In 2004, mass protests took place in Ukraine to overthrow pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych. Described as the ‘Orange Revolution’, the protests successfully enabled the pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko into power. In response, Russia limited gas supplies to Ukraine and, in addition to the global financial crisis, depleted the value of the Ukrainian currency. Shortly after, in 2010, Viktor Yanukovych wins a decisive election to become president again. For the upcoming years, these events intensified the long-term divide in Ukraine between pro-Russian and pro-Western movements. In 2014, this escalated when president Viktor Yanukovych declined an agreement which would have effectively brought the country closer to the European Union (EU). Mass protests, which later morphed into a revolution, took place against this decision and subsequently resulted in Viktor Yanukovych resigning. During these protests, almost 80 protesters were killed by police and security forces. Like the 2004 protests, Russia responded again, though this time more intensely by completely annexing the Ukrainian region of Crimea via an unrecognised referendum. This intensified the already present pro-Western and pro-Russia division in the country and witnessed outside intervention in the form of sanctions by the United States and the EU. Russia’s annexation of Crimea ultimately encouraged other Russophone regions in Ukraine to demand independence, namely in Donetsk and Luhansk; together referred to as the Donbass. Ever since the initiation of such pro-Russian protests, the Ukrainian government has been at conflict/war against the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics; both supported militarily by Russia. With various failed ceasefires brokered by EU members states, the conflict is still ongoing, with Russian influence both politically and militarily increasing.
Where: Russophone regions in Ukraine, particularly the east, including the Donbass area containing the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, and the Crimean Peninsula.
Militaries: Over 200,000 (Ukraine), 45,000 (Separatist groups support by Russia), according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence.
Deaths: 13,000 killed, including over 3,300 civilians, and almost 30,000 injured since 2014, according to the OHCHR.
Displaced people: 1.5 million, according to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine.
People in need of assistance: 3.5 million, according to the OHCHR.
Current Situation: Conflict ongoing.
has constantly opposed efforts by the pro-Russian separatist groups to establish the Donbass regions as independent from Ukraine. To do this, the Ukrainian government has utilised an ‘anti-terrorist’ operation to construct a military force large enough to force separatist forces out of the Donbass regions. This has involved recruiting mercenaries and volunteers that involve right-wing nationalists. The Ukrainian military has chosen to focus on the Donbass region exclusively due to the Crimean Peninsula being under Russian control.
annexed Crimea in 2014 and has supported the pro-Russian separatist groups in the Donbass region. Russia’s support of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist groups are part of a broader aim to integrate former territories of the Soviet Union via military force.
Timeline of the crisis
After declaring independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s early years are concentrated with the balancing of interests between the West and Russia. Ukraine’s bid to join NATO in 2002 largely indicated the country’s pro-Western aspirations, thereby angering Russia and pro-Russian members of the Ukrainian population. These events fuelled the pro-West and pro-Russian political crisis that is present today.
Tensions between pro-Western and pro-Russian movements mount as the ‘Orange Revolution’ takes place. The revolution successfully forces pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to step down after pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko wins election in 2005. The revolution and subsequent ousting of Viktor Yanukovych angers Russia and tensions worsen consequently.
The Ukrainian revolution results in the ousting of the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, who is supported by the Russian government. The revolution is motivated by the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of a European Union ascension agreement. Protests in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine break out in response to the government that was installed after the revolution. In particular, protests break out on the Crimean peninsula and within the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in support of Russia.
Viktor Yanukovych is elected as president again and is described by critics as a puppet of Russia.
Newly appointed pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych announces the country’s decision to withdraw an application to join NATO. Yanukovych argued that this decision was declared in order to repair relations with Russia.
Viktor Yanukovych shocks many as he declares that the Ukrainian government is withdrawing from a trade deal with the EU. The Ukrainian government states that the decision had been made to protect the country’s ‘national security’, consequently seeking closer ties with Moscow. Sparking outrage, many echoed Swedish Minister Carl Bildt’s remarks that the Kremlin had used “politics of brutal pressure” to influence Ukraine’s decision.
