Ukraine’s borders are encircled by more than 100,000 Russian troops, and foreign leaders are flying in and out of Kyiv in the hope of finding a way out of the situation and averting a Russian invasion.
The issue is the most high-stakes manifestation of the country’s 30-year history of being stuck between East and West, balancing between Moscow’s and the United States’ interests and those of its European allies, as well as the influence of Moscow.
Ukraine’s democracy has survived corruption, conflict, and two major protest movements, with pro-Western and pro-Kremlin leaders at times and pro-Western leaders at other times.
As Russia has encroached, it is now facing its most difficult test. Ukrainians have drifted away from Moscow and toward the West after the unlawful annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, with public support for joining Western alliances like NATO and the European Union on the increase.
Learn about the timeline of Ukraine crisis and understand how Ukraine got to where it is now.
Independence from the Soviet Union throughout the 1990s
1990 and 1989
Anti-communist protests are sweeping Central and Eastern Europe, beginning in Poland and expanding across the Soviet bloc. In Ukraine in January 1990, more than 400,000 people clasp hands in a human chain running around 400 kilometers from the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk to Kyiv in the northern-central region of the nation — many carrying the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag that had been outlawed during Soviet control. 1990 can be said to be the beginning of the timeline of Ukraine crisis.
16 July 1990
Votes to proclaim independence from the Soviet Union by the Rada, the new Ukrainian parliament established out of the former Soviet legislative. Ukrainian soldiers from other regions of the Soviet Union are being recalled, and the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in northern Ukraine is being considered for closure.
On August 24, the Ukrainian parliament proclaims independence for the second time after a failed coup in Moscow. Ukraine’s formal Independence Day is observed on this day. On December 26, the Soviet Union would be officially disbanded.
Ukraine formally establishes relations with NATO, while not joining, as NATO partners consider adding Central and Eastern European members for the first time. President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine pays a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, and NATO Secretary General Sergei Lavrov pays a visit to Kyiv.
December in the year 1994
Ukraine has the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal after the Soviet Union collapsed. Under the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine agrees to give up its intercontinental ballistic missiles, warheads, and other nuclear equipment in exchange for guarantees from the three treaty signatories — the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia — that they would “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”
Leonid Kuchma has helped Ukraine move from a Soviet republic to a capitalist society in his ten years as president, privatizing enterprises and seeking to boost international economic opportunities. However, in 2000, he was embroiled in a scandal over audio recordings that revealed he ordered the murder of a journalist. He’ll be in office for another four years.
Between the West and Russia in the 2000s: a stalemate
Viktor Yushchenko, a popular, pro-democracy opposition leader, faces up against Kuchma’s incumbent party, which is led by his hand-picked successor Viktor Yanukovych and is supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yushchenko becomes inexplicably ill, scarred, and physicians conclude that he has been poisoned in the closing months of the campaign.
Despite allegations of election tampering, Yanukovych wins the election. The Orange Revolution is a term used to describe the public outrage that follows massive protests against his election. Yushchenko wins the third round of voting.
Yulia Tymoshenko becomes the prime minister and Yushchenko becomes president.
2008 is crucial in the timeline of Ukraine Crisis. In January, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko formally requested that Ukraine be awarded a “membership action plan,” the first stage in the process of joining NATO, after their efforts to bring Ukraine into the alliance.
After Russia expressed its unhappiness, President George W. Bush favors Ukraine’s membership, while France and Germany oppose it.
After Ukraine’s refusal to join NATO, NATO answers in April with a compromise: it says that Ukraine would one day join, but does not specify how it will do so.
Following months of politically difficult discussions over gas pricing, Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas firm, abruptly stopped supplying gas to Ukraine on January 1. The gas crisis swiftly extends beyond Ukraine’s borders since Eastern and Central European nations rely on Russian gas supplies via pipelines via Ukraine.
Tymoshenko negotiates a new arrangement with Putin under international pressure to settle the issue, and gas shipments will restart on January 20. Today, a large portion of Europe still relies on Russian gas.
In February, Yanukovych will be sworn in as president. Ukraine, he claims, should be a “neutral state” that cooperates with both Russia and Western alliances such as NATO.
Tymoshenko is being investigated by Ukrainian authorities for alleged corruption and misappropriation of public funds. During the 2009 discussions with Russia over the gas issue, she was found guilty by a court of “abuse of authority,” and she was sentenced to seven years in jail in October, raising worries in the West that Ukrainian officials are punishing political opponents.
The annexation of Crimea and the Maidan revolt in 2014
November 2013 to February 2014
Yanukovych says, only days before it is to be signed, that he would refuse to ink an association agreement with the EU to bring Ukraine into a free trade pact. He cites Russian coercion as a basis for his choice.
The statement spurs massive rallies across Ukraine, the largest since the Orange Revolution, asking for Yanukovych’s resignation. Protesters set up camp in Kyiv’s Maidan Square and take over government buildings, including Kyiv’s justice ministry building and the city hall.
In late February, more than 100 people are killed in a single week of violence between police and demonstrators in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.
Yanukovych escapes, finally landing in Russia, ahead of a scheduled impeachment vote on February 22. Ukraine’s parliament unanimously votes to depose Yanukovych and create an interim administration, which declares its intention to sign the EU agreement and votes to release Tymoshenko from prison.
The new administration accuses Yanukovych of mass murdering Maidan demonstrators and issues an arrest warrant for him.
