Orest Subtelny, History of Ukraine, 4th ed., 2009.


The Troubled Transition

In the decade after 1991, the paramount feature of life in the new Ukraine was change. Change is usually gradual and incremental. In Ukraine, it was neither. Throughout the century, the country experienced either too much or too little change. The Revolution and Civil War of 1917-20, the Stalinist "Second Revolution" of the 1930s, and the devastation of the Second World War brought upheavals of the most radical and traumatic kind. Moreover, in the second half of the century, stagnation transformed the Soviet Union into one of the most conservative societies in the world. A similar dichotomy between transformation and stagnation emerged in the 1990s. This time, however, the two phenomena were compressed into a narrow time span; riot only did they occur simultaneously, but they were often interrelated.

After independence, many Ukrainians hoped for a swift transition to democracy and a market economy. But this required revolutionary changes in the Soviet system. And in 1991 there was no revolution: there was a collapse. What followed was the disintegration of the old order, especially its social, economic, and institutional structures. It was this depressing experience -- the slow, painful disappearance of a way of life -- that most touched the lives of ordinary Ukrainians throughout the decade. Simultaneously, elements of the new order -- independent statehood, democratic forms, if not practices, disparate elements of a market economy (or, at least, of consumerism) -- appeared. The benefits of these transformations were slow to reach the general populace. Indeed, many blamed them for the grinding poverty, corruption, profiteering, and crime that inundated society. Especially among the elderly, nostalgia for the old order was widespread. Thus, much of the decade witnessed a precarious wavering between old and new, of leaving one shore and not reaching the other, of society cast adrift and barely staying afloat.

International Relations

The emergence of an independent Ukraine was an event of major geopolitical significance. However, the international community was slow to realize it. The Kremlin was convinced that Ukrainian independence was a passing phenomenon, doomed to fail as it had in the past. Initially, the Western powers, led by the United States, also viewed Ukrainian independence with skepticism, even trepidation. In the early 1990s their analysts frequently raised the possibility that ethnic and regional conflicts would lead to the collapse of the new state. Since Ukraine was the world's third-largest nuclear power, these internal conflicts could conceivably lead to a nuclear catastrophe of global proportions.

By the mid-1990s, Western and, more slowly and reluctantly, Russian statesmen began to consider the ramifications that a Ukrainian state, strategically located between Russia and Europe, would have for the greatly altered geopolitical chessboard of Eurasia. The influential American analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski put it most succinctly: "without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire," adding that if Russia subordinated Ukraine, it would become an empire again.1 Soon, contacts between Washington and Kiev began to expand. East European countries such as Poland and Hungary realized the usefulness of having Ukraine serve as a buffer between them and an unpredictable Russia. Moreover, West European states came to view Ukraine as a possible bridge to its huge northern neighbor. For Russia, a key goal of its foreign policy became the prevention of Ukraine's entry, be it political, economic, or military, into the western camp. For a country that only a decade earlier had been a nonentity on the geopolitical map, this rise to international significance was a remarkable change indeed.

Despite the fact that Kiev had practically no experience in conducting international affairs, it did remarkably well. The major goal of Ukrainian statesmen was to maintain a benign international environment that would allow them to concentrate on the country's massive internal problems. To achieve this, a policy of neutrality or non-bloc status was adopted from the outset. Indeed, it was enshrined in the constitution. Such an approach was not only a matter of principle but of expediency. Since the various political forces in Ukraine could not agree on which geopolitical orientation to adopt, all accepted that neutrality, for the time being, was the best option. In concrete terms, this resulted in a multivector foreign policy -- that is, seeking support of and cooperation with all major power blocs while committing to none.


Undoubtedly, the paramount issue in Ukraine's foreign policy was the country's relationship with Russia. As the disarray caused by the disintegration of the USSR settled, Russia's new (and not so new) policy towards the former Soviet republics emerged. Its goal was, first, to establish Russia's primacy in the former Soviet space and, second, to integrate, politically, economically, and militarily, the newly independent states into a Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Ukraine's position was diametrically opposed: it insisted on equality in its relations with Russia and steadfastly rejected any aspects of the CIS that might infringe on its sovereignty. In dealing with Russia, Ukraine's first two presidents differed in style: Leonid Kravchuk (1991-4) was more belligerent while Leonid Kuchma (1994- ) was more cooperative, especially in economic affairs. But neither was willing to compromise on the key issue of sovereignty. As a result, tensions and confrontations between the two countries occurred throughout much of the decade.

Dismayed by Ukraine's refusal to recognize Russia's regional primacy, Russian politicians -- the Duma and Iuri Luzhkov, the powerful mayor of Moscow, were especially outspoken -- responded by threatening Ukraine's territorial integrity. In 1991-2, they questioned the validity of Ukraine's borders and, specifically, the legality of the 1954 act that attached Crimea, with its Russian majority, to Ukraine. What made the loss of Crimea especially painful to Russians was that it included Sevastopol, the strategically valuable base of the Black Sea Fleet.

Another source of friction was economic relations. Ukraine depended on Russia for about 90% of its oil and 77% of its natural gas needs, accumulating huge debts for these energy supplies. When Russia threatened to cut off supplies, as it did during the so-called energy war in 1993-4, or to raise prices and demand payment, Ukrainians complained that this was done in order to exert political pressure. By the late 1990s, Russian gas and oil companies began to demand repayment, if not in cash, which Ukraine did not have, then in kind. They expected Kiev to sign over ownership to Russian companies of the refineries and the pipelines that carried Russian oil and gas through Ukraine to the West. If this option were unacceptable, Russian energy companies demanded ownership of other attractive industrial objects in Ukraine. The threat that Ukraine's industry might become increasingly foreign-owned loomed large.

Russian pressure on Ukraine was all the more threatening because it was abetted by influential elements within the country, notably the resurgent Communist party -- a dominant force in Parliament -- and many Russian-speakers in the eastern regions. Both wanted Ukraine to join the Russian-Belarus union. To counter this pressure, Ukraine began to develop closer ties with the United States and NATO. Confronted with a stalemate, both sides decided to introduce some stability into their tense relationship by signing, in May 1997, the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership. Moscow acceded to a key Ukrainian demand: it recognized Ukraine's borders and territorial integrity, including its sovereignty over Crimea and Sevastopol. In a separate accord, Russia received 80% of the Black Sea Fleet and the use of facilities in Sevastopol on a 20-year lease. Although the treaty removed some major irritants in the relationship between the two countries, it did not solve all problems. The contentious issues of Ukraine's relationship with the CIS and NATO still remained, as did Ukraine's dependence on Russia for energy.

The United States, NATO, and the West

To a large extent, Ukraine's relationship with the West was a function of its relationship with Russia. If its independence were to have any real meaning, Ukraine had to balance the preponderant and unavoidable Russian influence by developing closer ties with the West. But this had to be done in a manner that would not exacerbate tensions with its huge northern neighbor. Other factors also played a role in the development of contacts with the West. Ukrainians viewed themselves as Europeans and, for the most part, supported the idea of "a return to Europe." (Whether Europe welcomed this "return" was another question.) Moreover, the West's high standards of living added greatly to its attractiveness. Indeed, from the all-important economic point of view, only the West could provide the investment needed to resuscitate Ukraine's collapsing economy.

It was, as might be expected, the relationship with the United States that was most crucial for Ukraine. Clearly this global superpower was best suited to serve as a counterweight to Russia. However, matters did not begin auspiciously. The United States was obsessed with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Ukraine, convinced that only its status as a nuclear power guaranteed its security and ensured that it would merit attention internationally, refused to ratify Salt 11 and to disarm its nuclear arsenal. Moreover, after the Soviet collapse, Washington adopted a "Russia first" policy on the assumption that Moscow was best able to restore stability in the former USSR. For its part, Ukraine consistently rejected the idea that Russia had a natural claim to primacy, in the cis or otherwise. The fact that reforms in Ukraine moved more slowly than in Russia only added to the American perception of Ukraine as a "spoiler republic."

Beginning in 1994, however, u.s.-Ukrainian relations improved dramatically. The turning point was the Trilateral Treaty, signed by the United States, Ukraine, and Russia in January 1994. In it Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal, shipping the weapons to Russia for destruction. In return, it received assurances -- Ukraine viewed them as guarantees -- of its security and territorial integrity. Also, the United States agreed to provide Ukraine with substantial economic aid. With the nuclear issue resolved, the way was open for broader relations between the two countries. The election of Kuchma, who promised to introduce radical economic reforms, encouraged the rapproachment. Meanwhile, relations between the United States and an increasingly assertive Russia cooled. It was, therefore, in the American strategic interest to support Ukraine and, indeed, the two countries began to describe their relationship as a "strategic partnership." In 1996, the Kuchma-Gore Commission was established to review periodically the gamut of contacts between Ukraine and the United States. Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton visited Kiev, and Kuchma made several visits to Washington. Despite occasional strains in the relationship, by 2000 Ukraine had attained an important place in American global strategy, and this was reflected in the fact that it became a major recipient of u.s. foreign aid.

Another important aspect of Ukraine's relationship with the West was its contacts with nato. The decision of this military-political alliance to accept such former Soviet satellites as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic into its ranks confronted Kiev with a dilemma: an expanding nato on one side and an assertive Russia on the other left neutral Ukraine in a highly vulnerable position. Initially, Ukraine expressed its doubts about the wisdom of nato expansion. But here also a sudden and radical shift occurred. On 8 February 1995, Ukraine became the first cis country to accept nato's invitation to enter its Partnership for Peace program, which called for limited cooperation between the alliance and non-member countries in the area of military training and security arrangements. Ukrainian troops participated with nato forces in maneuvers in Crimea and western Ukraine. They were also involved in peace-keeping duties in Yugoslavia. To Russia's great chagrin, in 1997 these ties with nato were expanded at the Madrid Summit. Increasingly, both nato and Ukraine began to refer to their "special relationship.-" However, Ukraine was not about to give up its neutrality. Nor did it appear likely that it would be invited to join nato in the near future. Nonetheless, cooperating with nato clearly bolstered its security.