Angered by Ukraine’s sudden decision to abandon its deal with the EU, over 300,000 people protest in Kiev, marking the beginning of the Maidan/Euromaidan revolution. The Ukrainian government invokes anti-protest powers, resulting in the deaths of over 100 people and 2,500 injured. Viktor Yanukovych flees to Russia.
Between the 22nd and 23rd February, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds an all-night security meeting in which it is decided that the Crimean Peninsula should be returned to Russian control by force.
Shortly after, between the 25th and 26th February, several hundred pro-Russia protesters block the Crimean parliament to demand a referendum on Crimean independence. Thousands of Ukrainian Tatars who support the Ukrainian government launch a counter-protest to the pro-Russia protesters that continue to demand a referendum.
Nearing the end of the month on the 27th February, masked Russian troops without insignia seize control of the Crimean government. They take control of the Crimean Supreme Council, important strategic sites, raise Russian flags over government buildings, and install a pro-Russian government in Crimea through the parliament, which votes to install a new pro-Russian Prime Minister of Crimea. By the end of the day, additional troops arrive and set up security checkpoints, cutting Ukraine off from the Crimean Peninsula.
The new Crimean Prime Minister takes control of Ukrainian military installations on the Crimean Peninsula and asks for additional Russian military assistance. By the 2nd, Russian president Vladimir Putin receives authorization from the Federation Council of Russia for a military intervention in Ukraine and sends additional troops, armor, and helicopters to secure Crimea.
Putin defends intervention in Crimea as necessary to protect citizens in eastern Ukraine on behalf of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, of whom Putin claims had been ousted as a result of an illegitimate coup.
In the early stages of March, the Crimean Supreme Council sets the date for the independence referendum to the 16th of March with the Crimean parliament voting in favour of Russia. However, various members of the international community reject the legality of the Crimean referendum, with countries such as Germany threatening to impose severe sanctions on Russia.
On the 15th March, a UN Security Council Resolution to affirm Ukraine’s sovereignty fails after Russia vetoes the resolution. China abstains from voting, but all 13 other members of the Security Council voted in favour of the resolution.
A day after, on the 16th March, despite being declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine and the Crimean parliament, the Crimean independence referendum is held with an overwhelming majority of 95% voting in favour of independence.
In the days after, Crimean leaders meet with Russian leaders to draft and sign a treaty of ascension for Russia to formally annex Crimea. By the 20th, the treaty has been signed, upheld by the Russian Constitutional Court, and ratified.
The G8 countries remove Russia from the G8 in retaliation for the annexation of Crimea. On the 27th, the UN passes a non-binding resolution condemning Russia for the annexation of Crimea. By this time, the US and most of the EU have imposed economic sanctions on Russian oligarchs as retaliation, contributing to the collapse of the Russian rouble.
NATO also announces on the 1st April that it will suspend all civilian and military cooperation with Russia following the Crimean annexation.
Putin withdraws troops from Ukrainian border and agrees to return Ukrainian weapons left in Crimea to Ukraine. On the 31st of March, Russia also agreed to increase the salaries and pensions for people living in Crimea.
In protest of the Ukrainian revolution and spurred by Russia’s successful annexation of Crimea, 1,000-2,000 pro-Russia separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine seize control of government buildings and demand an independence referendum similar to the Crimean referendum be held. After the regional government fails to meet their demands, the separatists in Donetsk hold an assembly, vote for independence, and unilaterally declare themselves to be the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
Starting from the 8th April, violent brawls occur throughout Ukraine. On the 8th, Ukrainian ministers clash in the Kiev parliament following the captures of various Ukrainian government buildings by pro-Russian forces.
In response to the capture of various government buildings, on the 9th April the Ukrainian President vowed to launch an anti-terror campaign, and the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs publicly states that the conflict will either be resolved by military force or negotiations. On the latter, Ukraine offers additional powers and autonomy to eastern cities in an attempt to prevent another referendum of independence.
On the 12th April, pro-Russian forces storm police headquarters in Kramatorsk, resulting in a gun battle with the police defending the building. Throughout the rest of the month, sporadic violence occurs between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukraine government. EU member states and the US continue to threaten additional sanctions and various truce agreement are broken. Putin describes Ukraine as being on the brink of civil war.
Pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk on the 21st April declare a referendum on increased autonomy to take place on 11th May.
