Modern history of Ukraine

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Governorates of the Russian Empire during the 19th century in the territory of the later Ukraine: Kiev (1708), Kharkov (1780), Taurida (1783), Volhynia (1792), Podolia (1793), Kherson (1802), Poltava (1802), Yekaterinoslav (1802), and parts of Chernigov, Don Host Oblast (1786), Kursk (1796) and Bessarabia (1871); Malorossiya Governorate (1796) was split into Chernigov and Kherson in 1802.
Territorial evolution of the Ukrainian SSR 1922–1954. Polish Volhynia gained (1939); Transnistria lost (1940); Transcarpatia gained (1945); Romanian islands gained (1948); Crimea gained (1954).
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The Ukraine emerges as the concept of a nation, and the Ukrainians as a nationality, with the Ukrainian National Revival in the early 19th century, in the wake of the peasant revolt of 1768/69 and the eventual partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Galicia fell to the Austrian Empire, and the rest of the Ukraine to the Russian Empire.

Ukraine first became independent with the Ukrainian War of Independence of 1917 to 1921, but the resulting Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (in 1919 merged from the Ukrainian People's Republic and West Ukrainian People's Republic) was quickly subsumed in the Soviet Union. Apart from Ukraine proper (Little Russia), the Soviet republic also comprised a vast Russophone area formerly known as New Russia. Galicia, South Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, and Carpathian Ruthenia were added as a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the Second World War. The Soviet famine of 1932–33 or Holodomor killed an estimated 6 to 8 million people in the Soviet Union, the majority of them in the Ukraine.[1]

Nazi Germany with its allies invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Many Ukrainians initially regarded the Wehrmacht soldiers as liberators from Soviet rule, while others formed a partisan movement. Some elements of the Ukrainian nationalist underground formed a Ukrainian Insurgent Army that fought both Soviet and Nazi forces. The Crimean Oblast was transferred from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent state, formalised with a referendum on December 1. With the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, Ukraine now became an area of overlapping spheres of incluence of the European Union and the Russian Federation. This manifested in a political split between the "pro-Russian" Eastern Ukraine, and the "pro-European" Western Ukraine, leading to an ongoing period of political turmoil, beginning with the "Orange Revolution" of 2004, and culminating in 2014 with the "Euromaidan" uprising and the Crimean Crisis, in which the Autonomous Republic of Crimea voted to detach itself from the Ukraine and seek accession to the Russian Federation.

The 19th century[edit]

Further information: Early modern history of Ukraine
The Novorossiysk Governorate ("New Russia") was established in 1764, and split in 1802 into the Nikolayev Governorate (known as the Kherson Governorate from 1803), Yekaterinoslav Governorate, and the Taurida Governorate (Crimea).

While right-bank Ukraine belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until late 1793, left-bank Ukraine had been incorporated into Tsardom of Russia in 1667 (under the Treaty of Andrusovo). In 1672, Podolia was occupied by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, while Kiev and Braclav came under the control of Hetman Petro Doroshenko until 1681, when they were also captured by the Turks but in 1699 the Treaty of Karlowitz returned those lands to the Commonwealth.

Most of Ukraine fell to the Russian Empire under the reign of Catherine the Great; in 1793 right-bank Ukraine was annexed by Russia in the Second Partition of Poland.[2] The Little Russia Governorate was formed in 1796 from the Kiev and Chernigov viceroyalties, but they were again split into separate governorates in 1802. Right-bank Ukraine was united in the Kiev Governorate in 1796. The Russian Empire gradually gained control over the area by peace treaties with Cossack Hetmanate and the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1735–39, 1768–74, 1787–92. The newly gained Russian territories were incorporated as the Novorossiysk Governorate in 1764 (corresponding roughly to what is now know as Southern Ukraine, except for Bessarabia, which remained under Ottoman control until 1812). The colonization of the land at the end of 18th century was led by Prince Grigori Potemkin who was granted the powers of an absolute ruler over the area by the empress. The lands were generously given to the nobility and the unfree peasantry were transferred to cultivate what was a sparsely populated steppe. Catherine the Great also invited European settlers to these newly conquered lands: Poles, Germans (Black Sea Germans, Crimea Germans, Volga Germans), Swiss, and others.

Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples existing under other imperial governments. Russia, fearing separatism, imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate the Ukrainian language and culture, even banning its use and study. The Russophile policies of Russification and Panslavism led to an exodus of a number some Ukrainian intellectuals into Western Ukraine, while others empbraced a Pan-Slavic or Russian identity, with many Russian authors or composers of the 19th century being of Ukrainian origin (notably Nikolai Gogol and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky).

A railway station of Fastiv before 1917, in Russian Empire.

In the Austrian Empire most of the elite that ruled Galicia were of Austrian or Polish descent, with the Ruthenians mostly representing the peasantry. During the 19th century, Russophilia was a common occurrence among the Slavic population, but the mass exodus of Ukrainian intellectuals escaping from Russian repression in Eastern Ukraine, as well as the intervention of Austrian authorities, caused the movement to be replaced by Ukrainophilia, which would then cross-over into the Russian Empire.

First World War, the revolutions and aftermath[edit]

Leonid Perfetsky picture showing a conflict between the soldiers of Ukrainian Galician Army and Volunteer Army in the streets of Kiev during their joint operation against the Bolsheviks, under the command of General Denikin, Aug 1919.[3]

When World War I and series of revolutions across Europe, including the October Revolution in Russia, shattered many existing empires such as the Austrian and Russian ones, people of Ukraine were caught in the middle. Between 1917 and 1919, several separate Ukrainian republics manifested independence, the anarchist Free Territory, the Ukrainian People's Republic, the West Ukrainian People's Republic, and numerous Bolshevik revkoms.

As the area of Ukraine fell into warfare and anarchy, it was also fought over by German and Austrian forces, the Red Army of Bolshevik Russia, the White Forces of General Denikin, the Polish Army, anarchists led by Nestor Makhno. Kiev itself was occupied by many different armies. The city was captured by the Bolsheviks on 9 February 1918, by the Germans on 2 March 1918, by the Bolsheviks a second time on 5 February 1919, by the White Army on 31 August 1919, by Bolsheviks for a third time on 15 December 1919, by the Polish Army on 6 May 1920, and finally by the Bolsheviks for the fourth time on 12 June 1920.

The defeat in the Polish-Ukrainian War and then the failure of the Piłsudski's and Petliura's Warsaw agreement of 1920 to oust the Bolsheviks during the Kiev Operation led almost to the occupation of Poland itself. In course of the new Polish-Soviet War purpose of which changed from the 1920 led to the signing of the Peace of Riga in March 1921, and after which the part of Ukraine west of Zbruch had been incorporated into Poland, and the east became part of the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Interbellum[edit]

Soviet Ukraine[edit]

The Ukrainianization program aimed at fostering Ukrainian ethnic identity among the population of Ukraine. This 1921 recruitment poster uses Ukrainian orthography to convey its message, "Son, join the school of Red commanders, and the defense of the Soviet Ukraine will be ensured".
"Together Forever", a 1954 Soviet poster marking the 300-year anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav. The text on the poster reads "Eternally tying its fate with the brotherly Russian people, the Ukrainian people saved themselves from foreign enslavement, allowing the possibility of their national development."

The Ukrainian national idea lived on during the inter-war years and was even spread to a large territory with traditionally mixed population in the east and south that became part of the Ukrainian Soviet republic. The Ukrainian culture even enjoyed a revival due to Bolshevik concessions in the early Soviet years (until early-1930s) known as the policy of Korenization ("indigenisation"). In these years, an impressive Ukrainization program was implemented throughout the republic.

The rapidly developed Ukrainian language based education system dramatically raised the literacy of the Ukrainophone rural population. Simultaneously, the newly-literate ethnic Ukrainians migrated to the cities, which became rapidly largely Ukrainianised—in both population and in education. Similarly expansive was an increase in Ukrainian language publishing and overall eruption of Ukrainian cultural life.

At the same time, the usage of Ukrainian was continuously encouraged in the workplace and in the government affairs as the recruitment of indigenous cadre was implemented as part of the korenisation policies. While initially, the party and government apparatus was mostly Russian-speaking, by the end of the 1920s the ethnic Ukrainians composed over one half of the membership in the Ukrainian communist party, the number strengthened by accession of Borotbists, a formerly indigenously Ukrainian "independentist" and non-Bolshevik communist party.

