Wars and Conflicts of Ukraine
For centuries, the region that now makes up the independent nation of Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire and then, after the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, as a part of the Communist Soviet Union. In 1991, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine gained independence.
In the list of wars and conflicts involving Ukraine, those wars that took place while Ukraine was ruled by Russia and the Soviet Union only includes those conflicts that took place on Ukrainian soil. Other Russian or Soviet wars, such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, that did not take place in Ukraine, are not included here. This list begins with the involvement of Russia (and hence Ukraine), in the First World War. (NOTE: parts of what are now western Ukraine belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War One)
World War One (1914-1917)–As a part of the Russian Empire (and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Ukraine was part of the war between Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary, with part of western Ukraine serving as a battlefield between the opposing armies.
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the new Russian Bolshevik government of Vladimir Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and Austria-Hungary, taking Russia out of World War One. By the terms of this treaty, large parts of western Russia and most of Ukraine were given to be occupied by Germany and the Austrians.
The period from the start of this occupation by Germany and Austria-Hungary, up until the Bolshevik/Communist victory in the Russian Civil War in 1921, was a period of great chaos and war in the Ukraine. In the context of the Russian Civil War, multiple conflicts and sometimes competing Ukrainian independence movements sprang up.
Russian Civil War (1917-1921)
Within the overall umbrella of the Russian Civil War, there were several foreign invasion, rebellions, uprisings, massacres, and other forms of military and political conflict.
Civil War in Ukraine (1917-1921)- A confusing mix of Ukrainian independence movements (some of which fought the Poles), battled for control of Ukraine. These forces included:
Russian Soviet forces loyal to the Lenin government (called the Red Army), local Ukrainian Communist forces, non-Communist Ukrainians, non-Communist Russian forces (usually called White Russians or the White Armies), foreign military forces (French, British, and some leftover anti-Communist German forces). The Ukrainians were divided between several independence movements and pro-Communist forces. In the long run, the Ukrainians lost territory to the Poles (see below), and lost any hope of independence with the overall victory of the Red Army. At the conclusion of this war, Ukraine became a part of the Soviet Union.
Polish-Ukrainian War (Nov. 1918-July 1919)-As Austria-Hungary (along with Germany and Russia) collapsed at the end of World War One, the various ethnic minorities in all three fallen empires sought independence. In areas of mixed ethnic populations, such as the area of Galicia, Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Slovaks, Germans, Jews, and other groups all lived in close proximity. And the newly-forming nations all sought to control these mixed areas. The region around Lvov (called Lemburg by the Austrians), was one such area. Ukrainians and Poles fought an eight-month war for control of this area (which would be considered south eastern Poland or northwestern Ukraine). This conflict ended in a Polish victory.
Stalin’s Ukrainian Genocide (1920s and 1930s)-Seeing the Ukraine as a potential trouble spot for Soviet rule, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin implemented harsh “collectivization” rules (private property was brought under government control), resulting in huge negative impact on farm production, resulting in mass starvation in Ukraine. Also, in Ukraine, (and throughout the Soviet Union), Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, conducted mass killings of anyone considered to be a threat to Stalin’s rule. It is estimated that up to 10 million Ukrainians died as a result of these repressive Soviet policies.
World War Two (1941-1945)–Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Most of the Ukraine came under German occupation. The Nazi occupiers treated the Ukrainians harshly, despite the fact that many Ukrainians initially saw the Germans favorably as they “liberated” them from Soviet rule. However, Nazi racial policies saw the Ukrainians as just another Slavic group to be enslaved. (Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and other groups all belong to the Slavic ethnic/linguistic group). Also, Ukraine’s large Jewish population was targeted for extinction by the Nazis. While some Ukrainians did join the Nazi movement, a strong partisan, or guerrilla, resistance formed to fight the Nazis and worked with the Soviet Red Army to drive the Germans out. The war ended in a Soviet victory, though millions of Ukrainians died.
Ukraine Insurgency (1944-1956)-Not all Ukrainians welcomed the Soviets back as the Germans retreated. For over a decade, Ukrainian nationalist guerrilla groups fought against Soviet authorities. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), actively aided and supplied these anti-Soviet guerrilla groups. Most major combat ended around 1949 as the Soviets killed off more rebels and undertook harsh methods of control in the countryside. Sporadic violence continued until 1956, when the last rebels were captured, killed, or gave up. With the CIA involvement, this insurgency could be considered one part of the larger Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Ukraine Independence–As the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, Ukraine declared independence and achieved nationhood peacefully.
The Orange Revolution –A series of political protests in Ukraine from late November 2004 to January 2005, took place as a result of the run-off vote of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election which was impacted by massive corruption, voter intimidation and direct electoral fraud. The capital city of Kiev became the focal point of the protest movement’s campaign of civil resistance, with the city flooded by thousands of protesters demonstrating every day. Across the nation, the democratic revolution took the form of sit-ins, general strikes, and other forms of civil disobedience.
This revolution against the central government resulted from the widespread public perception that the results of the run-off vote of November 2004 between leading candidates Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych were rigged by the authorities to put Yanukovych into power. The nationwide protests succeeded when the results of the original run-off were annulled, and a re-vote was ordered by Ukraine’s Supreme Court for 26 December 2004. Under intense scrutiny by domestic and international observers, the second run-off was declared to be “fair and free”. The final results showed a clear victory for Yushchenko, who received about 52% of the vote, compared to Yanukovych’s 44%. Yushchenko was declared the official winner and with his inauguration in January of 2005 in Kiev, the Orange Revolution ended.
However, in 2010, Yanukovych succeeded Yushchenko as Ukrainian President after the 2010 presidential election. In 2013 and 2014, a new protest movement took to the streets against Yanukovych, due largely to his move to become closer with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and due to perceptions of corruption.
Ukraine’s population is part Russian, with that ethnic group centered mostly in the east and south of the nation. Yanukovych drew a lot of his political support from this group, partially making the civil unrest an ethnic issue.
EuroMaidan Protests–In February, 2014, in an effort to end the massive protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square, police snipers fired into the crowds, killing over 100, and causing hundreds more casualties. Some protesters were also armed, and the authorities also took casualties. As a result of the violence, Yanukovych fled Kiev, the Parliament passed a resolution taking the presidency away from him, and a warrant was issued for his arrest in the deaths of the protesters.
As of late February, 2014, tensions remain high, with talk in the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine (and in the Crimea to the south in particular), of resistance to the new Ukraine government and possibly of secession from Ukraine. What Vladimir Putin and Russia may do if these secessionist thoughts turn to violence is unclear, but the threat and worry about a Ukrainian civil war is high.
Russian Occupation of the Crimea–In late February and early March, 2014, on the heels of the protests in Kiev, Russian military forces began occupying the Crimea. Hundreds of troops in military uniforms, though devoid of national insignia, began taking over key buildings in Sevastopol and other cities in the Crimea. The government of Ukraine seemed unable to respond militarily, and other nations, such as the United States and other European Union, explored diplomatic and financial ways to punish Russia for this invasion. Analysis of the Crimean Crisis highlights the history of wars and conquest in that peninsula.
Eastern Ukraine Rebellion (2014)- Following the fall of the government, pro-Russian militias (primarily in Ukraine’s east), began activities designed to weaken the Kiev government’s grip on those areas inhabited more by Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Combat between these militias and government forces escalated into what can now be described as a rebellion against the authority of the central government. While Russia is clearly supporting the rebels, Moscow denies sending in their own troops to aid the rebels, though both Ukrainian government and some Western sources believe that Russian military forces are operating in eastern Ukraine.
The war in eastern Ukraine heated up dramatically on July 17, 2014 with the downing of a Malaysian civilian airliner by a surface-to-air missile. The United States reports that initial evidence indicated that the missile was a Russian weapon. The Ukraine government and others are blaming the pro-Russian separatist rebels for the shoot-down of the airliner. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 carried 298 passengers and crew, all of whom died in the SAM missile attack.