Developments in Ukraine
Russia's annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have impact on all aspects of life in Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine has taken a step closer to the EU.
Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential system. This means that both the President and the Prime Minister participates in daily governmental affairs. The political parties have mainly been linked to individuals and entered into various coalitions.
Ever since the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been in the “field of tension” between Russia and the EU. After the so called Orange Revolution in 2004, collaboration was initiated with EU and NATO. When Viktor Yanukovych was elected President in 2010, Ukraine turned once more towards Russia and the government became increasingly authoritarian.
The winter of 2014 saw a wave of protests in Ukraine. When President Yanukovych order special police to stop the demonstrators, he was deposed by the parliament and wanted for mass murder.
In the summer of 2014 Ukraine signed the Association Agreement with the EU. The agreement gives Ukraine companies a gradual, free access to the EU market. In return, Ukraine will commit itself to meet the EU's requirements in terms of respect for democracy and human rights.
The occupation of Crimea
After Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, pro-Russian groups revolted in the Crimea and demanded that the peninsula should leave Ukraine. In a rapid political process Russian forces took power and organized a referendum voting to join the Russian federation, leading to the Russian annexation of Crimea.
For the first time since World War II a European state had conquered part of another country and the reaction of the outside world was strong. The EU and US imposed progressively tougher economic sanctions against Russia.
At the same time, pro-Russian activists started an armed insurrection in a number of cities in eastern Ukraine with support from Russia. The conflict has since 2014 escalated into a full-scale war in the Eastern parts of the country.
Despite several rounds of talks, the war has continued and a total of over a million people have been forced to flee their homes.
The corruption is widespread in Ukraine. Formally, courts in Ukraine should be independent, but in practice they are vulnerable to pressure from the regime. After the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, the new leaders claimed that the equivalent of 37 billion US dollars had disappeared from the state treasury through corruption under the old regime.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the law in Ukraine, but in reality is severely circumscribed. Newspapers and television channels are to a large extent owned by wealthy business tycoons and are often under the influence of those in power. As a consequence of the war against separatists in Eastern Ukraine, laws have been enacted to reduce the impact of the Russian propaganda, which at the same time are placing restrictions on the press freedom.
Business and Economy
Ukraine is rich in natural recourses, including coal and iron. The country, however, is heavily dependent on Russia for imports of natural gas and oil. The Ukrainian black soil is among the most fertile in the world and the country is one of the world's largest grain exporters.
Ukraine has been in the transition from a planned economy to a market economy during more than two decades, but the road has been bumpy. A severe economic downturn characterized the 1990s and the growth that began at the turn of the millennium came to an abrupt end with the 2008-2009 financial crisis. During 2014-15 the value of the Ukrainian currency dropped to record lows, while the country's GDP fell sharply.
Ukraine's population has declined since the independence in 1991, as more are dying than being born in the country. The majority of citizens are ethnic Ukrainians, while Russians make up a large minority group. Ukrainian is the official language, but Russian has a strong position and is the mother tongue of a third of the population.
According to various estimates between 30 and 60 per cent of the economy is informal, or “black”. Many of those who are officially employed are in fact underemployed. According to domestic criteria, about one in four of every Ukrainian is poor, but with different bases of calculation, the figure is much higher. As a consequence of the civil war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the World Health Organization WHO warned of an acute crisis within the health care system.