Getting things straigth: Ukraine and Crimea

Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard about what has been going on in Ukraine. Tension has been rising a whole lot, revolutions, referendum and so on. It’s headlining in the news for quite a while, but still it seems like a lot of people have no idea what this is all about. What’s the fuss about and why is Crimea suddenly a problem? Someone even recently posted on Facebook that ‘poor Ukraine was now ruled by nazis and an outdated boxer’. Of course that’s the shortest way to get a Slavic studies student mad. I feel like many people don’t really know what’s going and why, so maybe it’s useful to give a quick but hopefully clear insight in the current situation.

So, here we go. First things first: it’s best to start with the protests in Kyiv. The first big protest after the Orange Revolution in 2005 started when Yanukovich decided to not accept the Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. People started to protest because they wanted a closer European integration. They were being repressed really hard. Then a whole lot more people started protesting against this violent repression and against the corruption, abuse of power and violation of human rights (1). The protest weren’t only and above all pro-Europe. Though this belief seems to be well spread, it’s not the entire truth. As far as I know, these people above all wanted the country to change for the better. This doesn’t necessarily means there had to be a big bond with the EU. I also read that most people in Ukraine, or amongst the protesters were disappointed with Europe because they didn’t help when things got worse and worse.

Because that’s what happened. But the protesters didn’t give in, kept going and then, in late February, the president’s party lost its majority and Yanukovich had to flee. Elections were planned for May 25th. I don’t know if you have seen the pictures of Yanukovich’s house, but that’s insanity. The man apparently felt like a modern emperor or something, having golden toilets and everything. That’s what power seems to do to people. It’s only a short way to abuse.

So, Yanukovich fled, a temporary parliament is now working. Elections will be held. And then Crimea becomes a problem. This is also a big one. First, you have to know something more about its background, which is now very important.

Crimea is a peninsula. It’s officially Ukrainian for as long as that will last now. It was annexed by Russia in 1783. At that moment, the people living there were the Crimean Tatars. Then it became Russian. Under Stalin’s regime, these Tatars have been deported, all of them, because they would have collaborated with the nazi’s. Of course, a lot of them died. Ukrainian and Russian people took over their villages and went living there. Only in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, they started to return in big numbers, claiming back their ground. In 1954 Khrushchev have it to Ukraine. At that moment of course it didn’t matter that hard, because everything was Soviet Union still. Many Russians though see it as a historical mistake.
Right now, the majority of people living there is Russian, followed by Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.

Knowing all this, I believe it’s easy to understand why everyone is seeing Crimea as ‘theirs’. Everyone sort of has a point there. But now, because of the new parliament in Ukraine, the Russians at Crimea started feeling it as a threat. From what I’ve heard that is because of what the news tells them. Apparently they really believe their lives are in danger. Their reaction is protesting. They are even putting black crosses on the doors of Crimean Tatars, like back when they were being deported. Last Sunday there was a referendum on what should happen to Crimea, and apparently the majority voted for a ‘reunion’ with Russia.

Are these numbers real? Maybe not entirely. But seeing that the majority there is Russian, and the people not in favour tried to boycott it, it’s very likely that a majority voted for that. Maybe not 93%, but still. Of course it has to be known that at the moment, all they get it Russian news and Russian channels. This has undoubtedly a big influence on what they are doing.

Are they in danger? I don’t really think so. Ukraine is a country with quite many Russians, personally I dont’ think they would throw them out just like that. Will there be war? Maybe between Ukraine and Russia, Europe helping Ukraine out is unlikely I think. Ukraine is probably to weak to have a war, so I don’t think it will get to that point. But who knows…

The most important things to remember are these:

  • The protests in Kyiv weren’t only about getting closer to the EU, they were against corruption and abuse of power in their own country.
  • Because of its history, it’s quite logic that everyone wants to claim Crimea. You can never say it only belongs to this or that country, because it’s too complicated.
  • Crimea is currently taken over by Russian channels and news. This triggers the behaviour of the Russians there.
  • This is a very difficult situation that is way too hard for us to judge all too easily.

Please be smart enough not to go running around saying that Kyiv is becoming all nazi-like, or that Crimea is Russian, or that they all want to get a member of the EU. Things are very complicated up there and we need to keep our judgements for ourselves now. We will just have to wait and see what happens, and we can only hope there will be a peaceful end… But I’m afraid we’re still far from there.

I’m not an expert at this, but I am aware of the history and current situation of Ukraine and Crimea. This post is above all to give a better background. If anything is wrong, don’t hesitate to let me know. I hope that this will clear out some things for you!