The painful history of Ukraine — A photo timeline

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Ukraine’s fate may be rooted in its heartbreaking past. In this photo timeline, which consists of more than 35 photos and 12 painful events, we’ll guide you through the county’s tragic history.

Ukrainian War of Independence (1917 to 1921)

From 1917 to 1921, with the invasion of Bolsheviks, a series of conflicts and battles led to the establishment of the Ukrainian Republic.

Ukrainian War of Independence 1917 to 1921
A patriotic demonstration in Kyiv, Ukraine

Holodomor (1932 to 1933)

Holodomor, meaning to kill by starvation, is another dark chapter in Ukraine’s history. It is widely believed that the famine was orchestrated by Joseph Stalin to impose collectivism and tamp down Ukrainian nationalism. Hunger was so common that the Soviet regime convicted more than 2,500 people for cannibalism.

The incident left an estimated 4 million Ukrainians dead. Today, many countries have signed various declarations affirming that the Holodomor was a “national tragedy of the Ukrainian people” orchestrated by the “cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime”.

Holodomor 1932 to 1933 2
Photo: Bread for a gold – A queue in Kharkiv 1932 Photo: State Archive of Ukraine
man lying on the floor Holodomor 1932 to 1933
Passers-by and the corpse of a starved man on a street in Kharkiv, 1932.
Holodomor 1932 to 1933 1
At the food market in Charkow: Each bottle of milk, desperately clasped, represents a valuable possession in free trade. Photo: Alexander Wienerberger
Holodomor 1932 to 19332
Peasants hand over bread Photo: State Archive of Ukraine

The Nazi occupation of Ukraine or Reichskommissariat Ukraine (1941 to 1944)

Alfred Rosenberg in Ukraine
Erich Koch (right) and Alfred Rosenberg (center) in Kyiv. CC BY-SA 3.0

The 1941 occupation of Nazi Germany of Ukraine marked a tragic era in the country’s history. It is estimated that the operation headed by Alfred Rosenberg led to the deaths of 1.6 million Jews and 3-4 million non-Jewish Ukrainians.

Alfred Rosenberg was captured by Allied troops in 1945 and was tried at Nuremberg. He was found guilty of four counts: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. He was hanged on the morning of 16 October 1946.

The Nazi occupation of Ukraine or Reichskommissariat Ukraine 1941 to 1944
Executions of Kyiv Jews by German army mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) near Ivangorod, 1942
Ukrainians begging for food
Vinnytsia, July 1941. Some 2.8 million Soviet POWs were killed in just eight months of 1941–42. CC BY-SA 3.0
Alfred Rosenberg dead
The body of Alfred Rosenberg after his execution, Oct. 16, 1946

The explosion Chernobyl nuclear power plant (1986)

The explosion Chernobyl nuclear power plant 1986
Aerial view Chernobyl nuclear power plant with sarcophagus. (Chernobyl, Ukraine) Photo Credit: Vadim Mouchkin/IAEA

On 26 April 1986, as a result of a flawed design, a reactor in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, resulting in the worst nuclear reactor accident in living history. To this day, the area around the Power Plant remains so contaminated that it’s officially closed off to human habitation.

The painful history of Ukraine — A photo timeline
A Soviet Mi-26 Halo helicopter participating in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor clean-up operation.

The dissolving of the Soviet Union and the independence of modern Ukraine (1991)

The dissolving of the Soviet Union and the independence of modern Ukraine 1991 3
Russian President Boris Yeltsin (second right), Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (left), Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (second left) and Speaker of Belarusian Supreme Soviet (Parliament) Stanislav Shushkevich (right) after signing Protocol on Establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Photo: Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti)

On March 17, 1991, the Soviet Union (USSR) conducted a referendum, asking territories if they would like to remain a part of the USSR, or go their separate ways. After the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt to get rid of Gorbachev, on 24 August 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence.

Leonid Kravchuk became the first president of Ukraine and signed the Agreement to eliminate the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States. 

The dissolving of the Soviet Union and the independence of modern Ukraine 1991 2
Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (second from left seated), Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich (third from left seated) and Russian President Boris Yeltsin (second from right seated) during the signing ceremony to eliminate the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States. Photo: Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti)
The dissolving of the Soviet Union and the independence of modern Ukraine 1991
The heads of 11 independent states, i.e. former Soviet republics, met in Alma-Ata. Photo: Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti)

Ukraine without Kuchma (2000-2001)

In the late 2000s after the revelation of the “Cassette Scandal”, whereby the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was caught on tape ordering the kidnap of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, numerous protests took place around Ukraine. Amongst the protesters’ demands was the resignation of president Leonid Kuchma.

Leonid Kuchma and putin Ukraine without Kuchma 2000 2001
President Vladimir Putin with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, in the centre, and Azeri President Heydar Aliyev before an expanded meeting of the CIS Council of Heads of State. CC BY 4.0
Ukraine without Kuchma protest 2000 2001
Protests of 6 February 2001 during Ukraine without Kuchma campaign.
Ukraine without Kuchma 2000 2001 Cassette Scandal
Protests around the tomb of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadzeand, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2000 near Kyiv. Photo: Атаман Зелений

The ousting of Yanukovych and the Orange Revolution (2004-2005)

The ousting of Yanukovych and the Orange Revolution 2004 2005 2
First day of orange revolution protests. CC BY-SA 3.0

The fourth presidential election following the independence from the Soviet Union almost entered Ukraine into a civil war. The two running candidates were Yanukovych (from a pro-Russian party) and Yushchenko (who was an independent). On the 23rd of November 2004, it was announced that the pro-Russian candidate Yanukovych had won the election. The result was, however, challenged by Yushchenko and the international community who were observing the elections, claiming the election was marred by massive corruption, voter intimidation and electoral fraud. 