Despite the ongoing Soviet Union-wide antireligious campaign, the Ukrainian national Orthodox church was created called the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). The Bolshevik government initially saw the national church as a tool in their goal to suppress the Russian Orthodox Church always viewed with the great suspicion by the regime for its being the cornerstone of pre-revolutionary Russian Empire and the initially strong opposition it took towards the regime change. Therefore, the government tolerated the new Ukrainian national church for some time and the UAOC gained a wide following among the Ukrainian peasantry.

A 1934 photo of the DnieproGES hydropower plant, a heavyweight of Soviet industrialization in Ukraine.

The change in the Soviet economic policies towards the fast-pace industrialisation was marked by the 1928 introduction of Joseph Stalin's first piatiletka (a five-year plan). The industrialisation brought about a dramatic economic and social transformation in traditionally agricultural Ukraine. In the first piatiletkas the industrial output of Ukraine quadrupled as the republic underwent a record industrial development. The massive influx of the rural population to the industrial centres increased the urban population from 19% to 34%.

Soviet collectivisation[edit]

However, the industrialisation had a heavy cost for the peasantry, demographically a backbone of the Ukrainian nation. To satisfy the state's need for increased food supplies and finance industrialisation, Stalin instituted a program of collectivisation of agriculture, which profoundly affected Ukraine, often referred to as the "breadbasket of the USSR". In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the state combined the peasants' lands and animals into collective farms. Starting in 1929, a policy of enforcement was applied, using regular troops and secret police to confiscate lands and materials where necessary.

Many resisted, and a desperate struggle by the peasantry against the authorities ensued. Some slaughtered their livestock rather than turn it over to the collectives. Wealthier peasants were labeled "kulaks", enemies of the state. Tens of thousands were executed and about 100,000 families were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan.

Forced collectivisation had a devastating effect on agricultural productivity. Despite this, in 1932 the Soviet government increased Ukraine's production quotas by 44%, ensuring that they could not be met. Soviet law required that the members of a collective farm would receive no grain until government quotas were satisfied. The authorities in many instances exacted such high levels of procurement from collective farms that starvation became widespread.

Passers-by no longer pay attention to the corpses of starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933.

The Soviet famine of 1932–33, called Holodomor in Ukrainian, claimed up to 10 million Ukrainian lives as peasants' food stocks were forcibly removed by Stalin's regime by the NKVD secret police.[4] As elsewhere, the precise number of deaths by starvation in Ukraine may never be precisely known. That said, the most recent demographic studies suggest that over 4 million Ukrainians perished in the first six months of 1933 alone, a figure that increases if population losses from 1931, 1932 and 1934 are also included, along with those from adjacent territories inhabited primarily by Ukrainians (but politically part of the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic).

The Soviet Union suppressed information about this genocide, and as late as the 1980s admitted only that there was some hardship because of kulak sabotage and bad weather. Today, its existence is accepted.[by whom?] Non-Soviets maintain that the famine was an avoidable, deliberate act of genocide.

The times of industrialisation and collectivisation also brought about a wide campaign against "nationalist deviation" which in Ukraine translated into an assault on the national political and cultural elite. The first wave of purges between 1929 and 1934 targeted the revolutionary generation of the party that in Ukraine included many supporters of Ukrainization. The next 1936–1938 wave of political purges eliminated much of the new political generation that replaced those that perished in the first wave and halved the membership of the Ukrainian communist party.[5]

The purged Ukrainian political leadership was largely replaced by the cadre sent from Russia that was also largely "rotated" by Stalin's purges. As the policies of Ukrainisation were halted (1931) and replaced by massive Russification approximately four-fifths of the Ukrainian cultural elite, intellectuals, writers, artists and clergy, had been "eliminated", executed or imprisoned, in the following decade.[5] Mass arrests of the hierarchy and clergy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church culminated in the liquidation of the church in 1930.

Galicia and Volhynia under Polish rule[edit]

The breaking of the siege of Lviv by Poles (November 1919) and the Polish border at the Zbruch River by the wars end, with eastern Galicia (shown in blue) under the Polish control.

Following the end of World War I, the eastern part of the former Austrian province of Galicia, as well as Volhynia, which had belonged to the Russian Empire, became the area of a Polish-Ukrainian War. The Ukrainians claimed these lands because they made up the majority of population there (except for cities, such as Lviv), while the Poles saw these provinces as Eastern Borderlands, a historical part of their country. The war was won by the Poles, and their rule over these disputed lands was cemented after another Polish victory, in the Polish-Soviet War. While some Ukrainians supported Poland, their hopes for independence or autonomy were quickly dashed.

