For more than a month, the violence experienced by Ukrainians has been making headlines around the world. However, we sometimes forget that the country has been the scene of fratricidal struggles since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.
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This conflict, which claimed the lives of 14,000 people, pits the Ukrainian government against pro-Russian separatist forces in the Donbass region.
What happened to make these rebels decide to divorce Ukraine? Why are they demanding the independence of the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk?
- The Russian speakers of Donbass
The Donbass region is very important for the Ukrainian economy. According to information from the French newspaper Releaseits wheat fields and mines rich in coal and minerals have drawn many residents to the area.
Donetsk (formerly Stalino) is one of the main metallurgical centers of the country. It has two million inhabitants.
Lugansk (formerly Voroshilovgrad) is an industrial city with a total of 1.5 million inhabitants.
According to AFP, the Soviet Union, in the aftermath of the Second World War, sent several Russian workers to the Donbass to exploit its resources. The descendants of these workers created the large Russian-speaking community found in the region.
- Kyiv’s desire to approach the West
In 2014, the capital Kyiv was the scene of bloody riots. The demonstrators, from all over Ukraine, demanded more freedom and closer ties with the European Union.
Government forces, led by a pro-Russian president, brutally suppressed the protests, killing more than 80 people.
However, despite the violence, 250,000 to 500,000 people took part in the movement. This revolution caused the flight of the then president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Russia’s reaction was swift. In the same year, she ordered the annexation of Crimea, a peninsula located south of Ukraine, on the Black Sea.
Another war broke out in Donbass after two referendums that took place in Donetsk and Lugansk. Both regions have expressed their desire to break away from Ukraine and its pro-European government in order to get closer to Moscow.
These referenda, the results of which were never recognized by the international community, led to a social revolt which turned into an armed insurrection.
Russia has long been accused by Kyiv and the West of supporting pro-Russian separatists militarily and financially.
- People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk
According to the French magazine The Expressthe Minsk agreements, signed in 2014 and 2015, were to establish a ceasefire between the Ukrainian forces and the separatists.
There were several important points in the agreements, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from each side, a pardon for those involved in the fighting, an exchange of hostages and prisoners, and the withdrawal of foreign armed formations.
They also provided for constitutional reform in Ukraine and elections in Donetsk and Lugansk. It was also expected that they would remain under the Ukrainian flag.
However, these agreements have been flouted on several occasions by both sides.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately tore up the accord on February 21, 2022, recognizing the two pro-Russian republics. He then ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, accusing the Ukrainian government of committing genocide against the Russian-speaking community.
In the past few days, Russia has said it wants to concentrate its offensive in eastern Ukraine, but continues to bombard areas further west.