10 things you need to know about Ukraine
1: The History
To understand the current situation in Ukraine is to understand its history; having been conquered, destroyed and liberated by much dominance throughout its history, to becoming the Cossack republic in the 17th century. It was not until the Ukrainian Soviet State in the mid the 20th century, that Ukraine was united.
2: Democracy is still young
Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union did Ukraine become independent, in 1991, and with this came democracy. It’s this byzantine past with Russia that makes the current situation so complex: Ukraine is a country split in two, with European influences in the West wanting to join the EU and Russian influences in the East wanting to reconnect with their communist past.
3: Viktor Yanukovych
In 2010 Ukraine voted Viktor Yanukovych as President, with a dubious past featuring multiple criminal convictions, a falsified higher education and a close history with Russia. His main support in Ukraine comes from the South and the East, which is predominantly ethnic Russian. Since Yanukovych’s election he has become one of the richest people in Ukraine through wide spread corruption and is in general considered a kleptocrat.
4: Relationship with the EU
In stark contrast to his previous policy to move Ukraine towards the EU in November 2013 Yanukovych withdrew from a pact to sign an association agreement with the EU, he stated Ukraine was not ready for a European economy, the actuality was Russia has been putting a large economic strain on Ukraine (to punish it for attempting to join the EU) by stopping all Ukrainian imports from entering Russia, this had immediate effect on the economy, which was already in deep stagflation.
After Yanukovych made public his plans to walk away from the EU, a significant uprising of the people termed Euromaidan took to the streets of Kiev to voice their displeasure. Within days massive protests had taken hold of central Kiev in Independence Square. As the protests become more abundant, Yanukovych installed draconian laws preventing public demonstrations, restricting the movements of large groups of people and banning the press from reporting on governmental issues. Democracy fell away.
6: The turning point
When dozens of people were killed and thousands were injured between the 18th & 20th of February, in the centre of Kiev. Politicians, judges and police turned away from Yanukovych and forced his hand. He fled to Russia, leaving Ukraine to pick up the pieces of his years of corruption, cronyism and a fragmented relationship with Russia.
7: The revolution
On the 22nd of February 73% of the Ukrainian parliaments MP’s voted to impeach Yanukovych from power and to hold elections on the 25th of May. Oleksandr Turchynov was appointed temporary President with Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister. The new government moved to reengage Europe and kickstart the dialogue Yanukovych walked away from.
8: Russian aggression
Whilst Kiev was finding normality, masked soldiers invaded Crimea, storming public buildings and taking control of Crimea virtually overnight. An invasion 21st century style, no bullets required. Russia has said they intervened to protect Crimea from the revolution, the reality is quite different as Russia has its Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol, along with significant military infrastructure throughout Crimea.
Although Russia claims that historically Crimea has been part of its empire, this is only a half-truth; Russia invaded Crimea in 1873 and has been controlling the territory for the majority of time since. From Skifs, Sarmats, Geeks, Romans and Osman’s, Crimea’s past – like Ukraine – has been through many empires and rulers. To say Russia has a claim on this land is an over simplification.
During the Second World War Stalin moved Crimean ethnic minorities (such as theTatars) to Siberia and settled Russians in their place, through practices like this, Crimea now has a majority population of ethnic Russians. Many of which hold a stronger allegiance Russia, yet are Ukrainian citizens.
10: Crimean Referendum
Recently a hastily prepared referendum was passed, and the result of which means Crimea will be annexed to Russia. Unofficially only 34% of voters that took part in the referendum – with Russia saying more than 80% participated. With no minimum mandatory vote and highly biased questions, the result was always certain. In a complete violation of Ukrainian law, following no democratic principles, Crimea is once again lost to Russia.
Oleksandr Ruzhytskyi is a FLINT correspondent, based in Kiev, Ukraine.
James Knox is Editor-in-Chief of FLINT, based in Perth, Australia.