In the interbellum period, eastern Galicia was divided into three administrative unitsLwów Voivodeship, Stanisławów Voivodeship, and Tarnopol Voivodeship, while in Volhynia, Wołyń Voivodeship was created. The Ukrainian majority of these lands was often treated as second class citizens by the Polish authorities. The conflict escalated in the 1930s, with terrorist actions [6] of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists resulting in increasingly heavy-handed actions by the Polish government. The tensions were further exacerbated by arrival of thousands of osadniks, or Polish settlers, who were granted land, especially in Volhynia. Henryk Józewski advocated a self-governance autonomy for Ukrainians in Volhynia 1928-1938.[7]

Polish rule over the provinces ended in September 1939, following Nazi and Soviet attack. After Battle of Lviv, units of the Red Army entered regional capital, Lviv, and following the staged Elections to the People's Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus, both eastern Galicia and Volhynia were annexed by the Soviet Union.

A few days after the Germans invaded Poland, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin told an aide his long-term goal was the spread of Communism in Eastern Europe:

"Now [Poland] is a fascist state, oppressing the Ukrainians, Belorussians and so forth. The annihilation of that state under current conditions would mean one fewer bourgeois fascist state to contend with! What would be the harm if as a result of the rout off Poland we were to extend the socialist system onto new territories and populations."[8]

Historian Geoffrey Roberts notes that the comments marked a change from the previous "popular front" policy of Communist Party cooperation with other parties. He adds, "Stalin's immediate purpose was to present an ideological rationale for the Red Army's forthcoming invasion of Poland" and his main message was the need to avoid a revolutionary civil war.[9] Historian Timothy D. Snyder suggests that, "Stalin may have reasoned that returning Galicia and Volhynia to Soviet Ukraine would help co-opt Ukrainian nationalism. Stalin perhaps saw a way to give both Ukrainians and Poles something they wanted, while binding them to the USSR."[10]

World War II[edit]

Ukrainian SSR in 1940, after the Soviet invasions of Poland and Romania and before the German invasion of Soviet Union.

Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, in September 1939, German and Soviet troops divided the territory of Poland, including Galicia with its Ukrainian population. Next, after France surrendered to Germany, Romania ceded Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to Soviet demands. The Ukrainian SSR incorporated northern and southern districts of Bessarabia, the northern Bukovina, and additionally the Soviet-occupied Hertsa region, but ceded the western part of the Moldavian ASSR to the newly created Moldavian SSR. All these territorial gains were internationally recognized by the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947.

When Nazi Germany with its allies invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, many Ukrainians and Polish people, particularly in the west where they had experienced two years of harsh Soviet rule, initially regarded the Wehrmacht soldiers as liberators. Retreating Soviets murdered thousands of prisoners. Some Ukrainian activist of the national movement hoped for a momentum to establish an independent state of Ukraine. German policies initially gave some encouragement to such hopes through the vague promises of sovereign 'Greater Ukraine' as the Germans were trying to take advantage of anti-Soviet, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Polish, and anti-Jewish sentiments.[11] A local Ukrainian auxiliary police was formed as well as Ukrainian SS division, 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Galicia (1st Ukrainian). However, after the initial period of a limited tolerance, the German policies soon abruptly changed and the Ukrainian national movement was brutally crushed.

Some Ukrainians, however, utterly resisted the Nazi onslaught from its start and a partisan movement immediately[citation needed] spread over the occupied territory. Some elements of the Ukrainian nationalist underground formed a Ukrainian Insurgent Army that fought both Soviet and Nazi forces. In some western regions of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army survived underground and continued the resistance against the Soviet authorities well into the 1950s, though many Ukrainian civilians were murdered in this conflict by both sides.

Burned out buildings in Kiev during the Second World War.

The Nazi administrators of conquered Soviet territories made little attempt to exploit the population's possible dissatisfaction with Soviet political and economic policies. Instead, the Nazis preserved the collective-farm system, systematically carried out genocidal policies against Jews, and deported many Ukrainians to forced labour in Germany. In their active resistance to Nazi Germany, the Ukrainians comprised a significant share of the Red Army and its leadership as well as the underground and resistance movements. Total civilian losses during the War and German occupation in Ukraine are estimated at seven million, including over a million Jews shot and killed by the Einsatzgruppen.