East Central Europe

If history were a guide, then Ukraine might have expected serious problems with its immediate neighbors to the west, especially Poland, Hungary, and Romania. In the past, all of these states had been strongly, even uncompromisingly, opposed to the very idea of Ukrainian independence. Moreover, after 1991 there was the potential for conflicts arising over territorial claims and the treatment of minorities. Fortunately, not only were confrontations avoided but relations with these neighbors developed, for the most part, surprisingly well. Kiev perceived in these countries, some of which were about to be accepted into nato and the European Union, potential supporters of its efforts to "return to Europe." They, in turn, realized the value of having Ukraine serve as a buffer between them and Russia. This view was enunciated by Jacek Kuron, the prominent Polish intellectual and politician when he stated, "There can be no independent Poland without an independent Ukraine."2

In April 1993, Kravchuk attempted to entice the so-called Vishegrad Countries of Eastern Europe into a broadly based mutual security arrangement that pointedly excluded Russia. Because the East Europeans were intent on entering nato, they politely rejected this proposal. But in 1996 they did invite Ukraine to join the Central European Initiative, a grouping of ten central and southern European countries whose goal was to foster greater regional economic and political cooperation. In 1999 President Kuchma hosted a conference of presidents from these countries in Lviv.

In terms of bilateral relations, Ukraine's unusually close and productive ties with Poland were by far the most important. Poland had been the first state to recognize Ukrainian independence. As their contacts broadened, the two states signed, in May 1997, a Declaration of Understanding and Unity, which called on their citizens to set aside the animosities of the past and to concentrate on cooperative relations. As it had in the past, Poland served as Ukraine's primary link with Europe. It was in Poland's interest to encourage Ukraine's western orientation. Poland's policy of keeping its borders open to Ukrainians was only one example of these cordial relations. Ukraine's relations with Hungary also developed well. To a large extent, this was due to Kiev's liberal treatment of Ukraine's Hungarian minority of about 160,000, which was concentrated in Transcarpathia.

Ukraine's relations with its other neighbors were more problematic. In the early 1990s, its relations with Romania were strained by Romanian claims that northern Bukovyna, southern Bessarabia, and oil-rich Serpent Island had been illegally annexed to Ukraine as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Because of its desire to join nato, Romania was anxious to avoid controversy with its neighbors, and it eventually dropped its territorial claims. In June 1997, the two countries signed a Treaty on Cooperation and Good Neighborly Relations. Another potential trouble spot was Moldova, where pro-Russian elements established the so-called Dniester Republic, a separate mini-state. Here Ukraine attempted to play the role of honest broker between the separatist elements and the Moldovan state. The one neighbor Ukraine was clearly at odds with -- in terms of policies, not actual confrontations -- was Belarus. The attempts of Belarussian president Aleksander Lukashenka to preserve as much as possible of the Soviet system and, especially, the entry of Belarus into a union with Russia set an example that many leftists in Ukraine wanted to follow. But it was contrary to what the Ukrainian political elite and, apparently, the majority of Ukrainians desired. Consequently, relations between these two closely related neighbors remained correct but cool.

Although Ukraine's policy of drawing closer to the West was certainly aided by its diplomatic successes, there was no guarantee that this goal would be achieved. Repeatedly Ukrainians heard from their western partners that the true measure of Ukraine's readiness to "return to Europe" would be not diplomatic arrangements but progress in domestic, particularly economic, reforms. Here success would be much more difficult to achieve.

State- and Nation-Building

After the disintegration of the British, French, and other European colonial empires, the process of building new, independent states was frequently repeated throughout the world. Almost nowhere did it take place smoothly or easily. It was usually accompanied by political, social, and economic disorganization, incompetence, and corruption, and by political tensions.

State-building Not surprisingly, state-building in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries also experienced the childhood maladies of newly and hurriedly established states. There were, of course, singular features in the Ukrainian experience. The non-violent disintegration of the ussr meant that the former Soviet elite in Ukraine was not displaced. In 1990-1, the pro-independence forces realized that they were not strong enough to attain their goal on their own. Therefore, they reached an informal agreement with the more flexible elements of the Communist establishment, led by Kravchuk. Essentially, it allowed the Communist elite to retain its dominant political, administrative, and economic positions in return for its support of independence. No longer controlled by Moscow and the Communist party, this elite could pursue its own interests at will. Discredited Communist ideals were quickly abandoned by the more flexible (or opportunistic) members of the nomenklatura, as the Soviet elite was called. But long-denigrated nationalism was still too alien to embrace. Consequently, most of the Ukrainian leadership adopted pragmatic, non-ideological positions.

The result was that ambiguity in ideals, goals, and even policies became the distinguishing feature of the leadership's views on the entire spectrum of issues and problems that faced Ukrainian society. This, in turn, meant that in organizing the new state, the political elite would have to work without ideological guidelines, a rare occurrence in post-imperial state-building. In short, those who began creating the new state were unclear as to what kind of state it was to be.

In certain ways, the leaders of the new Ukraine were better off than the builders of postcolonial states. Ukraine had many features of a modern society: a highly educated workforce, health and welfare systems, efficient communications, extensive urbanization, and a highly developed industrial and agricultural base. It had a bureaucracy in place, especially at the local level. But what this largely modern society lacked were the traditions and institutions of self-government, decision-making, and policy formulation. Until 1991, Kiev had been, in political and institutional terms, little more than a branch office of a highly centralized corporation based in Moscow. For generations, the most talented Ukrainian apparatchiki had been drawn to the greater opportunities afforded by the Soviet metropolis. Those who remained in Kiev concentrated on following instructions from Moscow. Therefore, initially, state-building in Ukraine would be very much a venture into the unknown.

Most of the external attributes of statehood were put in place quickly. Without quite realizing the impact of its decision, parliament (Verkhovna Rada), which was the highest authority in the land, established the office of president in July 1991. On 9 September, Ukraine introduced its own provisional currency. One month later, parliament passed the law on citizenship, which granted full rights of citizenship to all who resided in Ukraine. By early 1992, state symbols, adopted from the short-lived national state of the 1917-21 period, were accepted, but not without the momentarily subdued grumbling of the disorganized Communist hardliners. About 50 central ministries, staffed by about 13,000 officials from the old regime, were reorganized. However, their authority over the roughly 450,000 local bureaucrats was poorly defined, which at first caused considerable disruption.3

Especially important was the formation of the Ministry of Defense in September 1991. It faced the delicate task of transforming the huge contingent of 726,000 former Soviet troops stationed in Ukraine -- most of whom, especially the senior officers, were Russians -- into a Ukrainian army. This was accomplished with a remarkable lack of friction. Initially, a National Guard, consisting of the most reliable elements in the army, was formed. Then those who wished to take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine were enrolled in its army; those who did not were allowed to return to their homes. Gradually, the size of the armed forces was reduced. By 1999, they numbered 371,000 and were staffed and led largely by Ukrainians. Even with these reductions, Ukraine's army was one of the largest in Europe. However, due to the deteriorating economy, it was catastrophically financed, poorly supplied, and in pressing need of modernization.

In Soviet times, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was an essentially symbolic institution, consisting of about 150 officials who staffed Ukraine's mission to the United Nations. Soon after independence, however, it established embassies in over 180 countries and hosted close to 120 missions in Kiev. As embassies proliferated, ministries grew, and numerous foreign delegations and leaders made official visits, Kiev began to take on the appearance of a genuine capital. Indeed, regional elites, who had lobbied, unsuccessfully, for the introduction of a federal system, complained that the new ministries in Kiev, called the cabinet of ministers and headed by the prime minister, were as much concerned with maintaining a centralized, unitary state as Moscow had been.

At the outset, parliament, consisting mostly of Communist deputies who were elected in 1990, considered itself to be the highest authority in the land. However, while president, both Kravchuk and Kuchma insisted on expanding the as-yet-undefined prerogatives of their office. Their primary goal was to gain control of the administrative structure. One of the first steps in this direction was the appointment of presidential representatives, who actually functioned as governors, in the 25 oblasts of the land. Furthermore, a presidential administration, consisting of close advisors to the chief executive, was formed. Soon it exerted its influence on policy-making, greatly complicating relations with the office of prime minister and the cabinet of ministers. The undefined and increasingly antagonistic relations among president, prime minister, and the 450-member parliament dramatically emphasized the need for a new constitution. After prolonged confrontations and negotiations, a new constitution became the law of the land on 28 June 1996. It defined Ukraine's political system as a mixture of presidential and parliamentary forms of government, and regulated, less than perfectly, the relationship among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In practice, however, the executive branch would prove to be more equal than the others. Elated by the passage of the constitution, Kuchma declared, on the fifth anniversary of independence and somewhat optimistically, that the state-building phase had been completed.


One of the central themes of Ukrainian history has been the extraordinarily tortuous process of nation-building. Due to the nature of tsarist and Soviet rule in Ukraine, this process was among the most repressed, delayed, and deformed in Europe. As a result, when independence and statehood finally came, Ukrainians were far from constituting a well-defined national community. This, in itself, was not unusual. Many states were established before nation-building had been completed, as the famous statement by Massimo d'Azegli, one of the founders of the Italian state, attests: "We have made Italy; now we must make Italians."4 However, in Ukraine the problem had an added dimension: given the extraordinary difficulties and delays that Ukrainians experienced in developing their national consciousness, there was a question of whether the nation-building process was not irreparably debilitated. Even with the existence of an independent state, could a national identity and solidarity be consolidated?

A major complication was that, from the outset, there were divided opinions within the political elite as to what kind of nation should be formed. Many, especially in the western part of the country, focused on Ukrainian ethnicity as the cornerstone of the nation-building process. Since Ukrainians were the indigenous population, since they formed the vast majority, and since they, it was assumed, would be most committed to the new state, they, their language, and culture should define the nation. This position was forcefully expressed by a historian of the older generation, who argued that "of course, Ukraine should be for Ukrainians. After all, for hundreds of years it was for everybody but Ukrainians."5

Others, especially in the eastern part of the country, adopted a very different point of view: for them, citizenship should define who was and who was not a Ukrainian. A young historian argued that the new state should "create a new Ukrainian nation, which is based not on an exclusive ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural principle but on the principle of the political, economic and territorial unity of Ukraine."6 The irreconcilable differences between the ethnic and civic views of nationhood created major complications for politicians. One was terminological: how should they refer to the population of the new state -- as "the Ukrainian people" or as "the people of Ukraine"? Stressing the civic/ethnic distinction, however, led many to miss the point: ethnic and civic states are ideal types that rarely exist in reality. Usually citizenship is defined in civic terms, but most states have an ethnic core. The issue in Ukraine was actually whether this ethnic core would be Ukrainian or some vague East Slavic or Ukrainian-Russian amalgam.

In 1991 it appeared that the new government would attempt to make up for centuries of national repression by instituting a systematic program of Ukrainization. At this point, the brief upsurge of national pride and consciousness that coalesced around the Rukh movement in 1989 was still a force to be reckoned with. Consequently, Kravchuk, who vacillated between the ethnic and civic concepts of nationhood, laid greater stress on the use of Ukrainian in government and the media. Education became a special focus of the Ukrainizing effort. In schools and universities -- but not at home or on the street -- the use of Ukrainian rose perceptibly.7 But soon the narrow base of support for Ukrainization began to show. It was concentrated in western Ukraine and among the literati of Kiev, and it was these elements, together with Rukh, whose influence in government began to wane.

