1991 – A Country is Born
24 August and the Verkhovna Rada declares Ukraine an independent state, bringing to an end the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. To add the people’s stamp of approval to the declaration, a nationwide referendum is held on 1 December, and a massive 90% of the people of the country vote for Ukraine to be an independent sovereign state. It is a great example of a peaceful seperation that would lead many to later state Ukrainians do not appreciate their independence as it was so easily given. However, such pessimists would eat their words at the end of 2004.
1992 – Finding its Feet
The babe in arms gets itself a state symbol, flag, national anthem and coat of arms. Equally as important, and what had everyone on tenterhooks for the past year, the government passes a law privatising residential and commercial property. Suddenly everyone finds they own the apartments they live in, and shares in the factories in which they work. All is rosy, until the greedy men march in and offer the dedushkas and babushkas a pittance for their company shares, which are duly sold. Those greedy men find themselves rich beyond all imagining.
1993 – The Terrible Twos
In summer Ukraine finds itself swamped with massive miners strikes as a drastic decline in living standards forces workers to take action. It is now that the “kravchuka” – a two wheeled carriage designed to lug around heavy bags – becomes hugely popular as most Ukrainians are forced into their first experiences of capitalism trying to sell stuff on the streets just in order to survive. This forces first president, Leonid Kravchuk to agree to early presidential elections. Kravchuk will later admit he felt the Kremlin’s hand in the events as he suspected Moscow wanted a more Russian-friendly and less independent person in charge of the newly bornUkraine.
1994 – Teetering Toddler
Leonid Kuchma, obviously much more inclined towards Moscow, is elected as the second president. It doesn’t change much apart from the fact the two-wheeled trolleys soon become known as “kuchmuchkas”. Ukrainian families continue their desperate struggle for survival.
A professor at a leading University, for example, is taking home five to ten dollars a month. The good news? Hard to find. But in winter Oksana Bayul, a 17-year-old figure skater, wins Ukraine’s first ever Olympic gold medal.
1995 – Fearsome Fours
Astronomic inflation makes almost all Ukrainians millionaires. Kupon millionaires that is, as a simple grocery bill at the local kiosk could cost hundreds of thousands of kupons (the interim currency in use in the land). However, the little Ukraine takes a big step forward on the international political scene when it becomes a member of the Council of Europe.
1996 – School Age
Inflation is out of control, so the government implements massive economic reform and introduces the hryvnia as the new currency unit. At last the country gets banknotes that feel like real money instead of the kupons which more resembled sweetie wrappers. Ukraine also gets its first constitution, which sadly will be manipulated, distorted and simply ignored by the country’s politicians for years to come.
1997 – Grade Two
The good news this year is that independent Ukraine puts its first ever astronaut in space as Leonid Kadenyuk takes a flight on the Columbia space shuttle. For this he was paid a then massive 15,000 hryvnia. The not so good news: Ukraine and Russia sign a deal that allows the Black Sea Fleet to remain at Sevastopil until 2017, a move that will have consequences on Ukraine’s sovereignty.
1998 – Big Brother Gives a Beating
Russia defaults as it is incapable (or unwilling) to fulfill its international debt obligations. This has a terrible effect on the country, and millions of Ukrainians are forced into deeper poverty.
1999 – Entering the Tweenies
Presidential candidate Vycheslav Chornovil, a much-loved public figure and politician who vigourously defends Ukraine’s national interests, dies in a mysterious car accident on 25 March. Imprisoned several times during the Soviet era, it is a sad loss for the nation. A serious candidate for the presidential elections taking place this year, his death leaves only two real candidates – communist Symonenko and incumbent Kuchma. No choice at all really.
2000 – Bad Influences
Following the mysterious death of the only serious presidential candidate, outspoken journalist and editor of a popular online news site Georgiy Gongadze disappears. Famous for his investigations into the Kuchma regime, foul play is suspected. Everyone’s worst fears are confirmed when in November his headless body is found in a forest. As the country approaches its first decade, everyone now fears a Russian style authoritarian regime is emerging that will ruthlessly and violently stamp out all opposition. These fears are confirmed when a series of cassette recordings made by a former security agent that appear to implicate Kuchma in the killings burst onto the international scene.
2001 – Ten!
The country celebrates its 10th birthday with massive political unrest. Kyiv is over run with huge anti-Kuchma protests in January and February, and Khreshchatyk becomes a massive campsite for the Ukraine Without Kuchma Protestors. In March the protestors are violently dispersed. Further anti-Kuchma protests taking place this year are quickly and harshly put down, with many protestors arrested and jailed.
