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Ukraine

Official Name: Ukrayina (Ukraine)
Area: 233,062 square miles (603,628 square km)
Population (2013 est.): 45,523,000
Age Breakdown (2011): Under age 15, 14.2%; 15–29, 22.0%; 30–44, 21.3%; 45–59, 21.6%; 60–69, 9.4%; 70 and over, 11.5%
Form of Government: Unitary multiparty republic with a single legislative house.
Capital: Kiev (Kyiv)
Other Major Cities: Kharkiv, Odesa (Odessa), Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk
Official Language: Ukrainian
Religious Affiliation (2004): Ukrainian Orthodox, of which “Kiev patriarchy” 19%, “no particular patriarchy” 16%, “Moscow patriarchy” 9%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 2%; Ukrainian Catholic 6%; Protestant 2%; Latin Catholic 2%; Muslim 1%; Jewish 0.5%; nonreligious/atheist/other 42.5%.
Ethnic Composition (2001): Ukrainian 77.8%; Russian 17.3%; Belarusian 0.6%; Moldovan 0.5%; Crimean Tatar 0.5%; other 3.3%.
Unemployment Rate (2012): 7.5% (Ihor Stebelsky, 2016)

Ukraine, country located in eastern Europe, the second largest on the continent after Russia. The capital is Kiev (Kyiv), located on the Dnieper River in north-central Ukraine (Ihor Stebelsky, 2016)

A fully independent Ukraine emerged only late in the 20th century, after long periods of successive domination by Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). Ukraine had experienced a brief period of independence in 1918–20, but portions of western Ukraine were ruled by Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia in the period between the two World Wars, and Ukraine thereafter became part of the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.). When the Soviet Union began to unravel in 1990–91, the legislature of the Ukrainian S.S.R. declared sovereignty (July 16, 1990) and then outright independence (August 24, 1991), a move that was confirmed by popular approval in a plebiscite (December 1, 1991). With the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in December 1991, Ukraine gained full independence. The country changed its official name to Ukraine, and it helped to found the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of countries that were formerly republics of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine is bordered by Belarus to the north, Russia to the east, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea to the south, Moldova and Romania to the southwest, and Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland to the west. In the far southeast, Ukraine is separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

Economy (Ubrich, 2014)
Ukraine has significant economic potential: mineral and energy resources, large and fertile agricultural areas ("black earth", chernozem, 22% of arable land in Europe), skilled labor and low cost.

Ukraine is also an industrial country, the 8th steel producer. Only its steel products accounted for 26.4% of its exports in 2012, mineral products more than 11%. The agricultural sector (18% of exports in 2012) represents an important comparative advantage. Its growth in the 2000s, however, relied heavily on gains in the terms of trade (metal prices / energy prices).

The Ukrainian economy has several disadvantages: low diversification, marked dependence on metal prices and the import price of gas (mainly from Russia), over-indebtedness of the private sector, degraded business environment (137th out of 185 countries in the classification "Ease of Doing Business 2013" offered by the World Bank (8), 144th out of 178 for the perception of corruption index offered by Transparency International in 2012).

Current conflicts (and their causes)
In 2014 Ukraine faced the greatest threat to its national security since the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it had been part for most of the 20th century. Months of popular protest swept pro-Russian Pres. Viktor Yanukovych from office in February, and he was replaced by a pro-Western interim government. As the interim government attempted to deal with a reeling economy, heavily armed pro-Russian separatists seized government buildings in Crimea and, with the support of Russian troops, declared independence from the central government in Kiev. Russia formally annexed Crimea in March 2014, a move that was broadly criticized in the West as a gross violation of international law, and separatist activities spread into eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian security services initially were unable to resist the attacks, which were often conducted by soldiers bearing Russian arms and equipment but wearing uniforms that lacked any clear insignia. With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed just across the border and the memory of the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia fresh in their minds, leaders in Kiev were forced to weigh any possible military response against the likelihood of triggering overt Russian intervention. As Ukrainian forces began systematically reclaiming contested territory ahead of the May 2014 presidential elections, the United States and the European Union (EU) expanded economic sanctions against an increasingly wide circle of Russian companies and individuals. In this special feature, Britannica offers a guide to recent events in Ukraine and explores the historical and geographic context of the crisis.

