Ukraine (Russian: Украина; Ukrainian: Україна), sometimes known as Russia Minor (Russian: Малой России; Ukrainian: малої Росії) is a province of the Russian Empire. Area-wise, it is the fourth largest region of the empire behind Siberia, Mongolia, and Kazakh, in that order. In terms of population, it is the second most populous region, only behind Muscovy.
Ukraine is known primarily for its strategic importance for the Russian Empire, serving as a buffer zone between Eastern Europe and the Volga Basin region. The Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the third largest city in the empire, is also noted for its rich history, military importance, and culture. The current Grand Duke of Kiev (the title granted to the governor of Ukraine as a whole) is Grand Duke Ivan VI , the eldest son of Emperor Vladimir I and the heir to the Russian throne.
The first major state to emerge from Ukraine was the Kievan Rus, a duchy founded by Varangians (Swedish vikings) in the late 10th century. The Kievan Rus, centred in the city of Kiev, served as one of the primary rivals of the declining Byzantine Empire to the south. However, the Kievan Rus would collapse first at the hands of the Mongol Empire in the mid 13th century.
After the emergence of the Tsardom of Russia in 1547 under Ivan IV "The Terrible", Ukraine and Kiev slowly fell under rule of the Russian tsars in Moscow. However, the extreme south and west of Ukraine, the Crimea and Galicia, respectively fell under control of two other regional powers: the Ottoman Empire and Poland-Lithuania, respectively. Chief among the cities constructed on the southern coast of Ukraine by the Turks was Azov, a large port sitting on its eponymous body of water.
In desperate need of a port, Peter the Great captured Azov in 1696 for Russia. By the end of the Great Northern War in 1721 and the birth of the Russian Empire, the remainder of southern Ukraine (sans the Crimea) had been conquered by Russia, with the help of several Cossack warriors. Indeed, Ukraine had become famous for its zealous mounted warriors, the Cossacks, that roamed the Ukrainian highlands and offered their assistance to the highest bidder - in this case, the Russians. Although southern Ukraine, was now under Russia's belt, Russia failed to conquer the western province of Galicia, owned by Poland-Lithuania, as well as the Crimea, then the Crimean Khanate, a puppet-state of the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the Great Northern War, the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania had lost Galicia in favour to the emerging Kingdom of Austria.
As Emperor Vladimir I came to power in 1744, he pledged to strengthen Russian presence in Ukraine, which had seen some rebellious activity in the previous decades. The Kuban Cossacks, for example, had staged a massive uprising during the reign of Empress Catherine I, successful in besieging and capturing the city of Kiev for many days. Although the rebellion was subsided, it still proved a major concern among Catherine's successors. Emperor Vladimir I has recently instated a policy of "Russifying" Ukraine by allowing freedom of religion to the people of Ukraine (who primarily practice the Ukrainian Orthodoxy), instating Russian as an official language in addition to Ukrainian, and allowing all independent Cossack regimes within the province to maintain their militias, so long as they are used for beneficial purposes. On April 3, 1745, Vladimir I instated his eldest son, Ivan VI, as Grand Duke of Kiev, the title that oversees all activity within the province of Ukraine.
Ukraine is one of Russia's largest province, lying on the southwest rim of the empire and accounting for a large number of the imperial population. The majority of the Ukrainian landscape is made up of fertile plains, or steppes, giving Ukraine a very successful agricultural economy. The Dnieper and Don rivers form natural boundaries within the province, and are some of the longest rivers in the empire. To the west, near Odessa, the delta of the Danube River forms the border with Ottoman-controlled Roumania and Moldova. The Ukrainian subregion of Galicia, currently under the rule of Austria, makes up the far western border. The northwestern edge of Ukraine borders the Russian province of Byelorussia, the province of Voronezh in the northeast, and the Volga Basin region along the east and southeast.
The only mountains in the province are the Carpathian Range in western Ukraine, reaching sizable heights. Far inland, located at the heart of Ukraine and sitting on the Dnieper River is Kiev, the province's largest city and capital. The steppes surrounding Kiev are the most prominent centres of agriculture anywhere within the Russian Empire. To the southwest is the city of Odessa, yet another valuable Russian Black Sea port.
The Duke of Kiev, a position currently held by Grand Duke Ivan VI of the Romanov family, acts as the de facto regent over Ukraine as a whole. The Grand Duke practices limited power within the province, answering only to the Russian emperor. In addition, the Duke of Kiev also acts as a military commander, as Kiev holds one of the empire's largest army reserves. The Grand Duke also takes on admiral duties, due to the large Russian naval encampment along the Ukrainian Black Sea coast. The Duke of Kiev currently resides and carries out all business in the newly-constructed Mariyinsky Palace, in the centre of Kiev.