Many civilians fell victim to atrocities, forced labor, and even massacres of whole villages in reprisal for attacks against Nazi forces. Of the estimated eleven million Soviet troops who fell in battle against the Nazis, about 16% (1.7 million) were ethnic Ukrainians. Moreover, Ukraine saw some of the biggest battles of the war starting with the encirclement of Kiev (the city itself fell to the Germans on 19 September 1941 and was later acclaimed as a Hero City) where more than 660,000 Russian troops were taken captive, to the fierce defence of Odessa, and on to the victorious storming across the Dnieper river. According to the researcher Rolf Michaelis who is referring to the SS-Hauptamt's document No. 8699/42, the Police Battalion "Ostland" (Field Post Number 47769) resided in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine in 1941-1942, and was one of the main executioners of the Jews. The Police Battalion "Ostland" was an Ordnungspolizei unit that served in World War II under the command of the Schutzstaffel. The battalion established in October 1941 carried out punitive duties.[12]

On June 28, 1941 the town of Rivne (Równe) was captured by Nazi Germany, which later established the city as the administrative centre of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. In July 1941 the 1st company of the Police Battalion "Ostland" was in Frankfurt, the rest of the battalion was in Rivne. In October 1941 the battalion was sent to Lviv (Lwów). At the time, roughly half of Równe's inhabitants were Jewish. About 23,000 of these people were taken to a pine grove in Sosenki and slaughtered by the 1st company of the Police Battalion "Ostland" between the November 6, and 8, 1941 (1st company). A ghetto was established for the remaining ca 5,000 Jews.[13][14][15] As reported on May 11, 1942, ca 1,000 Jews were executed in Minsk.[13][16]

On July 13–14, 1942, the remaining population of the Równe ghetto - about 5,000 Jews - was sent by train some 70 kilometres north to Kostopil (Kostopol) where they were murdered by the 1st company of the Police Battalion "Ostland" in a quarry near woods outside the town. The Równe ghetto was subsequently liquidated.[13][14][15] As reported on July 14, 1942: The battalion or elements of it provided security along with the Ukrainische Hilfspolizei for a transport of the Jews from the Riga Ghetto to the Riga Central Station using the wagons (1st company). July 15, 1942 another thousand Jews were executed in the same place.[13][16] As reported on June 27, 1942, ca 8,000 Jews were executed near the town of Słonim.[16][17] As reported on July 28, 1942, ca 6,000 Jews were executed in Minsk.[13][16][18]

In November 1942 the Police Battalion Ostland together with an artillery regiment, and three other German Ordnungspolizei battalions under the command of Befehlshaber der Ordnungspolizei im Reichskommissariat Ukraine and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei Otto von Oelhafen, took part in a joint anti-partisan operation near Ovruch (Owrucz) with over 50 villages burnt down and over 1,500 people executed. In a village 40 people were burnt alive for revenge for the killing of the SS-Untersturmführer Türnpu(u).[16] In February 1943 the battalion was sent to Reval, Estland with Polizei Füsilier Bataillon 293. By March 31, 1943, the Estnische Legion had 37 officers, 175 noncoms and 62 privates of the Police Battalion "Ostland".[15][19]

Kiev was recaptured by the Soviet Red Army on 6 November 1943.

During a period of March 1943 to the end of 1944 Ukrainian Insurgent Army committed several massacres on Polish civilian population in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia having every signs of genocide (Massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia). The death toll numbered up to 100 000, mostly children and women.[20][21][22]

Post-war (1945-91)[edit]

Further information: Operation Vistula
Central Kharkiv during the 1980s.

After World War II some amendments to the Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR were accepted, which allowed it to act as a separate subject of international law in some cases and to a certain extent, remaining a part of the Soviet Union at the same time. In particular, these amendments allowed the Ukrainian SSR to become one of founding members of the United Nations (UN) together with the Soviet Union and the Byelorussian SSR. This was part of a deal with the United States to ensure a degree of balance in the General Assembly, which, the USSR opined, was unbalanced in favor of the Western Bloc. In its capacity as a member of the UN, the Ukrainian SSR was an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 1948–1949 and 1984–1985.

