Ukraine: A Nation Divided

World Today

Ukraine literally means “borderland” in Slavic – and even though the country has had a distinct culture and heritage — its borders and identity have been fought over for centuries. CCTV’s Nathan King takes a look back into Ukraine’s past and how it might shape Ukraine’s future.

From the streets of Kiev to Crimea — Ukraine seems a nation divided – pulled in different directions – this is not a new phenomenon for Ukraine or Ukrainians.

Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Byzantium, Mongol, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires all have held sway over part, or all, of what is now Ukraine. But, it is Ukraine’s shared origins in the cradle of Slavic civilization – a federation of east Slavic tribes that called themselves the Kievan Rus – that had linked Ukraine to Russia for more than a millennium.

Ukraine: A Nation Divided

CCTV's Nathan King takes a look back into Ukraine's past and how it might shape Ukraine's future.

In the 20th century, Ukraine’s history is closely tied to that of the former Soviet Union- following the revolution – Ukraine became the bread basket of the Soviet Union. It is still one of the largest grain producers in the world. But famine hit hard. In the 1930’s, millions died in the Soviet Ukraine as local farmers resisted collectivization policies. Food stocks were destroyed or confiscated. The “Holodomor” – which means “extermination by hunger” in Ukrainian – led to mass starvation. Around four million Ukrainians perished.

During the Second World War, the Nazi’s occupied Ukraine. Harsh treatment by the Germans provoked many Ukrainians into joining the Russian Red army. Many Ukrainian nationalists, however, collaborated with the Germans and fought against Soviet troops.

In the 1950’s, the late Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev – originally from Ukraine – ceded the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine even though it was part of the Soviet Union. This gesture, which has much relevance today, is hotly debated by historians. This period also saw rapid industrialization of Ukraine which became a world leader in arms manufacturing and technology. The first Soviet computer was made in Ukraine. But, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, which occurred in northern Ukraine, helped fuel the country’s independence movement.

The 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union led to the creation of what we now know as modern-day Ukraine. The country declared independence in August 1991-after a referendum in which 92 percent. 92.3% of Ukrainians voted in favor of the move. 54% percent of those who cast ballots in Crimea voted for independence.

Economic growth followed as did a landmark agreement which ended Ukraine’s days as a nuclear power. In 1996, Kiev sent around 19-hundred nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling.

But corruption, growing income inequality and recession helped provoke the so-called “Orange Revolution’ of 2004, which exposed Ukraine’s ethnic and regional divisions.

Political power struggles continued to consume and corrupt the Ukrainian political system, which led to the social fractures we now see across the country. Ukraine – fully independent since only 1991 – has yet to fully address its past or its future.
History could also be a guide when it comes to any potential split of Ukraine. Historians point to the dissolution of two recent Eastern European states-Czechoslovakia, which peacefully divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia-and the former Yugoslavia. After more than a decade of civil war, Yugoslavia then disintegrated into seven different nations, roughly divided, and defined, by their ethnicities.