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Located in southeast Europe, the country consists largely of fertile black soil steppes. Mountainous areas
include the Carpathians in the southwest and the Crimean chain in the south. Ukraine is bordered by
Belarus on the north, by Russia on the north and east, by the Black Sea on the south, by Moldova and
Romania on the southwest, and by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on the west.
Ukraine was known as “Kievan Rus” (from which Russia is a derivative) up until the 16th century. In the
9th century, Kiev was the major political and cultural center in eastern Europe. Kievan Rus reached the
height of its power in the 10th century and adopted Byzantine Christianity. The Mongol conquest in 1240
ended Kievan power. From the 13th to the 16th century, Kiev was under the influence of Poland and
Western Europe. The negotiation of the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596 divided the Ukrainians into
Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic faithful. In 1654, Ukraine asked the czar of Moscovy for protection
against Poland, and the Treaty of Pereyasav signed that year recognized the suzerainty of Moscow. The
agreement was interpreted by Moscow as an invitation to take over Kiev, and the Ukrainian state was
eventually absorbed into the Russian Empire.
After the Russian Revolution, Ukraine declared its independence from Russia on Jan. 28, 1918, and
several years of warfare ensued with several groups. The Red Army finally was victorious over Kiev, and
in 1920 Ukraine became a Soviet republic. In 1922, Ukraine became one of the founders of the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics. In the 1930s, the Soviet government's enforcement of collectivization met with
peasant resistance, which in turn prompted the confiscation of grain from Ukrainian farmers by Soviet
authorities; the resulting famine took an estimated 5 million lives. Ukraine was one of the most devastated
Soviet republics after World War II. (For details on World War II, see Headline History, World War II.) On
April 26, 1986, the nation's nuclear power plant at Chernobyl was the site of the world's worst nuclear
accident. On Oct. 29, 1991, the Ukrainian parliament voted to shut down the reactor within two years' time
and asked for international assistance in dismantling it.
An Independent Nation
When President Leonid Kravchuk was elected by the Ukrainian parliament in 1990, he vowed to seek
Ukrainian sovereignty. Ukraine declared its independence on Aug. 24, 1991. In Dec. 1991, Ukrainian,
Russian, and Belorussian leaders cofounded a new Commonwealth of Independent States with the
capital to be situated in Minsk, Belarus. The new country's government was slow to reform the Soviet-era
state-run economy, which was plagued by declining production, rising inflation, and widespread
unemployment in the years following independence. The U.S. announced in Jan. 1994 that an agreement
had been reached with Russia and Ukraine for the destruction of Ukraine's entire nuclear arsenal. In Oct.
1994, Ukraine began a program of economic liberalization and moved to reestablish central authority over
Crimea. In 1995, Crimea's separatist leader was removed and the Crimean constitution revoked.
In June 1996, the last strategic nuclear warhead was removed to Russia. Also that month parliament
approved a new constitution that allowed for private ownership of land. An agreement was signed in May
1997 on the future of the Black Sea fleet, by which Ukrainian and Russian ships will share the port of
Sevastopol for 20 years.
A Struggling Economy and a Troubled Government
The Russian financial crisis in fall 1998 led to severe problems for the Ukrainian economy, which is
dependent on Russia for 40% of its foreign trade. Ukraine remains saddled with its Soviet-era economy,
and most of its major industries are still under state control. Corruption is rampant, and as a result,
Western investors have shown only minimal interest. The election of the reform-minded Viktor
Yushchenko as prime minister in Dec. 1999, however, was greeted with optimism by the West. He was
also highly popular among Ukrainians. But in April 2001, he was dismissed in a no-confidence vote
engineered by Communist hard-liners and Ukrainian big business.
Violent demonstrations rocked Ukraine in the winter of 2001, with protesters demanding the resignation
and impeachment of authoritarian president Leonid Kuchma. Critics accused Kuchma of involvement in
the murder of a journalist critical of government corruption. Kuchma was recorded on tape urging that the
journalist be disposed of.
