The first major civilization in Eastern Europe was on the Dnieper River at Kyiv. It quickly became a vital base for the entire Russian trade economy. The Dnieper was a major means of moving goods through Europe to the South. Because of this affluence in trade, Kyiv quickly became one of the finer cities in all of Europe. Its reign was ended by the Mongol invasions in 1240.
In Kyivan politics, three groups were in power. These were: the prince, who did not have absolute power, the veche (a town council made up of merchants and craftsmen), and the boyar council (the nobility). Due to that immense size of the country, power was divided among several provinces. The grand prince had most of his authority over foreign relations, the church, and the military. As a whole, though, the population in Kyiv compared quite similarly to that of other European cities at the time (around 1200=20,000 to 60,000). Unlike the rest of Europe, Kyivan Rus went through its rise and fall at much different time periods. While the height of the Kyivan state came around 1000-1050, the rest of Europe had barely made it out of the Dark Ages. However, when Western Europe had clearly made its move out of the doldrums in the mid-13th century, Kyivan Rus was plunging into desperation. Another unique aspect of the Kyivan state was its peasantry system.
Unlike the rest of Europe, peasants in Kyiv were not in serf-like circumstances and some actually owned their own land. Most land-owning was of the communal nature, which became a deep ideology throughout all of Russian history. Through time, though, the peasantry became decreasingly free, and then was taken over by the boyars. In fact, the peasantry system was much like the sharecropping program which is familiar in the United States. The slavery program was one which was not very prominent in the northern portion of Kyivan Rus--it was mainly utilized for urban labor. However, the southern portion of the state was very dependent on it, as the area around the Black Sea had a huge source of slaves. Slave exportation was a large part of that region's economy.
In 988, Russia was Christianized under Vladimir and assimilated into the religion of eastern Orthodoxy. Vladimir decided upon this religion in his quest to keep Kyiv in line with the rest of the West. Two factors contributed to this decision on his part: the beauty of the churches within eastern Orthodoxy, and marriage to a woman from the East. Vladimir's emissaries were awe-struck by the overwhelming beauty and majesty of God portrayed throughout Christianity in Constantinople. Because of this, the relationship of church and state was fused through the Byzantine tradition.