Marchers block the presidential office during a protest in Kiev, Ukraine, on Dec. 3. The Ukrainian parliament rejected a no-confidence vote against the government. / Sergey Dolzhenko, European Pressphoto Agency
Why did protests erupt in Ukraine?
Ukrainians who want closer ties to Europe instead of Russia filled the streets to object when President Viktor Yanukovych refused at the last minute to sign a trade pact three years in the making with the European Union.
Why did Yanukovych refuse?
Yanukovych, who won election in 2010 on a campaign of closer ties to Europe, said the deal did not provide enough aid to Ukraine to make up for the loss of trade from Russia. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, had threatened retaliation, such as a shutoff of natural gas supplies in winter, if Ukraine signed. The EU says it is still willing to sign the pact, and Yanukovych says he may reconsider.
Why is Ukraine torn between two sides?
Once a captive of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has moved fitfully toward more Western ideals of free trade and human rights since it gained independence from communist rule in 1991. Many Ukrainians want a more liberal society like in the West. Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has said he views dissolution of the Soviet dictatorship as a tragedy and seeks to reimpose the will of Moscow on former republics.
Does it matter?
The West, led by the United States, spent decades during what is referred to as the Cold War trying to restore democratic rule in nations forcefully occupied by the Soviet Union, which attempted to spread communism and anti-Western ideals worldwide. Allowing Russia to coerce former captive nations back into its fold could bolster the influence of a nation that has an increasingly abysmal human rights record.
Who are the Ukranians?
Ukraine is the largest country in Europe with a population of 40 million people. More than 2 million Americans and Canadians claim Ukrainian descent. Ukraine has become a major producer of agricultural products and has significant untapped energy resources. Its industrial base includes aerospace and steel.
Five million Ukrainians died from famine under Soviet domination and an estimated 5 million more died under Nazi occupation during World War II. It was among the first Soviet republics to declare independence and establish a democracy.
Sources: USA TODAY research; Heritage Foundation; and The Guardian
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