Although Ukraine is one of the world’s newer nations, its history goes back thousands of years and for most of that time it was not a free country. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine declared its independence and became a democratic country for the first time, adopting its first Constitution in 1996. Widespread irregularities in the 2004 presidential election caused hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in support of the Western-facing opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Protesters, all wearing something orange, the color of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, peacefully occupied Kiev's Independence Square nonstop for six days. Finally, the state and its Russian-backed candidate yielded, leading to Yushchenko’s victory in what became known as the Orange Revolution.
Ukraine’s path away from Soviet-era corruption and nepotism towards Western-style reforms and closer European ties was thwarted again in November 2013. At that time, Yushchenko's successor Viktor Yanukovych, under intense pressure from Moscow, abandoned a planned association agreement with the European Union just days before it was scheduled to be signed. Massive protests erupted again in the Maidan uprising, turning violent this time and resulting in dozens of injuries and the deaths of two protesters, eventually causing President Yanukovych to flee the country.
Pro-Russian counter-protests in the eastern regions of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk ensued. A Parliamentary vote and a disputed public referendum in Crimea called for it to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian federation, a move which was formally signed into law by Vladimir Putin in March of 2014. In The Crimean Nexus: Putin's War and the Clash of Civilizations, Constantine Pleshakov examines the complex historical, political and ethnic factors at play there.
Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk were eventually bolstered by Russian military backing, creating a low-level, static conflict that continued until the current Russian invasion. Seasoned war reporter Tim Judah traveled across the country in 2014 capturing the stories of those caught up in the conflict to produce In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine.