The Mongols overrunning Kyivan Rus in 1240 never made it as far west as the powerful province of Galicia-Volynia. They did occasionally knock on its door, but the region was largely left to enjoy self-rule under King Roman Mstyslavych, his son Danylo Halytsky and his descendants.
This idyllic state was shattered in the 1340s when Polish troops invaded, but western Ukraine never lost its taste for independence. Several centuries of Polish domination saw the rise of a unique Ruthenian identity, which is the basis for much contemporary Ukrainian nationalism. Many Galician boyars (nobles) – often sent from Poland, Germany or Hungary – adopted the Polish language and Roman Catholicism. However, the peasants, also known as Ruthenians, remained Orthodox. They were only persuaded to join the new Ukrainian Catholic Church, also known as the Uniate Church, in 1596 (thereby acknowledging the pope's spiritual supremacy) because this church agreed to retain Orthodox forms of worship. Other Ruthenians fled southeast to set up Cossack communities.
In 1772 Galicia became part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire and to this day western Ukrainians touchingly remember the Austrians as (relatively) liberal, tolerant rulers. In other parts of the empire separatists suffered under the Austrian yoke, but in Ukraine the Habsburgs allowed Ukrainian nationalism to re-emerge and that made them good guys in this country. Western Ukraine even enjoyed a few days' independence as the Habsburg Empire collapsed at the end of WWI, but it soon found itself again under the dreaded Polish thumb.
Following the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, things went from bad to worse in local eyes. The Red Army marched in and asserted Moscow's control over the region for the first time in history. Finally dispatching the Nazis after bloody battles during WWII, the Soviets hung around until 1991, when the USSR imploded.
Since independence, cities such as Lviv, Ternopil and Lutsk have repeatedly sent protestors to the capital when the government was deemed to be erring from the path to European civilisation. Strangely, a Ukrainian from the west is yet to hold the top job of president.