Ukrainian Crisis: Where it all Started

Megan R.

Staff Writer

While the world was focused on the Sochi Olympics, the Ukraine was attempting to extinguish a rebellion. A few months earlier, civil unrest began to surface. Russia encouraged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to break up the uprising. Meanwhile, European countries urged him to allow democracy to take hold. Less than a week after the Olympics, Russia began threatening to invade Sevastopol, Ukraine, bringing the Ukrainian crisis to universal attention.

In early November two European Union (EU) representatives came to Ukraine in hopes of seeing a bill passed to free the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. She was arrested in 2011 by Yanukovich, supposedly for political purposes. The European Union had extended a trade agreement to the Ukraine nearly four years ago; at a conference on November 28th of this year this trade agreement would have been signed. The representatives visited the Ukraine in order to make sure that the country qualified to be part of the Eastern Partnership. The imprisonment of Tymoshenko seemed to be the only thing holding the Ukraine back from the EU’s approval.

The signing of these accords would have been a huge step in the European direction for the Ukraine. Since 1991 it seems that this was the goal. However, Russia has used political and economic threats to prevent the Ukraine from westernizing. Russia has successfully used these same tactics against Moldova and Armenia. When Mykola Azarov, the Ukranian Prime Minister, announced that Russian relations were the top priority, the people began to worry. With less than a week until the Eastern Partnership conference, it was evident that the president had no intention of signing the accords. The country went into an uproar. According to the New York Times, Tymoshenko released a statement from jail urging people “to react to this as they would to a coup d’état” and take to the streets. Clearly they followed her advice. Two days later thousands of people began protesting in the country’s capital of Kiev, demanding the resignation of Yanukovich. One protestor stated, “It’s a sign that Ukraine can lose its statehood; it can lose its independence. And if we lose our independence, we lose everything.” The demonstrators planned to continue until Friday, the same day the accords would have been signed.

ukraine pic 2By December, protests had not only continued but become more severe. Up until this point police were merely bystanders ensuring that nothing got out of hand. Now they battled protestors in the streets. Although only in small amounts, violence was beginning to erupt in the Kiev. Yet, Yanukovich insisted that he would make no concessions to the people. Within the month he began pushing for anti-protest legislation. At this point, the European Union revoked their trade offer.

On January 22, opposition gave the Ukrainian government a 24-hour ultimatum asking to have early elections. If the government refused this plea, protests would become more violent. The president once again refused to listen to his people. Fighting broke out all over Kiev. Two protestors were killed and seventy arrested. Demonstrators, volunteer medics, and journalists were beaten in the streets. Protestors occupied at least two government buildings, including the Ukraine House.

After three months of protests, President Yanukovich finally decided to negotiate with his people. He offered to give opposition leaders top positions in the government, a power share. However, it seems Yanukovich was too little too late. Mr. Yatsenyuk, a major leader in the opposition, stated that protestors would finish what they started. “The people decide our leaders, not you.” Shortly after, the Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned from office in hopes of a peaceful resolution to the fighting. There were mixed emotions about this. Within a few weeks, the president was forcefully removed from power, and the Ukrainian government was overthrown. Yanukovich sought refuge in Russia.

While the Ukrainian rebellion gained momentum, Russia began arranging its troops outside of the Republic of Crimea, which holds several Russian naval bases. Putin held several telephone conferences with European officials, promising that he would allow the Ukrainian people to hold new presidential elections in May. However, on February 28th, troops finally invaded Crimea, positioning themselves around two airports. Just several days later Ukraine prepared some of their troops, threatening war if the Russians moved further in. “It’s always concerning when a country takes anything by force. As Americans we are numb to this kind of thing, even though it has happened in our history many times,” said Mr. Andy Hall, literature teacher. America has been in similar situations before, either fighting for independence against Great Britain or colonizing Caribbean Islands.

In March, Crimean officials declared that a referendum would be held March 16th to determine if Crimea would join Russia or stay in the Ukraine. Sergei Shuvainikov, one of the officials, stated, “This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev. We will decide our future ourselves.” Needless to say this created uproar between the two countries and a debate all over the world. The United Nations, who had been focused on the Ukrainian Crisis for some time, held a Security Council meeting to find a resolution. One day before the referendum, the Security Council voted on a resolution that declared the referendum illegal. Russia, one of the six permanent members of the Security Council, vetoed this resolution.

On March 17th, Crimea officially applied to join Russia and secede from the Ukraine. However, this crisis seems nowhere near over. Both the United States and the European Union have enforced financial sanctions on major proponents of Crimea’s succession. At this point it is still unclear where this conflict is headed next, but it is certainly something to watch.

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