Ukraine and Crimea: A Lesson in History and Geography

05669u_WldHistScene from the Battle of Balaklava, site of the famous “Charge of the Light Brigade,” during the Crimean War, 1854

The crisis in Ukraine and Crimea cannot be understood without an eye to history and geography. The question whether Ukraine should align more with the West or remain in Russia’s orbit is not a new one. Ukraine has long occupied a precarious position between East and West. What is now western Ukraine was at one time under the control of European powers like Austria-Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania. People in western Ukraine today tend to support more Western-leaning policies and speak Ukrainian. Eastern Ukraine, which first came under Russian imperial rule in the late 1600s, tends to be more Russian-speaking.

It was not until the 1900s that the eastern and western parts of Ukraine were united. For centuries the southern part of Ukraine, which includes the Crimean Peninsula, was part of an Islamic state, under the sway of the Ottoman Turks. Imperial Russia drove the Turks out of what is now southern Russia in the late 1700s. It gained control of Crimea, which became a prized possession. Crimea offered access to the sea and a vital base for Russian naval power. In the 1850s France and Great Britain backed Turkey against Russia in the Crimean War, and Russia suffered a humiliating loss.

After the Ottomans were defeated in World War I, Ukraine was briefly independent. When Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union in 1922, Crimea was included in the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1954, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev announced that Russia was giving Crimea to Ukraine—perhaps as a kind of reparation for the millions of Ukrainians who had died under Joseph Stalin’s ruthless rule. Ukraine achieved independence in 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, and Crimea remained within Ukraine as an autonomous republic. Russia maintained a naval base at Sevastopol, however, and the population of Crimea was majority ethnic Russian.

Image credit: © Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collection

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  1. david says:

    you people need to put more information into these articles

  2. John says:

    Why is there info from like 50 years ago and not what is going on in Ukraine right now?

  3. deangelo says:

    Great Great Articles!

  4. Big boy says:

    This does not make sense, this crisis was goin on 4ever

  5. ... says:

    This article is bad

  6. Not giving out name says:

    this is pretty bad info

  7. patrick says:

    the russians and the rest of the world needs to stay the heck out of Ukrain!!!
    convert all these old battle ships which the russians have tied up to love boats