In eastern and southern Ukraine, meanwhile, disillusionment with independence and resistance to linguistic Ukrainization grew. Here the expectation had been that Ukraine, once it shook off Moscow's exploitative rule, would have economic dividends to share among its citizens. Instead the country experienced an economic collapse. This greatly weakened support for independence and the national idea that stood behind it. Furthermore, the new state was increasingly associated with incompetence and corruption. Moreover, since most of its officials were former members of the russified nomenklatura, they often had little interest in implementing Ukrainization. A major reinforcement to the rising anti-Ukrainization tide was the legalization of the previously banned Communist party in October 1993. Militantly critical of nationalism, independence, and Ukrainization -- to the point that, in 1994,64 of their deputies in parliament refused to swear allegiance to Ukraine -- the Communists became the leading spokesmen for disaffected elements in eastern and southern Ukraine, especially those who wanted recognition of Russian as a second official language, dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, and closer ties with Russia.

In the populous and economically vital Donbas, where the Communists were most influential and Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians were in the majority, anti-Kiev attitudes spread rapidly. In order to win over the disgruntled eastern regional elites, Kravchuk and, later, Kuchma offered them positions in the central government. As east Ukrainians accepted more and more senior positions, the threat to the unity of the state diminished, but government support for nation-building also declined. Furthermore, the government made a point of adopting a very liberal policy towards the country's ethnic minorities, most notably its 11 million Russians. While laudable in terms of human rights, this meant, in effect, the acceptance of a multicultural model of society. Meanwhile, many in the western regions of the country remained staunchly committed to making Ukraine more Ukrainian. Consequently, the perennial dichotomy between the nationally conscious West and the nationally ambivalent East became ever more glaring.

Promising to take the attitudes of easterners into account, Kuchma won the presidential election in July 1994. A typical product of the nomenklatura system -- and, moreover, one who hardly spoke Ukrainian -- the new president openly declared "that the national idea has not worked."8 For the new state to survive, he argued, it should concentrate on economic development, not issues of identity. These statements reflected the cosmopolitan views, which included a pro-Russian or so-called Eurasian orientation for Ukraine, espoused by many of the new president's advisors. They also clearly appealed to many east Ukrainians, to the 11 million Russians in Ukraine, and to the various minority groups who, for the most part, had voted for the new president.

Despite these attitudes, the Kuchma administration could not ignore the fact that close to 75% of the population was ethnically Ukrainian. In time, the presidential team realized that if Ukrainian society was to consolidate and if it was to possess a distinct cultural identity, it would have to preserve key aspects of Ukrainian ethnicity. The logic of a national state was undeniable: if the existence of a Ukrainian nation led to the formation of a Ukrainian state, then the state was obligated to cultivate a sense of Ukrainian national identity. Consequently, the longer Kuchma, who quickly learned Ukrainian himself, stayed in office, the more his administration attempted to encourage a synthesis of civic and ethnic elements of nationhood. Parliament adopted a similar approach. This was reflected in the 1996 constitution, which referred to both "the Ukrainian nation" and "the people of Ukraine." Despite Communist pressure to give Russian equal status with Ukrainian, the latter remained the single official language of the state.

Official policy notwithstanding, the general use of Ukrainian -- commonly viewed as a bellwether of national consciousness and distinctiveness -showed little progress. Throughout the 1990s somewhat less than half of the country's inhabitants, mostly in the West and in the villages, spoke Ukrainian, while slightly more than half, primarily in the East and the cities, used Russian. Of course, a large proportion spoke both, and many, especially the less educated, used surzhyk, an ungainly mixture of the two languages.

Many critics of linguistic Ukrainization did not object to it in principle. Rather, they wanted it to be applied gradually so as to cause a minimum of inconvenience and disruption. Since many Russian-speakers staunchly and regularly supported Ukrainian interests and independence, it would be unjustified to view them as less patriotic. But the fact remained that, with the widespread use of Russian, the task of creating a sense of national solidarity and distinctiveness was that much more difficult.

There were old and new reasons for the appeal of Russian: education, habit, and inertia played a role, as did the traditional identification of the language with the city and modernity. Moreover, in the post-Soviet period, burgeoning consumerism had a major impact. Russian capital was stronger and Russian products were more attractive. Therefore, they dominated the products of mass culture -- music, popular literature, and print and electronic media -- in Ukraine. Moreover, Ukrainian dependence on Russian markets meant that the language of business and therefore of computers and technology was also Russian. As a result, Ukraine remained essentially bilingual. Indeed, in certain ways Russian was more widespread than before.

The language issue highlighted another complex problem, that of regionalism. Given the regional diversity of the country, some, notably in the East and specifically the pro-Russian, Kharkiv-based Interregional Bloc for Reforms, argued that the new state should be organized as a federation of regions. Surprisingly, this federalist option did not gain much support. The Soviet tradition of centralized government might have been part of the reason. The argument used in Kiev that Ukrainian society was too weakly integrated to allow for governmental decentralization was also effective. Certainly, public opinion in both the East and West strongly supported the country's territorial integrity and evinced little sympathy for decentralization, although the idea of creating special economic zones had some appeal.

This is not to say that regionalism did not pose difficulties for Kiev. It did, most notably in two areas, the Donbas and especially in the Crimea. The Donbas, with its two cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, is a crucial region. It accounts for close to 20% of the country's industrial production, 17% percent of its population, and 9% of its territory. Its multi-ethnic population consists mainly of russophone Ukrainians and Russians. But the Russians are mostly long-time inhabitants whose ties are primarily to the Donbas, not to Russia. Indeed, even after 1991, many in the Donbas considered themselves to be neither Ukrainian nor Russian; they preferred to describe themselves as Soviets. The disintegration of the ussr was particularly painful for the Donbas. Its huge industries had been a Soviet showcase and its miners were among its most highly paid workers. Economic collapse hit the region especially hard. Blaming Ukrainian independence for their problems, many called for the re-establishment of closer ties to Russia. The openly pro-Russian Civic Congress called for the adoption of Russian as an official language, dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship, and federalism. Although widespread, these views did not lead to a serious separatist movement. This was due, in part, to Kiev's caution in pursuing Ukrainization in the region and, largely, to its policy of co-opting members of the regional elite into the central government. When Kuchma, the favored candidate in the Donbas, won in 1994, the region's commitment to the Ukrainian state became even stronger.

Crimea was a much more difficult problem for Kiev. It was generally recognized that the sunny peninsula, transferred to the Ukrainian ssr only in 1954, had a strong claim to special status. First, it had been autonomous prior to 1945. Second, it was the only region in Ukraine with an overwhelmingly Russian population: over 65% of its inhabitants were Russians, about 24% were mostly russophone Ukrainians, and about 10% were Tatars. Expelled en masse by Stalin in 1944, about 250,000 to 300,000 Tatars had returned to their Crimean homeland since 1989. Most of the Russians, many of whom were retired military officers or party officials, were relatively recent arrivals, as were the Ukrainians, who were concentrated in northern agrarian regions. Indeed, it has been estimated that roughly three-fourths of the 2.5 million inhabitants had settled in the peninsula only after the Second World War. The fact that the Russian Black Sea Fleet was based in Sevastopol,-the scene of heroic wartime exploits by Russian imperial and Soviet forces, added greatly to the delicacy of the Crimean problem.

As might be expected, the Russian majority in Crimea reacted negatively to its inclusion in an independent Ukrainian state. In May 1992 the Crimean parliament declared independence with the intention of joining Russia and the cis. Kiev rejected the declaration as unconstitutional. This initiated a protracted war of nerves, which reached a dangerous highpoint in 1994 when a Crimean president and parliament were elected. Kiev had backed Nikolai Bagrov, candidate of the local "party of power," while the pro-Russian elements, united in the broadly based Russia Bloc, of which the Republican party was the key element, supported the party's leader, Iuri Meshkov. The latter won overwhelmingly. In his campaign, Meshkov promised immediate economic benefits from breaking away from Ukraine and uniting with Russia.

It quickly became apparent that Meshkov could not deliver on his promises. Little concrete support was forthcoming from Russia: involved in a war with separatists in Chechnya, it could hardly support separatism in Crimea. Meanwhile, the peninsula's complete dependence on Ukraine for subsidies, energy, and water became ever more apparent. When Meshkov became embroiled in fierce conflict with his own parliament, public opinion turned against him and his policies. This allowed Kuchma to step in, abolish the office of president, and install a pro-Kiev prime minister. Under pressure from Kuchma, the Crimean parliament passed a constitution in May 1996 that, while formalizing wide-ranging autonomy, clearly recognized the peninsula as an integral part of Ukraine and subject to its laws. The situation further stabilized in 1997, when Russia and Ukraine signed a bilateral treaty that apparently settled the vexing question of Sevastopol and the division of the Black Sea Fleet. As in all of Ukraine, in the Crimea and the Donbas the focus of attention turned to economic issues.


Like all former Communist countries, Ukraine adopted a democratic form of government. But since almost all of its political leaders were products of the Soviet, totalitarian school of politics, during the first decade of independence the essence of internal politics was the shifting, uneasy confrontation between democratic forms and authoritarian tendencies. The demands placed on Ukrainian politicians were great: throughout their careers they had internalized two basic principles of political success: absolute obedience to Moscow and unquestioning acceptance of the pervasive, monopolistic control by the party. Suddenly, these principles became irrelevant. Politicians had to learn, on the job, to function according to completely different rules.

The new elite

Although the new political elite emerged largely from the old Soviet nomenklatura, it possessed significant differences from its predecessor. By and large, the highest levels of the Communist party leadership were shunted aside. In their place came younger, ambitious, better educated second- or third-rank apparatchiki, frequently with a background in the Komsomol (Communist Youth League). They were joined by a much smaller but significant cohort of national-democrat politicians who rose to prominence during the 1989-91 period. In time, a third element consisting of "businessmen" or so-called oligarchs, many of whom had acquired their money dishonestly, emerged as a major force both in national and regional politics. For oligarchs, the most attractive aspect of election to public office was that it protected them from prosecution for wrongdoing. The relationship between business and politics is close everywhere, but in Ukraine, and other post-Soviet states, business was often associated with criminality. This could not but have a negative effect on the nature of politics.

