What’s Happening in Ukraine?

Western Ukrainians have been protesting their county’s decision not to accept a deal with the European Union. Protests have been occurring between western Ukrainians and police since November 2013 when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, chose to dismiss an association agreement with the European Union. The EU’s deal only offers trade and investment, not financial aid. Many people in Ukraine want to take this deal because it would bring Ukraine closer to being a European or western country, rather than part of Russia.

Russia has been pressuring Ukraine to abandon the proposed deal with the European Union. Currently, a free-trade regime exists between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine’s products sell well in Russia due to their good quality and prices. In November, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, said that due to the existing free-trade regime between Moscow and Kiev, Russia would be getting too many European products if Ukraine took the deal.

If Ukraine accepts the EU’s deal, there is a risk that Russia will end the trade regime. This would really hurt Ukraine’s economy. To further complications, Russia supplies most of Ukraine’s natural gas and controls the price of it. Rather than taking the deal from the European Union, Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, accepted a deal where Russia agreed to buy Ukraine’s debt and lower gas prices. Regardless of Russia’s influence, the EU is still hoping to have Ukraine accept a deal with them.

This decision has angered many people in Western Ukraine. Why just western Ukraine? Well, Ukraine is split between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers. This split was caused by a deadly famine that Joseph Stalin carried out in 1932. After millions of Ukrainians died, deported Russians took their place. Western Ukraine was not impacted by this, because it was a part of Poland. Today, half of the country leans towards Europe, while the other half leans more towards Russia. For example, many cities in western Ukraine resemble typical European cities, but towns in eastern Ukraine look much like Russian towns.

On January 16, laws against the right to protest were passed. The laws caused once peaceful protesters to turn to violence. On January 28, 2014, the laws were repealed, and the prime minister resigned. People in Ukraine said this was a good step, but they want to see the constitution reformed and the president replaced. In the past week, tensions have continued to rise. Protestors and police officers alike have become more and more violent. Examples include protesters burning police officers and a group of police officers forcing a protestor to take his clothes off in the snow. President Yanukovych came back to the office on Monday after taking a sick leave. Members of parliament hope that a decision can be reached soon.

The European Union is an union of twenty-eight countries in Europe that operates as one economic group under the Euro, the EU’s currency. Some members include Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

When a few countries agree to reduce regulations and taxes on imports and exports, a free-trade regime occurs.

Moscow is the capital of Russia, and Ukraine’s capital city is Kiev.