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This uncertainty is due largely to a paucity of contemporary sources.

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On their way south, they discovered "a small city on a hill," Kiev, captured it and the surrounding country from the Khazars, populated the region with more Varangians, and "established their dominion over the country of the Polyanians." The Rus' turned back before attacking the city itself, due either to a storm dispersing their boats, the return of the Emperor, or in a later account, due to a miracle after a ceremonial appeal by the Patriarch and the Emperor to the Virgin.

In 880-82, Oleg led a military force south along the Dnieper river, capturing Smolensk and Lyubech before reaching Kiev, where he deposed and killed Askold and Dir, proclaimed himself prince, and declared Kiev the "mother of Rus' cities." In 883, he conquered the Drevlians, imposing a fur tribute on them.

He extended his control from Novgorod south along the Dnieper river valley to protect trade from Khazar incursions from the east, and he moved his capital to the more strategic Kiev.

Sviatoslav I (died 972) achieved the first major expansion of Kievan Rus' territorial control, fighting a war of conquest against the Khazars.

Vladimir the Great (980–1015) introduced Christianity with his own baptism and, by decree, extended it to all inhabitants of Kiev and beyond.

Kievan Rus' reached its greatest extent under Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054); his sons assembled and issued its first written legal code, the Rus' Justice, shortly after his death.

Approximate ethno-linguistic map of Kievan Rus' in the 9th century: Five Volga Finnic groups of the Merya, Mari, Muromians, Meshchera and Mordvins are shown as surrounded by the Slavs to the west; the three Finnic groups of the Veps, Ests and Chuds, and Indo-European Balts to the northwest; the Permians to the northeast the (Turkic) Bulghars and Khazars to the southeast and south.

Controversy persists over whether the Rus' were Varangians (Vikings) or Slavs.

and neighboring Krivichi, who occupied territories surrounding the headwaters of the West Dvina, Dnieper, and Volga Rivers.

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