Inside the Ukraine

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Most of us have been hearing bits about the conflict in Ukraine for months, but at least for me, it still seems kind of sudden. The conflict didn’t come from out of the blue though, for years and years the Ukraine has been dealing with a tense political situation that has been snowballing into the current unrest. Its all very complicated, but in this article, we’re going to break it down to the basics (or at least as basic as this mess can get).

A photo of the beautiful Ukrainian coast line.

Okay, so while we should be going WAY back (I’m talking hundreds of years) to the very beginning of this story, we’re actually going to start in November 2013 (yep, right around last Thanksgiving). That’s when Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, announced that the government was abandoning a potential agreement that would bring the Ukraine closer with the European Union. Yanukovych explained that the Ukraine was now seeking closer ties with Russia. Angry protests sprang up across the country. Violence didn’t begin until February though, when protestors became frustrated that their government was still seeking closer ties with Russia. President Yanukovych began to throw protestors by the hundreds into jail, and the government harassed and tortured many more activists. On February 22nd President Yanukovych fled the country when government troops killed 82 protestors in Kiev. The president escaped to Russia, while Ukrainian parliamentary leaders quickly took his place.

An anti-government protester holds a Ukranian flag as he walks through burning barricades in Kiev.

Okay, okay- so there’s a run down of what’s happened so far. But, we still don’t really know why this is all happening- why do the people want Ukraine to have closer ties with the European Union than Russia? Let’s take a closer look: You may have heard about Crimea, which is a province in the Ukraine, that has a big role in this conflict. Crimea has its own parliament, but has been part of Ukraine since the 1950s. After Ukraine declared independence from the communist Soviet Union, in 1991, Crimea was given certain rights, but not the right to secede from Ukraine. The people of Crimea however, consider themselves to be culturally different that the rest of the Ukraine, and hold many ties with Russia (the former Soviet Union). Crimea is just about the only province in the Ukraine that actually ‘likes’ Russia. Most Ukrainians feel very hostile towards Russia, and more culturally close with the rest of Europe. This is where a lot of the conflict in Ukraine is coming from. Right now, Russia is trying to gain control of Crimea (something they’ve been trying to do over and over again for hundreds of years). Crimea has a warm water sea port, which the Russians have wanted since like, forever. Pro Russian troops have been slowly taking control of Crimea since February, and not long after the people in Crimea also voted to succeed from the Ukraine. Many people have boycotted the poll, simply because the only two options on the ballot were for Crimea to join Russia or become more autonomous, there wasn’t a choice to just continue with the autonomy Crimea already had.

A map of the Ukraine, with the Crimea indicated in red
A map of the Ukraine, with the Crimea indicated in red.

After the conflict began in Crimea, the European Union and our very own U.S.A started to pay more attention. Their main worry was that with Russia coming in to take Crimea, the whole power balance in Eastern Europe, carefully mapped out after World War II and the Cold War, would fall into disarray. Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, and many more countries in Eastern Europe are now peaceful democracies, and the worry is that Vladimir Putin (the leader of Russia) is going to reverse all of that.The European Union and the United States fear that Putin may go into other nations (not just the Ukraine), and if so, full fledged war could break out.   Alright, so its pretty obvious that things in the Ukraine aren’t going too well. Recently, Russia’s parliament ratified a treaty to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation, despite serious threats from the European and American governments. Gulp. It all sounds like a scary page out of an old history textbook. Watch out for updates to this post as this conflict continues to develop!

Georgia Oldham is a senior at ARS, a third year Polaris Press veteran, and a pretty cool cat all around. Born to an aristocratic family in Saint Petersburg; Georgia was quickly smuggled out of Russia and brought to Austin, Texas to avoid numerous political schemes. Since then, she’s been wandering through museums, watching way too much PBS, doodling on just about everything, gobbling up all the chocolate in sight, and honing in on her storytelling skills. She hopes to one day return to Russia to claim her generous inheritance, where of course she will continue to work as a foreign correspondent for the Polaris Press.

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