Ukraine’s postindependence history can be largely characterized as a balancing act between the country’s European aspirations and its historic, ethnic, and economic ties to Russia. Leonid Kravchuk, a longtime Communist Party official who served as independent Ukraine’s first president (1991–94), adopted a pro-Western foreign policy and dictated the fledgling state’s terms in its often acrimonious “divorce” negotiations with Russia. His bid for a second term failed when he was defeated in the 1994 presidential elections by Leonid Kuchma, who sought to improve relations with Russia and spur economic growth through increased privatization of state industries. Kuchma led the country for more than a decade, overseeing a period of economic stabilization as well as increased ties with Europe. However, allegations of corruption, along with the emergence of a vocal opposition under Viktor Yushchenko, Kuchma’s former prime minister and the architect of many of the country’s economic reforms, would ultimately lead to Kuchma’s political downfall.

Putin also took an active role in the events in neighbouring Ukraine, where a protest movement toppled the government of pro-Russian Pres. Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. The protests began in November 2013 when Yanukovych scuttled a treaty that would have strengthened ties between Ukraine and the European Union. Instead, he sought to steer the country into the proposed Eurasian Economic...

Kuchma, with his popularity plummeting, did not stand for reelection in 2004. Instead, he endorsed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a native of eastern Ukraine’s Donets Basin who drew much of his support from that region’s ethnic Russian population. During the campaign, Yushchenko became seriously ill when he was poisoned with dioxin—an apparent assassination attempt that left his face disfigured. Yushchenko and Yanukovych were the top finishers in the first round of balloting and proceeded to a second round. Yanukovych was declared the winner in the runoff election, but international observers noted widespread irregularities, and Yushchenko supporters launched a mass protest movement that came to be known as the Orange Revolution. Meanwhile, Yanukovych supporters vowed to secede if the election results were overturned. The Ukrainian Supreme Court responded by ordering that the second round be rerun, and Yushchenko emerged victorious. His presidency was rife with turmoil, however. Fuel shortages, dissent within his party, and parliamentary struggles with Yanukovych undermined Yushchenko’s ability to enact reform, and he was soon eclipsed by fellow Orange Revolution leader Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, who had served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2007 to 2010, challenged Yushchenko for the presidency in 2010. She advanced to the second round of balloting but lost to Yanukovych in an election that was deemed free and fair by observers. As president, Yanukovych immediately moved to strengthen ties with Russia, extending Russia’s lease on port facilities in the Crimean city of Sevastopol and signing legislation that indefinitely halted Ukraine’s progress toward NATO membership. He also took steps to neutralize his opponents with prosecutions that critics characterized as selective and politically motivated. In 2011 Tymoshenko was charged with abuse of power and sentenced to seven years in prison. The following year, her political ally, Yuri Lutsenko, was imprisoned on similar charges. In what was widely seen as a concession to Western pressure, Yanukovych released Lutsenko in April 2013, but that perceived pivot to the West would not last.

Mass protests erupted in November 2013 when Yanukovych announced that he would not proceed with long-anticipated association and trade agreements with the European Union (EU). After meeting with Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin on November 9, Yanukovych instead moved to further expand ties with Russia. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in response, and demonstrators established a protest camp in Kiev’s Maidan (Independence Square). Opposition politicians voiced their support for the protesters, while Moscow backed the Yanukovych administration with promises of low-interest loans and reductions in the price of natural gas. Over the following months a series of government crackdowns were unsuccessful in suppressing dissent, and in February 2014 Ukrainian security forces opened fire on the Maidan protesters, killing scores and wounding hundreds. With his political base disintegrating, Yanukovych released Tymoshenko, scheduled snap presidential elections to occur in May 2014, and ultimately fled the country ahead of an impeachment vote and a raft of criminal charges (Ray, 2017).

