Little Russia, sometimes Little Rus' (Russian: Малая Русь, Malaya Rus', Малая Россия, Malaya Rossiya, Малороссия, Malorossiya; Ukrainian: Мала Русь, Mala Rus'; or Rus' Minor from Greek: Μικρὰ Ῥωσία, Mikrá Rosía), is a geographical and historical term first used by Galician ruler Bolesław-Jerzy II, who in 1335 signed his decrees as Dux totius Russiæ minoris.
A Little Russia Governorate existed from 1764 to 1781, administered by the Collegium of Little Russia (1764–86; originally established 1722 and abolished 1727) headed by Pyotr Rumyantsev. The Collegium was tasked with liquidating any remnants of autonomy in Ukraine.
With time, "Little Russia" developed into a political and geographical concept in Russia, referring to most of the territory of modern-day Ukraine before the 20th century. Accordingly, derivatives such as "Little Russian" (Russian: Малороссы, Malorossy) were commonly applied to the people, language, and culture of the area. Prior to the revolutionary events of 1917, a large part of the region's élite population adopted a Little Russian identity that competed with the local Ukrainian identity.
After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, and with the amalgamation of Ukrainian territories into one administrative unit (the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic), the term started to recede from common use. Its subsequent usage has been regarded as derogatory, referring to those Ukrainians with little or no Ukrainian national consciousness.The term retains currency among Russian monarchists and Russian nationalists who deny that Ukraine and Ukrainians are distinct from Russia and Russians. By the late 1980s, the term had become archaic, and Ukrainians regarded its anachronistic usage as offensive.
The toponym translates as Little or Lesser Rus’ and is adapted from the Greek term, used in medieval times by Patriarchs of Constantinople since the 14th century (it first appeared in church documents in 1335). The Byzantines called the northern and southern parts of Rus’ lands Μεγάλη Ῥωσσία (Megálē Rhōssía) – Greater Rus’) and Μικρὰ Ῥωσσία (Mikrà Rhōssía – Lesser or Little Rus’), respectively. Initially Little or Lesser meant the smaller part, as after the division of the united Rus' Metropolis (ecclesiastical province) into two parts in 1305, a new southwestern metropolis in the Kingdom of Halych-Volynia consisted of only 6 of the 19 former eparchies. It later lost its ecclesiastical associations and became a geographical name only.
In the 17th century, the term Malorossiya was introduced into Russian. In English the term is often translated Little Russia or Little Rus’, depending on context.