Flight MH17, Ukraine & Some Perspective

When the news came that an air plane was apparently shot down, above Ukraine it initially did little. Ukraine is in a state of civil war with the pro-Russian population and air missiles have been used before. Following updates revealed that the air plane in question was a Boeing 777 that had departed from Schiphol and was carrying civilian passengers.

The updates since then have become headline news in Dutch and international news media. Not much is certain until a full investigation has been carried out in Ukraine. What is certain is that all passengers died, most of the passengers were Dutch passengers. The Netherlands are entitled to an explanation, Ukraine and Russia owe the world an explanation and the waiting game is keeping many people in suspense.

As the waiting game continues the information war has already started. The  U.S says A, Russia says B and Ukraine says C. Information and propaganda are mixed from all sides and the people who have lost someone want answers. As the information wars take place the least everyone can hope is that the bodies will be returned home as soon as possible.

There is a way to add some perspective to this situation. By looking at the past some things become easier to understand. On a historical map it becomes very clear that Ukraine lies between the continents Europe and Asia. Below Ukraine is the Black Sea and below the Black Sea there is Turkey. By its location alone Ukraine connected two continents.

Next there is the history of Ukraine. I am no expert here, my knowledge is limited. Ukraine has had different rulers and inhabitants throughout history and the land was often carved up and divided.  When the old Ottoman Empire crumbled, Russia saw opportunities. In 1853 the Crimean War took place and led to the 1856 Treaty of Paris. Under that treaty The Black Sea region remained neutral and Russia was halted.

Between 1856 and 1920 Ukraine was ruled by Russia with varying degrees of autonomy through the years. This period is quite complex as many developments shaped Ukraine. In 1917 the Russian Revolution was a fact and the Russian Tsar was replaced by the Communist Party. Between 1917 and 1920 Ukraine tried to become an independent state but internal divisions and wars were big obstacles. From 1921 to 1991 though Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union.

In 1928 Stalin, the leader of the Communist Party launched his first five-year plan. Ukraine was to be industrialised and to become a modern part of the Soviet Union. Under the Communist Party no form of independence or autonomy was accepted. The party decided on everything in its territories. To modernise Ukraine the old agricultural villages were still an obstacle for Stalin. The famine of 1932-1933 is by some described as a direct attempt to destroy the Ukrainian agricultural villages. Stalin was so successful that six to eight million people died. Some people call the famine a genocide.

To compensate for the dead workers, a population of Russian people was migrated to the stricken lands. This group of Russians was loyal to the Communist Party and continued the modernisation of Ukraine’s industries. After the famine a number of purges took place in which Ukraine nationalism was repressed and in which rebellious figures were targeted. The idea of an independent Ukraine had to be erased.

Between 1939 and 1945 World War II took place. The war left exhausted and damaged all countries involved, also Ukraine. In 1946 the recovery period began. In 1950 Ukraine was already surpassing its pre-war levels of industry and production. Extra investments had proven effective and Ukraine became an important region of the Soviet Union regarding industry and research. In 1953 Stalin passed away and Nikita Khrushchev became the next leader of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev emphasised the friendship between Russia and Ukraine and in 1954 the Crimean peninsula was made an Ukrainian territory (again).

From 1954 to 1991 Russia and Ukraine had a good relationship. In 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved in a commonwealth of independent states. In 1991 Ukraine became independent under president Kravchuk. Ukraine became a full democracy with constitution and parliament. Fast forward to 2004, the Orange Revolution in which Ukraine became more pro-EU and later 2008-2009 the years of the financial crisis. Western influences increased and a deal with the EU was close. Ukraine was divided between choosing for the EU or Russia.

Fast forward to 2014 and the Ukraine is in a state of civil war in some regions. Russia pressured Ukraine to make a choice and placed troops in Ukrainian territory to reclaim the Crimean peninsula. What is next is unclear. Ukraine is now divided and the situation there can become much worse than it already is. A civilian air plane has apparently been shot down and someone is directly responsible. Ukrainian president Poroshenko and Russian president Putin disagree about the exact events. One thing is certain, a civilian air plane lies in pieces in Ukraine.

In the historical summary I am sure I missed some details. Ukraine is a country with a rich and complex history. When you look at the relation between Russia, Ukraine and Europe the complexities increase. These complexities extend to language, religion, ideology and other aspects of the people in the Ukraine region. When you want to know more, reserve a day for reading alone. I can only hope this summary is helpful.

Ukraine connects two continents, borders on the Black Sea and is full of resources. Both the EU and Russia want more influence in Ukraine and the people of Ukraine have to decide. The people of Ukraine are divided between pro-EU and pro-Russia populations.  A large part of the pro-Russia population is of Russian origin and a minority in Ukraine. Both groups have their stories and reasons. Hopefully a peaceful solution can be found.


Wikipedia – Ukraine (In case the link does not work, go to http://www.wikipedia.org and type in “Ukraine” in the search bar.)

Encyclopaedia Britannica – Ukraine (In case the link does not work, go to http://www.britannica.com and type in “Ukraine” in the search bar.)

Other media: reports in The New York Times, The Guardian and other newspapers.


The situation in Ukraine kept me busy for the entire day. What is happening there is terrible and can lead to influential events.


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