Over the next decades, the Ukrainian republic not only surpassed pre-war levels of industry and production but also was the spearhead of Soviet power. Ukraine became the centre of Soviet arms industry and high-tech research. The republic was also turned into a Soviet military outpost in the cold war, a territory crowded by military bases packed with the most up-to-date weapons systems.

Such an important role resulted in a major influence of the local elite. Many members of the Soviet leadership came from Ukraine, most notably Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev a Soviet leader from 1964 to 1982, as well as many prominent Soviet sportsmen, scientists and artists. In 1954, the Russian-populated oblast of Crimea was transferred from the Russian to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic.

However, the relatively underdeveloped industrial branches such as coal- and iron ore mining, metallurgy, chemical and energy industry dominated the republic's economy. Once a Cossack steppe, the southern oblasts of Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia were turned into a highly industrialised area with rapidly increasing impact on its environment and public health. A pursuit to energy production sufficient for growing industry led to the gigantic nature-remastering: turning the Dnieper River into a regulated system of large reservoirs.

The products of the rapidly developed high-tech industry in Ukraine were largely directed for military consumption, similarly to much of the Soviet economy, and the supply and quality of consumer goods remained low compared even to the neighboring countries of the Eastern bloc. A state-regulated system of production and consumption lead to gradual decrease of quality of life and growing "shadowisation" of retail infrastructure as well as of corruption.

The town of Pripyat, Ukraine was the site of the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986 when a nuclear plant exploded. The fallout contaminated large areas of northern Ukraine and even parts of Belarus. This spurred on a local independence movement called the Rukh that helped expedite the break-up of the Soviet Union during the late 1980s.

Independent Ukraine (1991 to present)[edit]

Kravchuk and Kuchma rule (1991–2004)[edit]

On January 21, 1990, over 300,000 Ukrainians[23] organised a human chain for Ukrainian independence between Kiev and Lviv, in memory of the 1919 unification of the Ukrainian People's Republic and the West Ukrainian National Republic. Citizens came out to the streets and highways, forming live chains by holding hands in support of unity.

Ukraine officially declared itself an independent state on August 24, 1991, when the communist Supreme Soviet (parliament) of Ukraine proclaimed that Ukraine will no longer follow the laws of USSR and only the laws of the Ukrainian SSR, de facto declaring Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union. On December 1, Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum formalising independence from the Soviet Union. Over 90% of Ukrainian citizens voted for independence, with majorities in every region, including 56% in Crimea, which had a 75% ethnic Russian population. The Soviet Union formally ceased to exist on December 26, when the presidents of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (the founding members of the USSR) met in Belovezh Pushcha to formally dissolve the Union in accordance with the Soviet Constitution. And with this Ukraine's independence was formalized de jure and recognised by the international community.

Poland and Canada were the first countries to recognize Ukraine's independence (both) on 2 December 1991.[24]

The history of Ukraine between 1991 and 2004 was marked by the presidencies of Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma. This was a time of transition for Ukraine. While it had attained nominal independence from Russia, its presidents maintained close ties with their neighbours.

On June 1, 1996, Ukraine became a non-nuclear nation when it sent the last of its 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads it had inherited from the Soviet Union to Russia for dismantling.;[25] Ukraine had committed to this by signing the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in January 1994.[26]

The country adopted its constitution on June 28, 1996.

The Cassette Scandal of 2000 was one of the turning points in post-independence history of the country.

Orange Revolution (2004)[edit]

Protesters at Independence Square on the first day of the Orange Revolution.
Main article: Orange Revolution

In 2004, Leonid Kuchma announced that he would not run for re-election. Two major candidates emerged in the 2004 presidential election. Viktor Yanukovych, the incumbent Prime Minister, supported by both Kuchma and by the Russian Federation, wanted closer ties with Russia. The main opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, called for Ukraine to turn its attention westward and eventually join the EU.

In the runoff election, Yanukovych officially won by a narrow margin, but Yushchenko and his supporters cried foul, alleging that vote rigging and intimidation cost him many votes, especially in eastern Ukraine. A political crisis erupted after the opposition started massive street protests in Kiev and other cities, and the Supreme Court of Ukraine ordered the election results null and void. A second runoff found Viktor Yushchenko the winner. Five days later, Viktor Yanukovych resigned from office and his cabinet was dismissed on January 5, 2005.

