Due to the accumulation of travel in the past two years, I have never really got around to writing a blog about my trip to Ukraine. I was in Kharkiv (aka: Kharkiv) for a week in 2020, in…
Ukraine was the center of the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus, which was the largest and most powerful state in Europe in the 10th and 11th centuries. Weakened by internal squabbles and Mongol invasions, Kyivan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The cultural and religious legacy of Kievan Rus laid the foundations for Ukrainian nationalism in the following centuries. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was founded in the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite constant pressure from the Muscovites, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for more than 100 years. During the latter part of the 18th century, most of the Ukrainian ethnographic territory was absorbed by the Russian Empire. After the collapse of Tsarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine achieved a short-lived period of independence (1917-20), but was recaptured and endured a brutal Soviet rule that caused two forced famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which more than 8 million died. In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for 7 to 8 million additional deaths. Although Ukraine gained independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, democracy and prosperity remained elusive as the legacy of state control and endemic corruption slowed efforts for economic reform, privatization and civil liberties.
A peaceful mass protest in the closing months of 2004, dubbed the “Orange Revolution,” forced authorities to undo rigged presidential elections and allow another internationally-controlled vote that brought a reformist slate under Viktor YUSHCHENKO to power. Subsequent internal squabbles in the YUSHCHENKO camp saw his rival Viktor YANUKOVYCH make a comeback in the parliamentary elections (Rada), became prime minister in August 2006 and was elected president in February 2010. Rada elections were held in Ukraine in October 2012, which were widely criticized by Western observers as flawed for using government funds to favor ruling party candidates, interfering with media access and intimidating opposition candidates. President YANUKOVYCH's withdrawal from a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU in November 2013 – in favor of closer economic ties with Russia – and the subsequent use of violence against students, civil society activists and other citizens in favor of the agreement, led to a three-month protest occupation of Kiev's main square. The government's use of force to break up the protest camp in February 2014 led to all the battles, dozens of deaths, international condemnation, a failed political deal and the president's abrupt departure to Russia. New elections in the spring allowed pro-West president Petro POROSHENKO to take office in June 2014; he was succeeded by Volodymyr ZELENSKY in May 2019.
Shortly after YANUKOVYCH's departure in late February 2014, Russian President PUTIN ordered the invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, falsely claiming that the action was intended to protect the ethnic Russians living there. Two weeks later, a “referendum” was held on the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation. The “referendum” was condemned as illegal by the Ukrainian government, the EU, the US and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, 100 UN members passed UNGA Resolution 68/262, rejecting the "referendum" as groundless and invalid and preserving the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine will be confirmed. In mid-2014, Russia began providing proxies in two of Ukraine's eastern provinces with manpower, funding and equipment, sparking an armed conflict with the Ukrainian government that continues to this day. Representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the unrecognized Russian proxy republics signed the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum in September 2014 to end the conflict. However, this agreement failed to stop the fighting or find a political solution. In a renewed effort to mitigate the ongoing clashes, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany negotiated a follow-up package of measures to implement the Minsk agreements in February 2015. Representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the unrecognized Russian proxy republics and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also meet regularly to facilitate the implementation of the peace agreement. More than 13.000 civilians have been killed or injured as a result of the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine.