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The Ukraine is an area familiar to most; many are aware that its capital is called Kiev which cooks its chickens in a special way and quite a lot will know that it is the biggest European country that is wholly in Europe, Russia itself, running through to Asia, of course. I hazard that it is also widely known that it suffered under a long siege during the Second World War and that many thousands of its courageous citizens were massacred. Yet, after these matters are considered, some of us are scraping the proverbial ‘knowledge’ barrel.
So I am going dig a little deeper into the history of this area, and we must all sincerely hope that I neither bury you nor myself.

Kiev is the third biggest city in its area, after Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is, in turn, an architectural treasure, an economic powerhouse, and the cultural centre of the country. It is as though London, Edinburgh, ‘Oxbridge’, Sheffield, Manchester, Winchester and Peterborough were all ‘rolled up’ together. One might well expect a divide between the “townies” and the suburban and country folk but its independence from the old USSR seems to have pulled them closer.

Kiev sits by a great river, the Dnieper, which is generally a sign of a long-established city, of course. The Ukraine has a border with Russia on both its east and northeast. Belarus squats on the top; Poland, Slovakia and Hungary make up its ‘west side story’, and then Rumania and Moldova cover the southwest.

Once, Kiev was the capital of Russia or, more accurately, Rus’ but it was dropped in 1240 by the Mongols under Batu, a grandson of Ghengis Khan. Ghengis had held to the grandiose doctrine that proclaimed that all areas between the seas belonged to him. Batu Khan both endorsed and respected Ghengis’ sentiments.

Batu also had the overwhelming advantage of a cavalry of 150,000 men to back his claim. The biggest armies of Europe monarchs in the thirteenth century would stretch to rally 20,000 fighters; and even these forces could not match the manoeuvrability of the lightly armed Mongol forces on their small but sturdy ponies. For the great and powerful Khan, men were expendable. So the Mongol forces would travel a hundred miles in a day and they travelled light; thus Batu Khan had nigh the whole city of Kiev looted and then razed to the ground and all occupants killed, save a few who were ‘only’ mutilated and left to pass on the terrible lesson. Six years later, a representative of the Pope, passing by, reported that only a couple of hundred houses remained of what was once an illustrious, industrious capital.

This was a colossal setback, which took very many decades before the Ukraine’s economy fully recovered.

In the fourteenth century, most of the area of the modern Ukraine was under the jackboots of either Poland or the mighty Lithuanian empire; these two powers became united in 1386-7 with the alliance of Jagiello of Lithuania and Jadwiga, the daughter of Louis 1st of Poland. Jagiello became known as Ladislaus II of Poland.

The Polish/Lithuanian alliance inexorably progressed eastwards, coming into conflict with former allies of the Poles, the Cossack/Tartars and by 1648, this pressure forced Cossacks to ally themselves with the Russians. The Cossacks were occupying the area of the ‘borderlands’ (or ukraina) and had declared themselves be ‘a semi-independent state’, hoping that the vagueness in the ‘semi’ might be more acceptable. The Polish Royals did not wish their ‘former border guards’ (as they saw the Cossacks) to attempt a modest self-promotion; in their eyes these people were getting above themselves!

Accordingly, the Cossack/Tartars approached Russia and in 1654, a union of these two parties was agreed. As one might suppose, the Poles saw this as an aggressive move and war broke out. The long Russo/Polish war eventually ended, with Russia as the victor, in 1667 so they grabbed Kiev and territory east of the River Dnieper. The Poles had underestimated how much they had relied on the Cossacks fighting skills! It was a bad mistake. Then in 1772, the Russians in league with Prussia and Austria forced further concessions. That area on the furthest west of the borderlands/Ukraina was allocated to Austria’s realm. Eventually Russia felt a pressing need for the areas in the south and west of Kiev in 1792/3. (Gosh, you would not have seen the British behaving like this!)

In the nineteenth century, an enthusiastic Ukrainian national movement blossomed and this was to lead to a short-lived modicum of success after the 1917 civil war in Russia but the goal of independence remained beyond its grasp. They had to settle for being one of the four founding fathers of the newborn Soviet Union; even this was a great step forward, of course. The Ukrainian language was now encouraged (instead of receiving Czarist scorn and rejection as a ‘mongrel’ tongue) but, in their hearts, the Ukrainians were aware that the Russians were their masters; the Ukrainian Church had a hard time and many Ukrainians had their loyalties split in the twenties. Then came the ‘thirties’, bringing the wisdom and policies of the much-feared Joseph Stalin.

Stalin forced the agricultural industry into collectivisms, removing that silly old profit-incentive nonsense! The result was a most terrible famine. Millions died of starvation. Stalin realised that some misguided people blamed the famine on his policies and retaliated with draconian policies, which included crushing the Ukrainian Nationalist movement and their language.

More millions died in the Second World but ‘Uncle Joe’ soldiered on. After the war, the erstwhile Ukrainian territory in the far West was brought back into the Ukraine proper, under Soviet control. This expanded territory took the bold step of joining the United Nations as a founder member, which was a shock for many. It was reviewed, therefore; and then perceived as ‘useful’ as the Ukraine would be able to block ‘unwelcome’ legislation. It remained controversial, as one might expect.

