Migration in Early Modern
FROM THE DAWN of Russian history down to the present day, migration has been a constant feature of the Eastern European Plain. Prior to, say, 500 A.D. almost all of what has been called “Rus'/Russia” was inhabited by non-Slavs. In the south, in what is now Ukraine and Central Asia, the basic population was Iranian, which, thanks to the Great Migration of Peoples, in the first half of the first millennium A.D. was complemented by Huns and Turkic peoples from the east and Goths from the west. In the north, in what is now Russia, the indigenous peoples were Finns and Balts (the ancestors of today's Latvians and Lithuanians).
Russian history was adumbrated by the migration of Slavs from the west into Ukraine around 700 A.D. and to Novgorod and the Gulf of Finland around 800. Slavic migration apparently was triggered by the Goths, who began to move south from the southern shore of the Baltic around 200, splitting the Slavs into Western Slavs (who moved as far west as Hanover), Southern Slavs (who at one time occupied much of what is today Greece as well as the Balkans), and Eastern Slavs (who began Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian history). Another migration of Slavs, from the region of Bohemia, commenced around 1000 and began to penetrate the Volga-Oka mesopotamia. Mixing with the primarily native Finnic peoples, they reached the confluence of the Oka with the Volga around 1300 and served as the basis of the Great Russian people. 1 The heirs of these people continued to expand as “colonists” throughout the existence of the Russian/Soviet Empire, and especially the USSR, until 1991, when a retreat back to Russia commenced; it is still under way. In the year 2000 about 23 million “Russians” were in the