Ukraine is a country located in eastern Europe with a population of approximately 44 million. Like many Eastern European countries, Ukraine was once a part of the Russian Empire and the USSR. Due to this, Russian influence still remains dominant in the region, especially in the East. The vast majority of Ukrainians speak Russian to this day, making the Russian language a sort of lingua franca in Eastern Europe/Eurasia. Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union and became a sovereign nation on August 24th, 1991. Since then, many territorial disputes have taken place in Ukraine, most notably disputes over land ownership in the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbass region.
In February 2014, a number of riots and protests took place in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, as part of the Ukrainian revolution, also known as the Euromaidan revolution. Protesters sought to have Ukraine made a member state of the European Union, as many Ukrainians felt that they must be distanced from political corruption in Russia. As tensions started rising, then-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych resigned, fled to Russia, and did not return. Yanukovych is currently seeking asylum in Russia, and is wanted by the Ukrainian government for committing the crime of high treason. In March 2014, pro-Russian forces seized the Crimean Peninsula and annexed the territory to the Russian Federation. This sparked an explosive reaction and debate across the globe. There have been pleas for countries to display more assertiveness when dealing with Russia and to pursue means of political and economic retaliation such as sanctions and embargoes among the chaos. Civilian casualties in Eastern Ukraine ear high and the conflict has become the bloodiest conflict in Eastern Europe since the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Russia has also made attempts to annex the Donbass region, which includes the provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Dnipropetrovsk.
While many believe that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are unjust and uncalled for, many others believe that the Ukrainian territory rightfully belongs to Russia and fight to defend their stance. The vast majority of those who openly side with Ukraine believe that including Ukraine as a member state of the European Union would be the best possible decision to make in the matter. The inclusion of Ukraine in the EU would mean that Ukraine could be more separate from Russia and avoid Russian influence. Because of this, most Ukrainian protesters and residents wish for Ukraine to join the European Union. On the opposing side, pro-Russians believe that Ukraine is traditional Russian territory, going back to the days of the Kievan Rus, and that Ukraine cannot survive as a sovereign nation. Many pro-Russians have accused the EU and the United States of attempting to steal land from former Soviet territories for personal gain. Some claim that if Russia did not invade and annex Crimea, Russia and Ukraine’s traditional ties would have been cut, which would cause damage to both countries. They also claim the Russians are trying to support what they believe to be an oppressed Russian minority in Ukraine. The vast majority of these claims come from Russia and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.
Crimea and the Donbas are areas rich in natural resources, including coal, oil, and gas. Some have suspected that Russia wants to claim these areas as their own in order to have better access to these resources for their own gain. Regardless of opinions, the conflict in Ukraine has nevertheless proven to be deadly and tumultuous.
The post-Soviet bloc is a diverse region which frequently experiences conflict due to political and economic differences and ethnic tensions. This has been demonstrated time and time again in the areas of Russia and Ukraine, with issues arising over years, decades and even centuries. In order to understand why war is happening in this territory, one must consider the fact that this region is historically problem-ridden, having been through war, dictatorship, uprisings and revolts, genocide, imperialism, and other issues.
The conflict in Ukraine is one that cannot be easily solved, which is why we must work together to find a way of dealing with the crisis. Hopefully, with enough thought, consideration, and compromise, the war in Ukraine can be resolved peacefully.
By Mariya Nokhrina