Ukraine has a rich and proud history, beginning with the establishment of Kyivan Rus (perhaps established by Swedish Vikings) as the most powerful kingdom in Medieval Europe. While this kingdom was conquered by the Mongols, the western portion of Ukraine became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 14th through the 18th centuries, and contemporary Ukraine owes it a debt of sorts. In the face of pressure from the rising Muscovy, a succeeding Ukrainian state was able to stay independent for more than a century, but the Russian Empire annexed most of Ukraine in the 18th century, to the cost of their culture and identity.
Despite a short but precarious period of independence at the end of the czarist rule, Ukraine was included into the new USSR during the Russian Civil War in 1922, and was subjected to two catastrophic famines (1932-33 and 1946), as well as harsh warfare during World War II. As a Soviet republic, the Ukrainian language was frequently’sidelined’ in comparison to Russian, to varying degrees; Stalinist repressions during the 1930s, attempts at decentralisation during the Khrushchev administration, and re-tightening of control during the Brezhnev-Kosygin era of the 1970s and early 1980s. In any event, the historically bilingual region featured signage in both Russian and Ukrainian in almost every city, including Lviv, where Ukrainian is the most common. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was a severe disaster for the republic, but it was also generally seen as an incident that, in the long term, energized the population’s regional feeling and increased pressure on the central Soviet authorities to support autonomy.
Ukraine proclaimed its autonomy inside the Soviet Union in July 1990, as a foreshadowing of events to come in the following year. Following the results of a referendum in November 1991 that showed overwhelming public support, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament), proclaimed its independence once again in early December 1991. (90 percent in favour of independence). This statement became a tangible reality on December 25, 1991, when the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist. In the early years after independence, severe economic problems, hyperinflation, and oligarchic control reigned. The problems of cronyism, corruption, and suspected voting anomalies came to a climax during the hotly contested 2004 presidential election, when accusations of vote-rigging triggered the “Orange Revolution.” As a consequence of the revolution, opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko was elected President. During the last five years, the “Orange alliance” has disintegrated, and Viktor Yushchenko has lost the support of the majority of Ukrainians. Ironically, his former adversary Viktor Yanukovich was elected President; ultimately, the pro-Russian Yanukovich was deposed in early 2014 following months of popular protest over his failure to complete a key trade agreement with the European Union, but his departure comes at a time when the nation’s treasury is empty and the government is in disarray.