A week later, on the 27th April, separatists in Luhansk declare independence as the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and demand that the Ukrainian government release arrested protesters, enshrine Russian as an official language, and hold a referendum on the status of the Luhansk province. They issue an ultimatum that if their demands are not met within 48 hours, they will join Donetsk in their insurgency.
The US and EU begin a second round of sanctions on Russia, targeting executives of Russia’s state owned oil company, Rosneft, and 15 other companies.
Russia rejects proposals for peace by EU member states in the early stages of May.
After holding a successful independence referendum, the new leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic petitions Russia for military support. By this point, government and insurgent forces have begun to fight for control over various cities in both Donetsk and Luhansk.
Petro Poroshenko is declared Ukraine’s new president as he claims that he would never recognise Russia’s control of Crimea.
Massive disruption takes place on the 27th May as fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces occurs at Donetsk airport, described as the worst violence seen in the region since the beginning of the crisis with dozens of people being killed.
Following the violence, NATO accuses Russia via satellite imagery of suppling tanks to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. On the 14th June, Ukrainian protesters attack the Russian embassy in Kiev whilst a Ukrainian military plane containing more than a dozen people is shot down.
Ukraine’s prime minister accuses Russia of trying to destroy the country as Russian gas companies cut supply of gas to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko declares a ceasefire with rebels in the eastern part of Ukraine. More than 300 reported dead in eastern Ukraine in the last 2 months.
Petro Poroshenko signs an EU partnership agreement with Georgia and Moldova; a move strongly condemned by Russia.
Petro Poroshenko cancels ceasefire agreement claiming that his Ukrainian forces will ‘liberate our land’.
In the next couple of weeks, Ukrainian government forces slowly reclaim territory and push insurgents into Donetsk and Luhansk cities.
Malaysian flight MH17 is shot down in eastern Ukraine on 17th July, causing increased tension as the shot came from pro-Russian forces. Pro-Russian forces prevent entry to the crash site causing international condemnation.
The EU agrees to increase sanctions against Russia.
As Ukrainian military rejects rebel calls for ceasefire, Russia sends multiple aid convoys into Ukraine which is described by NATO as a “direct invasion” of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
The first Minsk ceasefire is signed by Ukraine, Russia, the DPR, and the LPR, after being organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental organization that works on arms control and human rights within Europe.
Despite the MINSK agreement, multiple ceasefire violations are reported on the 6th and 7th September.
Human Rights Watch reports that cluster bombs – a military technique that often results in civilian casualties – have been used by the Ukrainian military.
Heavy fighting resumes despite the ceasefire still nominally still being in effect. By late January, 9,000 Russian soldiers and 500 tanks and armored personnel carriers have been deployed to support the insurgent forces.
A new ceasefire agreement, dubbed Minsk II, is negotiated, signed, and largely observed across the combat zone despite occasional violations.
The Minsk II is observed, heavy artillery is mostly withdrawn from the combat zone, and casualties on both sides are reduced.
The UN also announces that 6,000 have been killed in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Heaviest fighting since Minsk II ceasefire takes place on 3rd June near Donetsk between pro-Russian and Ukrainian militaries. As a result, the Ukrainian government labels Minsk II “unworkable” and “impossible to implement” following a recent surge in violence.
Late in the month, the EU extends sanctions against Russia until 2016.
Protests break out after plans to give more autonomy to eastern Ukraine. Over 120 people are injured and at least 1 killed.
Both sides agree to halt all fighting in a new ceasefire on the 3rd September. No agreement is reached to sign a formal peace treaty, and the conflict becomes frozen – no territorial changes take place, and small skirmishes occasionally occur along the line of contact. As a result, violence in eastern Ukraine is recorded at the lowest level since the beginning of the crisis.
Following a record number of days without any immediate violence, Petro Poroshenko claims the ‘real truce’ has begun.
EU-Ukraine trade deal comes into effect. In retaliation, Russia imposes increased taxes on Ukrainian goods.
The conflict remains frozen, with 2016 marking the first full calendar year where the Ukrainian government has not lost territory, and casualties are greatly reduced.
The ‘Normandy Four’ countries (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine) hold a meeting in Berlin but fail to reach a unilateral agreement following various meetings.
