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A prolonged crisis in Ukraine began on 21 November 2013 when the then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych suspended preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union. The decision sparked mass protests from proponents of the agreement. The protests, in turn, precipitated a revolution that led to Yanukovych's ousting in February 2014. After the ousting, unrest enveloped in some largely Russophone eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, from where Yanukovych had drawn most of his support. Subsequently, an ensuing political crisis developed after Russia invaded said regions (from February 2014) and annexed the then-autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014. As Russia's invasion emboldened the Russophone Ukrainians already in upheaval, the unrest in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts devolved into a subnational war (April 2014 onwards) against the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government. As that conflict progressed, the Russophone Ukrainian opposition turned into a pro-Russian insurgency, often supported and assisted by the Russian military and its special forces.
Euromaidan and revolution
Ukraine became gripped by unrest when President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union on 21 November 2013. An organised political movement known as 'Euromaidan' demanded closer ties with the European Union, and the ousting of Yanukovych. This movement was ultimately successful, culminating in the February 2014 revolution, which removed Yanukovych and his government.
Unrest in Western Ukraine
During 24 January 2014, various western Ukrainian cities such as Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernivtsi had protesters seize regional government buildings in protest of president Viktor Yanukovych. In Ivano-Frankivsk, nearly 1,500 protesters occupied the regional government building and barricaded themselves inside the building. The city of Chernivtsi saw crowds of protesters storm the governors office while police officers protected the building. Uzhgorod also had regional offices blockaded, and in the western city of Lviv barricades were being erected just after previously seizing the governor's office.
On 15 February 2014, the entrance to the local administration building in the western city of Lviv was said to be guarded by "young masked men", who wielded wooden clubs. The local governor at the time Oleh Salo, was ousted three weeks prior to the blockade of the administration building, he stated that he still couldn't gain access to the entrance as the building was sealed off by a "high barricade of rubber tires", and inside the lobby of the building was a statue draped with the flag of the European Union. During an interview with governor Oleh Salo in a borrowed room at the local cultural department, he addressed during the interview that he was not in his office when protesters stormed the building. He also received a panicked phone call on his personal phone from a local staff member in the administration building at the time, who screamed "Please save us. You have to do something to save us." the governor recalled.
2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine
Following flight of President Yanukovych on 23 February 2014, protests by pro-Russian and anti-revolution activists began in the largely Russophone region of Crimea. These were followed by demonstrations in cities across eastern and southern Ukraine, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Odessa.
Russian annexation of Crimea
Starting on 26 February 2014, pro-Russian armed men gradually began to take over the peninsula, provoking protests. Russia initially said that these uniformed militants, termed "little green men" in Ukraine, were "local self-defence forces". However, they later admitted that these were in fact Russian soldiers without insignias, confirming on-the-ground reports of a Russian incursion into Ukraine. By 27 February, the Crimean parliament building had been seized by Russian forces. Russian flags were raised over these buildings, and a self-declared pro-Russian government said that it would hold a referendum on independence from Ukraine. Following that internationally unrecognised referendum, which was held on 16 March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea on 18 March 2014.
War in Donbass
From the beginning of March 2014, demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, together commonly called the "Donbass", in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR respectively), and the Ukrainian government. Prior to a change of the top leadership in August 2014, the separatists were largely led by Russian citizens. Russian paramilitaries are reported to make up from 5% to 20% of the combatants.
Between 22 and 25 August 2014, Russian artillery, personnel, and what Russia called a "humanitarian convoy" were reported to have crossed the border into Ukrainian territory without the permission of the Ukrainian government. Reportedly, crossings occurred both in areas under the control of pro-Russian forces and areas that were not under their control, such as the south-eastern part of Donetsk Oblast, near Novoazovsk. These events followed the reported shelling of Ukrainian positions from the Russian side of the border over the course of the preceding month. Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said that the events of 22 August were a "direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine". Western and Ukrainian officials described these events as a "stealth invasion" of Ukraine by Russia. As a result, DPR and LPR insurgents regained much of the territory they had lost during the preceding government military on the offensive. On September 5, 2014, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol. Yet, violations of the ceasefire were common. Amidst the solidification of the line between insurgent and Ukrainian territory during the ceasefire, warlords took control of swathes of land on the insurgent side, leading to further destabilisation. The ceasefire completely collapsed in January 2015. Heavy fighting resumed across the conflict zone, including at Donetsk International Airport and Debaltseve. A new ceasefire agreement, called Minsk II, was signed on 12 February 2015.
Elections in Ukraine
Amidst the prolonged crisis, multiple elections were held across Ukraine. The first election held since the ousting of President Yanukovych was the 25 May presidential election, which resulted in the election of Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine. In the Donbass region, only 20% of polling stations were open due to threats of violence by pro-Russian separatist insurgents. Of the 2,430 planned polling stations in the region, only 426 remained open for polling.
As the war in Donbass continued, the first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in Ukraine were held on 26 October 2014. Once again, separatists stymied voting in the areas that they controlled. They held their own elections, internationally unrecognised and in violation of the Minsk Protocol peace process, on 2 November 2014.
Effects of the crisis
The crisis has had many effects, both domestic and international. According to an October 2014 estimate by the World Bank, the economy of Ukraine contracted by 8% during the year 2014 as a result of the crisis. Economic sanctions imposed on Russia by western nations contributed to the collapse in value of the Russian rouble, and the resulting Russian financial crisis.
The war in Donbass caused a coal shortage in Ukraine, as the Donbass region had been the chief source of coal for power stations across the country. Furthermore, Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Station was forced to close down one of its reactors after an accident. The combination of these two problems led to rolling blackouts across Ukraine during December 2014.
Additionally, due to the Ukrainian crisis, a construction of a new pipeline in Turkey with an annual capacity around 63 billion cubic metres (bcm) was proposed, so as to carry natural gas to Europe while completely bypassing Ukraine as a traditional transit hub for Russian gas.
Progress on implementing reforms in post-revolutionary Ukraine has been said to be slow. According to a BBC report in February 2016, Ukraine remained gripped by corruption, and little progress had been made in improving the economy. Low-level fighting continued in the Donbass. The report also said that there was talk of a "Third Maidan" to force the government to take action to remedy the crisis.
An IMF four-year loan program worth about $17.5 billion was agreed in eight tranches over 2015 and 2016, subject to conditions regarding economic reforms. Analysts disputed that the $17.5 billion represented a 'new' bailout, noting that the IMF's announcement amounted to making good on "old promises, rather than offering any new cash." However, due to lack of progress on reforms, only two tranches worth $6.7 billion were paid in 2015. A third tranche of $1.7 billion may be paid in June 2016 subject to the bringing into law of 19 further reform measures. In May 2016 the IMF mission chief for Ukraine stated that the reduction of corruption was a key test for continued international support.
Since about 2015 there has been a growing number of Ukrainians working in the European Union, particularly Poland. Eurostat reported that 662,000 Ukrainians received EU residence permits in 2017, with 585,439 being to Poland. The head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine has estimated that up to 9 million Ukrainians work abroad for some part of the year, and 3.2 million have regular full-time work abroad with most not planning to return. World Bank statistics show that money remittances back to Ukraine have roughly doubled from 2015 to 2018, worth about 4% of GDP.
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Doubts about the Kremlin's readiness to push pro-Russian militants to surrender their guns have been strengthened by its insistence that it has no hand in or control over the separatist unrest, which Washington and Kiev believe is the result of a covert Russian operation involving, in some places, the direct action of special forces.
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