Ukraine at a Tipping Point



Seventy years of Soviet control of Ukraine ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  During that time Ukraine suffered extensive famines, deportation of its citizens, and repopulation of its country by ethnic Russians.  Since independence, Ukraine has aligned more with the west, resulting in escalating tension between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.  Recently Russia has sent troops into Ukraine in an effort to protect their interests as Ukraine has destabilized.  This has dramatically escalated the crisis.  Join Active Minds as we explore this delicate situation.

Key Lecture Points

  • Ukrainians are divided along linguistic lines.  The industrial east is the engine of the economy and is mainly Russian speakers.  The agrarian center and west is mainly Ukrainian speakers, influenced by Eastern Europe.
  • Gaining its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had high hopes for its future because of its strong agricultural and manufacturing base.  Instead, Ukraine is at yet another unstable point in its history, with economic and political unrest at home.
  • Ukraine’s current economic crisis is the result of the rampant corruption of former President Yanukovych and because of the country’s heavy borrowing during the global recession. 
  • In November 2013, anti-government demonstrations broke out in Kiev when Yanukovych announced he was not proceeding with a trade agreement with the EU.  In February 2014, Yanukovych fled Kiev to eastern Ukraine and later surfaced in Russia. 
  • The Ukrainian Parliament named opposition leader Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president and Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister.  The US and EU support the new government while Russia insists the new government is illegitimate and that Yanukovych is still the duly elected president. 
  • Russian speakers in Eastern and Southern  Ukraine appealed to Putin for help, saying they feared violence from the new government. Putin’s response was to move into Crimea with masked gunmen, wearing Russian uniforms without insignia, taking control of the region.
  • On March 16, 2014, after a brief period of pro-Russian paramilitary dominance, 97% of Crimeans voted to become a part of Russia.  The US and EU denounced the referendum as illegal.  President Putin signed a treaty March 18, 2014 that annexes Crimea to Russia. 
  • The standoff between Russia and the West over the Crimea is one of the most severe geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War and will likely impact other areas of US-Russian relations, such as the talks to address the Syrian Civil War and contain Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Exploration Questions

  • Why is Crimea important to Russia?
  • How should the United States handle the current crisis in the Ukraine?
  • What are the future implications of the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea?

Reflective Questions

  • How do you feel about the oppression that is a common theme throughout Ukrainian history? Can you relate it to events you experienced in your lifetime?
  • How do you feel about Russia and its current aggression against Ukraine? Do you think the West should protect small countries that are being threatened?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Reid, Anna. Borderland:A Journey Through the History of the Ukraine. Basic Books, 2000. 272 pages. From the Polish churches of Lviv to the coal mines of the Russian-speaking Donbass, from the Galician shtetlech to the Tatar shantytowns of Crimea, the book explores Ukraine's struggle to build itself a national identity, and identity that faces up to a bloody past, and embraces all the peoples within its borders.
    Click here to order
  • Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956. Anchor, 2013. 640 pages. This book tells the history of how the USSR took over Eastern Europe after WWII and how the people of these countries adjusted to being a part of the Soviet Bloc.
    Click here to order
  • Jankowski, Tomek E. Eastern Europe: Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does.  New Europe books, 2013. 624 pages.  This book traces the historical development of Eastern Europe—from the Balkans to the Baltic.
    Click here to order