6. Between the Orient and „New Russia“. Late 18th-Century Ukraine as a Site of Contest

By the end of the 18th century, Ukraine came under a fundamentally new political system that persisted until the October revolution. The 1768–1773 Russo-Turkish war forced the Ottomans to retreat from Crimea, leading to its 1783 annexation by Catherine II. The partitions of Poland-Lithuania, partly triggered by Polish noblemen’s support for the Sultan, brought a large part of modern-day Ukraine under Russian control. This rapid change spurred the region’s reimagining as part of Catherine’s imperial ideology. On the one hand, she embraced the Oriental designation of the Semiramis of the North, culminating in her triumphant trip to Crimea in 1787. On the other hand, the presumed dominance of the St. Petersburg élites over newly conquered lands led to their re-imagining as classical Tauris. Redefining toponymy was particularly radical in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, where vast urbanization campaigns replaced former Cossack lands (known as Zaporozhosian Sich) with the governorate of ‘New Russia’. Its symbolic potency was deployed to turn the town of Samara into the neoclassical city of Yekaterinoslav, today’s Dnipro, to commemorate ‘Catherine’s fame’. Such tensions between capturing and effacing local identities resurfaced in foreigners’ accounts, who struggled to reconcile both a comprehensive overview of a quickly transforming region as part of the Russian Empire with their frequently primitivizing interest in the increasingly endangered Cossack and Tatar heritage. [AM]