2002 – More Bad Influences
Viktor Yanukovych is elected as prime minister, stating his main aim is to overcome poverty in the country. This manifesto pledge serves him well, as the same promise helps him get elected president later (with no one noticing he’d not fulfilled the promise the first time round). Ukrainian journalists
present a manifesto speaking out against increased levels of censorship, and Ukraine’s international reputation is greatly affected when it is alleged the Kuchma regime has been selling radar systems to Iraq, an allegation that has neither been proved nor properly refuted. All in all, the young country seems to have fallen in with a bad crowd that’s seriously leading it astray.
2003 – The Dirty Dozen
Ukrainian politicians attempt to rehabilitate the country in the eyes of the world by sending some troops to Iraq. This is also the year of the Tuzla conflict. Tuzla is a tiny island in the Azov sea which used to be part of Russia but was handed over to Ukraine along with the whole of the Crimean peninsula back in 1954. Russia for some reason decides it wants it back, and starts constructing a dam that will attach the island to the Russian mainland in an obvious attempt to claim it as their own. Ukrainian-Russian relations have possibly never been under so much strain, but with great diplomatic pressure from Ukraine and the international community, the dam building stops.
2004 – Testing Independence from the Parents
The year starts well for the country, with Ruslana winning the Eurovision song contest, proving to the world Ukraine has a wild dancing spirit. Towards the end of the year, however, this nation that’s just turned teen faces its biggest battle yet as thousands take to the streets to protest rigged elections. At the last moment, the baddies step down, and whom we all hope to be the goodies step up. It’s the job of all teenagers to test boundaries, and Ukraine does it with gusto, breaking completely from Russian influence, at least for now.
2005 – Freedom?
Viktor Yushchenko is inaugurated as president, and the hopes of the people are with him. The young country has stood up for itself, and now it rests on Yushchenko’s shoulders to make the most of it. A little later in the year, Ukraine gets into a fever over bird flu when a whole load of chickens bite the dust in Crimea and a state of emergency is imposed, demonstrating that Yushchenko has a tendency to overreact in a crisis.
2006 – Fierce Fifteen
In order that the country strengthens its notion of independence, Yushchenko sets about instilling some sense of national pride in the country, and reversing years of Russification. Most importantly, the Verkhovna Rada passes a law proclaiming the 1932-33 enforced famine known as Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The Party of Regions didn’t even show up for the vote. But this aside, Yushchenko disappoints the nation when he appoints his archenemy Yanukovych as prime minister having been unable to make a go of it with his Orange partner, Yulia Tymoshenko, nor her successor, Yuriy Yekhanurov.
2007 – Sweet Sixteen
The good news this year is that Ukraine and Poland win the right to host the EURO 2012 football finals, which will fray our nerves for years to come. There’s even more good news at the end of the year for Orange supporters when Yanukovych is sacked as prime minister and Yulia Tymoshenko is given the post for the second time. Will she make good use of it this time? Wait and see.
2008 – Almost an Adult
Since 1998 the economy has been growing steadily, and some would say a little too rapidly. Rocketing apartment prices comes to an abrupt halt at the beginning of the year, and then the global financial crisis hits. There is a run on some banks, some of which fail, and lending ceases. Those with mortgages and loans suddenly find it very difficult to make ends meet. Car and consumer goods sales plummet to a fraction of what they were, and those who’d invested in property find that they’ve lost fortunes. Not a good year to be seventeen.
2009 – Coming of Age
Ukraine celebrates its eighteenth, and the country has survived the financial crisis by borrowing massively. But Tymoshenko proves her populist intentions by, in an attempt to make herself look like the people protector, making a big hoo-ha out of the swine-flu scare and in so doing making a huge dent in the country’s economy by scaring people away. The good news this year is that Shakhtar Donetsk scoops the UEFA Cup, a good portent for 2012.
2010 – The Last of the Teen Years
The year starts with the terrible news that the man accused of massive electoral fraud in 2004 is elected president. As soon as he’s inaugurated he starts the process of shoring up power around him, attempting to reverse a previous constitutional reform, appointing a friendly prime minister and cabinet, and quite simply changing the rules right, left and centre to suit himself. New deals are quickly signed with the Russians, and the members of the opposition get charged with criminal offences. Things do not look good for a continuing independent, free and democratic Ukraine. Not good for a kid who’s not yet turned 20.
2011 – Happy 20!?!
Ukraine turns 20 despite all of the above.