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The Conflict in Ukraine

What everyone needs to know

by Serhy Yekelchyk
Oxford University Press (2015)
ISBN 978–0–19–023727–1 (hbk.); 978–0–19–023728–8 (pbk.)

[ Yekelchyk2015ConflictInUkraine.pdf ]

[W.Z. The book consists of 7 chapters with 69 subsections formulated as questions as indicated in the Table of Contents reproduced below.  The reader is urged to read the full text in the pdf link above. Below the Table of Contents, I have reproduced 5 short excerpts in "quotation marks" and inserted personal comments within [square brackets] in the colour fuchsia with links to relevant information on the subject under discussion.]


1 Why  Ukraine?  1
What is the Maidan, and what made it top news around the world?  1
How and why did Russia annex the Crimea from Ukraine?  4
Why did fighting break out in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014?  5
Why did the Ukrainian crisis cause tensions between Russia and the West?  8

2 The Land and the People  11
What is Ukraine’s geographical location, and what natural resources and industry does it possess?  11
What is Ukraine’s demography and ethnic composition?  13
Who are the Ukrainians, and what is modern Ukrainian national identity?  14
Is it true that Ukraine is split into pro-Western and pro-Russian halves?  18
How large is the Ukrainian diaspora, and what role does it play in North American politics?  21

3 The Making of Modern Ukraine  25
Was Ukraine always part of Russia?  25
What was the medieval state of Kyivan Rus, and was it a Russian or Ukrainian polity?  27
Who were the Cossacks?  30
Is it true that Ukraine was “reunited” with Russia in 1654?  32
Who was Ivan Mazepa, and why is he considered a “traitor” in Russia?  35
What were Russia’s imperial policies in Ukraine?  36
Did the Austrian Empire govern its Ukrainian lands differently?  39
What happened in the Ukrainian lands during the revolutionary turmoil of 1917–1920?  41
Why did the Bolsheviks create a Ukrainian republic within the Soviet Union, and how did they determine its borders?  44
What was the Holodomor (the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933), and was it genocide?  47
Is it true that all the Ukrainian lands were united in a single polity for the first time under Stalin?  49
What is Babi Yar, and how did the Holocaust unfold in Ukraine?  52
Who was Stepan Bandera, and what was the Ukrainian Insurgent Army?  54
What were the Soviet policies in Ukraine during the postwar period?  56
Who were the dissidents, and how did they contribute to the collapse of communism?  58
Why did the Chernobyl accident happen, and what was its impact on Ukraine?  60

4 Ukraine after Communism  63
Did the Ukrainians have to fight the Russians in order to secede from the Soviet Union?  63
What is the Commonwealth of Independent States?  65
When and why did Ukraine give up its nuclear arsenal?  67
What were Ukraine’s relations with the West and Russia in the first decade after independence?  69
Did the presidents of independent Ukraine promote a united national identity?  71
What religions came to prominence in Ukraine after the Soviet collapse?  73
How did independent Ukraine become an inefficient economy and a paragon of crony capitalism?  77
Who are the oligarchs?  78
Is Ukraine dependent on Russian gas supplies?  80

5 The Orange Revolution and the EuroMaidan  85
What did the two recent revolutions in Ukraine (2004 and 2013–2014) have in common?  85
Why did mass protests against President Kuchma develop in the early 2000s, and who led them?  87
What sparked the Orange Revolution in 2004?  89
Was Yushchenko poisoned, and were the culprits ever prosecuted?  92
How was a peaceful resolution reached in the winter of 2004–2005?  93
Did the victors of the Orange Revolution manage to create a new Ukraine?  95
How did Viktor Yanukovych return to power, first as prime minister and later as president?  97
Why was Yulia Tymoshenko imprisoned?  99
What caused the new popular revolt in late 2013?  102
What role did the Ukrainian radical right play in the protests, and what symbols did they use?  104
What led to the high number of casualties on the Maidan in 2013–2014, as opposed to 2004?  107
Where did Yanukovych seek asylum, and how was the transfer of power formalized?  110
Was either of the two Ukrainian revolutions the result of a Western conspiracy?  112

6 Russia’s Annexation of the Crimea and the War in the Donbas  115
What shared characteristics led the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas region to become conflict zones?  115
What was “New Russia,” and why did President Putin revive this concept?  117
Who are the Crimean Tatars?  119
Why was the Crimea transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954?  122
Did the Crimea try to separate from Ukraine in the 1990s?  124
Was there a previous conflict between Russia and Ukraine over the Black Sea Fleet, and how was it resolved?  126
Why was Russia able to take over the Crimea so quickly and with so little resistance?  128
How is the Crimea being absorbed into Russia?  131
Was the Donbas historically a Russian region?  133
Is it true that a separate republic existed in the Donbas during the revolutionary era?  135
Did the Donbas stand out among other Ukrainian regions during the late Soviet period and the post-communist transformation?  138
Why did the armed conflict with the new Ukrainian authorities start in the Donbas and not in other eastern regions in the spring of 2014?  140
What polities did the separatists create in the Donbas, and why did Russia not annex them outright, as was the case with the Crimea?  143
Why did the Ukrainian army perform poorly compared to the pro-Russian forces in the Donbas?  146
Under what circumstances was the Malaysian Airlines passenger flight shot down over the Donbas on July 17, 2014?  149
What has been the human cost of the armed conflict in the Donbas?  150

