If you’ve paid any attention to world news over the last several months, you’ve heard that some seriously intense stuff has been going down in Kiev. Still, many Americans can hardly locate Ukraine on a map, let alone parse the political upheaval that has lead to the deaths of more than 100 people in Ukraine's capitol. To provide some context, we’ve created this helpful primer that answers some questions you may have about the violence and mayhem that has engulfed the former Soviet nation.
Where is Kiev?
Kiev is the capitol of Ukraine, a former member of the USSR that gained independence in 1991. It’s located in Eastern Europe and borders Romania, Moldova, Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Westerners sometimes call it THE Ukraine, but Ukrainians don’t like that so you should be respectful.
Why are people protesting?
Back in November, President Viktor F. Yanukovych rejected an economic agreement with the European Union in favor of looking to Russia for financial aid. (The country has been in dire economic straights for some time, nearing a financial meltdown.) Traditionally, the country has been split between allegiances to Europe and Russia. They also accused Yanukovych of kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Putin denies that Yanukovych is Russia's puppet.
How long have they been demonstrating?
Protesters have been gathered in Independence Square in the city center since November. Although their protests were first centered on the EU/Russia economic controversy, they have broadened to call for Yanukovych’s resignation and early elections. Tensions have been steadily rising between the two sides for three months, with escalating clashes between protesters and police.
When did things turn ugly?
On Tuesday, the government tried to retake an occupied part of European Square, just up the road from Independence Square. The assault resulted in the deaths of at least 25 people, tear gas being used on protesters, and barricades being lit on fire.
That sounds pretty bad.
It gets worse. On February 20, there were reports that 67 people had been killed and hundreds more wounded by gunfire, though the exact number had not been determined. There were also reports of unidentified snipers firing on protesters from rooftops. Both protesters and riot police have used firearms against each other, with the government authorizing the use of live ammunition. Protesters have also seized around 140 guns from a police armory, according to the New York Times.
What’s going to happen now?
It’s not clear. The EU has imposed sanctions on Ukraine following the violence. Protesters have expanded the occupied territory in the center of Kiev and show no signs of leaving. One outcome—which is looking ever more likely—is that the federal government could send in military troops to quell the protests. Yanukovych is losing support from some of his officials, including the the mayor of Kiev, Volodymyr Makeyenko, but he has no intention of relinquishing power. If Yanukovych does call in troops, it will likely lead to more bloodshed, with the possibility of a full-scale civil war erupting.