Throughout centuries, the territory of today’s Ukraine has been the stage for the advances and retreats of several conquerors such as the Polish-Lithuanian State, czarist Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
The Crimean Peninsula was in the hands of the Greeks, Romans, Mongols and other empires and former invaders. In 1475, it was occupied by the Ottomans assisted by Tatars who already had part of the area under their control. These two communities held dominion until 1777 when they were defeated by the czars’ regime.
It was maintained as part of the Russian Empire since 1783. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain, Russia and Prussia had signed agreements that allowed four decades of peace in Europe. However, in 1854, and for two years, the so-called Crimean War took place. During this war, the Russians again faced the Ottoman Turks, aided at this second moment by a British-French alliance.
Starting in 1917, a large number of settled in Crimea who were nationalists and opposed the Bolsheviks who deposed Czar Nicholas I. In 1921, at the end of that civil war, Crimea became an autonomous republic as part of the Soviet Union, and it was ceded to the area’s Tatars. During World War II, it was occupied by the Nazis, who managed to hold the territory until 1944 when it was freed by the Red Army.
In 1945, Josef Stalin decided to relocate the Tatars to areas of Central Asia, accusing them of having collaborated with the Germans. In 1954, the president of the USSR at that time, Nikita Kruschev, decided to transfer that enclave to the Ukraine as a personal “gift” to his native country.
In 1991, When the Ukraine became independent, disputes arose between Kiev and Moscow over Crimea, especially over ownership and location of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1997, an achievement was reached whereby Russia acquired 80% of the naval squadron and it was awarded a 20 year lease of the the port of Sevastopol.
In 1994, Yuri Meshkov was elected president of Crimea, at the front of a coalition of political forces that aspired to reunify the enclave with Russia. The movements undertaken were disapproved by the Ukrainian head of state at that time, Leonid Kuchma, who assumed control of the peninsula until he later appointed a substitute. The event, albeit a failed one, can be considered the first attempt to separate this region of the Ukraine and return it to the Russian Federation.
Population: 1,994,300 inhabitants. Mostly Russians live in Crimea (60%), followed by Ukrainians and then Tatars and Bulgarians.
Area: 26,200 km²
Language: The Ukrainian language benefited from the diversity accepted in the territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was repressed by czarist politics. After that, Ukrainian became predominant in the western territories, and Russian did in the east. However, there are various dialects between these two languages (Surzhik) that combine them.
Ethnic groups: Russians and Tatars of Crimea. Since the late 1980s, about 250,000 Tatars from Crimea have returned to the peninsula.