Three decades of turmoil brought Ukraine to its worst crisis

Ukraine is surrounded by more 100,000 Russian troops at its borders

Three decades of turmoil brought Ukraine to its worst crisis

World leaders fly in and out Kyiv to seek a solution to the crisis to avoid a Russian invasion.

This is the most important example of the country's 30-year-old history of being caught between East & West, oscillating between the influence of Moscow and the U.S. and its European allies.

Through conflict, scandal and two major protest movements Ukraine emerged with its democracy intact. At times, it chose pro-Western leaders, while other times, it chose those who were aligned to the Kremlin.

It now faces its greatest test, as Russia has closed in. The illegal annexation in 2014 of the Crimean peninsula by Russia has seen Ukrainians turn away from Moscow in favor of the West. Popular support is growing for the European Union and NATO membership.

Continue reading to learn how Ukraine got to where it is today.

1990s: Independence from Soviet Union

1989 & 1990

Anti-communist protests sweep Eastern Europe and central Europe. They began in Poland and spread throughout the Soviet bloc. The Ukrainian January 1990 saw more than 400,000 people join hands in a human chains that stretched some 400 miles from Ivano-Frankivsk in the west to Kyiv, in the northern-central region of the country. Many were waving the yellow and blue Ukrainian flags that had been banned by the Soviets.

July 16, 1990

The Rada is the new Ukrainian parliament, formed from the former Soviet legislature votes to withdraw from the Soviet Union. Authorities recall Ukrainian soldiers from the USSR and vote against the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the northern Ukraine.


After a failed coup in Moscow the Ukrainian parliament declares independence for the second time on August 24. This day is recognized as Ukraine's official Independence Day. Dec. 26 is the official date of dissolution for the Soviet Union.


NATO allies are contemplating adding eastern and central European member countries for the first time. Ukraine officially establishes relations with NATO, even though it has not joined. NATO's secretary-general visits Kyiv, while the Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk visits NATO headquarters at Brussels.

December 1994

The third-largest global nuclear stockpile is now held by Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Budapest Memorandum allows Ukraine to give up its intercontinental missiles, warheads, and other nuclear infrastructure. In return, three signatories of the treaty -- the U.S.A., Russia, and the U.K. -- agree to "respect the independence, sovereignty, and the existing boundaries of Ukraine."

1994 to 2004

Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's president for 10 years, has helped transform the country from a Soviet republic into a capitalist society by privatizing companies and improving international economic opportunities. His presidency is rocked in 2000 by scandal over audio recordings which reveal that he ordered the murder of a journalist. He is still in power for four more years.

The 2000s: A wavering between Russia and the West


Kuchma's current party, led by Viktor Yanukovych, his hand-picked successor, and supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is up against Viktor Yushchenko, a popular, pro­democracy leader.

Yushchenko is mysteriously ill during the campaign's final months. He is disfigured and doctors confirm that he has been poisoned.

Yanukovych is elected amid allegations of election rigging. Protests erupted in the aftermath of and became known as the Orange Revolution. After a third vote ,Yushchenko wins.

January 2005

Yushchenko is elected president and Yulia Tymoshenko is prime minister.


After Tymoshenko and Yushchenko's efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO in January, the two requested in January that Ukraine be granted a membership action plan. This is the first step towards joining the alliance.

After Russia's displeasure, President George W. Bush supports Ukraine joining NATO. France and Germany are opposed to it.

NATO responds to the April meeting with a compromise. It promises Ukraine that it will be a member in the future, but doesn't give any specific instructions on how.

January 2009

Gazprom, Russia's state-owned gas company, abruptly stopped pumping gas into Ukraine on Jan. 1. This was after months of political turmoil over gas prices. Because Eastern and central European countries depend on Russian gas pipelines to obtain gas imports from Russia through Ukraine, the gas crises quickly spread beyond Ukraine's borders.

Tymoshenko agrees to a new agreement with Putin under international pressure. Gas flows resumed on January 20. Today, a large portion of Europe still depends on Russian gas.


Yanukovych was elected president in February. He believes Ukraine should be a neutral state, cooperating with Russia and Western allies like NATO.


Ukrainian prosecutors opened criminal investigations against Tymoshenko. They allege corruption and misused government resources. A court in October found her guilty of "abuse power" in 2009 during negotiations with Russia over the gaz crisis. It sentenced her to seven years imprisonment. This raised concerns in the West about the persecution of political opponents in Ukraine.

2014: The Maidan Revolution and Crimea's Annexation

November 2013 to February 2014

Yanukovych declares just days before the agreement is due to be signed that he will not sign an association agreement to bring Ukraine into free trade agreements. His decision was prompted by Russian pressure.

This announcement sparks massive protests in Ukraine, the largest since the Orange Revolution. They demand Yanukovych's resignation. Protesters set up camp in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, occupying government buildings including Kyiv’s city hall and justice ministry.

Violence between protesters and police leaves over 100 people dead in Ukraine's postSoviet history.

Yanukovych flees Russia ahead of the scheduled impeachment vote. Ukraine's parliament votes unanimously for Yanukovych to be removed and installed a interim government. This government announces that it will sign the EU Agreement and vote to release Tymoshenko from jail.

