By John Mowat

Ukraine is the third biggest country in Europe, slightly smaller, in land area, than France. It lies in Eastern Europe, sharing borders with Poland & Slovakia to the west, Belarus to the north, Russia to the north east, East & south east, Moldova and Romania to the south and Hungary to the south east and a long Black Sea coast to the south. Its population is 44 million.

Ukraine, as we know it today, emerged in the latter part of the 20th century, following the collapse of Communism. It was successively dominated by Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, USSR & Russia. It had a brief period of independence, following the end of WW1 but became a Soviet Socialist Republic soon after that. The capital, Kiev stands on the Dnieper River, a major, north to south trading route, in Viking times and before that.

Ukraine suffered badly during WW2 from hostile neighbours of both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, suffering 5 million casualties. Recovery post 1945 was slow and difficult, under Stalin’s Russia. Things started to improve, particularly during the Gorbachov era and Peristroika, from 1985 to 1991 when greater freedom and economic development became possible. 

Two thirds of the population speak Ukranian, an eastern Slavonic language, with close links to Polish, while the remaining third , in the eastern part, speak Russian. Some of the Russian speakers could be described as Russian immigrants but most Russian speakers are happy to be Ukrainians; only a small  minority would opt to join Russia. There are smaller numbers of nationals from neighbouring countries who regard themselves as Ukrainians.

Ukraine is relatively poor country with one of the lowest GDPs in Europe, given its geography and proximity to Russia.

Much of Ukraine consists of rich fertile agricultural land, and a warm summer climate, good for the growth of grain. The eastern part of the Black Sea is industrial, but has lacked modern investment. Chernobyl was another legacy of post war Communist Russia, with a resulting loss of life and largescale pollution.

Ukraine has been a multi party democracy since the early 1990s. Culturally and politically Ukraine is closer to Poland than other neighbouring countries. Many younger people have studied at Polish Universities over the past 30 or more years, while Germany has become a close ally.  Many young Ukrainians study in Germany too. Younger Ukrainians often work for German companies, particularly in the travel, tourism and educational industries.  

The majority of today’s Ukrainians, look westwards to Europe and the European Union. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania & Bulgaria have greatly benefitted from EU Membership.

Unfortunately for the majority of Ukrainians, in February & March 2014, Russia coveted & annexed the Crimea along with its 2.5 million inhabitants. A small majority of people there spoke Russian. Since then, many Ukrainians have had to leave Crimea. Russia coveted its port and former naval base and tourism facilities. The Russians failed to take over the important port of Mariupol.

February and March 2014 marked a Russian–Ukrainian War.

In addition to Crimea, parts of Dombas and Luthansk in Eastern Ukraine were invaded. A low level war, sponsored by Russia has continued, ever since. Russia has now ramped up the 2014 low level war backed by 190,000 hostile Russian troops. In 2014 Ukraine successfully repulsed further Russian incursions.

For Europe we are seeing what appears to be a new Iron Curtain descending over parts of Eastern Europe. The Baltic Countries, Poland and many others have embraced Membership of NATO and protection as they see it provides. While the majority of Ukrainians may well like this prospect, there is little possibility of this anytime soon.                            

A bit like Poland and Finland, in 1938 & 1939, Ukraine finds itself being bullied by a big, powerful militarily neighbour Putin makes no secret of wishing to recreate Russia and its role of the old Communist USSR. As a Dictator, he is seen as being unpredictable and thus dangerous. It is difficult to predict Putin’s next move.

Meanwhile Russian gas supplies to Germany, Austria & Italy have been an important of their energy requirements. Germany has halted the opening of the flow of Russian gas, via the Nordstream pipeline from the Baltic.  A gas pipeline, through Ukraine is also seen to be important to Russia. Western European and EU Countries are finding themselves entering a more unstable & unpredictable period. Oil and gas prices have risen sharply to their highest levels in the past 10 years. 40 % of Europe’s gas and 25 % of its oil presently come from Russia. Putin understands economic and military power but does not greatly care for the people caught in the middle, whether Russian or not.

Russia is believed to have meddled in elections in USA, UK, other European countries along with the Brexit Referendum, in recent years. There is considerable sympathy for the sovereign independent country of Ukraine during its present predicament. European Countries have hitherto declined to send troops into Ukraine but many have supplied some military hardware. European countries and Turkey are thus having to adapt to a new and more threatening reality. They along with NATO will need to remain vigilant.  

vehicles on road beside sea
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on

Archived story: A flame of hope?

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4 replies »

  1. I posted the following as a comment to ‘A Flame of Hope’…..

    “I went to school with a lot of girls whose parents had fled Eastern Europe during the Second World War and its aftermath. I clearly remember one Ukrainian girl who was very active politically about the rights of her home nation. She used to ask us to sign petitions and get involved with campaigns. She explained the situation in the Ukraine to me, or she tried to. It was a complicated history of being taken over by various other nations, and usually not being treated well by them. She was proudly Ukrainian, and her main hope was for the Ukraine to be an independent nation, with control over its own future.

    Irene Tchorek (possibly spelt wrong) comes to mind when I see Russia threatening the Ukraine, and I think – why can’t they leave them alone? Russia has enough land and enough of everything – why can’t they leave them alone? The Ukraine has had enough hard times, and, as you say Steve, in relatively recent times – the parents of a girl I went to school with.”

    I’ve since been trying to work out why Russia is taking this action – it doesn’t need to rule the Ukraine – Russia is huge, it has good land for agriculture and forestry, and lakes and rivers for fish. It has mineral wealth. As a country, it has all it could possibly want or need.
    I’m told that Russia feels a need to dominate the Ukraine as the Ukraine has been getting too close to the European Union and Russia feels threatened by this. How can it feel threatened? It’s huge, powerful – no need to feel threatened if the Ukraine became part of the European Union.

    I’m not being flippant, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because Vladimir Putin is insane. Look at him – listen to him – he is a megalomaniac. He behaves randomly – I don’t believe that he fears the Ukraine getting close to the European Union – I’m afraid he doesn’t fear anything. That’s the problem. Here’s a good definition of megalomania…..

    He’s mad – and madness will ensue when a madman is in charge. Madness, death and destruction. Already his own country is suffering from his actions. But as a madman – that won’t matter to him either. He’ll stand proudly amid the chaos – proud that he produced it.

    The only thing which will ease or stop this situation is his removal from power. Nothing else will matter to him. He’s insane.

    But what do I know.

  2. PS

    I’m remembering Helena Smolenska and her traditional hairstyle – in Bradford, in the 1960’s and her Mum still did her hair in a traditional Ukrainian style – a kind of bob to just below her ears, with a fringe, and a long plait wound round the top of her head. She felt a bit embarrassed about coming to school with her hair like that, but we all thought it was brilliant – she started to weave ribbons into the plait and put tiny paper flowers tucked into it.

    In the Ukraine – there are people, living their lives, like we are – not bothering anyone, then, bombs drop on them.

    I need to stop this – I actually wish harm to Putin, and if that taints my soul – too bad.

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