Ukraine (Ukrainian: Україна, tr. Ukrayina ), sometimes called the Ukraine, is a sovereign state in Eastern Europe, bordered by Russia to the east, northeast, and south, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia to the west, Romania, and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world; however, a significant part of the area is de-facto not under control of the Ukrainian government. It has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world.

During the 20th century three periods of independence occurred. The first of these periods occurred briefly during and immediately after the German occupation near the end of World War I and the second occurred, also briefly, and also during German occupation, during World War II. However, both of these first two earlier periods would eventually see Ukraine's territories consolidated back into a Soviet republic within the USSR. The third period of independence began in 1991, when Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the aftermath of its dissolution at the end of the Cold War. Ukraine has maintained its independence as a sovereign state ever since. Before its independence, Ukraine was typically referred to in English as “The Ukraine”, but sources since then have moved to drop “the” from the name of Ukraine in all uses.

Following its independence, Ukraine declared itself a neutral state. Nonetheless it formed a limited military partnership with the Russian Federation and other CIS countries and a partnership with NATO in 1994. In the 2000s, the government began leaning towards NATO, and a deeper cooperation with the alliance was set by the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan signed in 2002. It was later agreed that the question of joining NATO should be answered by a national referendum at some point in the future. Former President Viktor Yanukovych considered the current level of co-operation between Ukraine and NATO sufficient, and was against Ukraine joining NATO. In 2013, after the government of President Yanukovych had decided to suspend the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement and seek closer economic ties with Russia, a several-months-long wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Euromaidan began, which later escalated into the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to the overthrow of President Yanukovych and his cabinet and the establishment of a new government. These events formed the background for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, and the War in Donbass in April 2014. On 1 January 2016, Ukraine applied the economic part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union.

Ukraine has long been a global breadbasket because of its extensive, fertile farmlands and is one of the world's largest grain exporters. The diversified economy of Ukraine includes a large heavy industry sector, particularly in aerospace and industrial equipment.

Ukraine is a unitary republic under a semi-presidential system with separate powers: legislative, executive and judicial branches. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Taking into account reserves and paramilitary personnel, Ukraine maintains the second-largest military in Europe after that of Russia. The country is home to 42.5 million people (excluding Crimea), 77.8 percent of whom are Ukrainians “by ethnicity”, followed by a sizeable minority of Russians (17.3 percent) as well as Romanians/Moldovans, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians and Hungarians. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodoxy, which has strongly influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music. It is a member of the United Nations since its founding, the Council of Europe, OSCE, GUAM, and one of the founding states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Ukraine is a country that has experienced tremendous upheavals over the past year and a half, related to events that some call a “revolution of dignity”, and others - a “coup d'état.” Social protest against the corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych in 2013 - 2014, as well as the desire of a significant part of the Ukrainian population to make a “European choice”, were used by radical nationalist forces to form a nationalistic agenda of Ukrainian politics. As a result of the change of power in late February 2014, the country was led by liberal nationalist forces that used as their main political tool Ukrainian nationalism, closely intertwined with pro-Western sentiments, as opposed to pro-Russian sentiments that in some people’s view carry authoritarianism and corruption to Ukraine.

These events were accompanied by a resurgence of violence, protests among the population in the east of Ukraine, which is mentally, historically and economically oriented towards Russia. A further escalation of tensions in the country was caused by the annexation, or withdrawal, of Crimea into the Russian Federation as a result of a referendum mostly not recognised by the international community, but supported by the Russian Federation and the majority of the population of the Crimea. In March-April 2014, a civil war conflict began in Lugansk and Donetsk regions, sparked by opposing views on where this region of Ukraine should head. The conflict involved not only Ukrainians, but also citizens of Russia and other countries, who support different sides of the conflict. All this led to the beginning of a global confrontation between the formerly closest partners in the CIS, with historically close trade and economic ties – Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This contributed to the radicalization of certain groups of the population, the growth of social intolerance, xenophobia, chauvinism and anti-Semitism.