Ukraine’s nationalism re-emerged with considerable vigour and momentum in the late nineteen eighties. The People’s Movement (or Rukh) gained overwhelming support in the elections of 1990. The Soviets desperately tried for a coup in the August of 1991 but times had changed; the people were no longer fearful of the West and nor were they to be cowered by the East which had failed to curb the increasing power and cohesion of the Ukrainian people.

Probably all reading this will remember the break-up of the Soviet Bloc, now replaced by the C.I.S. The Ukraine’s ruling body failed join the C.I.S. partly because they wished to avoid the sphere of influence of Russia as much as possible and also their country’s whole history gave them confidence that their physical position allowed easy access to Western Europe markets and global contacts. There are diaspora of Ukrainian emigrants in Canada, the U S A and others countries with the goodwill and a mind to help their old Motherland and its future is brightening; it was just a matter of carpe diem, or “seize the day!” –by their own courage, the people won their prize of freedom. They must be amazed at their current position of possibly being in NATO soon. Russia’s control of vast oil and gas reserves seems to have relaxed the tension politically.

The Paper Money

The first note we will consider is an Autonomous National Republic issue, which started and finished with the 100 karbovantsiv 1917 brown, orange and yellow. One can imagine the populace being surprised and proud with this issue of one single note. One special feature is the tryzub, which is somewhat like a trident and is an ancient symbol of the Ukraine. Two types of note were produced, the first printed properly, which is certainly extremely rare and a second printed with the reverse upside down which is now difficult to locate.

It is not an easy note to obtain in top grades, the paper not being of the highest quality so one should not be too particular; it is ninety-one years old!

We now turn our attention to the State Treasury note series.

Two types of the 25 karbovantsiv notes were issued, with a small spelling alteration as also with the 50 karbovantsiv of 1918. The third type of the 50 karbovantsiv has its “authority” challenged by the Ukrainian Government as they accepted the issue up to Block 209 but repudiated higher series numbers as false, being issued on General Deniken’s authority. (Deniken was a “white” Russian of the far Right)

As metal coins were hoarded, Stamp Money was produced in denominations of 10, 20, 30 40 and 50 shahiv in 1918 and a 5 karbowanez in 1919.

State Credit notes were also issued in 2 hryven, 40 hryven, 100 hryven, 500 hryven, 1000 hryven & 2000 hryven denominations, dated 1918.

There was an Austrian printing but it looks like they only produced samples. There did not seem to be any fiscal method open to the Ukraine to pay for the issue.

With the State Treasury Note of 1918 (not dated) there were two different watermarks used. The design was in a Royal Russian style and denominated as 1000 karbovantsiv. Two more issues of this note appeared with a different colour on the back and another with linked stars.

A 1918/1919 series issued under the title of the Semen Petlura Directorate in denominations of 250 karbovantsiv 1918, and 10, 25 & 100 karbovantsiv (1919) was considered worth a try to keep commerce flowing but was probably another triumph of optimism over experience. The War situation was draining everyone’s resources making life itself seem hopeless and futile.

In 1920, the Ukraine issued a 5 Hryven with the faithful Trysub.

The next notes for the Ukraine solely, were the German Occupation notes of the Second World War of which there are ‘two’ issues but only one was issued.

The first issue was dated 1941 and is hideously expensive and rare. It was for an area called “Ostland” which the Fuehrer would have organised from Kiev by a suitable underling. They exist only as proof versions so someone must have changed their mind.

The 1942 issue consisted of nine notes, denominated in karbowanez with the values of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. They were dated the 10th of March.

The next period is one of Russian roubles from the USSR which will be omitted here and we can jump to 24th of August 1941 when the Ukraine government declared its independence, using a Ration Card system to aid the switch to Karbovantsiv denominated notes. The 1991 series runs as 1, 3, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 250 & 500 k. This looks a confident issue, judging by its length. Kiev Cathedral is on the reverse.
The 1992 issue starts at 100 karbovantsiv showing inflation and the difficulties of floating a brand new currency. The other notes are 200,500 and 1,000 karbovantsiv. There then follows Government Treasury issues called Compensation Certificates with face values of One Million and Two Million karbovantsiv. I think we all know that issuers cannot issue big compensations when they are floating a fiduciary currency.

The 1993 issue starts with the 2000 karbovantsiv following which they have the 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 karbovantsiv.

The 1995 issue brings in the One Million karbovantsiv.

1996 brings the 1 hryvnia which is dated, somewhat archly, 1992. It brings also the 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 hryven. At this stage, the Bank decided they must be more subtle so they switch back to designs that bleed to the edge again and, with the 50 and 100 hryvnia, they omit the date entirely.

The 2003 issue is, by comparison, rather mundane. It offers the 1 hrynia and the 2 and 5 hyvren dated 2004 and 2005 (i.e. six notes in all) and, further, the 10 and the 20 hyvren in three dates, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Lastly, a 50 hryven issued for 2004 and 2005; I would expect more dates for some of these notes. I have seen other dates suggested so if you are following this series, you will need to be alert.

View some notes from Ukraine on the site here:


Kate Gibson

Last updated 27/04/2008