Yushchenko rule[edit]

In March 2006, the Verkhovna Rada elections took place and three months later the official government was formed by the "Anti-Crisis Coalition" among the Party of Regions, Communist, and Socialist parties. The latter party switched from the "Orange Coalition" with Our Ukraine, and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. The new coalition nominated Viktor Yanukovych for the post of Prime Minister. Yanukovych once again became Prime Minister, while the leader of the Socialist Party, Oleksander Moroz, managed to secure the position of chairman of parliament, which is believed by many to have been the reason for his leaving the Orange Coalition, where he had not been considered for this position.

On April 2, 2007, President Yushchenko dissolved the Verkhovna Rada because members of his party were defecting to the opposition.[27] His opponents called the move unconstitutional. When they took the matter to the Constitutional Court, Yushchenko dismissed 3 of the court's 18 judges, accusing them of corruption.

During the Yushchenko term, relations between Russia and Ukraine often appeared strained as Yushchenko looked towards improved relations with the European Union and less toward Russia. In 2005, a highly publicized dispute over natural gas prices took place, involving Russian state-owned gas supplier Gazprom, and indirectly involving many European countries which depend on natural gas supplied by Russia through the Ukrainian pipeline. A compromise was reached in January 2006, and in early 2010 a further agreement was signed locking the price of Russian gas at $100 per 1,000 cubic meters in an exclusive arrangement.

By the time of the presidential election of 2010, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko — allies during the Orange Revolution — had become bitter enemies. Tymoshenko ran for president against both Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, creating a three-way race. Yushchenko, whose popularity had plummeted, refused to close ranks and support Tymoshenko, thus dividing the anti-Yanukovych vote. Many pro-Orange voters stayed home.[28] Yanukovych received 48% of the vote and Yushchenko less than 6%, an amount which, if thrown to Tymoshenko, who received 45%, would have prevented Yanukovych from gaining the presidency; since no candidate obtained an absolute majority in the first round of voting the two highest polling candidates contested in a run-off second ballot which Yanukovych won.

Yanukovych rule[edit]

Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on 17 May 2010 near Memorial to the Holodomor Victims in Kiev.

During Yanukovych's term he has been accused of tightening of press restrictions and a renewed effort in the parliament to limit freedom of assembly. When young, Yanukovych was sentenced to 3 years because of theft, looting and vandalism and later had his sentenced doubled.[29][30][31][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40] One frequently-cited example of Yankukovych's alleged attempts to centralize power is the August 2011 arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko.[41][42] Other high-profile political opponents also came under criminal investigation since.[43][44][45][46] On 11 October 2011, a Ukrainian court sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison after she was found guilty of abuse of office when brokering the 2009 gas deal with Russia.[47] The conviction is seen as "justice being applied selectively under political motivation" by the European Union and other international organizations.[48]

In November 2013, President Yanukovych did not sign the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement and instead pursued closer ties with Russia.[49][50] This move sparked protests on the streets of Kiev. Protesters set up camps in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square),[51] and in December2013 and January 2014 protesters started taking over various government buildings, first in Kiev and, later, in Western Ukraine.[52] Battles between protesters and police resulted in about 80 deaths in February 2014.[53][54]

Following the violence, the Parliament turned against Yanukovych and on February 22 voted to remove him from power, and to free Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. The same day Yanukovych supporter Volodymyr Rybak resigned as speaker of the Parliament, and was replaced by Tymoshenko loyalist Oleksandr Turchynov, who was subsequently installed as interim President.[55] Yanukovych fled Kiev.

Transitional government (2014)[edit]

Civil unrest broke out in Kiev as part of Ukraine's Euromaidan protest movement against the government.[56] The conflict escalated rapidly, leading to the downfall of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and the setting up of a new government to replace it within a few days.[57] Yanukovych fled to Russia and is wanted in Ukraine for the killing of protesters.[58][59] The conflict continued with the Crimean crisis when Russian forces seized control of the Crimea region.[60]

The legitimacy of the new government, and the status of the ouster as a "revolution," remains ambiguous internationally, with major powers India and China refusing to recognize the interim government. Russia in particular holds that the transition was a "coup".[61][62][63]

References[edit]

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