It should be emphasised that this situation did not result from an accidental coincidence of circumstances - Ukraine purposefully went for it, starting from the 1990s. The goal of the national policy of the country, since 1991, when it gained independence, was the creation of the Ukrainian nation. For the Ukrainian political establishment, most of whom was formed from the party Communist elite and played a key role in the disintegration of the USSR, it was important to explain to both its population and the whole world that Ukraine is not a Little Russia (Malorossiya) – the Ukrainian people are not part of the Russian people. The second president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, published a book in 2003 titled “Ukraine is not Russia”, where he tried to substantiate the fact of the collapse of the Soviet Union ambiguously perceived in Ukraine and the emergence of Ukraine as a separate state. He shares his views on the history of Ukraine, on the events of the 20th and early 21st centuries, sets out his point of view why Ukraine cannot be Russia; the differences in Ukrainian and Russian national peculiarities; different views on the cultural and historical past, as well as mutual claims. At the presentation of the book, he unequivocally stated: “We have the task on the agenda, which I mention in this book, to paraphrase the expression of a well-known Italian: to create a Ukrainian. The danger of not returning to Ukrainian nature is relevant for millions of Ukrainian citizens.

To accomplish this goal (“create an Ukrainian”), the country aimed at creating “Ukrainianness” and the Ukrainian culture, primarily in the field of education, media and public service, to the detriment of “Russianness” and Russian culture, widespread in central and eastern Ukraine. The carriers of this policy were, first of all, natives of Western Ukraine, who, until 1939, never were part of either the Russian Empire or the USSR. As a result, the Ukrainian national state began to develop according to the European classical scenario - towards the formation of the Ukrainian nation on the basis of the cultural and historical traditions of the Ukrainian ethnos. Since a large part of the country's population (mainly in the east) did not agree with this, and some citizens generally denied the existence of the Ukrainian ethnos as such, this process often took the form of a bitter political confrontation between supporters of the “eastern” and “western” development path. At the same time, the state, no matter what political forces headed it, did not interfere with these trends. However, these processes could not but affect the history of the country. Supporters of the “special Ukrainian way” of development sought to find their national heroes not in a rich history of friendship and cooperation between the two Slavic peoples, but in some small cases of hostility and confrontation. Heroes of the radical nationalists were Hetman Mazepa, who betrayed the Russian Emperor Peter I and concluded an alliance with the Swedish King Charles XII in the 18th century; fighters of the Ukrainian insurgent army, fighting for the independence of Ukraine in the 1930s-1940s, but at the same time actively cooperating with the Nazis and tarnished themselves by active participation in the massacres of the Jewish and Polish population.

As a result, by the 2000s, Ukraine became one of the countries where collaborators were actively celebrated, and the Ukrainian democratic public has repeatedly noted the growth of frankly neo-Nazi moods in the spirit of Ukrainian integral nationalism, although in general, until 2013, they were marginal.

At the same time, a policy was pursued to reduce Russian schools. By 2008, the number of schools with Russian-language education (schools where all subjects were taught in Russian) was more than halved. This process was especially active in Kiev, where in the early 1990s there were 129 Russian schools, and by 2008 their number was reduced to six. At the same time, according to the Public Opinion Foundation (2002), 75% of the population in the regional centres of Ukraine preferred to communicate in Russian language (and only 9% - in Ukrainian). Continuous areas of Russian language prominence in rural areas existed in the Crimea, Donbass, Slobozhanshchina, in the south Odessa and Zaporozhye regions; Russian dialects could be found in the central regions and in Bukovina. According to a survey conducted in 2004 by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), 45% communicated in Russian at home, while 42% - Ukrainian. 13% said that it is equally easy to communicate in both languages. According to this KIIS poll, first of all the absolute majority of the population of southern and eastern regions used the Russian language for communication:

  • Crimea - 97%
  • Donetsk region - 93%
  • Lugansk region - 89%
  • Odessa region - 85%
  • Zaporozhye region - 81%
  • Kharkov Oblast - 74%
  • Dnepropetrovsk region - 72%
  • Mykolayiv region - 66%

Following the policy of Ukrainisation, the authorities also supported separatist sentiments in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, as a result of which, in 1992, a religious split occurred in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate was established (88% of the Ukrainian Orthodox population profess Orthodoxy).