The values and attitudes of this political elite were another mixture of the old and the new. Its Soviet background encouraged a tendency towards authoritarianism; it believed that maintaining social stability was the primary, even exclusive, goal of government, and it was, by and large, ambivalent in its attitude to nation-building. The new times also led to a lack of interest in ideological issues in general. Politicians became more insular and oblivious to the public. Although many of them, national-democrats excluded, cared little about national identity, they supported independence because it allowed them to control Ukraine's affairs without interference from Moscow or competition from Russian oligarchs.

Throughout the 1990s the primary issue that confronted the Ukrainian political establishment was the redistribution of power, an especially thorny problem for those raised in the Soviet system of clear-cut political hierarchy. It was reflected, most importantly and dramatically, in the recurrent confrontations between parliament and the president. Initially, parliament assumed that it was the pinnacle of power: it promulgated sovereignty in 1990 and it declared independence in 1991. Parliament also initiated the creation of the major institutions of statehood -- including the office of president -- and passed the key laws of the land. Because parliament was the bastion, especially after 1994, of Communists and their allies, it appeared well placed to block any reforms that were not to the party's liking. Indeed, the leftist majority in parliament repeatedly demanded that the government be organized according to the Soviet system of councils, of which parliament was the pinnacle.

Not surprisingly, Ukraine's two presidents, especially Kuchma, viewed matters differently. Kravchuk attempted to establish his representatives as the highest authorities in the oblasts, but parliament blocked these efforts. When Kuchma was elected, he also tried to consolidate presidential power. On 18 May 1995 he pushed through the Law on Power, which was designed to establish a vertical chain of command with the president over the administration. The law also attempted to reach a compromise on two contentious issues: the right of the president to dissolve parliament and the right of parliament to impeach the president. Nonetheless, neither side was satisfied and the struggle continued. The president repeatedly argued that economic reforms were impossible without political reforms, particularly a stronger executive. Meanwhile, the leftists, who controlled parliament under the leadership of Oleksander Moroz, accused Kuchma of attempting to establish a dictatorship. As a result, the government was paralyzed and crisis loomed.

In order to avoid a bloody confrontation between president and parliament such as that which occurred in Russia in 1993, on 7 June 1995 the two sides concluded the so-called Constitutional Agreement. Its goal was to establish temporary principles for the division of power that would apply until a new constitution was formulated. Alarmed by the president's growing power, the Communists and their leftist supporters in parliament continued to block all attempts to prepare a constitution that might enshrine these powers. Matters were complicated even more by the conflict that raged on within parliament between the national-democrats, who supported the president, and the anti-presidential left. As frustrations grew, Kuchma threatened to initiate a referendum that would allow him to disband parliament. Given the public disenchantment with parliamentary bickering, chances were good that the public would support him. This forced the legislators to act: on 28 June 1996, after a dramatic all-night session, they passed the long-debated constitution.

The presidential-parliamentary system of government, which the new constitution established, gave the president the right to form and lead the government without interference by the legislative branch, and it gave parliament the right to pass laws without intrusion of the executive branch. The constitution defined Ukraine as a unitary state, although an exception was made for Crimea, which received autonomous status. The document also ensured a wide range of civil liberties for Ukraine's citizens, established Ukrainian as the official language of the state, and adopted national symbols. In somewhat vague terms, it recognized the right of private property and business activity. With the passage of this new, fundamental law of the land, the Soviet era in Ukrainian history came to an end.

Even with the new constitution, tensions between president and parliament did not subside. Because the Communists, especially after the 1998 parliamentary elections, formed the largest faction -- but not a majority -- in parliament, they repeatedly blocked the passage of legislation that Kuchma needed. Finally, the denouement came in early 2000. Again using the threat of a referendum, the president prodded the non-leftist majority -- ironically referred to as the "Bolsheviks" -- to unite and, in another dramatic confrontation, to eject the leftists, including the pro-Communist speaker, Oleksander Tkachenko, from their influential positions in parliament. The non-leftist majority, led by the new speaker, Ivan Pliushch, signalled its willingness to engage in constructive cooperation with the greatly strengthened president. It seemed that an important phase in the political wars had come to an end.

Political parties

In democratic societies, political parties are the links between society and the state. They educate, activate, and integrate citizens into the political system. Without them, democracy is impossible. A major problem in Ukraine's political system throughout the 1990s was that political parties were weak and slow to develop. Given the society's Soviet heritage, this was not surprising. For many, the very word "party" was associated with all the negative features of the oppressive and intrusive Communist party. Even when new parties did emerge, their performance in parliament and elsewhere only disillusioned the general populace. Finally, the importance of parties was undermined by election laws, which initially allowed factories or civil organizations the same right as parties to nominate candidates for office. Despite these great disadvantages, political parties not only emerged in the period of independence but multiplied in great numbers. This, however, was not necessarily a sign of healthy political development.

When Article 6 of the Soviet Ukrainian constitution, which proclaimed the Communist party's monopoly on power, was removed in mid-1991, the development of a multiparty system became possible. But the emergence of political parties did not reflect a consolidation of political forces; rather, it was the result of their splintering. The process was most striking within Rukh, the mass movement that at its high point in 1991 had the support of hundreds of thousands. In 1992, Viacheslav Chornovil overcame the bitter opposition of many members of the leadership and led the transformation of Rukh into a political party. But his victory was extremely costly. Masses of members, disillusioned with the infighting and Rukh's subsequent policies, left not only the party but politics altogether. In 1999, Rukh was further weakened when, after the tragic death of Chornovil, it split into two fiercely antagonistic factions.

Other parties on the right had a membership of only several thousand each. Based mainly in western and central Ukraine, supportive of Ukraine's integration in Europe, and strongly committed to state- and nation-building, this group of parties, referred to as National Democrats, formed the core of the right wing of the political spectrum. The extreme right, most notably UNA and its militaristic affiliate, UNSO, participated in several highly publicized incidents and frequently issued demagogic statements, but its influence on society was very limited.

The left wing of the political spectrum emerged from the remnants of the Communist party. Several months after the party was banned in August 1991, the Socialist party, led by Oleksander Moroz and consisting of many national communists, was founded to fill the void on the left. Its membership was about 90,000. Soon afterward, the Peasant party, in which Oleksander Tkachenko was a key figure, was created to serve the interests of the collective farm elite. Although intent on preserving many aspects of the Soviet system and leery of reforms, these two parties accepted the principle of Ukrainian independence.

In October 1993, the Communist party was resurrected in Donetsk, a city that suffered greatly from the economic decline caused by the disintegration of the ussr. Led by Petro Symonenko, it attracted many disgruntled communists in the largely russified East who were unable to adjust to or profit from the new realities. Consequently, it was militant in its call for the restoration of the Soviet system, including close ties to Russia, the rejection of Ukrainian independence and the introduction of Russian as the second official language. The party's mission was to block all reforms, especially those that encouraged a market economy. Because the old Communist party in

Ukraine had had about 3.5 million members, its successor had a large base of recruits, and soon its membership reached more than 120,000, by far the largest party in Ukraine. Like its Soviet predecessor, the party was noted for its discipline and tight organization. The more the economy declined, the greater the party's appeal. But it had serious weaknesses: it was backward-looking, dependent on the elderly for support, and lacking an imaginative leadership. Nonetheless, the Communists, benefiting from the protest vote, did well in elections and dominated parliament. They formed the strongest opposition to their erstwhile colleagues who now constituted the Ukrainian political and economic establishment.

The center of the Ukrainian political spectrum was amorphous, splintered, and ill-defined. It consisted of numerous small parties that were formed primarily to serve the interests of the "party of power" -- a loose, informal, and fractious grouping of the former Soviet nomenklatura who now held high government positions. Other members of this constituency were business magnates, directors of industrial enterprises, and the regional elites from industrialized centers such as Donetsk, Dniepropetrovsk, and Kharkiv. These parties carried misleadingly democratic and populist names: the Workers Congress was actually a party of businessmen, the Party of Labor consisted mainly of factory directors, the Social Democratic party had hardly any workers in its ranks, the Liberal party represented the interests of the Donetsk political and business elite, while the Hromada party did the same for the rival oligarchic clan from Dniepropetrovsk. The Revival of Regions party was the political vehicle of a group of oligarchs closely linked with the presidential administration. Only the Kharkiv-based Party of Democratic Revival seriously espoused liberal ideas and values. For the most part, these parties were extremely small, rarely possessing more than 1000 members. As groupings of the elite, they were clearly not interested in mass membership. They were, however, extremely influential. This was reflected in the fact that President Kuchma and many of his closest associates came from their ranks.

When elections approached, the centrist parties attempted to form larger blocs. Thus, prior to the 1994 election, they formed the New Ukraine electoral bloc, led by Volodymyr Hryniov. In 1996, a number of centrist parties merged into the People's Democratic party (NDP). In general, their main interests were highly pragmatic and selective: they concentrated on obtaining government support for their enterprises and maintaining their members on or close to the pinnacles of power. Such emotion-laden issues as relations with Russia, national symbols, or language policy, which greatly agitated the right and left, were of little concern to them.

The existence of numerous parties -- by 1999 there were 71 -- was not an indication of a fully functional democracy in Ukraine. Not only were most parties small, but they lacked a well-defined social base. Hence, their responsibility to a specific constituency was limited. What factors most influenced one's choice of a party to support? Usually, region played a crucial role, with westerners favoring parties on the right, easterners those on the left, and central Ukraine wavering between the two. Consequently, almost all parties were regional, not national, in scope. Divorced from society, limited in their activity to parliamentary in-fighting, and focused on narrow partisan and personal interests, political parties were viewed with great skepticism by the general public. A telling indication of their inability to attract popular support was the fact that in a society of 50 million, only about 350,000-400,000 were members of political parties. In a poll taken in 1995, only 31.2% of respondents believed in the necessity of a multiparty system and only 8.8% were willing to grant power to any single party. Nonetheless, elections did demonstrate the need for political parties. And by end of 1990s there were indications that these parties were developing a better sense of what role they should play in society.


In Ukraine, elections were those rare moments when the political elite was forced to pay attention to the general populace. The parliamentary elections in 1994 had two noteworthy features: they were the first since independence, and they were the first to occur on a multiparty basis. In general, these elections were fair and calm, but because they took place amidst a collapsing economy and plummeting living standards, they were highly disappointing to incumbents. First, most incumbents were not re-elected. Second, due to poor voter turnout, only 338 of 450 seats in parliament were filled. Third, political parties in general, hamstrung by an election law that worked to their disadvantage, did very poorly: more than half of the new deputies were independents. Fourth, the left surged back to prominence. Based in the industrialized East and using the economic crisis to their own advantage, the Communists won 20% of the seats. With their Socialist and Peasant party allies, they formed the largest bloc in parliament. However, while numerous enough to block legislation, the left was not strong enough to have its way. Consequently, parliament proved to be incapable of engaging in constructive activity.