Russia claims that Ukraine’s government transition is an unlawful coup. Armed personnel emerge very quickly at checkpoints and infrastructure around the Crimean peninsula. Putin initially denies they are Russian military, but then concedes they are.
The Crimean parliament decides to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, with Russian soldiers in control of the peninsula. Following that, a public vote is held, with 97 percent of people voting in support of independence, albeit the results are contested.
In a March 18 address to Russia’s parliament, Putin completes Russia’s annexation of Crimea. As a result, the United States and its European allies impose sanctions on Russia. They have never acknowledged Russia’s takeover of Crimea. It is still the first occasion since World War II that a European nation’s boundaries have been modified by armed force.
With 40,000 Russian forces assembled on Ukraine’s eastern border, violence erupts in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine — bloodshed that continues to this day. Separatist militants backed by Russia attack government buildings in eastern cities. Russia denies that its forces are on Ukrainian territory, but Ukrainian officials maintain that they are.
Petro Poroshenko, a former government minister and chairman of Ukraine’s National Bank Council, is elected president of Ukraine. He advocates for reform, including measures to combat corruption and reduce Ukraine’s reliance on Russia for energy and financial assistance.
Representatives from Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany are meeting in Belarus to try to reach an agreement to end the violence in Donbas. They sign the first Minsk agreement, a pact between Ukraine and Russia to halt the fighting through a tenuous truce. The ceasefire is quickly broken, and the violence continues into the new year.
2015 through 2020: Russia looms
To establish a more successful deal to cease the conflict, the Minsk group meets again in Belarus, culminating in the Minsk II agreement. It has also failed to put an end to the bloodshed. More than 14,000 people have been murdered, tens of thousands have been maimed, and more than a million people have been displaced since 2014.
With the annexation of Crimea and the Russian-backed fighting in the east, Ukraine’s popular opinion has shifted toward the West, with a growing desire to join NATO and the EU.
2016 and 2017
As the battle in the Donbas continues, Russia continues to launch cyberattacks against Ukraine, including a 2016 attack on Kyiv’s power infrastructure, which causes a significant blackout. In 2017, a large-scale attack targeted crucial Ukrainian infrastructure, including the country’s national bank and power system. (Russian cyberattacks have continued to the present; the most recent major attack targeted government websites in January 2022.)
In a landslide victory over Poroshenko and the status quo, which includes a stagnant economy and continued confrontation with Russia, comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy is elected president in April.
At the start of his campaign, Zelenskyy pledged to make peace with Russia and bring the Donbass conflict to a close.
President Trump temporarily freezes US military aid to Ukraine and advises to Zelenskyy that instead of working with Putin to settle the problem, he could instead work with Putin.
In a July 2019 phone contact with President Trump, Zelenskyy asks for a meeting with Trump at the White House to discuss the US’s support for Ukraine’s ambitions to break away from Russia. Trump asks Zelenskyy for “a favor”: a probe into the Bidens and their energy firm Burisma. In December 2019, a White House whistleblower filed a complaint, which resulted in President Trump’s first impeachment.
A number of US officials later testified that Zelenskyy was on the verge of launching such a probe, but he eventually backtracked, claiming that Ukrainians were “tired” of Burisma.
A new catastrophe emerges in 2021
On the surface, Russia sends over 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s borders for military maneuvers. Despite the fact that few analysts believe an invasion is imminent, Zelenskyy has urged NATO leaders to set a date for Ukraine’s accession to the organization. Russia promises it will evacuate the soldiers later that month, but tens of thousands stay.
Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden at the White House two years after his tussle with former President Donald Trump. US is committed “to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression,” Biden said, while repeating that Ukraine has yet to meet the NATO membership requirements.
American intelligence officers, who come to Brussels to inform NATO partners on the situation, are concerned as Russia increases its army presence near the Ukrainian border. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We’re not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to, but these movements certainly have our attention.”
In a phone chat with Putin, President Biden begs Russia not to attack Ukraine, citing the “real costs” of doing so.
Putin makes a tumultuous set of demands about security. For example, he wants Ukraine to be permanently excluded from NATO and to withdraw troops from Balkans and Romanian nations that joined the alliance after 1997. The United States and NATO must also respond in writing, according to Putin.
Fears of war in 2022
To avoid a crisis, leaders and diplomats from the United States, Russia, and European countries meet on a regular basis to discuss the situation. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov tells US diplomats in early January that Russia has no intentions to attack Ukraine.
On January 23, the State Department urges the families of diplomatic personnel to leave Ukraine. The next day, NATO orders forces to be ready to deploy, with the United States ordering 8,500 troops in the United States to be ready for deployment.
In response to Putin’s requests, representatives from the United States and NATO will provide their written reply on January 26. Authorities say they can’t stop Ukraine from joining NATO, but they’re willing to talk about things like armaments control in the meantime.
Over the course of Europe, diplomatic attempts are picking up the pace. Both President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany travel between Moscow and Kyiv to try settle the dispute. President Biden has ordered the transfer of 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, as well as the deployment of 2,000 more troops to Poland and Germany.
With 30,000 Russian troops stationed at Ukraine’s northern border, Russia and Belarus will commence joint military drills on Feb. 10.
The United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland insist that on February 11, their citizens should flee Ukraine. The United States will send additional 2,000 troops to Poland under President Biden’s command.
As to where the timeline of Ukraine crisis will lead will unfold in the coming months.