Ukraine has been independent since 1991 and has since tried to balance the relationship between Russia and Europe. In fact, Ukraine, quite strikingly means “a country on the border”.


  • Governance: Republic
  • Capital: Kiev
  • Population: 45 million
  • Religion: Russian orthodox Christianity, Greek catholic Christianity; minor groups of Catholics, Protestants and Jews
  • Language: Ukrainian, Russian
  • Location: Eastern Europe
  • Democracy index: Partly free, 62/100

For more than 20 years, Ukraine has been torn between being a growing democracy and the remains of authoritarian tendencies from the Soviet era. However, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, resulted in a pro-European election result. Despite Ukraine’s turn to the west, the country is still struggling with corruption and misdemeanour. This could impede Ukraine’s democratic blossoming.

Ukraine today 

Development of a democracy has gone back and forth since Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Promising advances have been replaced by authoritarian relapses. The first Ukrainian Revolution took place in 2004 and was called the “Orange Revolution”. The revolution came as a result of extensive election fraud in favour of the pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

Ten years later, the revolution named “Euromaidan” broke out. This was the people’s rebellion against oligarchs and abuse of power. It was also a reaction to president Yanukovych. He had turned his back to an association agreement with the EU, in order to establish stronger ties with Putin and Russia. The 2014-revolution laid the foundation for the annexation of Crimea, and the Russian-backed rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine experienced that the price of breaking ties with Russia led to war and bloody conflict over lands.  

Update yourself on the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the Russian invasion here.

NHC and Ukraine

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) has been engaged in Ukraine since the late 90’s. The engagement has mainly involved election observation and monitoring of the human rights situation. In 2007, the NHC launched a successful project in human rights education which has educated a whole generation of youths, which has contributed to the growth and professionalization of activist networks.

NHC collaborates with the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU). The NHC started a LGBTI-project in Ukraine in 2013, together with three local partners. The project is handling, among others, the police handling of hatred offenses against LGBTI-people.  


The legendary Kievan Rus’ comprised Ukraine, Belarus and central parts of Russia during its existence between 880 and 1100. Still, the empire continues in many ways to characterize Ukraine, both cultural and historical. An ancient trade route, from the Baltic to the Byzantine Empire, led to the settling of Norse people in Novgorod – and later Kiev. Throughout history, parts of the country have been under Russia, the Polish-Lithuanian union and Austria-Hungary. Later Ukraine was divided between Russia and Austria.  

Ukraine was again an autonomous republic during the First World War, but independence did not last long. After the defeat of the Germans, the country was conquered by the Bolsheviks. When the Soviet Union was formed in 1922, Ukraine also entered into the union. The Ukrainian language and culture were quickly suppressed, and millions of Ukrainians were forced to migrate to Siberia. Instead Ethnic Russians settled in Ukrainian lands.  


In addition to the Second World War, the period between 1932 and 1933 became among the worst in the history of Ukraine. Several million Ukrainians – women as well as men, and children as well as elderly – starved to death in an artificial Terror-famine, also called Holodomor. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, wanted to consolidate individual landholdings and labour into collective, state-owned farms. In 1986, another Ukrainian tragedy occurred when a nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl. The accident caused thousands of deaths and millions of people today, still live in areas with significant fallout after the accident. Five years later, in 1991, a long hoped-for dream came true: The Soviet Union’s resolution led to the long-awaited Ukrainian independence. But this turned out to be anything but simple.   


  • 880: Kievan Rus’ 
  • 1918: The Ukrainian People’s Republic 
  • 1922: Ukraine becomes part of the Soviet Union 
  • 1932: Hunger disaster in Holodomor 
  • 1941: World war two and German occupation 
  • 1954: Crimea becomes part of the Soviet Republic 
  • 1991: Independence 
  • 1994: Ukraine abolishes nuclear weapons in return for guarantees of territorial integrity  
  • 2004: Orange Revolution and democratic reforms 
  • 2013: Euromaidan 
  • 2014: Annexation of Crimea and armed conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk  



Olya Shamshur Flydal

Senior AdviserEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 97 73 53 43
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