The event led to large protests across Ukraine which became known as the orange revolution, as orange was Yushchenko’s election campaign colour.

On December 3, the Supreme Court ruled that the election was invalid and ordered a new runoff. Yushchenko subsequently defeated Yanukovych by garnering some 52 percent of the vote and became the third President of Ukraine.

The ousting of Yanukovych and the Orange Revolution 2004 2005 Ukrainian rouond table
Round table talks during the Orange Revolution in Kiev, Ukraine, December 1, 2004.
orange flowers and The ousting of Yanukovych and the Orange Revolution 2004 2005
A girl attaches flowers to riot police officers’ shields during the Orange Revolution in Kyiv. Photo jf 1234/Flickr

Revolution of Dignity and Euromaidan movement (2013-2014)

Man with gun Revolution of Dignity and Euromaidan movement 2013 2014
An unindentified protester armed with a break barrel air rifle (most likely a Umarex Perfecta 55). Clashes in Kyiv, Ukraine. Events of February 18, 2014. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov

In 2010 Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian presidential candidate who rigged the elections in 2004 that led to the orange revolution, was serving as the president of the country. The year 2014 however, marked an end to his time in office after his government decided to suspend the signing of the agreement between Ukraine and Europe, which would have led to greater integration between the two parties, in favour of closer ties with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Following the decision, a series of protests broke out in Ukraine which resulted in about 800 people being killed and thousands wounded. Protestors demanded the signing of the EU Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement, the impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych, snap elections and the rejection of the Russian Customs Union membership.

Priest Revolution of Dignity and Euromaidan movement 2013 2014
An Orthodox priest tries to stop clash protesters the police in the center of Kiev on January 22, 2014. Photo: AFP
Revolution of Dignity and Euromaidan movement 2013 2014
Masked protesters armed with shovels on Dynamivska street during Euromaidan Protests. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov CC BY-SA 3.0
Revolution of Dignity and Euromaidan movement 2013 2014 3
A Euromaidan protester (Piano Extremist) is playing piano on the roof of a burned Berkut bus. The barricade across Hrushevskoho str. Kiev, 10 February 2014. Photo: Ввласенко CC BY-SA 3.0

War in Donbas (2014-2015)

separatists in Donbas 2014 2015
Russian separatist forces, Oplot Brigade, during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade. CC BY-SA 3.0

In the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, pro-Russian citizens started concurrent protests, which escalated to a fierce war between two large parts of heavily industrialised regions of Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) and the Ukrainian government. This led to Russian-backed separatists in the eastern region of Donbas declaring independence. The armed conflict has since killed over 14,000 people. 

Russian flag War in Donbas 2014 2015
Pro-Russian rally in Donetsk on April 6, 2014. CC BY-SA 3.0
man with gun 2The painful history of Ukraine — A photo timeline Part 2
Kiev. Ukraine. 27 january 2014. Conquest of the Ministry of Justice. Photo Sasha Maksymenko/Flickr
refugees War in Donbas 2014 2015
Valeria Alyabiyeva, 19, stands in a line at the border crossing point in Mayorsk, Donetsk area, as she goes to visit her family in Yenakiyevo, Donetsk area on Dec. 27, 2016. Alyabiyeva is a student in Kharkiv where she lives now. Photo: UNDP Ukraine/Flickr
children Unicef War in Donbas 2014 2015
Children are playing with the games from the UNICEF education kit in the underground bombshelter. Their homes are either destroyed or subject to regular shelling. Photo: UNICEF Ukraine/ Aleksey Filippov

Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation (2014)

In February 2014, Russia finally invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. This event took place in the aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity and is part of the wider Russo-Ukrainian War.

War in Donbas 2014 2015 Putin with Konstantinov Sergey Aksyonov and Alexey Chaly 4
Signing of the Treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia. Left to right: S. Aksyonov, V. Konstantinov, V. Putin and A. Chalyi. CC BY-SA 4.0
Putin answered journalists questions on the situation in Ukraine War in Donbas 2014 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the press on 4 March 2014, denouncing the Revolution of Dignity as an “unconstitutional coup”, and insisting that Moscow has a right to protect Russians in Ukraine. CC BY 4.0

Zelenskyy wins presidential elections (2019)

In 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a comedian with no prior experience in politics became the seventh president of Ukraine. During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine however, he proved to be a lion of a leader. 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy voted in parliamentary elections 2019 07 21 05
Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Olena Zelenska in 2019 parliamentary election. Photo: President.gov.ua

The Russian invasion of Ukraine (2022)

In 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two separatist territories in eastern Ukraine as independent states. He launched a military invasion. Amongst his excuse was the denazification of Ukraine’s government, even though the country is governed by a Jewish president.

2The Russian invasion of Ukraine 2022
US paratroopers of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment depart Italy for Latvia, 23 February 2022. Thousands of US troops were deployed to eastern Europe amid Russia’s military build-up.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine 2022
Civilians in Kyiv gather in a basement to make Molotov cocktails, 25 February. Photo: Yan Boechat/VOA
The Russian invasion of Ukraine 2022 fire
An apartment block in Kyiv (Oleksandr Koshyts Street) after shelling, 25 February. Photo: Kyivcity.gov.ua
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