Chernivtsi Oblast (Chernivets’ka oblast’) is an oblast (province) in western Ukraine, bordering on Romania and Moldova. It has a large variety of landforms: the Carpathian Mountains and picturesque hills at the foot of the mountains gradually change to a broad partly forested plain situated between the Dniester and Prut rivers. Its capital is the city Chernivtsi. The region has a population of 913,275 and spans 8,100 km².
Chernivtsi oblast was created on August 7, 1940 in the wake of the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. The oblast was organized out of the northeast part of Ţinutul Suceava of Kingdom of Romania, joining parts of three historical regions: northern half of Bukovina, northern half of the Hotin County county of Bessarabia, and Hertza region, which was part of the Dorohoi county (presently Botoşani County) of proper Moldavia.
Archaeological sites in the region date back to 43,000-45,000 BC, with finds including a mammoth bone dwelling from the Middle Paleolithic.
The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture flourished in the area. In the Middle Ages, the region was part of the Principality of Moldavia, which in the late middle age became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. In 1775, two counties of Moldavia, since then known as Bukovina, were annexed by the Habsburg Monarchy, which later became Austrian Empire. In 1812, one half of Moldavia, since then known as Bessarabia, was annexed by the Russian Empire. Hertza region remained in Moldavia until its union with Wallachia in 1859, a union which in 1881 became the Kingdom of Romania. In 1918 both provinces of Bukovina and Bessarabia united with the Kingdom of Romania.
The Soviet occupation began on June 28, 1940. In addition to Bessarabia, the USSR demanded northern Bukovina as compensation for the occupation of Bessarabia by Romania from 1918 to 1940. Hertza region was not included in the demands that the Soviet Union addressed to Romania, but was occupied at the same time. Most of the occupied territories were organized on August 2, 1940 as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, while the remainder, including the Chenivtsi Oblast, which was formed on August 7, 1940, were included in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Throughout 1940-1941 several tens of thousands of Bukovinians were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan, some 13,000 of them on June 13, 1941 alone. This and later deportations were primarily based on social class difference, it targeted intellectuals, people employed previously by the state, businessmen, clergymen, students, railworkers. The majority of those targeted were ethnic Romanians, but there were many representatives of other ethnicities, as well. The protests of the Romanian population of Bukovina that found themselves under the Soviet rule brought about serious Soviet reprisals, including of ethnic character. In the winter and spring of 1941, the Soviet troops (NKVD) opened fire on many groups of locals trying to cross the border into Romania (for more, see: Fântâna Albă massacre).
Between September 17 and November 17, 1940, by a mutual agreement between USSR and Germany, 43,641 "ethnic Germans" from the Chernivtsi region were moved to Germany, although the total ethnic German population was only 34,500, and of these some 3,500 did not go to Germany. Upon their arrival in Germany, the Nazi government sent most of non-ethnic Germans to concentration camps. Only some of them were freed after the protests of the Romanian government.
During World War II, when the region returned under the control of the Romanian, the Jewish community of the area was largely destroyed by the deportations to ghettos and concentration camps, where about 60% died. Despite the anti-Semitic policies of the Ion Antonescu's government of Romania, the mayor of Cernăuţi, Traian Popovici, now honored by Israel's Yad Vashem memorial as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, saved ca. 20,000 Jews.
In 1944, when the Soviet troops returned to Bukovina, many inhabitants fled to Romania, and Soviet persecutions resumed, with the result that the region was seriously depopulated. In demographic terms, these war-time and post-war-time factors changed the region's ethnic composition. Today the number of Jews, Germans and Poles is statistically insignificant, while the number of Romanians has decreased substantially.
Ruthenian communities in Bukovina date back to at least 16th century. In 1775, Ukrainians (Ruthenians) represented some 8,000 out of a 75,000 population of Bukovina. By 1918, as a result of immigration of Ukrainian peasants from nearby villages in Galicia and Podolia, there were over 200,000 Ukrainians, out of a total of 730,000. Most of Ukrainians settled in the northern parts of Bukovina. Their number was especially large in the area between the Dniester and Prut rivers, where they became a majority. A similar process occurred in northern Bessarabia. Throughout the history of the region, there were no inter-ethnic clashes, while the city of Chernivtsi was known for its German-style architecture, for a highly cultivated society, and for ethnic tolerance. Small ethnic disputes were, however, present on occasion. In 1918, many Ukrainians in Bukovina wanted to join an independent Ukrainian state. After an initial period of free education in Ukrainian language, in late 1920s Romanian authorities attempted to switch all education to the Romanian language. In 1940-1941, the Soviet reprisals were more massive in the parts of the Chernivsti oblast were Romanians predominated; when, however, after 1944, Ukrainian anti-Soviet resistance rose up, Romanians and Ukrainians fought alongside against NKVD.
Many Ukrainians in the south-western mountain area of the Chernivtsi region belong to the Hutsul ethnic sub-group, a sophisticated cultural community inhabiting an area in the Carpathian Mountains in both Ukraine and Romania.
When the Soviet Union broke down, Chernivtsi Oblast, then part of the Ukrainian SSR, became part of the newly independent (August 24, 1991) Ukraine. It has a Ukrainian ethnic majority. In the referendum on December 1, 1991, 92% of Chernivtsi Oblast residents supported the independence of Ukraine, a wide support from both Ukrainians and Romanians.