7 Building a New Ukraine in a Globalized World  153
What sanctions did the West introduce against Russia, and did they work?  153
Did Western diplomatic mediation assist in the de-escalation of the conflict in the Donbas?  155
How should the results of the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine be interpreted?  157
What was the composition of the new Ukrainian government, and what were its first steps?  160
What are the consequences of Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union?  163
Has the Ukrainian crisis sparked a new Cold War?  164

NOTES  167
INDEX  179

3 The Making of Modern Ukraine  25
Who were the Cossacks?  30

- "In addition to the registered Cossacks, a significant number of unregistered ones had amassed in the Cossack stronghold on the lower Dnipro, the so-called Zaporozhian Sich (“Fortress beyond the Rapids”)."
- "Just as the Polish governors of the 1500s began using the Cossacks to guard the steppe frontier, so did the Russian tsars in their borderlands, both in the south and during the conquest of Siberia. The main groups of Russian Cossacks were the Don Cossacks in the south and the Ural Cossacks in the east, as well as the Kuban Cossacks on the eastern shores of the Black Sea (the latter were originally Ukrainians who resettled there in the late 1700s). Late Imperial Russia provided Russian Cossacks with land and made them into an irregular police force, similar to a national guard. During the Revolution the conservative Don Cossacks in particular would prove to be the Bolsheviks’ most powerful opponents."

[W.Z. Serhy Yekelchyk fails to clarify that "Over the next 20 years all vestiges of Ukrainian autonomy were eliminated, and in 1775 the Zaporozhian Sich, the bastion of the Cossacks, was destroyed by Russian troops." The Zaporizhian Cossacks (Kozaky) were forcibly resettled to the Kuban area, such that the Kuban Cossacks and their the descendants are of Ukrainian ethnic origin.]

What happened in the Ukrainian lands during the revolutionary turmoil of 1917–1920?  41
- "However, the newly reconstituted Polish state also laid claim to eastern Galicia. A  Ukrainian-Polish war broke out there, in which the Ukrainians eventually suffered defeat when fresh Polish forces marched in (the Allies had originally trained and equipped them for use against the Central Powers)."

[W.Z. Serhy Yekelchyk fails to mention "Haller's Army" commanded by the French General Josef Haller that committed atrocities against Ukrainian patriots. In the early 1990's Montreal-resident Paul Humeniuk financed and erected a monument in memory of the Ukrainian boys that, as a young boy, he had witnessed being massacred by units of Haller's Army.]

Why did the Bolsheviks create a Ukrainian republic within the Soviet Union, and how did they determine its borders?  44
- "The most notable change involved transferring the important port city of Taganrog (the birthplace of playwright Anton Chekhov) from Soviet Ukraine to Soviet Russia. There were significant pockets of ethnic Ukrainian population left within the Russian republic and small enclaves of Russians settled compactly in Ukraine."

[W.Z. In addition to Taganrog, Mr. Yekelchyk could have added many other areas as Ukrainian ethnographic territory , including the Kuban and the territory directly east of Crimea.]

5 The Orange Revolution and the EuroMaidan  85
Where did Yanukovych seek asylum, and how was the transfer of power formalized?  110

[W.Z. Although Mr. Yekelchyk gives a good description of the political intrigue following the 18 and 20Feb2014 massacres of Maidan demonstrators, which led to Yanukovych's flight on 22Feb2009, he does not refer to the blistering speech of Volodymyr Parasiuk at the funeral procession on the night of 21Feb2015 demanding that the "ZEK" be gone by 10:00 AM the next morning.]

6 Russia’s Annexation of the Crimea and the War in the Donbas  115

[W.Z. Probably because this is the longest chapter in the book (treating 16 sub-sections), its content is rather disjointed. Igor Girkin (Strelkov) and other Russian spetsnaz operatives appear late in the chapter; Slovyansk and Kramatorsk are not even mentioned; neither are the Grad rocket attacks launched from Russian territory on 11Jul2014 at Zelenopillya and other locations thereafter. In my opinion, the best coverage of the war in Crimea and the Donbas in 2014-2015 is provided by Vice News video coverage archived on this website at Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine  by Simon Ostrovsky of Vice News.]