In 2004, Kuchma announced he would be retiring. A presidential election pitted Viktor Yushchenko, the
former reformist prime minister, against Viktor Yanukovich, the current prime minister and Kuchma's
chosen successor. The campaign was an especially dirty one. Yushchenko was nearly fatally poisoned
with dioxin and had to be hospitalized for several weeks shortly before the election. His doctors predicted
that the poisoning will affect his health for years to come. In the Nov. 21 runoff election, Prime Minister
Yanukovich received 49.5% of the vote and Yushchenko 46.5%. International monitors declared the
elections massively fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko's supporters took to the streets of
the capital and other cities in protest, and what became known as the Orange Revolution (after
Yushchenko's signature campaign color) continued full strength over the next two weeks. On Dec. 3, the
supreme court invalidated the election results. On Dec. 8, parliament voted in favor of an overhaul of
Ukraine's political system, amending the constitution to reform election laws and transferring some
presidential powers to the parliament. In the final presidential runoff on Dec. 26, Yushchenko won 52% of
the vote to Yanukovich's 44.2%. On Jan. 23, 2005, Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in. Fellow reformist
Yulia Timoshenko became the prime minister. But within the year Yushchenko's reformist reputation was
tarnished by his administration's infighting and allegations of corruption. He fired Prime Minster
Timoshenko and her entire cabinet in Aug. 2005. The crisis shook the public's belief in the Orange
Revolution, and Yushchenko's continued inattentiveness to governmental corruption has further
disillusioned the public.

Gas Causes an Energy Crisis

Russia suddenly quadrupled the price of gas sold to Ukraine in Jan. 2006, triggering an energy crisis in
the country. Ukraine maintained that Russia, angry at Ukraine's growing pro-Western stance and its loss
of influence in the region, was attempting to damage its economy. Russia maintained that the rise in
prices was purely a commercial consideration. Russia briefly stemmed the flow of gas to Ukraine to force
the country to accept the higher prices, sending alarms throughout Europe—a quarter of Europe's gas
supplies come from Russia via Ukraine's pipelines. A compromise was eventually reached, with Ukraine
agreeing to pay about double its current price. Furious at the unfavorable terms of the deal, Ukraine's
parliament then sacked the government of prime minister Yuri Yekhanurov. The prime minister, however,
maintained the vote was nonbinding.
In parliamentary elections on March 26, 2006, Yushchenko's party fared badly, receiving only 14% of the
vote. His two major opponents did considerably better: Viktor Yanukovich, the former prime minister
whom Yushchenko had defeated in 2004, received the largest percentage, 32%, and Yulia Timoshenko,
the former prime minister whom Yushchenko had sacked earlier in 2005, won 32% of the vote. It took
until August before a strange ruling coalition was cobbled together: Yushchenko appointed his arch-rival
Viktor Yanukovich as prime minister—the very leader the Orange Revolution had defeated in 2004.
Yanukovich has vowed to strengthen Ukraine's ties with Russia once again.
Several Rounds of Elections and Another Gas Crisis
Yushchenko, accusing Yanukovich of attempting to consolidate power, dissolved Parliament in April
2007. After extended negotiations and political posturing, the rivals agreed to hold parliamentary elections
in the fall. The elections in September proved inconclusive, and after weeks of talks, the parties that rose
to power during the Orange Revolution of 2004 formed a coalition.
On Oct. 9, 2008, after weeks of political turmoil that saw that collapse of his pro-Western coalition,
President Viktor Yushchenko signed an order to dissolve Parliament and called for new elections.
A dispute over debts and pricing of gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine led Gazprom, the major
Russian gas supplier, to halt its gas exports to Europe via Ukraine, affecting at least ten EU countries in
January 2009. About 80% of Russian gas exports to Europe are pumped through Ukraine. Russia and
Ukraine blamed each other for the disruption to Europe's energy supply.
Viktor Yushchenko, who led Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004, resoundingly lost the first round of the
Ukrainian presidential election. Former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich won the second round in
February 2010, defeating Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by 3.48%. International observers declared
the election fair, but Tymoshenko alleged election fraud. She resigned in March, after losing a confidence
vote in Parliament. Yanukovich formed a government in March, with Mykola Azarov, a Russian-born
former finance minister, as his prime minister. He promised voters that he had moved beyond his
thuggish and intimidating demeanor and vowed to allow an free media, government transparency, and an
active opposition, and to reach out to the West. Once elected, however, Yanukovich resumed his
intolerance for the opposition and opened investigations into opposition leaders. Tymoshenko was a
prime target, and in June 2011 she was arrested for exceeding her authority when she signed a gas deal
with Russia in 2009. The move had the unintended effect of angering Russia, which saw the arrest as an
affront to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who signed the deal, and the European Union, which profited
from the agreement. She was convicted in October 2011 and sentenced to seven years in prison. The
verdict was widely criticized as being political and to punish her for her continued participation in politics.