elder ageIt is worthwhile to read the brief biographical information on Omelyan Terletckyi (1873-1958).

He was born in Yaroslavl district, got his high-school education in Stryi, and from 1892 to 1896 he studied at the Philosophy Faculty of Lviv University. His teachers were, in particular, Mykhaylo Grushevskyi and Antoni Reman. While a student, he published his first two research works in “Notes of the Shevchenko Scientific Society” in Lviv.

In 1898 he began working in Ternopil Gymnasium as a teacher of geography. Geographical education and teaching practice so much influenced the future scientists, that from then on he continued working mainly as a historian, having retained a geographical way of thinking, and each of his great scientific publication was illustrated with numerous maps. At the age of 38, having had considerable experience of teaching activities, O. Terletskyi became Director of the newly established Chortkiv Gymnasium (the first Ukrainian high school in the town )and headed it until the beginning of World War I.

From 1923 to 1924, and also from 1926 till 1927 he was the Head of the Chief Executive “Native School” and Teachers' Community in Lviv, worked in the main section of the “Prosvita” (“Enlightenment”) Society. In 1926 he published the textbook “Elementary Geography” for Ukrainian schools. From 1940 to 1948 (with a break for the war) he worked as a lecturer at the History Department of Lviv University. Among his most interesting scientific works we should point out the following:

• “History of the Ukrainian State”, 1923-1924 (in two volumes);

• “Nature’s Influence on the History of Ukraine”, 1930;

• “Ukraine as a Defender of Culture and Civilization from Nomads”, 1930;

• “Hetman Ukraine and Zaporizhzhya Sich”, 1935.

P.S. Studying the biography and scientific contributions of Omelyan Antonovych Terletskyi, I noticed an incredible, almost mystical fact. In all his photographs one can see his incredible resemblance to Ivan Franko. The explanation for this fact is not yet found. Perhaps this is a coincidence. Maybe it is all just because of the then fashion trends…

Volodymyr Hrytsevych