Although the center did most poorly in the elections to parliament, it was from its ranks that the two major candidates in the presidential elections of 1994 emerged. The incumbent president and favored candidate, Kravchuk, campaigned on a platform that appealed to some elements in the "party of power" and especially to the nationally conscious population of the western and central regions: he stressed the achievements of independence, the need for state- and nation-building, and an orientation towards Europe. His rival, Kuchma, had the support of the eastern businessmen and enterprise directors, united in the Interregional Bloc for Reforms. A former director of Pivdednmash, the largest missile factory in the world, and a former prime minister, Kuchma was the classic representative of the east Ukrainian, largely russified nomenklatura. His campaign stressed economic issues and the need for closer ties with Russia, Ukraine's main trading partner. He also promised his primary constituency, the urbanized, industrialized, russified East, that Russian would be introduced as a second official langauge. Even the Communists and their leftist allies, realizing that their candidate, Moroz, was unelectable, threw their support behind Kuchma. In July 1994, the final result of the presidential election was a close and unexpected victory for Kuchma.

The election results dramatically emphasized key features of the Ukrainian political landscape: the most obvious was the great difference between the nationally conscious West and the pragmatic East. But now it was clear that the far more populous East was the decisive element. Nonetheless, those who expected Kuchma to retreat from independence and to lead them back to the stagnant stability of the Soviet days -- and there were many, notably the Communists, who did -- were soon disillusioned. Within weeks of his election, Kuchma announced a promising program of pro-market reforms and, quickly learning Ukrainian, demonstrated his commitment to independent statehood. Soon, a radical reversal occurred: the president's strongest supporters could be found in the West and in the national-democratic camp, while his erstwhile allies on the left became his fiercest opponents.

An indication of how Ukraine's multiparty system was evolving came in the parliamentary election of 1998. In terms of issues, little was new, except that less emphasis was placed on issues of geopolitical orientation and language and even more on the economic crisis. There was, however, a crucial change in the electoral process: parties that received more than 4% of the total vote received a proportionate number of half of the seats in parliament. The other half went to the individuals who received the most votes in an electoral district. Since this raised the importance of political parties, the vast majority of new deputies chose to be affiliated with them.

Another feature of these elections was the participation of a greater number of businessmen and regional elites. The new Hromada party, led by Pavlo Lazarenko and based in Dniepropetrovsk, placed well, as did the Social Democrats, led by Hryhorii Surkis, Viktor Medvedchuk, and former prime minister Ievhen Marchuk. Another surprise was the strong showing of the Green party. This was not due to a rise in environmental concerns but to the backing, for pragmatic reasons, of business circles. In these elections, media exposure and ample funding played a greater role than previously. Nonetheless, it was the two bitter rivals, the Communists and Rukh, that still attracted the greatest numbers of voters: the former garnered about 25% of the vote while the latter attracted about 10%. The results of the vote were indecisive, with the Communists and their allies receiving about 42% and the parties on the right and center getting the rest. However, the better-organized left acquired a dominant position in parliament. Its candidate, Tkachenko, was elected speaker, and it dominated most of the parliamentary committees.

The second presidential elections in independent Ukraine occurred in 1999. Because of his inability to deal with the economic crisis, it appeared that Kuchma's chances of re-election were extremely limited. Yet, in a scenario very reminiscent of Yeltsin's recent success in the Russian presidential election, the unpopular incumbent won a relatively easy victory. How was this achieved? Taking advantage of his office to an extreme degree, Kuchma used administrative pressure to hobble his opponents. Moreover, the oligarchs, anxious to maintain the status quo, provided him with unprecedentedly large financial resources. This allowed the president to employ modern western techniques of influencing public opinion. Because he had almost total control of the media, sometimes to the point of censoring or blocking his opponents' point of view, the president was able to refurbish his initially unappealing image. A coalition of four left-centrist candidates, the so-called Kaniv Four (Marchuk, Moroz, Tkachenko, and Volodymyr Oliynyk) briefly posed a threat. But their inability to cooperate effectively gave the president what he wanted -- the lacklustre Communist leader, Symonenko, as his final opponent.

Constantly stressing the theme that his Communist opponent represented the return of the Red Menace, the president's image-makers presented their candidate as the guarantor of stability and order. Confronted with two unappealing choices, the Ukrainian electorate voted for the status quo: Kuchma was re-elected with 56% to his opponent's 37% of the vote. As in 1994, western Ukraine gave the incumbent president its complete support, proving the adage that the more populous East elects presidents, but the more nationally minded West supports them. The base of Communist support shifted markedly. It weakened in the East, especially in large cities, but strengthened in the villages of central Ukraine. Thus, the glaring East-West dichotomy of 1994 became somewhat less marked. While the electorate gave the left considerable support, this was more in protest against the dismal state of affairs than an expression of sympathy with Communist ideals. In any case, the voters clearly were not willing to vote the Communists into power. With the left defeated and the right disunited, Kuchma emerged from the election stronger than ever.

Recurrent themes

Even though a pro-presidential majority was formed in parliament in January 2000, this was not enough for Kuchma. In a move calculated to assure his dominance over parliament, the president pushed through a referendum in April 2000. Its results supported proposals to create a bicameral parliament and to give the president the right, under certain conditions, to disband the legislature. It also deprived the deputies of their prized immunity from prosecution. The referendum marked a fundamental shift in Ukrainian politics. No longer was the division of power at issue; the president now had most of it, and there were those who feared that the threat of authoritarianism would confront Ukraine in the near future. But because the outcome of the referendum needed a two-thirds majority of parliament to be included in the constitution, many doubted that presidential-parliamentary confrontations were a thing of the past.

Soon after the presidential election, the language issue again came to the fore. Given the dominance of Russian, ukrainophones often complained that they felt like a "psychological minority" in their own country. The new Kuchma administration, which received its strongest support in the Ukrainian-speaking West, took some cautious steps to redress the situation. Support for this tendency came in December 1999, when the Constitutional Court upheld the article stipulating the Ukrainian should be the single official language -- to the great dismay of the Russian government, which protested that this could lead to discrimination against russophones in Ukraine. There were ominous rumblings of discontent in Luhansk and especially Crimea. Nonetheless, supporters of Ukrainian were given positions of influence in the government, and it appeared that another attempt at Ukrainization would be made. However, even its staunchest supporters realized that in this complex, lengthy endeavor, success could not be guaranteed.


The most striking -- and depressing -- aspect of life in the new Ukraine was the dismal state of its economy. It overshadowed all other issues, problems, and achievements of the first decade of independence. Its catastrophic condition raised doubts, both at home and abroad, about the ruling elite, the political system, and the very viability of the state itself. Perhaps most disturbing, the prolonged economic crisis shook the confidence of Ukrainians in themselves.

Between 1991 and 2000, the country's GDP had sunk over 63%, one of the worst declines in the former ussr. Its trade plummeted, debts burgeoned, and foreign investment was little more than a trickle. In an American survey that measured the "freedom" of economies to develop, Ukraine ranked 125th out of 156 countries.9 Many of the country's huge, uncompetitive factories barely functioned, its dangerous mines were unprofitable, and its collective farms could hardly sustain themselves. Villages were neglected and the urban infrastructure was in disrepair. People were badly fed, shabbily dressed, inadequately housed, and in poor health. The standard of living plummeted to the point where about 70% of population were close to or below the poverty line. Worse still, prospects for improvement were bleak. How and why did such a catastrophic state of affairs develop?

Even before independence, the deficiencies of the Soviet economy were coming to the fore, and astute observers of the ussr concluded that economic decline was unavoidable. As a key part of the Soviet economic system, Ukraine was, therefore, highly vulnerable. Moreover, the economic costs of the abrupt separation in 1991 were unexpectedly high. Russia was the main -- indeed, almost exclusive -- market for Ukrainian products. When the two countries were separated by tariffs, duties, and other barriers to trade, this crucial market became less accessible. It also became apparent that Ukraine's industry was dangerously lopsided. Heavily concentrated in the military-industrial sector, what it produced was exactly what was no longer needed.

There were other serious economic problems as well. A key one concerned the industrial structure. A central, and politically motivated, principle of Soviet economic planners had been that the production cycles of most goods manufactured in a republic should be incomplete -- that is, a product could not be completed in a republic without using the resources or facilities of other republics. Consequently, when the ussr disintegrated, Ukraine discovered that a great majority of its industrial products depended on materials or parts located in what were now foreign states. Another economic shock was energy costs. In Soviet times, Ukraine's huge and inefficient factories received artificially cheap oil and gas from Russia. But after 1991, Russia began to charge world prices, and Ukrainian industry, indeed, the entire economy, was traumatized by sky-rocketing energy costs. Finally, Chernobyl continued to be a serious drain on the budget.

Economic dislocations associated with the disintegration of the ussr were only part of the dilemma. Another factor was that the people who had presided over a collapsing Soviet economy were now charged with transforming Ukraine into a market economy. The situation was comparable to engaging Wall Street "sharks" to transform a capitalist economy into a communist one. Obviously, most of the new/old Ukrainian elite had neither the will nor the ability to introduce effective economic reforms. And if it did introduce reforms, they were usually ones that served its own interests.

Even among those few members of the new elite who realized the need for reforms, there was a lack of consensus. Some argued for a radical approach or "shock therapy," which had been applied successfully in neighboring Poland. Others believed that a gradual, sequential approach would be more effective. And still others believed that a "third way," a particularly Ukrainian approach, could best solve the country's economic difficulties. The ongoing conflicts among the president, prime minister, and leftist-controlled parliament only added to the confusion and sense of paralysis.

Kravchuk policies

There were important variations in the leadership's attempts to deal with the economic crisis. Kravchuk paid relatively little attention to the issue; he concentrated on state- and nation-building. Another reason why he avoided serious economic reforms was that he feared their destabilizing effect on society. For him, social and political stability was clearly more important than economic reform. When he did introduce economic measures, their goal was to ensure the economic sovereignty of Ukraine -- that is, to reduce the impact of the Russian economy. Thus, in November 1992, Ukraine formally withdrew from the ruble zone, and its provisional currency, the karbovanets or coupon, was introduced.