In the early 21st century, as Ukraine’s political landscape was shaken by the Orange Revolution, Crimea’s predominantly Russian population remained staunch supporters of Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. When Yanukovych became president in 2010, he extended Russia’s lease on the port at Sevastopol until 2042. The agreement allowed Russia to base as many as 25,000 troops at Sevastopol and maintain a pair of air bases in Crimea. In February 2014 Yanukovych fled Kiev after months of popular protests toppled his government. Within days, unidentified masked gunmen (later identified as Russian troops) seized the Crimean parliament building and other key sites, effectively internationalizing the crisis in Ukraine. Pro-Russian legislators convened a closed session of the parliament to elect Sergey Aksyonov, the leader of the Russian Unity Party, as prime minister. The Russian Unity Party had previously had minimal representation in the parliament; indeed, it had received less than 5 percent of the vote in the 2010 regional election. Pro-Russian demonstrations were commonplace throughout Crimea, but equally visible were rallies by Crimean Tatars, who overwhelmingly supported continued association with Ukraine. In March, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin received the Russian parliament’s approval to dispatch troops to Crimea, ostensibly to protect the ethnic Russian population there, and within days Russian forces and local pro-Russian paramilitary groups were in de facto control of the peninsula. As Russian and Ukrainian forces maintained a delicate standoff, the Crimean parliament voted unanimously to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

A popular referendum on the matter was held in Crimea on March 16, 2014, although the interim government in Kiev characterized the proposal as unconstitutional. Crimean Tatar leaders called for a boycott of the vote, which they criticized as having been predetermined, and journalists were barred from observing the count. The result was an overwhelming 97 percent in favour of joining Russia, although numerous irregularities were reported. The poll was not recognized by Kiev, and the United States and the EU immediately moved to impose sanctions on a list of high-ranking Russian officials and members of the self-declared Crimean government. On March 18 Putin signed a treaty incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation, a move that was formalized days later after the treaty’s ratification by both houses of the Russian parliament.

Although the Ukrainian government continued to assert that Crimea was Ukrainian territory, it initiated the evacuation of the tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops and their dependents from the peninsula. Russian troops had seized the bulk of the Ukrainian fleet while it was in port, and the headquarters of Ukraine’s navy was hastily relocated from Sevastopol to Odessa. Although some of the ships were later returned to Ukraine, others, including the Ukrainian navy’s sole submarine, were incorporated into the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In May 2014 a report from the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights estimated that the actual turnout for the Crimean independence referendum may have been as low as 30 percent and that, of those voters, between 50 and 60 percent chose union with Russia. Crimea (The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017)

Factors that impel displacement or seek refuge outside the country
According to the United Nations (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017), the parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine have repeatedly failed to implement the ceasefire agreements and have allowed hostilities to worsen with the consequent cost in human lives, and all within a conflict that it has entered his fourth year. The United Nations Human Rights Observation Missions in Ukraine have recorded civilian deaths and injuries in relation to this conflict, an increase of 48 percent over the previous documented period, between November 16, 2016 and February 15, 2017.

In the area of conflict there have been daily violations of the ceasefire and both light and heavy weapons have been used regularly. As indicated in the report, such attacks and resulting damage to infrastructure - particularly schools, hospitals and aqueducts - raise serious concerns about the protection of civilians. It also warns that, with the arrival of summer, the risk of escalating hostilities increases, as occurred in previous years.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict, in mid-April 2014, until May 15, 2017, at least 10,090 people have died -of them, 2,777 civilians- and at least 23,966 have been injured. It is a prudent estimate, based on the available data, so that, probably, the actual figures are even higher. More than 1,600,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and have become displaced within their own country, while around three million more remain in territory controlled by armed groups. Between these people the restlessness and the uncertainty do not stop growing.

