For the past three months, a protest movement has been expressing opposition to the government of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yesterday (Feb. 18), the protest reached a current peak when the country suffered its worst bloodshed since leaving the Soviet empire. More than 20 people were reported killed as riot police moved in to clear Kiev’s Independence Square, the crucible of the anti-government activism.
What is the cause of the conflict?
At its root, the conflict is about the future development of the country – will it be a country based on the rule of law, or Russian-style oligarchy and closed interests?
Many in the Ukraine want closer ties (and possibly even membership) into the European Union. But in November the government stopped preparations for a trade deal with the EU, which sparked the protests. In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered economic lifeline to Ukraine, with $15 billion of loans and cheaper gas supplies. Protesters viewed this move as Moscow buying off their country’s President and are seeking to unseat Yanukovych and force early presidential elections.
Where exactly is Ukraine?
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe that borders the Russian Federation, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova. The Black Sea and Sea of Azov are along the southern border. The country, which is nearly the size of Texas, is the largest country entirely within Europe.
What is the religious makeup of Ukraine?
The majority of Ukrainians are not affiliated with any organized religion, and a significant portion of the population is atheistic. Estimates compiled by the independent Razumkov Centre in a nationwide survey in 2006 found that 75.2 percent of the respondents believe in God and 22 percent said they did not believe in God. 37.4 percent said that they attended church on regular basis. Among Ukrainians who are affiliated with an organized religion, the most common religion in Ukraine is Orthodox Christianity, currently split between three Church bodies: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autonomous church body under the Patriarch of Moscow, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Latin Rite Catholic communities and Protestant Christians each form around 2.19 percent of the population.
Why does Ukraine matter to the West?
The situation in Ukraine is a bellwether for one of the primary geopolitical concerns of the post-Cold War: The enlargement of Russia vis-à-vis the European Union. For centuries Ukraine was controlled by Moscow and is still considered vital to Russian interests (in Soviet times, the economy of Ukraine was the second largest in the Soviet Union). The EU also considers the country to be a security threat, since public violence could negatively affect the confederation.
On a broader scale, the way the situation has unfolded is of concern because of the general threat it poses to human rights and the rule of law.
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