When production began to plummet, the administration, led by Vitold Fokin, resorted to old Soviet remedies: it provided money-losing factories with large subsidies and allowed them to run up huge deficits. The goal was to keep up production at all cost, even if no one wanted the goods that were produced, and to avoid unemployment. The result was predictable: inflation rose dramatically. In January 1992 alone, it jumped 435%, and this was only the beginning. Bowing to public discontent and pressure, in September 1992 Kravchuk replaced Fokin with Kuchma.

To the surprise of many, this classic "Red director" asked for emergency powers and introduced strict monetary controls. Subsidies were reduced, deficits no longer tolerated, and tax collection expanded. Moreover, the privatization of state property was seriously considered. It seemed, briefly, that inflation was under control. But strict monetary policy also meant that salaries were unpaid or delayed, welfare payments slashed, and pensions postponed. Popular discontent grew even greater, culminating, in June 1993, in the Donbas miners' strike, which threatened to plunge the economy into chaos. Meanwhile, Kravchuk, worried by the growing influence of his forceful prime minister, distanced himself from his policies. Parliament, only too happy to take advantage of the tensions between president and prime minister, proposed its own economic policies. Politicians of all stripes announced, in principle, their support for reforms. Few, however, were ready to back concrete changes. Clearly, the political base of support for reforms was simply lacking. Frustrated, Kuchma resigned in September 1993.

As his successor, Kravchuk chose Iukhym Zviahilsky, a "Red director" from the politically important Donbas. Reflecting the conservatism of his caste and supported by the president, the new prime minister reintroduced rigid state controls and halted privatization. He raised subsidies to factories and especially to collective farms, where many of Kravchuk's supporters lived. These huge expenditures by the government led to a catastrophic burst of hyperinflation: in 1993 prices surged by over 10,000%. Although salaries also rose, they could not keep pace with prices. Consequently, goods remained unsold, production sank even further, and the specter of unemployment or underemployment emerged. Another painful effect of hyperinflation was that, in one fell swoop, it wiped out the savings of millions of frugal, hard-working citizens. Especially hardhit were the elderly who had carefully set aside funds for their retirement. Thus, within a year, millions in Ukraine became virtually penniless.

While masses plunged into poverty, the well-placed elite used the fiscal chaos to accumulate tremendous riches. Some well-placed officials simply transformed Communist party funds and property into private holdings. Others accumulated wealth in more roundabout ways. For example, factory directors obtained, with the help of old Communist party colleagues, huge government loans or subsidies, ostensibly to keep their enterprises in operation. They then illegally changed the amounts into dollars and waited for the Ukrainian currency to lose value. Using a fraction of their dollars to buy the greatly devalued coupons, they repayed the original amount. The remaining dollars, often amounting to millions, they kept for themselves and their cronies. With these funds they could later buy their enterprises or, in the case of the most intrepid, whole industrial sectors. Another technique was to buy large quantities of raw materials produced in Ukraine, which were still very cheap by world standards. With the help of friends and bribes, they then obtained hard-to-come-by export licenses and sold the material at tremendous profit on world markets. The fact that these illegal practices created shortages of resources and stoked inflation hardly worried the enterprising "businessmen."

Practices of this sort were feasible only if one occupied high positions or had the right connections. Indeed, connections were more important than capital. They resulted in the rapid transformation of the most intrepid members of the old Soviet nomenklatura into incredibly wealthy oligarchs. However, unlike the robber barons of early capitalism, these new "captains of industry" acquired their wealth by undermining rather than expanding the economy.

Kuchma policies

In 1994, the key element in Kuchma's election platform was his commitment to improve the economy. Almost immediately after taking office, the new president announced a program of radical reforms. It included privatization of state property, elimination of subsidies to unprofitable enterprises, liberalization of prices, reduction of social expenditures, and stabilization of the currency. The heart and soul of the reforms was privatization: it was assumed that the sooner government-owned enterprises passed into private hands, the faster market conditions would begin to operate. After a slow start, small-scale privatization -- which included shops, restaurants, and service facilities -- accelerated, and by mid-1997 about 90% of Ukraine's 45,000 small enterprises were privatized (at this time, Poland had two million). But this sector accounted for only 2% of the GDP. In the privatization of the 18,000 medium and large enterprises, many of which had thousands and even tens of thousands of workers, there was almost no progress. Opposition in parliament was a major reason: the national-democrats worried that Russian oligarchs, who were much richer than their Ukrainian counterparts, would buy up Ukrainian industry. At the same time, the Communists fiercely opposed large-scale privatization because it paved the way to capitalism. Conflicts among various oligarchic clans about how to divide the spoils also derailed the process.

The appointment of Ievhen Marchuk as prime minister in 1995 signalled a retreat to a more gradual approach. The new prime minister insisted, however, on limiting subsidies and salaries. Wages declined to $55 a month, among the lowest in the cis (in the Baltic countries the comparable figure was $200, in Russia it was $140). Unemployment rose inexorably: the government claimed that it was about 10%, but reliable estimates put the rate at about 33%. This figure did not reflect the large percentage who were on payrolls but were not being paid or who were indefinitely furloughed from their jobs. Social tensions mounted and so did conflicts between Kuchma and Marchuk. In what was fast becoming a standard response to frustrating problems, Kuchma dismissed his prime minister. His place was taken by Lazarenko, a leading member of the Dniepropetrovsk clan, which was the traditional recruiting ground of the Soviet and post-Soviet Ukrainian elite. Kuchma himself was one of its products. Soon over two hundred of the top positions in government were occupied by members of the Dniepropetrovsk clan, to the great dismay of the rival Donetsk clan. When Lazarenko was implicated in corruption, he was replaced by another Dniepropetrovsk product, Valeri Pustovoitenko. It seemed that responsibility for reforms lay in the hands of the unreformed.

Unable or unwilling to control its growing deficits, the government sought to increase its income. It raised taxes, especially on business activity, to astronomical heights. In many cases, businesses were expected to pay a 90% tax. The result was that much privately conducted economic activity moved underground. This shadow economy grew so rapidly that, by some estimates, it was close to half of the GDP. However, much of it remained in oligarchic or "Mafia" hands. Since it did not pay taxes, this budding sector was of little help in alleviating government deficits. Furthermore, much of the illegally acquired wealth was sent, for safe-keeping, outside of the country, resulting in a massive flight of capital. Some estimates placed the amount sent abroad in the $25-50 billion range, a sobering indication of the scope of the illegal, parasitical operations carried out by the rapacious oligarchs. Meanwhile, given the corruption, exorbitant taxation, and stifling regulation, Ukraine had extreme difficulties in attracting foreign investors. In 1997, foreign direct investment was only $27 per capita in Ukraine, compared to $48 in Russia, $250 in Poland, $696 in the Czech Republic, and $1376 in Hungary. Finally, the country faced a cash drought. One of the few bright spots on the dreary economic horizon was the successful introduction, in 1996 and thanks to the able efforts of Viktor Iushchenko, head of the National Bank, of a new and relatively stable currency, the hryvnia.

As its financial troubles mounted, Ukraine turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for help. As a result, its foreign debt began to grow: in 1992, foreign indebtedness was a relatively insignificant $1.4 billion, but by 1998 it shot up to $12.5 billion. Meanwhile, the IMF, troubled by the lack of reforms, became increasingly hesitant about providing new loans or rescheduling debt payments. To make matters worse, rising energy costs pushed Ukraine's debt to Russia even higher. By 1999, Ukraine faced the real danger of bankruptcy. The appointment of Iushchenko as prime minister in December 1999 raised hopes that this highly regarded banker would resume the stalled reforms. Another hopeful sign was a 5.6% rise in the GDP, the first since independence, in early 2000. But the parasitical dominance of the oligarchs in the Ukrainian economy limited the optimism.

Agriculture, traditionally a key sector of the economy, also continued its steep decline. Between 1990 and 1997, gross agricultural production decreased by 44%. Quite simply, agricultural production became economically unfeasible because the cost of production rose, due mainly to soaring energy prices, six times faster than what the produce could be sold for. Reformers hoped that the liquidation of the collective farm system, privatization of land, and encouragement of private farming would revitalize this crucial area of the economy. But many more opposed the abolition of the collective farms than supported it. For the left, privatization of land was anathema and, in parliament, it used every means possible to block it. The powerful collective farm directors feared it because private landownership would undermine their power and income. And the peasants, who had once so fiercely resisted collectivization, proved to be surprisingly reluctant to abandon it. In 1997, out of approximately 4.6 million agrarian workers, Ukraine had only about 35,000 independent farmers. A country that possessed the richest farmland in Europe faced the possibility of importing food to feed its population.

Even when measured against the poor performance of most other former Soviet republics, the attempted economic reforms in Ukraine were highly disappointing. Granted, the task of transforming a highly developed, planned economy to a complex market economy was extremely difficult, especially in a country that had practically no capitalist institutions and traditions. Nonetheless, Ukraine's leaders bore the responsibility for the incompetence, vacillation, and lack of commitment that characterized their efforts.

Kravchuk failed to realize the importance of economic reform. When problems arose, he attempted to resolve them by using clearly discredited Soviet methods, thereby making matters even worse. Initially, Kuchma s efforts were promising: he focused his attention on the economy and opted for radical change. But his long-term goal of introducing market conditions ran afoul of his short-term goal of maintaining inefficient enterprises and limiting unemployment. Unwilling to impose short-term pain, he failed to achieve long-term gain. As his approach to reform became ever more gradual, Ukraine's transition process appeared to grind to a halt, mired in a stagnating situation that was neither a planned nor a market economy but that had the worst elements of both. Fear spread that the so-called Ukrainian way, which called for "a socially oriented market economy," was actually leading the country into a semi-permanent, painful state of economic stagnation, similar to that which existed in numerous Third World societies.

Clearly, opposition to reform was strong. The leftist-controlled parliament repeatedly frustrated the president's economic program. At the same time, the new oligarchs, who financed electoral campaigns, realized that a prolonged, indecisive transition provided them with the best opportunities to enrich themselves. The stifling bureaucracy was also antagonistic because reforms called for the deregulation of the economy, and this meant fewer opportunities to supplement their meager salaries with bribes. Finally, large sections of society, especially the elderly, longed for a return to the security of Soviet times. In short, the political base for radical economic reforms was simply lacking, and the political will among the leadership to enforce reforms was also absent.