The economic and social hardship that affects the east of the country continues to worsen. Among other causes, there is the tortuous process of verification that was implemented in 2016 and that has deprived more than 400,000 Ukrainian citizens of their pensions. The report recommends the elimination of the requirement that pensioners residing in territories controlled by armed groups must register as internally displaced persons to receive their pension. This aspect is fundamental in ensuring impartial treatment for all citizens of Ukraine, regardless of their place of residence, and would facilitate a future process of reconciliation.

The report includes new cases of persons being arbitrarily or illegally detained, as well as of forced individual disappearances and kidnappings, especially in the territory controlled by the armed groups. In several cases, the families of the victims have not had access to the detainees or information about their whereabouts.

The practice of torture continues and new cases have been registered on both sides of the contact line. In addition, there is still concern over the ineffectiveness of the investigations into these tortures, which increases the feeling of impunity.

Main countries of destination of the refugee flows and particularities of the routes
Although the conflict has produced mainly internal displacement, among the ten most relevant in the world: 1,800,000 internally displaced persons and 218,000 refugees (ACNUR, 2017)

The main countries of destination are EU countries (Germany, Poland, Italy, Sweden). In Spain in 2016, 2160 have been welcomed, there is a strong colony of about 90,000 people since the construction boom in Spain attracted by networks and social and family ties (Ubrich, 2014).

Consequences of violence or terror in people
In the area of conflict there have been daily violations of the ceasefire and both light and heavy weapons have been used regularly. As indicated in the report, such attacks and resulting damage to infrastructure - particularly schools, hospitals and aqueducts - raise serious concerns about the protection of civilians. It also warns that, with the arrival of summer, the risk of escalating hostilities increases, as occurred in previous years.

Since the beginning of the armed conflict, in mid-April 2014, until May 15, 2017, at least 10,090 people have died -of them, 2,777 civilians- and at least 23,966 have been injured. It is a prudent estimate, based on the available data, so that, probably, the actual figures are even higher. More than 1,600,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and have become displaced within their own country, while around three million more remain in territory controlled by armed groups. Between these people the restlessness and the uncertainty do not stop growing.

The economic and social hardship that affects the east of the country continues to worsen. Among other causes, there is the tortuous process of verification that was implemented in 2016 and that has deprived more than 400,000 Ukrainian citizens of their pensions. The report recommends the elimination of the requirement that pensioners residing in territories controlled by armed groups must register as internally displaced persons to receive their pension. This aspect is fundamental in ensuring impartial treatment for all citizens of Ukraine, regardless of their place of residence, and would facilitate a future process of reconciliation.

The report includes new cases of persons being arbitrarily or illegally detained, as well as of forced individual disappearances and kidnappings, especially in the territory controlled by the armed groups. In several cases, the families of the victims have not had access to the detainees or information about their whereabouts.

The practice of torture continues and new cases have been registered on both sides of the contact line. In addition, there is still concern over the ineffectiveness of the investigations into these tortures, which increases the feeling of impunity.

Reference suggestions to be consulted about refugees
ACNUR. (2017). Tendencias globales. Desplazamiento forzado en 2016. Retrieved from http://www.acnur.es/PDF/Tendencias2016.pdf
Amnesty International. (2017). Informe 2016/17 Amnistía Internacional. La situación de los Derechos Humanos en el mundo. London. Retrieved from https://www.google.es/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiLkvGFhOzXAhUEPBQKHfOtAYkQFgg0MAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amnesty.org%2Fdownload%2FDocuments%2FPOL1048002017SPANISH.PDF&usg=AOvVaw1bkol56g8hIIHN974SpiG6
Ihor Stebelsky, I. A. Y. and O. (2016). Ukraine. In Encyclopaedia Britannica inc. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Ukraine
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2017). Report on the human

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Download this file (report-ukraine.pdf)Report[Spanish language]

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