Thus, the last 25 years after the collapse of the USSR in Ukraine, the policy of Ukrainisation and assimilation of minorities was actively pursued, which by the end of the 2000s led to a significant increase in interethnic and interreligious tensions. At the end of 2013, national radicals found themselves at the forefront of the “defenders of the Maidan”, essentially leading the protests against the power of President Viktor Yanukovych at the first stage. Their paramilitary detachments were then the only force capable of resisting government power structures. These same forces were in the forefront of those who during the confrontation seized the buildings of city and district administrations, blocked the work of state bodies, etc. Therefore, it is not surprising that the opposition in the Verkhovna Rada, which was trying to seize the initiative, was forced to play on the nationalists' field. This concerned not only the traditional ultra-right forces, like the Freedom party, but also the parliamentary liberal opposition represented by the Batkivshchyna party, etc. Immediately after the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, the Rada attempted to repeal the law on regional languages. Despite the fact that the law was not formally repealed, it did not work in Ukraine in practice. The campaign for the heroization of the leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) S. Bandera and R. Shukhevych, as well as the soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and even the SS Golicia division was launched. The apogee of this campaign was the adoption in April 2015 of the law “On the legal status and respect for the memory of fighters for Ukraine's independence in the twentieth century”, which heroized participants in right-wing and right-wing militaristic organizations who collaborated collectively or individually with the Nazi regime, who fought against the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. The process of elimination of Russian schools was intensified, which by the end of the 2014/15 academic year led to the fact that almost 91% of Ukrainian schoolchildren received education only in Ukrainian. A wave of unauthorized seizures of the property of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate by supporters of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate, etc. began.

All this led to a wave of protests not only in the Crimea, which joined Russia in March 2014, but also in the southeast of Ukraine, where the civil war conflict broke out on the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Obvious discontent is felt also by the inhabitants of other eastern Ukrainian regions, as well as by some national minorities, for example, the Ruthenians in the Carpathian region, who demand from the authorities the status of a national minority; the Jewish community, which is unhappy with the heroization of OUN-UPA activists who took part in the Holocaust, etc. As a consequence of prolonged political and military conflicts within the country, it became clear in 2016 that the promised market and social reforms in Ukraine are stalling, corruption in the country is at the highest level in Europe, an increasing number of citizens are below the poverty line.

The declaration of new authorities about adherence to European values raises some doubts against the background of their banning of certain political parties, political persecutions, and generally unleashing an armed conflict in response to the same protests that the opponents of President Yanukovich had arranged in the recent past. A whole series of decrees and prohibitions touched upon freedom of speech and expression. For example, immediately after the president's removal from power in March 2014, the Rada banned the broadcasting of Russian TV channels, citing propaganda, and in February 2015 the law “On Amending Certain Laws of Ukraine Regarding the Protection of the Information Broadcasting Space of Ukraine” was passed, which banned the rental or TV broadcasting of Russian movies and television series. In addition, the practice of the Ukrainian government included bans on entry into the country of cultural and art figures who expressed themselves in a pro-Russian spirit or simply played “the wrong roles” in the theatre and cinema. One of the last examples was the ban on entry of the famous Russian actor Ian Tsapnik in December 2016, for the fact that in one of the films he played a soldier of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. All this, of course, intensifies frustration and warms up the protest moods of citizens, especially among Russian irredenta.

Thus, the social factor as well as the frustration of the population in the government's policy, which is clearly divergent from the promises during the Maidan, is another reason for the dissociation in Ukrainian society, along with the assimilation national policy that was conducted for many years in Ukraine. A powerful factor that unites the society are the growing anti-Russian sentiments, political opposition in Russia, which the majority of the Ukrainian population views as an aggressor, and on which representatives of the ruling elite are trying to pin all their failures. However, in the absence of military actions this factor is temporary. Sooner or later the Ukrainian society will get used to it and start looking for other reasons for the worsening of the socio-economic conditions in the country. Contradictions in the interreligious and interethnic arena, as well as the resentment of individual members of minorities will in this case be an additional factor of confrontation.

To date, the national policy of Ukraine is a typical example of the application of the European assimilation model of the formation of a nation-state in a multi-ethnic society, which for centuries has developed in fundamentally different conditions. Its result was the growth of interethnic and interreligious tensions, the heroization of Nazi collaborators and the split of the country.

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