Yanukovych is charged with the mass murder by Maidan protesters, and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Russia claims that Ukraine's government change is an illegal coup. Nearly immediately, armed men are seen at the checkpoints and facilities on the Crimea peninsula. Putin initially denies that they are Russian soldiers but then admits to it.


The Crimean parliament votes for secession from Ukraine and to join Russia, despite Russian troops controlling the peninsula. The referendum is followed by a public vote in which 97% of the residents voted for secession. However, the results are still disputed.

Putin announces that Russia has annexed Crimea. This announcement was made to Russia's parliament on March 18. The U.S. and its allies in Europe have imposed sanctions against Russia. They have not recognized Russia's annexed status. This is the only instance in which a European country's borders were changed militarily since World War II.


The presence of around 40,000 Russian troops at Ukraine's eastern border has caused violence in Donbas, eastern Ukraine. This violence continues to this day. Russian-supported separatists stormed government buildings in eastern cities. Russian officials deny that Russia's troops are on Ukrainian soil. However, Ukrainian officials insist otherwise.


Petro Poroshenko is a pro-West politician and was formerly a minister in the government. He is now Ukraine's president. He supports reforms, including those to reduce Ukraine's dependence upon Russia for financial and energy support and corruption.

Sept. 5

Representatives of Russia, Ukraine and France meet in Belarus to try to end the violence in Donbas. They sign the Minsk Agreement , a deal between Ukraine and Russia to calm the violence under a fragile ceasefire. Fighting continues well into the new year, as soon breaks the ceasefire.

Russia is looming from 2015 to 2020

February 2015

To reach a better agreement to end the fighting, the Minsk group meets in Belarus again . This led to the Minsk II Agreement. The Minsk II agreement was also unsuccessful in ending violence. More than 14,000 people were killed and tens of thousand more were injured between 2014 and today.

The annexation and support of Russia in the east have both influenced Ukrainian public sentiment towards the West and boosted interest in NATO and the EU.

2016 and 2017

Russia continues to strike at Ukraine as a result of ongoing fighting in the Donbas. This includes a 2016 cyberattack on Kyiv's electricity grid, which caused a major blackout. 2017 saw a massive attack on key infrastructure in Ukraine including its national bank, electrical grid, and banks. (Cyberattacks by Russia continue through the present; The latest major attack on government websites was in January 2022.


In April, actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president. This is a stunning rebuke to the Poroshenko, the status quo that includes a stagnating economic system and ongoing conflict with Russia.

Zelenskyy pledged to make peace with Russia during his campaign and end the conflict in the Donbas.

He blocks U.S. military assistance to Ukraine for a short time and suggests to Zelenskyy that he instead work with Putin in order to end the crisis.

Zelenskyy asks for a White House visit to discuss U.S. support of Ukraine's attempts to push off Russia in a July 2019 phone call. Trump requests Zelenskyy to do "a favor", namely an investigation into the energy company Burisma. Trump's first impeachment was made after a White House whistleblower complained.

Later, several U.S. officials testified that Zelenskyy was near to an announcement of such an investigation. However, he eventually demolished , saying that the Ukrainians were "tired" by Burisma.

2021: The crisis escalates


Russia sends around 100,000 troops to Ukraine's borders ostensibly for military exercise. Zelenskyy calls on NATO leaders to set a timetable for Ukraine's membership, even though few analysts think an invasion is imminent. Russia later that month said it would withdraw its troops but there are still tens of thousand.


Zelenskyy visited the White House two years after his involvement with Trump. He met with President Biden. Biden reiterates that the U.S. is committed to Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and resistance to Russian aggression but also reiterates that Ukraine has yet to meet the NATO requirements.


Russia increases its troop presence at the Ukrainian border. This alarms American intelligence officers, who travel to Brussels in order to inform NATO allies about the situation. "These movements have our attention, even though we don't know what Putin is doing," Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary.


President Biden speaks with Putin via phone. warns Russia against invading Ukraine and warns of the "real costs" involved.

Putin issues a list of contentious security demands. He asks NATO to bar Ukraine's membership and to pull out troops stationed in the countries that joined the alliance since 1997. Putin also requests a written response from NATO and the U.S.

2022: Fears for war


To avoid a crisis, diplomats and leaders from the U.S. and Russia meet regularly. The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov informs U.S. officials in January that Russia does not intend to invade Ukraine.

The State Department directs the families of embassy staff members to leave Ukraine by Jan. 23. NATO orders 8,500 U.S. troops to be available for deployment the day after.

On Jan. 26, representatives from NATO and the U.S. delivered their written responses to Putin’s requests. Officials responded that they could not bar Ukraine joining NATO but indicated a willingness for negotiations on smaller issues such as arms control.


The pace of diplomatic efforts is picking up across Europe. Both the French President Emmanuel Macron (France) and Olaf Scholz, Germany's Chancellor, travel between Moscow and Kyiv. President Biden orders 1,000 U.S. soldiers to move from Germany to Romania, and 2,000 more U.S. military personnel to Germany and Poland.

Russia and Belarus start joint military exercises Feb. 10. There are approximately 30,000 Russian troops stationed along Ukraine's northern boundary.

The U.S. and U.K. ask their citizens to leave Ukraine by February 11. President Biden announces that 2,000 more troops will be sent from the U.S. for Poland.