Soviet society was regimented, oppressive, and, in its final decades, stagnant. Nonetheless, it was not without positive features. Many Soviet citizens accepted the official view that their society, consisting of the worker and peasant classes and a stratum of intelligentsia, was not divided into rich and poor, exploiters and exploited. Of course, the distinctions between the party and bureaucratic elite, the intelligentsia, and the many varieties of workers and peasants were much greater than many cared to admit. However, thanks to an accessible education system, upward social mobility was widespread. Moreover, salary differences between high officials and lowly workers were relatively modest (it was in the unofficial "benefits" associated with a higher position that the great differences lay). This resulted in a vast "middle class" -- that is, a majority who had roughly equivalent incomes and living standards. Moreover, a social welfare system extended from cradle to grave, education and health care were free, and employment was assured. All this fostered a strong sense of personal security and predictability in the life of the average Soviet citizen.

This changed radically, and for the worse, in the 1990s. Most striking was the rapid and blatant growth of socioeconomic inequality. The emergence of a new elite became a glaring fact of life. Its upper echelons, possessing both wealth and power, probably constituted much less than .5% of the population. Below them was another category, consisting mostly of former Soviet blackmarketeers turned "businessmen," top bureaucrats and directors of vast enterprises, and even some genuine entrepreneurs. Its members, encompassing perhaps 2% of the population, possessed wealth but lacked the political power of the top stratum. Unlike in Soviet times, this elite no longer attempted to camouflage the attributes of its privileged status. It built luxurious homes, acquired expensive foreign cars, and engaged in other forms of conspicuous consumption. It also strove to isolate itself from the masses by inhabiting exclusive neighborhoods, sending its children to private schools, often abroad, and travelling in chauffeured cars, often accompanied by bodyguards. And, unlike in Soviet times, its members assiduously strove to transform themselves into a hereditary class.10

About 10% of the population managed to acquire some of the features of a Western middle class: they were small business people, managers and directors, employees of foreign firms, well-placed administrators, and professionals -- in short, people who profited, in a modest fashion, from the market economy. While not wealthy in Western terms, they had enough income to live in relative comfort and even enjoy some luxuries, such as a comfortable apartment, an automobile, a foreign vacation, or imported clothes. However, this stratum was far too small to constitute a genuine middle class that could function as a stable core of society. But, like the elite, it did have reason to be satisfied with the status quo.

The vast bulk, about 75%, of the population, however, experienced an unmitigated socioeconomic disaster. This formerly secure Soviet middle class was abruptly plunged into a bitter struggle for survival. It was, first of all, bereft of money. Hyperinflation wiped out its savings, the economic crisis meant that salaries were not paid or were postponed, rising prices put goods out of reach, and unemployment or underemployment grew steadily. More and more of its members sank into poverty, a characteristic of which was spending more than half of their income on food. By 1996, over 33% of Ukraine's population, or 17 million people, could be described as being poor or very poor. And most of the rest of the old middle class barely managed to stay above the poverty line.11

The problem lay not only in the lack of money; the social services and welfare that the state once provided also deteriorated drastically. Cuts in health care were so great that hospitals could not buy the most basic medicines, and patients were advised to bring their own. The pensions of the elderly shrank to an average of $8-12 a month. The costs of education became ever more burdensome, especially since unpaid teachers often expected some "support" from parents, and unscrupulous university officials demanded bribes to assure admission to their institutions. All this was frequently accompanied by shortages of electricity and fuel, which left entire cities dark and homes unheated. Moreover, the environment, even discounting the aftereffects of Chernobyl, was polluted to the extreme. Certain segments of the former middle class were especially vulnerable to this avalanche of hardships: the humanities intelligentsia -- scholars, pedagogues, artists -- lost the generous state support they had enjoyed and found it difficult to adjust to new conditions. The weak -- the elderly, single mothers, and orphans -were also hard hit. In 2000 there were over 100,000 homeless minors in the country. The bottom 10-12% of society -- the derelicts, the alcoholics, the imprisoned, and the mentally and physically impaired -- were often reduced to begging for their sustenance. With the vast majority of Ukraine's population destitute and disillusioned, it was, indeed, a wonder that a violent social upheaval did not occur.

To cope with these setbacks, Ukraine's citizens adopted a variety of survival tactics. Those who were fit and energetic sought additional jobs, often working at two or three, usually in the shadow economy, to make ends meet. Many, especially elderly women, engaged in petty trade, standing for many hours in subway entrances or local bazaars to sell one or two cheap items. Others, notably the young, travelled to neighboring countries, especially Poland and Turkey, to engage in small-scale commerce. Hundreds of thousands also sought work abroad, working for minimal wages and in terrible conditions. As might be expected, some young males turned to crime, joining the "Mafia" gangs that controlled much commercial activity. But by far the most widespread means of supplementing one's livelihood was the ubiquitous garden plot that most citizens acquired in the final years of the ussr. Because they were a major source of food, they were assiduously worked by young and old, educated and uneducated, urban and as well rural inhabitants. Indeed, the garden plot became the primary focal point of "leisure time" activity.

The demographic costs of these hardships were catastrophic. In 1989 the average lifespan of men and women in Ukraine was 66 and 75 respectively; by 2000 it sank to 63 and 73. Men lived ten years less than North American males. Such a precipitous drop in longevity in an industrialized country was unprecedented. Only Russia experienced worse. Previously controlled diseases spread rapidly: between 1990 and 2000, the incidence of tuberculosis rose by 75%. HIV, acquired mostly from injecting drug use, soared from 400 cases in 1994 to an estimated 250,000 in 2000. Given these conditions, Ukrainian families were loath to have children. During the 1990s there were only .79 children per family; one in four families had no children at all. Not surprisingly, the desire to emigrate was intense and widespread, especially among the young. Only the reluctance of countries to accept immigrants prevented a mass exodus. Nonetheless, over 500,000 of Ukraine's inhabitants, often the best and brightest, left the country during the decade. Emigration rates were especially high among the country's Jews, about 300,000 of whom emigrated to Israel.12 Because of the early deaths, low birth rates, and emigration/Ukraine's population declined dramatically. In 1989 it was almost 52 million; by 2000 it had sunk to 49.7 million. Predictions were that by 2026, it would be only 42 million.13 This, on top of the horrendous population losses in 1917-21,1933, and 1941-5, and the aftereffects of Chernobyl, led many to wonder how much demographic punishment one nation was capable of handling.

Civil society

A vast and widening gulf, usually expressed in terms of "us" and "them," existed between the state and those who controlled it, on the one hand, and the vast majority of the population, on the other. Given their alienation from and distrust of the state, what means did various segments of Ukrainian society have to defend their interests? Political parties, as noted above, were unable to fulfill this function. For a brief period, Rukh appeared to be a genuine mass movement that could and did affect the course of events, but internal conflicts, poor policy decisions, and weak leadership led to its rapid decline and fragmentation.

There were, however, huge organizations, rooted in Soviet times, that professed to represent the interests of large segments of society. By far the largest was the Federation of Labor Unions (FPU). In 1994, it consisted of about 20 million members -- that is, 40% of the labor force and 97% of all unionized workers. But instead of defending the interests of workers before the country's largest employer, the state, the FPU sought to maintain the status quo. As in Soviet times, many factory directors were also elected as union leaders because they could easily pressure workers to vote for them. As directors of state-owned enterprises, they cultivated close links with the government. Moreover, the government provided funds for the FPU social welfare fund, the federation's most appealing feature. Consequently, the union leadership was loath to challenge the government and the ruling elite. With leaders such as these, it was little wonder that the ostensibly huge and potentially powerful labor unions remained an essentially conservative force, one that had limited political impact and that did little to improve the lot of its apathetic membership. The independent union of miners, based in Donetsk and numbering about 65,000, was an exception. In 1991, 1993, and 1996 it staged disruptive strikes, but these failed to attract widespread support and brought few benefits to the strikers.

In the countryside, social activism was even weaker. There, another Soviet holdover, the Kolhoz Council, which encompassed almost all of Ukraine's 9000 collectives farms, reigned supreme. Its purported goal was to defend the interests of collective farmers and, specifically, to obtain funds and equipment for them from the state. But here also, it was the collective farm directors who controlled the organization. Since they desperately needed to maintain the collective farm system, they used the council to obstruct agrarian reforms and especially the emergence of private farms. Close links between the council and the Ministry of Agriculture made it difficult to distinguish between representatives of the agricultural workers and the government. In contrast, the Ukrainian Farmers Organization, founded in 1994 and consisting of 15,000 private farmers, was a genuinely grass-roots organization. However, it was numerically too weak to have an impact. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1990s there were indications that the old guard's monolithic control of the countryside was beginning to crack. This was especially evident in divisions that appeared among the collective farm leadership. The majority, united in the Peasant party, still opposed reforms, but a more liberal or flexible minority, associated with the breakaway Agrarian Party for Reform, rejected the unbending conservatism of their colleagues. In the short term, however, it did not seem likely that the long-suffering collective farm workers would experience any major improvement in their depressed condition.

Not surprisingly, the segment of society that was most effective in defending its interests consisted of the big industrialists and businessmen. The Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (USPP) was founded in 1990. Its 14,000 members employed about 4.5 million people. Essentially this was the umbrella organization of the new oligarchy. Ostensibly it supported reforms and the drive towards a market economy, its primary function was actually to obtain subsidies from the state. Therefore, a significant number of its well-financed members sought and obtained important positions in government. But fissures appeared within this interest group also. More-liberal elements supported the reforms proposed by Kuchma, a former member of their organization, while others continued to obstruct them. Conflicts between regional clans, such as those from Donetsk and Dniepropetrovsk, also limited the efforts of this potentially powerful sector to present a united front.

During the 1990s a qualitatively new type of social organization, the nongovernmental organization (NGO), appeared. Realizing the government was unable to address many of their needs, social activists began forming youth groups, social service societies, arts and professional associations, and women's organizations. Previously, activities of this type were state-controlled; now individuals and groups spontaneously undertook them. Democrats warmly welcomed the appearance of such groups because they saw in them the roots of civil society, of people taking charge of their own affairs and not waiting for the state to address their needs. By 1999, there were over 19,000 NGOs registered in Ukraine. However, only about 5000 actually functioned. After the initial enthusiasm waned and funds, always scarce, dried up, most NGOs maintained only a formal existence.

It soon became evident that, due to Soviet paternalism, which encouraged a reliance on the state, many Ukrainians lacked the inclination and the skills needed for community organization. This was especially the case in eastern and southern Ukraine. In the West, where there was a strong tradition of community organization, the situation was somewhat more encouraging. The stifling, intrusive bureaucracy also complicated matters. Moreover, the fact that some businesses attempted to use NGOs as a means of avoiding taxes or that organizers tried to have them serve their personal interests added to skepticism about NGOs. Nonetheless, some not only survived but expanded. Noteworthy among them were Plast, a 10,000-member scouting organization that was transplanted to Ukraine from the Diaspora; student and professional associations, especially that of the lawyers, a new profession; social service groups dealing with disadvantaged children; and hundreds of local and several national women's organizations.

