9 Questions About Ukraine That You Were Too Afraid to Ask – Answered


Ukraine's been dominating the headlines over the past few weeks — and you've probably seen images of bloodied protesters, cars on fire and lines of armed men.

But with many conflicting reports and developing stories, keeping track of what's going on in Ukraine has proven difficult. Here are the answers to nine questions you were too afraid to ask about Ukraine's conflict: 

1) Where is Ukraine on a map?

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. Ukraine borders Russia to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west. Have a look for yourself: 

(Image Credit: Wikimedia)

2) Where is Kiev?

Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine. It is where the anti-government protests centered.

3) What is Crimea? 

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Crimea is in red.)

Crimea is the Ukrainian peninsula located on the north coast of the Black Sea. Russian troops have expanded control over the region. Russian forces have moved in from Sevastopol, a key port city for Russia, into Simferopol — Crimea's capital. Russian soldiers in Crimea are demanding the Ukrainian army surrender.

Russia began military exercises on Ukraine's border to show anger at the country's direction. Armed men then surrounded the country's airports. Ukrainians accuse the unidentified men of being Russian. 

4) What is the standoff about?

Anti-government protests began at the end of November of 2013 when President Viktor Yanukovych killed an economic deal with the EU. Many citizens saw this as a move away from a promising European identity and a move towards towards dictator-like leadership with strengthening Russian relations. Now Russian troops have invaded Ukraine and demand the protests stop and the Ukrainian army surrender

5) What happened? 

(Image Credit: Flickr)

As tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets in Ukraine's capital city of Kiev, government forces responded with brute force. There are videos of riot police shooting down unarmed protesters. As a result, protests grew even more chaotic as demonstrators sought to arm themselves wearing helmets, creating Molotov cocktails and using makeshift shields. Protesters were killed on Jan. 22, and the death toll rose to approximately 95 on Tuesday. There are reports of extrajudicial pro-government vigilantes who tortured protesters. 

6) Who's in power?

Protest leaders and Yanukovych agreed to form a new government and hold an early election, but the peace deal didn't last. Parliament slashed his powers and freed his rival from prison. Yanukovych fled, effectively vacating his role as the president. Now, there is a warrant out for his arrest. 

Oleksandr Turchynov is Ukraine's acting president. He is calling for Russia to stop its "provocations."

7) Why does Russia care? 

(Image Credit: Flickr)

The port city of Sevastopol is, in many ways, a Russian entity. That's how Russia sees it anyway. Sevastopol is a crucial port city for Putin where important economic and military transactions happen daily. It has a large military base stationed there: the Black Sea Fleet. Since 1991, Russia has leased the Sevastopol port from Ukraine. It currently has a lease on the port until 2042

It's the country's main access point to the Mediterranean basin. It's a warm water route too, which is in Russia's strategic interest during blistering winters. Essentially, Russia leases the port city from Ukraine. When Russia had a sympathetic leader, this was no problem. But now, Russia is worried it could lose a critical port, which it's not willing to lose. 

Legal Agreement 

In 1994, the U.S. and Russia agreed to a "security guarantee memorandum." The memorandum stated that if Russia gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons and joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Ukraine could keep its "territorial wholeness." After the deal was brokered, Russia gained U.S. approval to keep running business as usual, with Russia's continued use of Sevastopol as a military base. If Ukraine defects to the EU, Russia may see this as a breach of the 1994 agreement. 

There's also the question of identity. People in Sevastopol, like other cities on the Crimean Peninsula, largely consider themselves Russian and do not identify with anti-government protesters. 

"This is a Russian city and always has been," said Vitaly Rodyonkov, a taxi driver in Sevastopol to the Christian Science Monitor. "I don't understand these people on Maidan. Who are they to tell me what my government should do? We don't need these people. We are Russians, plain and simple."

Pro-government rallies began there just over a week ago.

Buffer Zone 

Russia sees Ukraine as an extension of its power, influence and identity. This Eastern European city has become a buffer zone between Russia and the West more literally than figuratively. In the event of war with the West, Ukraine would provide a cushion or a bulwark. Figuratively, Ukraine has always been regarded by Russian leaders as a strategic and axiomatic ally. 

8) Will Putin Wage War? 

Vladimir Putin says that Russia and Ukraine will not descend into war, though 16,000 pro-Russian troops occupy the Ukrainian region. 

"We will not go to war with the Ukrainian people. If we do take military action, it will only be for the protection of the Ukrainian people," said Putin according to the Guardian.

9) What is the international response? 

(Image Credit: AP)

Poland has called a NATO meeting under Article 4 of the agreement, which is a rare and desperate measure. Emergency talks will be held after Poland requests Article 4 talks over fear of Russian threats. Article 4 is only called when a country believes its security, territory or independence is being threatened. 

The U.S. and the EU are weighing different options in response to Russia's invasion. Severe economic actions will likely begin this week. 

Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Kiev this morning. The U.S. said it was preparing a $1 billion aid package for Ukraine. 

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande call Putin's actions in Ukraine "completely unacceptable."