Ukraine's modern history

Although almost everyone knows its name, Ukraine is one of the youngest countries in the world. In July 1990, the Republic's Soviet (Russian for Council) voted for autonomy. Out of a grand total of 450, more than 350 members of the highest political institution in the former SSR were in favour of independence. Leonid Kravchuk (born 1934) became chairman of the new Soviet.

The official announcement of Ukraine's independence fell on August 24. The Communist Party was banned, while the people were also asked for their opinion on autonomy. Nobody knows what would have happened if the people had voted the idea down (or do we), but fortunately for the decision-makers their plans were approved of by more than 90% of the voters. Within two weeks, Kravchuk was elected President with 62% of the available votes.

The new country was 604,000 square kilometers large with a population of 52 million. One fifth of all Ukrainians were born Russian. The strategically and economically important Crimean peninsula (with mainly Russian inhabitants) at the borders of the Black Sea belonged to Ukraine as well, and was awarded with the title 'autonomous republic', a relic from USSR epochs.

The main problem of the new republic was the economy. Leonid Kuchma was appointed First Minister in Fall 1992, with special powers to lead the economical reforms. A special currency was created to enable the transition and Ukraine was admitted to the International Monetary Fund. With Big Brother Russia, Ukraine signed some treaties on trade and due payments. What the Russians did not appreciate was the alliance between Ukraine and the United States in July 1993. For 17.500.000.000 American dollars, the Ukraine would dismantle its nuclear weaponry. The European Union decided to help the country rebuild its dangerous nuclear plants.

Kuchma won the presidential elections of 1994. In anticipation of a constitution, the powers were officially divided. A debt of 900 and 700 million dollars respectively made Russia and Turkmenistan decide to reduce and stop the export of gas to Ukraine. The next year Russia and Ukraine came to an agreement over the controversial Black Sea fleet. Russia gained 80% of the fleet (370 ships and 80,000 men in total) and received Ukrainian permission to use the Crim marine basis in Sebastopol.

The new currency grivna replaced the old one, karbovanets, to battle renewed inflation. Kuchma's political opponent and First Minister Pavlo Lazarenko had to retreat because of corruption scandals. He fled to the United States but was arrested there. The 'new' Communists became the largest party at the 1998 elections, leaving Kuchma's Democratic People's Party far behind. Economically, the country was as good as broke. Miners' strikes and protest marches destabilized the situation even more. Thanks to IMF and other credits, inflation dropped from 80% to 16%. The economy was harmed however by the Kosovo war, which caused the important Danube transports to decrease immensely. Europe insisted on democratic reforms meanwhile. The death penalty still existed, Human Rights were violated and Ukrainian law was still rather antique.

The death penalty was abolished indeed in 2000, when a new Book of Laws was introduced in Ukraine. With Russia, the country finally agreed on strategic and military cooperation. For Europe, the most important feature however was the termination of Chernobyl, the nuclear plant where the disastrous meltdown took place in 1986. The G7 financed the largest part of this.