Russians in Ukraine form the largest ethnic minority in the country, and the community forms the largest single Russian diaspora in the world. In the 2001 Ukrainian census, 8,334,100 identified as ethnic Russians (17.3% of the population of Ukraine), this is the combined figure for persons originating from outside of Ukraine and the native population declaring Russian ethnicity.
The East Slavic languages originated in the language spoken in Rus. Significant differences in spoken language in different regions began to be noticed after the division of the Rus lands between the Golden Horde (from about 1240) and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania eventually allied with the Kingdom of Poland in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Muscovites under the Golden Horde developed the modern Russian language, people in the northern Lithuanian sector developed Belorussian, and in the southern Polish sector Ukrainian. It is worth noting that the ethnonyms "Ukraine" and "Ukrainian" were not used until the 19th century. The land was known in the West as Ruthenia, and the people as Ruthenians. The Russian imperial centre, however, preferred the names "Little" and "White" Russias for the Ukrainian and Belarusian lands respectively, as compared to Great Russia.