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April 8, 2014

NewsChips: What's Up with Ukraine and Crimea?

by Zoe Johnson, Online Editor-in-Chief
Ukraine and Crimea has been in the news almost every day since the beginning of February. Stories of revolution, Russian occupation and other political disruption flood the daily cycle straight from the small countries' on-the-ground media coverage. However, few people know where Ukraine and Crimea are, let alone understand the political turmoil wracking the countries. In light of that confusion, here's a quick, easy explanation of the complex Ukrainian and Crimean conflict.

Armed men patrol Crimea in March. Courtesy of Daily Mail
Armed men patrol Crimea in March.
So Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe that's about the size of New Mexico and Arizona combined. Among others, it borders Russia, Poland and Romania. Ukraine has a long history of being bullied by surrounding powers: having been divided and conquered in the 13th century and consolidated into a Soviet republic in the 20th century, it became an independent state only in 1991. As one might imagine, Aug. 24, the day their Declaration of Independence was adopted, is now a major holiday.

Sadly, this freedom and joy has not lasted for long. In November, demonstrations, civil unrest and revolution began to flood the country. Initially, protestors were demanding greater integration into the European Union, but the scope of the complaints soon expanded to include alleged corruption in the government, human rights violations and abuses of power. Many protestors called for the impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych and the ousting of his government. There has also been vocal criticism of police brutality against protestors. On March 3, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health reported an official death count of 95 in clashes between police and protestors, with an additional 646 hospitalizations.

Many officials in the president's party fled, allowing the opposition to take control of Parliament and pass a series of laws cancelling anti-protest operations, restoring the 2004 Ukrainian constitution (which, among other things, limited the power of the presidency) and allegedly impeaching Yanukovych. A new president was elected, and Yanukovych fled. He and other government officials have since been declared internationally wanted criminals.

So that's the political stuff. But what about Crimea? The deal there is this: Crimea is an autonomous republic of Ukraine, which means it basically operates on its own but is still controlled by Ukraine. Ethnically, Crimea is about 60% Russian and only 25% Ukrainian, leading to some division within the population.

Beginning in the end of February, troops—believed to be from the Russian military but at the very least supportive of Russia—took hold of the Crimean peninsula, seizing government buildings and military bases. Around this time, a referendum on the issue of secession from Ukraine resulted in a 96% affirmative vote, and on March 17, the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation. The following day, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to formally initiate Crimea's incorporation into Russia.
Protestors in Ukraine rioting in December. Courtesy of RT News
Protestors in Ukraine rioting in December.

The U.N. General Assembly declared Crimea's referendum invalid, and the majority of the international community is refusing to accept the referendum or the annexation as legitimate. Technically, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is still part of Ukraine, but it is very possible that that will change in the near future.

Regardless of what happens with Crimea, though, Ukraine's focus in the coming months and years will have to be the establishment of a stable and peaceful nation. Hopefully, the time of rebellion is over.

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  • Andrew Phillips (View Email) on April 9, 2014 at 10:21 AM
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