Certainly women needed organizations that could address their concerns and defend their interests. Bearing the dual burden of job and family, they frequently encountered traditional patriarchal views as to their role in society and the "glass ceiling" when it came to promotion at work. In the harsh economic environment, they were particularly vulnerable. Many were single mothers with poorly paid jobs. Among the unemployed, about 75% were women, two-thirds of them with a higher education. An estimated 400,000 women had to seek employment abroad, where they were often ensnared in the sex trade. Although women were in the majority in medicine, the civil service, and the judiciary, as well as in primary and secondary education, they rarely reached the top positions in these fields. In 1995, of the 65 ministers ^nd heads of key government committees, not one was female. And of 270 vice-ministers, only 6 were women.14

Traditional attitudes, fatigue, and lack of time explained, in large part, why 97% of women did not participate in politics (the participation rate among men was not much higher). The large women's organizations such as the Women's Union (Souiz Zhinok) and the Women's Community (Zhinocha Hromada), both of which were established in 1992-3 and were originally associated with the national-democratic camp, concentrated on social services for the disadvantaged and did little to encourage greater political activism. Except for the establishment of several centers for gender studies at universities in Kiev, Lviv, and Kharkiv, feminism made little headway in Ukraine. The potential for women's organizations to play a leading role in the creation of a civil society remained unfulfilled.

Hopes that the media might evolve into a strong, independent means of expressing social concerns and defending public interests were also disappointed. Ukraine's media network was considerable, but it was far from independent. Of the 5500 registered print media in Ukraine, 70% were government-affiliated or -owned. Another 25% belonged to "workers collectives," a euphemism for oligarchic ownership. Only 700 newspapers and journals had subscription rates of over 10,000, and 451 newspapers were national in scope. Of the 700, only 208 were published in Ukrainian. Because of economic hardship, subscription rates for print media declined dramatically: in 1996 they were only one-fourth of what they were in 1992.15 This increased the impact of television and radio. Here, too, most channels and stations were government-owned, although the level of private ownership in the electronic media was higher than in print.

Given the state's overwhelming presence in the media, a pro-establishment bias was the norm. Although the ideologically based propaganda of the Soviet type was a thing of the past, various forms of censorship and intimidation, exercised by the state or the oligarchs, continued to exist: a number of reporters and editors died in mysterious circumstances, programs critical of the government were forced off the air, and recalcitrant newspapers were blackmailed frequently with threats of "tax audits." Government intimidation of the media was particularly widespread during the 1999 presidential elections, raising serious doubts about Kuchma's commitment to democracy.


An area of broadly based, if not always benevolent, activity was religion. In the final years of the ussr, there was a major upsurge in religious activism in Ukraine: for example, in 1988-9 the number of parishes grew by 53%, and in 1990-1, their number expanded by 20% more. By 1996 there were over 16,000 parishes and religious communities in Ukraine. Polls indicated that, despite decades of anti-religious propaganda, over half of the population were believers and about one-quarter practiced their religion. Of religious believers, about 52% were Orthodox, 20% were Greek Catholic, and 20% were Protestant. By the middle of the decade the expansion of parishes and religious communities abated noticeably. Meanwhile, religious conflicts and divisions within these communities multiplied.

During the Kravchuk administration, the government harbored hopes that religion, and specifically Orthodoxy, might help to consolidate a disoriented society. Consequently, it supported the idea of creating a single, state-supported Orthodox church. To fulfill this function, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kiev Patriarchate (UOC, K-P), was created. It consisted of parishes in Ukraine that had broken away from the Moscow-centered Russian Orthodox Church, rejected the ecclesiastical overlordship of the Moscow patriarch, and demanded ecclesiastical independence (autocephaly) for Orthodoxy in Ukraine. But the undertaking encountered major difficulties. Patriarch Filaret of Kiev, the UOC, K-P's leader, failed to gain the loyalty of many of the hierarchs and faithful. Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church, which prior to 1991 had two-thirds of its parishes in Ukraine, strongly opposed the new church. As a countermove, it created an autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which continued to recognize the Moscow patriarchate (UOC, M-P). Finally, the Orthodox in western Ukraine refused to recognized either of these churches and proclaimed loyalty to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). Meanwhile, the rejuvenated Ukrainian Catholic Church maintained a totally separate existence. It soon became apparent that, instead of consolidating Ukrainian society, religious denominations only fragmented it all the more. Consequently, Kuchma adopted a neutral, hands-off policy in regard to religious issues, all the more so since the constitution of 1996 declared that all religions were to be treated equally and the separation between church and state maintained

To a large extent, regional variations influenced the extent and nature of religious activity in Ukraine. The western regions were the most dynamic although they encompassed only about 20% of the population, they accounted for about 40% of its parishes. For example, the Ternopil region had one parish or religious community for every 807 inhabitants; in the Dniepropetrovsk region there was one for every 16,900. The strong national consciousness in these regions indicated a mutually supportive relationship between religious belief and a sense of national identity. Galicia remained the stronghold of the Greek Catholic Church, which again grew to the more than 3000 parishes that it had had prior to 1939. However, its attempts to establish its own patriarchate and expand eastward were frustrated by the Vatican's complex arrangements with the Moscow patriarchate. Nonetheless, Ukrainian Catholics did manage to establish an eparchy in the Kiev region and some parishes in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, in a totally new development, strongly religious Galicia also became a major base of Orthodoxy, and specifically of the patriotic UAOC, which had 650 parishes. In central Ukraine, the UOC, K-P, with about 1300 parishes, was most influential; in the russified East and South, it was the UOC, M-P.

With well over 6000 parishes, the UOC, M-P is the largest church in Ukraine, although, because many of its parishes are small, the numerical strength of this church is not as great as the number of parishes might indicate. From the point of view of nation- and state-building, it is highly problematic: it owes its allegiance to a leader based in Moscow; it employs not Ukrainian, but Church Slavonic in its services; and it espouses a pan-Eastern Slavic religious and cultural unity. Ironically, one of its strongest political supporters is the Communist party. In the long run, this association with Moscow and the left might prove to be one of the weak points of this church. And it might lead it to negotiate with the other two Orthodox churches on the issue of Orthodox unity in Ukraine. But, despite the urging of the political leadership for the creation of a single Orthodox church in Ukraine, such a development is not likely to occur in the near future.

Other denominations also experienced rapid growth in the early 1990s. By 1996 there were close to 4000 various Protestant, primarily Baptist, churches in Ukraine. National minorities also established their own religious communities: most numerous were the Roman Catholic churches of the Polish minority. Based mostly in the Right Bank and Galicia, they numbered close to 700. Muslims -- that is, the Crimean Tatars -- had 176 places of worship, primarily in Crimea and southern Ukraine. In Transcarpathia, the Hungarian Reform Church had 91 churches. Finally Jews, who benefited greatly from foreign support, established 79 synagogues.16

In the face of widespread deprivation and poverty, the establishment of such a number and wide variety of parishes and religious communities was truly remarkable. Indeed, of all former Soviet republics, Ukraine was the scene of the most intense religious activity. Whether the religious pluralism that surfaced is a sign of weakness or strength in the society is debatable, but it clearly indicated that a demoralized and exhausted population was in great need of spiritual regeneration.

In the 20th century, many post-imperial states emerged; almost all encountered great difficulties in establishing themselves. Because Soviet Communism was a system that left an especially deep imprint on society, the post-Soviet transitions were particularly difficult. Moreover, the suddenness of the Soviet Union's collapse left its inhabitants totally unprepared for major changes. The fact that it occurred without violence allowed the former Soviet elite to remain in place: this, in turn, meant that the task of introducing the new order fell to the pillars of the old regime -- not an optimal situation. Ukraine's historical legacy -- provincial isolation, unconsolidated social and national identity, deep regional divisions, and no tradition of statehood -- complicated matters all the more. The result was a prolonged, blundering, and unusually painful process of transition.

Despite a decade of difficulties, there were grounds for long-term optimism. Numerous skeptics notwithstanding, an independent Ukraine not only survived but was accepted in the community of nations. In its tortuous transition from Soviet communism, it has passed the point of no return. In early 2000 there were signs of stabilization in its economy and political system. Much of the country's rich resources, human and material, were still in place, but perhaps most promising was the new generation coming to the fore. Possessing the freedom, confidence, and opportunities that its elders had lacked, it presents Ukraine's great hope for a better future.


1 Z. Brzezinski, "The Premature Partnership," Foreign Affairs 73, no. 2 (March-April 1994): 80.

2 T. Kuzio, "The Polish Opposition and the Ukrainian Question," JUS 12, no. 2 (1987): 26.

3 B. Krawchenko, "From Commonwealth to Democracy: The Challenge of Public Service Reform in Ukraine," Ukraine-Canada Policy and Trade Monitor 2 (1993): 33-40.

4 T. Kuzio, Ukraine: State and Nation Building (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 17-

5 la. Dashkevych cited in A. Motyl, Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993), 83.

6 la. Hrytsak, "Ukraine: A Special Case of National Identity?" Ukrainian Weekly, 26 January 1992, 7.

7 T. Kuzio, Ukraine, 173.

8 T. Kuzio, R. Kravchuk, and P. D'Anieri, eds., State and Institution Building in Ukraine (New York: St Martin's Press, 1999), 234.

9 P. D'Anieri, R. Kravchuk, and T. Kuzio, Politics and Society in Ukraine (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1999), 166.

10 I. Marushkina and I. Tanchyn, "Stan doslidzhen suchasnoi politichnoi elity v Ukraini," Studii Politolohichnoho Tsentru "Getieza," no. 2 (1995): 132-5.

11 S. Makeev and N. Kharchenko, "The Differentiation of Income and Consumption in Ukraine," International Journal of Sociology 29, no. 3 (1999): 22-3.

12 O. Malynovska, Mihratsiina sytuatsiia ta mihratsiina polityka v Ukraini (Kiev: Natsionalny Instytut Stratehichnykh Doslidzhen, 1997), appendix 3.

13 Vechirnyi Kyiv, 7 April 2000,1.

14 S. Pavlychko, "Progress on Hold: The Conservative Faces of Women in Ukraine," in M. Buckley, ed., Post-Soviet Women: From the Baltic to Central Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 219-34.

15 A. Karatnycky, A. Motyl, and B. Shor, Nations in Transit, 1997: Civil Society, Democracy and Markets in East Central Europe and the Newly Independent States (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 615.

16 D'Anieri, Kravchuk, and Kuzio, Politics and Society, 71-89.