You’ve almost assuredly heard of the current situation in the Ukraine. But do you know the whole story? News about Ukraine can be repetitive and full of false and hyperbolic information. So, what’s the real story?
Ukraine’s history is marked by invasion and resurgence began way back in the 7th century with a civilization called Kievan Rus, which was occupied by the early Russians and centered around the city of Kiev. They were driven out (into a region now known as Russia), and replaced by the Varangians, a violent group of Vikings. By the 11th century Kiev, had become the largest city in Europe, and very successful with a rich culture and vast amount. In the 14th century, Kiev was captured again, this time by Poland and Lithuania. In the 1600s, there was a revolution in Kiev (now known as Ukraine), started by the mistreated serfs, who rose up against their Polish leaders. Ukrainians won, and gained independence from Poland. Since they were so weak after fighting such a big war, they signed a treaty of protection with Russia. This “protection” eventually led to Russia taking over Ukraine. Many Ukrainians were not happy about this and revolted, but Russia crushed all the revolutionary forces. From 1796 until the beginning of Stalin’s reign, Ukraine was a puppet government of Russia.
The modern crisis in Ukraine had its origins during the reign of Stalin. At that time, Ukraine was one of Russia’s “Satellite” nations. Because Stalin wanted to eliminate the ability to rebel against Soviet control, he murdered 10,000,000 Ukrainians by starving them with a man made famine, sending them to gulags in Siberia, and shooting them. He kicked people out of their homes, took their food and live stock, and killed at any sign of resistance. Over 25,000 people were dying per day, and when the US and other countries sent aid, the Russians turned it back. Many countries around the world now recognize this as genocide, but Russia refuses to even accept that they were responsible. As you can imagine, Ukraine was not happy about this, so right after Soviet Russia fell in 1991, Ukraine declared independence, with over 90% of its citizens who turned out, voting to be autonomous. After gaining sovereignty, things were relatively peaceful in Ukraine with Leonid Kuchma being the president during this time.
In 2004, once Kuchma’s presidency was over, two major new candidates emerged: Viktor Yanukovych, the former prime minister of Ukraine who was pro Russia, and Viktor Yushchenko, who wanted closer ties with the EU. Yanukovych won the election, but many people called for a re-vote because they thought there had been voting fraud. This eventually led to a series of peaceful protests at a time known as the “Orange Revolution.” Because of these protests, there was a re-vote, which Yushchenko won, overturning the phony election.
Once Yushchenko became the president, many people thought the trouble was over. Sadly, they were wrong. Their problems had just begun. As it turns out, Yanukovych wasn’t the only leader who was corrupt. Yushchenko dissolved other political parties that his supporters were defecting to, and dismissed court judges that didn’t agree with him. He did, however, push for closer ties with the EU. Russian president Vladimir Putin didn’t like this and threatened to dramatically increase gas prices (Ukraine’s natural gas and oil came almost exclusively from Gazprom, a centrally controlled Russian corporation) if Yushchenko didn’t support Russia. A compromise was reached in 2010 to lock oil prices at $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.
2010 was also another election year. This time, a new candidate emerged, named Yulia Tymoshenko. At this point, Yushchenko had lost a lot of popularity due to corruption. The election became a battle between Yanukovych and Yulia. Yanukovych won, this time with no apparent voting fraud. Yanukovych increased press restrictions, and tried to limit parliamentary power, meanwhile expanding his own. In his most corrupt act yet, he sentenced Yulia to 7 years in jail-primarily due to a gas deal she accepted to benefit Russia. Yanukovych also cut off current support for the EU, instead wanting to strengthen Ukraine’s relationship with Russia. Once this happened, there were protests in the streets, the mass media jumped in, and you know the story after that.
The story gets even more confusing, I’m afraid. In 1954, the Soviet Union gifted Crimea (a small country to the bordering Russia) to Ukraine due to its “close economic and cultural ties to Ukraine.” Many people joke that Khrushchev, the Soviet leader during that time, was drunk when he gave Crimea to Ukraine. Crimea is controlled by Ukraine. It has its own parliament, but no rights to draft new laws; it can only manage its own budget and property. Once the USSR collapsed and Ukraine voted for its independence, Crimea did vote for Ukrainian autonomy, but only about 40% of Crimea’s population voted yes (lower then all the other parts of Ukraine). 66% of Crimea’s population is Russian, and the only Russian port that doesn’t freeze over in the winter is in Crimea (they still have the port because of the 1997 Bilateral treaty), so Russia has a reason to want Ukraine back. When the anti Russian protests started in Ukraine, Crimea had its own pro Russia protests. Crimea has played a huge role in this conflict, being the region in Ukraine with the strongest support for Russia.
As you can see, the situation in Ukraine is a complicated and heavily debated issue. All sides have been accused of corruption, and both the pro Russian and Pro EU forces are almost at the brink of war. This whole fiasco is definitely not over, and I am looking forward to seeing how events unfold.