Events move quickly in the heat of war. Following is a recap of the last nine months in Ukraine and how war and conflict led to the current situation.
November 21, 2013: Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign a European trade agreement. A prescient headline from Aljazeera at the time was “Ukraine at crossroads after rejecting EU pact.” The deal would have integrated Ukraine economically into Europe but actual membership (assuming all went well) could have come later. The rejection aroused hundreds of thousands of protestors in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. Tents were erected for a long-haul demonstration, with protestors vowing to stay until Yanukovych signed the document.
February 20: Eighty-eight protesters died in gunfire-infused clashes with police, bringing a level of violence to Ukraine not seen in 70 years. CNN opened with the lead “Protests. Talks. Violence. Protests. Talks. Violence.” A doctor who volunteered to treat protesters was bitter, saying that 13 of the people she treated were shot by “professional snipers,” saying the victims were wounded directly in their hearts, brains and necks, giving doctors such as herself “no chance … to save lives.”
February 21: One day after the deadly clashes and sniper fire – and under pressure from the West – President Yanukovych struck a compromise deal with his opposition, with both sides hoping to see an end to the three-month crisis and begin nothing less than a reshaping of Ukraine’s destiny. Separatists rejected it, however, and protests continued.
February 22: A crush of lightning speed events, starting with the Ukraine Parliament voting to impeach Yanukovych 328 – 0. The president fled Kiev, reporting that a violent coup had erupted. His sprawling residence and office complex quickly and easily fell to ecstatic citizens jubilant over their success. Then, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed by Yanukovych in 2010 after her election loss to him, was released from the prison hospital where she had been held.
Feb 27 – 28: Pro-Russians stormed and seized key buildings in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, a place where Russia has a Black Sea naval fleet. In the week prior, Russia had been publicly questioning the legitimacy of the authorities who had recently come to power in the wake of Yanukovych’s hasty departure.
March 16: Crimea residents voted a suspect 97 percent for independence from Ukraine. Thus declared an independent sovereign state, the Republic of Crimea was birthed. A unanimous vote of the Supreme Council of Crimea then unanimously voted for the integration of their region into Russia.
March 18: After signing a bill to absorb Crimea into Russia, Putin said in a speech under chandeliers at the Grand Kremlin Palace that the region of Crimea has always been “integral” to Russia “in the hearts and minds of people.”
April 7: Separatists barricaded themselves in government buildings in eastern Ukraine, proclaiming their own regions independent and seizing government buildings. Mirroring the events that led to the previous month’s annexation of Crimea by Russia, pro-Russian activists called for a referendum on seceding the eastern part of Ukraine. Ukraine blamed Russia for creating the agitation.
May 2: Following the Black Sea coast northwest from Crimea, clashes between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists took the lives of 42 people in Odessa, a city of one million people. A trade union building was set afire, killing 38 of the 42 from smoke inhalation or jumping from windows.
May 11: In referenda, Ukraine labeled a farce due to an abnormally high number of votes in favor (96.2 percent), Donetsk and Luhansk declared themselves independent republics. The population of the two eastern regions is 6.6 million, or about 14 percent of Ukraine’s total. Neither Ukraine nor the West recognize the legitimacy of the separation.
May 26 – 27: Hours after President Poroshenko called for peace, saying he would like to negotiate his way out of the crisis, unprecedented violence hit an eastern city of 1 million when pro-Russian separatists captured the passenger terminal at Donetsk International Airport. Paratroopers from Ukraine’s National Guard then led an assault on the airport, followed by airstrikes, and stray rounds hit surrounding neighborhoods. Smoke consumed the airport, Ukraine prevailed and 40 separatists were left dead.
July 5: After the breakdown of a 10-day ceasefire, the crucial stronghold of Sloviansk was abandoned by rebels, citing the “overwhelming numerical superiority” of Ukraine’s army. This was a major victory for the government as Sloviansk is considered the place where the eastern insurgency began in April.
July 17: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a rebel missile, killing all 298 on board, the majority of which were Dutch civilians. It turns out it is not unusual for commercial aircraft to fly routes over combat zones.
August 27 – 28: A third front was opened as Russian infantry, tanks and artillery left their country and moved into the Sea of Azov town of Novoazovsk and the surrounding area. Ukrainian soldiers were reported to be “in full, chaotic retreat.”
September 3: Speaking from Mongolia, Putin outlined a seven-point peace plan for eastern Ukraine, saying that the views of himself and Poroshenko are actually very close. Although Poroshenko confirmed that Ukraine and Russia had agreed to a “ceasefire process,” Arseny Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s Prime Minister, said that any plan from Mr Putin is not to be trusted.
By Gregory Baskin