Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 23.01.2018
The Slavic lands were much more developed than the Lithuanian ones in the Frand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia (Rus’). Rus’ accounted for 90% of the territory and official records and chronicles were kept in the literary Ruthenian (Ukrainian) language of the time. Even in the late 16th century, when the state apparatus was being Polonized in the wake of Ukraine’s inclusion into Poland, the current Lithuanian Statute of 1588 required to write all official documents only in Ruthenian (Ukrainian).
In some regions, Lithuanian princes kept rulers from the Rurik dynasty in place, but the Grand duke of Lithuania removed the local Prince Fedor from power in Kyiv and appointed his eldest son Volodymyr (1362–1394) instead. The prince of Kyiv had to acknowledge dependence on the Grand duke of Lithuania, which, however, did not extend to the internal affairs of the principality. Volodymyr, the son of Algirdas (reigned in 1316-1377), pledged to maintain the territorial integrity of the Kyiv principality, to appoint only Kyivans to administrative positions in the principality and not to curtail the rights of the local nobility.
The borders of the Kyiv principality at the time almost coincided with its former borders within Kyivan Rus’. The Kyiv principality also controlled the territory between the Dnipro and the Dnister, including the Black Sea coast. During the rule of Vytautas the Great (1392-1430), Kotsiub Yakushynsky founded the city of Hadzhybei (aka Kotsiubei, now Odesa), which was first mentioned in 1415. Moreover, the Bilhorod fortress near the Dnister Liman (estuary), the Dashiv fortress (now Ochakiv) and other fortifications on the Black Sea coast and along the Dnipro were built there.
The Kyiv principality began to mint its own coins, and a very strong fortress was even built on Zamkova Hill in Kyiv.
Volodymyr, son of Algirdas, signed his charters as “the Grand Prince of Kyiv”, i.e. as an equal to the grand duke of Lithuania. In 1392, he refused to pledge allegiance to the grand duke of Lithuania and to pay tribute to him. Other princes of Ukraine joined him in rejecting dependence on Lithuania. However, they failed to win this struggle. The Kyiv principality was abolished in the early 15th century and the same fate befell to the Volhynia principality.
A tower of the Lutsk castle
Under Švitrigaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania (1430–1440), Ukrainian landlords took over the most important cities and administrative posts and thus had an edge over the Lithuanian nobility. Švitrigaila’s reliance on the Ukrainian nobility displeased Lithuanian feudal lords, who were supported by Poland. In 1432, they elected another grand duke. The Lithuanian state essentially disintegrated into two parts (light and dark green on the main map).
Kyiv, Sivershchyna, Volhynia, Podillia, Polotsk and Smolensk, i.e. the lands with strong historical ties to Kyiv, united into the “Grand Duchy of Ruthenia’”, recognized Švitrigaila as their ruler and were essentially independent of Lithuania.
A war erupted. The Kyivan and Volhynian voivodes defeated the Lithuanian troops multiple times. As a result of this struggle, the Polish King Jogaila and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund were forced to issue privileges in 1432 and 1434 granting equal personal and substantive rights to Orthodox and Catholic (Lithuanian) nobles.
Despite this, the Ukrainian nobility conspired to remove Sigismund. In 1440, Skobeiko, a nobleman from Kyiv who undertook to carry out the plot, hid armed men under 300 carts of hay and they killed Sigismund at the Trakai castle.
As a result of the liberation struggle led by the Ukrainian nobility and population, the Kyiv and Volhynia principalities were restored in 1440.
Prince Oleksandr (Olelko, 1440–1455), son of Prince Volodymyr, grandson of Algirdas, became the ruler of the Kyiv principality, while Volhynia was ruled by Švitrigaila himself (1440–1452). The restoration of the principalities protected the national and religious rights of Ukrainians and revived their statehood for a while.