This Is Ukraine After Over A Year Of Conflict

Published October 15, 2015
Ukraine Conflict Shelling School

Image Source: The New York Times

Syria has once again captured the world’s attention, casting a long shadow over the ongoing war in Ukraine. But does the shift in international attention necessarily mean flagging hostilities?

In short: probably not.

In early 2014, Ukraine’s east fell into turmoil after a wave of demonstrations hit the main square of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Known as the Euromaidan, the eventual violence that took place there was at least in part a response to then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the E.U. Association Agreement in November 2013.

This agreement would distance Ukraine from Russia, a nation with which Ukraine has close historical and physical ties. With this agreement, Ukraine would inch ever closer to the European Union — a move that divided many in the country and abroad, eventually pushing Ukraine to war.

Yanukovych fled to Russia in March 2014 after his efforts to quell protests using snipers enflamed the situation. That same month, ‘self-defense’ militias formed in the east striving to form Novorossiya (New Russia), and the situation escalated into an armed conflict. As one pro-Russia volunteer fighter described the mission to Gawker, “We are fighting for a Russian world.” For these militants, this is a “historical mission” to restore the Imperial Russian borders, noted Sergei Baryshnikov, Rector of Donetsk University.

Since the conflict’s start, the European Union and the United States have backed Ukraine, providing non-lethal military support such as training, equipment and financial support for the country’s collapsing economy. As Moscow sees things, Russian ‘volunteers’ are fighting in Ukraine to ‘defend’ Russian speakers from Kiev’s ‘fascist junta,’ side by side with the armies of the self-proclaimed republics in Lugansk and Donetsk.

Over the year and a half that the armed conflict has raged, nearly 8,000 people have died. Approximately 1.5 million people have been displaced by the war – escaping to Russia, Europe and other parts of Ukraine. Here’s a glimpse of what the conflict looks like today:

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This Is Ukraine After Over A Year Of Conflict
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The State of the Conflict Today

On October 2, French President Francois Hollande hosted the latest talks between Russian and Ukrainian leaders in Paris to discuss options for a peace accord, which would end the violence in eastern Ukraine. Yet, Russia’s military expansion in Syria led the discussion away from the topic at hand.

September's General Assembly at the United Nations passed with awkward tensions: Russian diplomats played hooky during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's speech and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin attempted to regain a place on the world-stage by lambasting the United States, albeit without dropping any names, in an accusatory diatribe against US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

In the days approaching the Assembly, focus shifted from Russia's involvement in Ukraine to Syria. This wasn't only a reaction to Russia's deployment of troops and military buildup in Syria but to a welcomed lull in fighting in Ukraine's east. September 11 witnessed the first day with no incidence of shelling in 18 months, and has rekindled hopes that an end to the conflict is possible and near.

Just in early August, Denis Pushilin, Donetsk People's Republic Chairman, threatened Ukraine with a “big war” if it did not fully implement the Minsk agreement, signed in September 2014 and February 2015. The second accord, penned in the capital of Belarus by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko, would extend greater autonomy to the eastern oblasts of Lugansk and Donetsk and consider asylum for separatist fighters. It also called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, which failed.

The breakout of artillery fire, the heaviest since the signing of the ceasefire, brought Europe's leaders back together in late August to reaffirm their commitment to the accord. At a meeting of European leaders on Ukraine's Independence Day, Merkel insisted that EU leaders were there “to implement the Minsk Deal, not to call it into question.”

As Moscow has no appetite for absorbing the Donbass like it did with Crimea, rebel leaders are weighing their options: to continue holding a stalemate position in the frozen conflict or reintegrate into Ukraine in hopes that Kiev capitulates to some of the rebels’ demands. The Minsk negotiations are “an opportunity for us through political, peaceful means, and without arms to return Ukraine and integrate it onto the path the Donbass has taken,” Pushilin said at a conference.

Integration on the Donbass's (the regional name for the Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts) terms has translated into problems for the country's nationalists. On August 31, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed the first reading of legislation that would grant more autonomy to the east. A massive protest of nearly 1,000 demonstrators opposed to the bill erupted outside of the legislative headquarters. Three men died and more than 140 were injured, mostly security officers, from a grenade said to be lofted into the crowd by a member of the right-wing nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party. Ukraine's general prosecutor says the attack could be classified as terrorism.

Even if a resolution to the armed conflict comes about, Russia will remain in perpetual struggle with the West.

* * * * *

Donald Trump doesn’t get embarrassed, even while everyone else is cringing. Speaking obnoxiously loud and in spurts waiting for translation, The Donald finds the key to the crisis in Putin’s lack of respect for US President Barak Obama:

VICE’s series, Russian Roulette, has well over a hundred dispatches. A careful viewing from the beginning gives a great overview of the crisis in Ukraine:

Drone footage of the protests in front of Ukraine’s parliament building on August 31, 2015:

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Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.