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Ukraine's turbulent history since independence, from Soviet state to war with Russia

Protesters were killed when anti-government demonstrations turned violent in Kyiv in 2014. (AFP Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki)

Since declaring independence from the Soviet Union over 30 years ago, Ukraine has endured internal political upheaval and conflict with its neighbour.

With the country at war with Russia, here is a timeline of the main events in Ukraine's political history since it won independence from Moscow in 1991.

Independence from Moscow

1991: Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the Soviet republic of Ukraine, declares independence from Moscow. In a referendum and presidential election, Ukrainians approve independence and elect Kravchuk president.

1994: Leonid Kuchma beats Kravchuk in a presidential election deemed largely free and fair by observers.

1999: Kuchma is re-elected in a vote riddled with irregularities.

Orange Revolution begins

Supporters of Viktor Yushchenko rallied in central Kyiv to listen to his speech in 2004.  (Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

2004: Pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich is declared president but allegations of vote rigging trigger protests in what becomes known as the Orange Revolution, forcing a re-run of the vote. Pro-Western former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko is elected president.

2005: Yushchenko takes power with promises to lead Ukraine out of the Kremlin's orbit, towards NATO and the EU. He appoints former energy company boss Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister but after in-fighting in the pro-Western camp, she is sacked.

Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko gesture as they address supporters in central Kiev in 2004. (Reuters: Gleb Garanich)

2008: NATO promises Ukraine it will one day join the alliance. Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow would see any eastward expansion of the alliance as a direct threat to Russia.

Violent anti-government protests

Viktor Yanukovich meeting with Vladimir Putin in 2013.  (Reuters: Sergei Karpukhin, file)

2010: Yanukovich defeats Tymoshenko in a presidential election. Russia and Ukraine clinch a gas-pricing deal in exchange for extending the lease for the Russian navy in a Ukrainian Black Sea port. Fighting breaks out in parliament over the deal. 

2013: Yanukovich's government suspends trade and association talks with the EU in November and opts to revive economic ties with Moscow, triggering months of mass rallies in Kyiv.

2014: The protests, largely focused around Kyiv's Maidan square, turn violent. Dozens of protesters are killed.

Crimea annexed by Russia, conflict begins in east Ukraine

Russia annexed Crimea after armed men seized parliament. (Reuters: Baz Ratner)

February 2014: The parliament votes to remove Yanukovich, who flees. Within days, armed men seize parliament in the Ukrainian region of Crimea and raise the Russian flag. Moscow annexes the territory after a March 16 referendum which shows overwhelming support in Crimea for joining the Russian Federation.

April 2014: Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region of Donbas declare independence. Fighting breaks out, which has continued sporadically into 2022, despite frequent ceasefires.

Petro Poroshenko was president until 2019. (Supplied: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

May 2014: Ukrainian billionaire Petro Poroshenko wins a presidential election with a pro-Western agenda.

July 2014: A missile brings down passenger plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Investigators trace back the weapon used to Russia, which denies involvement.

The wreckage of MH17 was recovered in east Ukraine. 

2017: An association agreement between Ukraine and the EU opens markets for free trade of goods and services, and visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainians.

2019: A new Ukrainian Orthodox church wins formal recognition, angering the Kremlin.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy won the country's presidency in 2019, with his party later winning parliament. (ABC News: Valentyn Ogirenko)

Zelenskyy elected

April 2019: Former comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy defeats Poroshenko in a presidential election on promises to tackle corruption and end the war in eastern Ukraine. His Servant of the People party wins a July parliamentary election.

June 2020: The IMF approves a $US5 billion lifeline to help Ukraine stave off default during a pandemic-induced recession.

January 2021: Zelenskyy appeals to Biden, now US president, to let Ukraine join NATO.

February 2021: Zelenskyy's government imposes sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk, an opposition leader and the Kremlin's most prominent ally in Ukraine.

Russian troops build up on border

Satellite images showed Russian forces building up near the Ukrainian border in late 2021. (Reuters)

Spring 2021: Russia masses troops near Ukraine's borders in what it says are training exercises.

October 2021: Ukraine uses a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone for the first time in eastern Ukraine, angering Russia.

Autumn 2021: Russia again begins massing troops near Ukraine.

Biden warns Putin of crippling sanctions if it invades Ukraine

December 7, 2021: Biden warns Russia of sweeping Western economic sanctions if it invades Ukraine.

December 17: Russia presents detailed security demands including a legally binding guarantee that NATO will give up any military activity in eastern Europe and Ukraine.

Ukraine was hit with a cyber attack in the lead up to Russia invading. (Reuters: Valentyn Ogirenko)

January 2022: Russian forces arrive in Belarus, to the north of Ukraine, for joint drills. Washington presents a written response to Russia's security demands, repeating a commitment to NATO's "open-door" policy while offering "pragmatic" discussions of Moscow's concerns. President Vladimir Putin says Russia's main security demands have not been addressed.

Nato sends additional ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe over Russia's military build-up near Ukraine.

February 2: The United States says it will send 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to help shield NATO allies in eastern Europe from any spillover from the crisis.

Russia denied claims it was preparing to invade Ukraine in the lead up to the war. (AP)

February 4: Putin, at the Beijing Winter Olympics, wins Chinese support for his demand that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO.

February 7: French President Emmanuel Macron sees some hope for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis after meeting Putin in the Kremlin. Macron then visits Kyiv and praises the "sang-froid", or composure, of Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.

Vladimir Putin meets with Emmanuel Macron in Moscow in February. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

February 15: Russia says some of its troops are returning to base after exercises near Ukraine and mocks Western warnings about a looming invasion. Russia's parliament asks Putin to recognise as independent two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

How Russia can overpower Ukraine, and why NATO won't stop them.

February 18: US ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Michael Carpenter says Russia has probably massed between 169,000-190,000 personnel in and near Ukraine.

Russia launches massive drills of its nuclear forces.

February 19: Russia's strategic nuclear forces hold exercises overseen by Putin.

Russia recognises breakaway regions

February 21: Macron says Biden and Putin have agreed in principle to a summit over Ukraine.

Russia orders forces into two regions of Ukraine.

In a televised address, Putin says Ukraine is an integral part of Russian history, has never had a history of genuine statehood, is managed by foreign powers and has a puppet regime. Putin signs agreements to recognise breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent and order Russian troops there.

February 22: US, UK and their allies enact sanctions on Russian parliament members, banks and other assets. Germany halts final certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was still waiting for approval.

Putin, in a television address, demands Ukraine demilitarise and says the Minsk peace agreement over breakaway republics no longer exists, blaming Kyiv for killing the deal.

Russia begins attack on Ukraine

Blasts heard in Ukraine's capital Kyiv after war declaration.

February 24: Russian President Putin authorises "special military operations" in eastern Ukraine and asks Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms in a televised address. Russian forces begin missile and artillery attacks on Ukrainian forces and air bases, striking areas in major cities.

Since the start of the conflict, Ukrainian cities have been targeted by heavy shelling from Russian forces, and both sides have reported significant casualties.

The worsening crisis has prompted millions of Ukrainians to flee to neighbouring countries — the majority being women and children, as most Ukrainian men aged between 18 and 60 have been barred from leaving.

Millions more who remain in Ukraine are internally displaced by the conflict that shows no signs of immediate resolution, with talks between Ukrainian and Russian diplomats failing to reach any resolution.

Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities ratchet up


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