Timeline: Ukraine’s turbulent history since independence in 1991

Ukraine has suffered significant challenges in the decades since its independence from Moscow.

Ukraine's biggest national flag on the country's highest flagpole and the giant 'Motherland' monument are seen at a compound of the World War II museum in Kyiv
Ukraine is facing down a buildup of some 100,000 Russian troops near the two countries' shared border [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Russia has massed troops near Ukraine, and the West has threatened economic sanctions if it launches an invasion. Moscow denies planning an invasion but has demanded sweeping Western security guarantees in a tense standoff.

Here is a timeline of the main events in Ukraine’s political history since it won independence from Moscow in 1991.


Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, declares independence from Moscow. In a referendum and presidential election, Ukrainians approve independence and elect Kravchuk as president.


Kravchuk loses a presidential election to Leonid Kuchma, also a former communist, in elections deemed largely free and fair by observers.


Kuchma is re-elected in 1999 in a vote riddled with irregularities.

INTERACTIVE- Ukraine/Russia Political Leadership since 1991 graphic


Pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovich is declared president but allegations of vote-rigging trigger protests in what becomes known as the Orange Revolution, forcing a rerun of the vote. A pro-Western former prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko, is elected president.


Yushchenko takes power with promises to lead Ukraine out of the Kremlin’s orbit, towards NATO and the European Union. He appoints former energy company boss Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister but, after infighting in Ukraine’s pro-Western camp, she is sacked.


NATO promises Ukraine it will one day join the alliance.


Yanukovich defeats Tymoshenko in a presidential election. Russia and Ukraine clinch a gas pricing deal in exchange for the extension of the lease for the Russian navy in a Ukrainian Black Sea port.


Yanukovich’s government suspends trade and association talks with the EU in November and opts to revive economic ties with Moscow, triggering months of mass rallies in Kyiv.


The protests, largely focused around Kyiv’s Maidan square, turn violent. Dozens of protesters are killed.

In February, parliament votes to remove Yanukovich, who flees. Within days, armed men seize the parliament of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and raise the Russian flag.

Moscow annexes the territory after a March 16 referendum which shows overwhelming support in Crimea for joining the Russian Federation.

In April, pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region of Donbas declare independence. Fighting breaks out and has continued sporadically, despite frequent ceasefires, into 2022.

In May, businessman Petro Poroshenko wins a presidential election with a pro-Western agenda.

In July, a missile brings down passenger plane MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. The weapon used is traced back by investigators to Russia, which denies involvement.

INTERACTIVE- How big are Russia and Ukraine


An association agreement between Ukraine and the EU is passed, opening markets for free trade of goods and services, and visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainians.


A new Ukrainian Orthodox church wins formal recognition, angering the Kremlin.

Former actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy defeats Poroshenko in an April presidential election, promising to tackle corruption and end the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine. His Servant of the People party wins a July parliamentary election.

Then-US President Donald Trump asks Zelenskyy in July to investigate Joe Biden, then his rival in the US presidential race, and Biden’s son Hunter Biden over possible business dealings in Ukraine. The call eventually leads to a failed attempt to impeach Trump.

March 2020

Ukraine goes into its first lockdown to curb COVID-19.

June 2020

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approves a $5bn lifeline to help Ukraine stave off default during a pandemic-induced recession.

January 2021

Zelenskyy appeals to Biden, who is now US president, for Ukraine to join NATO.

INTERACTIVE- NATO members in Europe expand eastwards

February 2021

Zelenskyy’s government imposes sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk, an opposition leader and the Kremlin’s most prominent ally in Ukraine.

Spring 2021

Russia masses troops near Ukraine’s borders. They are partly dispersed after what Russia says was a training exercise.

October 2021

Ukraine uses a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone for the first time in eastern Ukraine, angering Russia.

Autumn 2021

Russia again begins massing troops near Ukraine.

December 7, 2021

Biden warns Russia of sweeping Western economic sanctions if it invades Ukraine.

December 17, 2021

Russia presents detailed security demands including a legally binding guarantee that NATO will give up any military activity in eastern Europe and Ukraine.

January 10, 2022

US and Russian diplomats fail to narrow differences on Ukraine, and subsequent talks also bring no major breakthrough.

January 14, 2022

A cyberattack warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst” hits Ukrainian government websites.

INTERACTIVE- Conflict between Ukraine and Russia at a glance

January 17, 2022

Poroshenko returns to Ukraine to face charges in a treason case. Russian forces start arriving in Belarus, to the north of Ukraine, for joint drills.

January 24, 2022

NATO puts forces on standby and reinforces eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets. Some Western nations start evacuating non-essential embassy staff from Kyiv.

January 26, 2022

Washington presents a written response to Russia’s security demands, repeating a commitment to NATO’s “open-door” policy while offering a “principled and pragmatic evaluation” of Moscow’s concerns.

January 28, 2022

Putin says Russia’s main security demands have not been addressed but that Moscow is ready to keep talking.

Source: Reuters