On 17th January, Ukraine files a case at the International Court of Justice against Russia on the grounds of ‘acts of terrorism and unlawful aggression’.
The filing of the case arrives at a time where the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) expresses concern over a recent upsurge in violence seeing a dozen killed.
A series of minor skirmishes and a string of ceasefires broken by both sides within hours of being signed throughout eastern Ukraine.
The US and the EU extend sanctions against Russia until January 2018.
The EU fully ratifies the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which ex-president Viktor Yanukovych rejected in 2013. The agreement brings Ukraine closer to the EU and the West.
Russia rejects Donetsk self-proclaimed rebel state and instead maintains committed to the Minsk accords, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The United Nations Human Rights Council release a report on the 25th September showing the human rights violations committed by Russia in Crimea.
Human Rights Watch releases a report on 18th September that displays the human rights violations committed by Ukrainian authorities.
The US imposes 28 new sanctions aimed at Russian companies, whilst on the 12th March, the EU extends further sanctions against 150 Russian authorities and 38 companies.
The Ukrainian Donbass reintegration law comes into effect. The law affirms Russia as an aggressor state in the region and provides the Ukrainian military with a legal mandate to remove the Russian army from the country. The Russian government criticizes the bill as “preparations for a new war”.
Two new “Easter ceasefires” are signed and collapse within days by Russian-backed forces.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration announces urgent appeal for more than 300,000 people in assistance in Ukraine, pledging $38 million. It is also stated that more than 3 million people living in Ukraine are affected by the conflict and require humanitarian assistance.
Russia opens a bridge between Crimea and Russian land, invoking anger by Ukraine of which calls the construction illegal.
Later in the month, the US announces that it is providing an extra $200 million to strengthen Ukrainian defence capabilities.
Alexander Zakharcheko, leader of the separatist group the Donetsk People’s Republic, is killed during fighting between the Ukrainian military and the separatist group. Several are killed in the Donbass region of Ukraine by separatist forces.
Russian president Vladimir Putin warns that the death of separatist group leader Alexander Zakharcheko risks undermining current and future peace agreements.
EU member states further extend sanctions against Russia that have been in place since 2014.
The UK also agrees to send military personnel and equipment to support Ukraine.
Russia seizes control of 2 Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov near Crimea provoking international outrage. Representatives from NATO and the UN describe the incident as a violation of Ukrainian territory. Representatives from the Normandy group arrange a meeting in Germany to deescalate renewed tensions following the maritime incident.
Ukraine declares martial law for the first time on the 27th November amid an “imminent threat of Russian land invasion” after Russian authorities seize ships near Crimea. U.S president Donald Trump cancels planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin following the recent maritime incident.
The International Criminal Court on the 7th December labels the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The Ukrainian government increases naval presence.
Martial law in Ukraine ends in Ukraine following the recent conflict in the Sea of Azov.
Shortly after declaring the end of martial law, Russia announces the completion of a 60km fence across the Ukraine-Crimea border. This is condemned by the international community of whom still fail to recognise Crimea as Russian territory.
Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych is sent to 13 years in prison on accusations of treason leading to the annexation of Crimea.
The 2019 Ukraine Humanitarian Response Plan is launched which details the continued severity of the conflict and the importance to assist the 3.5 million people in need.
TV comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is declared Ukraine’s new president.
The Ukrainian Army raid and progress into Donbass region despite Russian-backed hostility. Leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, claims that over 1,000 members of the Ukrainian military have been injured or killed since 2018.
Russian-backed military also makes gains near the Donbass region.
The Government of Japan on 17th May continued its humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Eastern Ukraine by providing $2.8 million for support.
After campaigning against political corruption, Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he would dissolve parliament, stating that those in power must serve the public. Zelensky also declared that the first item on his agenda would be to achieve a ceasefire in the Donbass region.
In a statement, UNICEF announces that the number of traumatized students has increased four-fold since the outbreak of conflict in Eastern Ukraine. With over 750 attacks on schools, UNICEF stresses that children are too terrified to learn.
The UN’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered the immediate release of Ukrainian naval vassals that were captured by Russia last year. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s prime minister, stressed the importance that Russia’s compliance could mean for peace in the region, signifying a readiness to stop the ongoing conflict.