Ukraine’s Distinct History
Money tells the story of Ukraine’s complex origins and the formation of its national identity.
More than a thousand years ago, Kyiv (Ukraine’s modern-day capital) sat at the crossroads of major European and Central Asian trade routes. As a hub of commerce and cultural interaction, a wide variety of commodities and currencies circulated there, including Roman, Arabic, Byzantine, and other European coins. These diverse monetary objects, along with the others in this display, reflect Ukraine’s distinct history over the last millennia.
Medieval Money Made in Kyiv
During the 11th and 12th centuries, Kyiv was the capital of a medieval state called Kyivan Rus’ (which included modern-day Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russia). Its ruler, Viking Volodymyr I, issued Kyiv’s first coins around the year 1000 featuring his portrait and the emblem of his dynasty—a trident or tryzub—to demonstrate his authority. He modeled his coins on these Byzantine gold coins, portraying himself as a Christian emperor. Silversmiths in Kyiv also produced hexagonal ingots for trade called hryvnia.
Conflict and Circulation
Between the 13th and 18th centuries, warring powers battled over the lands of Kyivan Rus’. Various portions were controlled by the Mongols, the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburgs. Their coins circulated and they brought with them a wide range of religions, languages, and traditions that helped shape Ukraine’s multicultural identity. The Russian Empire subsequently conquered portions of Ukraine during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Ukrainian People’s Republic Banknotes
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) declared independence from Russia and issued banknotes to signal its national sovereignty and identity. The banknotes prominently display the trident symbol from medieval Kyivan coins and illustrate the diversity of Ukrainian cultural heritage. The 1917 note includes four languages: Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish. The inclusion of Yiddish on the note reflects the country’s large Jewish community, even in the context of violent and longstanding antisemitism. The UPR was forcibly subsumed into the Soviet Union in 1922.
Ukraine’s National Currency
In December 1991, Ukrainians held a democratic referendum and voted overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union. Ukraine’s national currency links the modern nation to its medieval origins. Its banknotes—called hryvnia, after the medieval silver ingots made in Kyiv—depict historic leaders. The two-hryvnia banknote portrays Volodymyr I’s son Yaroslav. The ruler is flanked by his medieval silver coin with a large trident, Ukraine’s current national symbol.
“Peace for Ukraine” Zero Euro Note
With the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the nation is fighting for its survival and for the human rights of its citizens. This new acquisition “Peace for Ukraine” souvenir note was created by a German aid association to raise funds to support children suffering as a result of Russia’s brutal attacks. The note documents this painful new chapter in Ukraine’s history, and supports Ukrainian desire for a future as an independent, democratic nation that is part of the European Union.