This was Kievan Rus – a powerful East Slavic state dominated by the city of Kiev. Shaped in the 9th century it went on to flourish for the next 300 years. The empire is traditionally seen as the beginning of Russia and the ancestor of Belarus and Ukraine. From those ancient times comes a popular proverb “Your tongue will take you to Kiev”. If you’re wondering how or why a part of your body would transport you to a European capital, here’s the story. Legend has it that in 999 a Kiev resident called Nikita Shchemyaka got lost in the far-away steppes and was caught by a militant nomadic tribe. Nikita’s tales of Kiev’s wealth and splendor impressed the tribe’s chief so much, he hooked Nikita by the tongue to his horse’s tail and went to wage war against Kiev. That’s how Nikita’s tongue took him home. But don’t panic if you hear the saying – you won’t share the unfortunate Nikita’s lot. Today, the proverb simply means you can always ask your way around.
Back in those ancient times Russia it seems nearly became a Muslim country. The story goes that its ruler at the time, Prince Vladimir, wanted to replace paganism with a new religion. He was tempted by Islam because it allowed men to have several wives. But Vladimir finally decided against it because he thought his people would be unhappy under a religion that prohibits wine. So in 988 Kievan Rus converted to Orthodox Christianity.