via National Geographic: Behind the Headlines: History and Geography Help Explain Ukraine Crisis

A woman cries near a memorial for the people killed in clashes in Kiev.

A woman wipes away tears as she walks away from a memorial in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine.

PHOTOGRAPH BY DARKO BANDIC, AP

Eve Conant

for National Geographic

PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 24, 2014

Charged with the mass killings of civilians, Ukraine’s recently ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, is now on the lam.

Last November Yanukovych touched off months of deadly protests in the capital of Kiev and other cities by caving into pressure from the country’s former overlords in Moscow and shelving a landmark trade deal with the European Union. Dozens of citizens died last week in clashes with police and security forces in Kiev.

On Saturday evening, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from his post as president.

The new government has now issued a warrant for the president’s arrest, but his exact whereabouts are unknown.

Yanukovych left Kiev by helicopter on Friday after signing an agreement to end the protests. On Saturday, he arrived in the eastern city of Donetsk, where he was prevented from leaving the country on a private jet. He then drove to Ukraine’s pro-Russian Crimean Peninsula and was most recently rumored to be in Sevastopol, the home port of both the Ukrainian navy and Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The Fault Lines of History

A look back into the country’s history and geography helps explain why Yanukovych would flee eastward, and how the passions and upheaval in the recent news stem from centuries of battles over Ukraine’s precarious position between East and West.

A map of Ukraine.

It was a history that created fault lines. Eastern Ukraine fell under Russian imperial rule by the late 17th century, much earlier than western Ukraine. This helps to explain why, after the fall of the Soviet Union, people in the east have generally supported more Russian-leaning politicians. Western Ukraine spent centuries under the shifting control of European powers like Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The western third of Ukraine was even part of Poland for several years leading up to World War II. That, to some degree, helps explain why people in the west have tended to support more Western-leaning politicians. The east tends to be more Russian-speaking and Orthodox, with parts of the west more Ukrainian-speaking and with heavier Roman Catholic influences.

But it’s not just about geography or religion. “The biggest divide,” saysAdrian Karatnycky, a Ukraine expert at the Atlantic Council of the United States, “is between those who view the Russian imperial and Soviet rule more sympathetically versus those who see them as a tragedy.”

 

At first there were no such divisions. In the ninth century, Ukraine, known as Kievan Rus, was becoming the early seat of Slavic power and of the newly adopted Orthodox religion. But Mongol invasions in the 13th century curtailed Kiev’s rise, with power eventually shifting north into Russia, to present-day St. Petersburg and Moscow.

(Related video: Ukraine at the Crossroads)

East and West

Over the centuries, Ukraine—with its rich black soil that would help it become a major grain producer—was continually carved up by competing powers. In the 16th century, major swaths of the country were under the control of Poland and Lithuania, with Cossack fighters patrolling Ukraine’s frontier with Poland.

In the 17th century, war between the Tsardom of Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth resulted in more internal divisions. Lands to the east of the Dnieper River fell under Russian imperial control much earlier than Ukrainian lands to the west of the Dnieper. The east became known as “Left Bank” Ukraine and as a center of industry and coal. Lands to the west of the Dnieper, or “Right Bank,” were to be ruled by Poland. A small part in the west, called Galicia, was allotted to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ended at the conclusion of World War I, and Galicia remained outside the Russian Empire, becoming incorporated into the U.S.S.R. only as a result of the World War II.

Under the reign of Catherine the Great, the steppe areas of eastern Ukraine became major economic centers of coal and iron. The Ukrainian language—spoken in rural areas—was twice banned by decree of the tsar, says Karatnycky (and today both Ukrainian and Russian are spoken in the country). But peace did not last for long. After the communist revolution of 1917, Ukraine was one of the many countries to suffer a brutal civil war before becoming a Soviet republic in 1920.

Ukrainian Identity

In the early 1930s, to force peasants into joining collective farms, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin orchestrated a famine that resulted in the starvation and death of millions of Ukrainians. Afterward, Stalin imported large numbers of Russians and other Soviet citizens—many with no ability to speak Ukrainian and with few ties to the region—to help repopulate the east.

This, says former ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, is just one of the historic reasons that helps explain why “the sense of Ukrainian nationalism is not as deep in the east as it is in west.”

On some maps you can even see the divide between the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine—known as the steppes—with their fertile farming soil, and the northern and western regions, which are more forested, says Serhii Plokhii, a history professor at Harvard and director of the university’s Ukrainian Research Institute. The institute has created a map depicting the demarcations between the steppe and the forest, a diagonal line between east and west, that bears a “striking resemblance” to political maps of the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2004 and 2010.

As the protests spread east, the conflict “metamorphosed into much more,” says Pifer. It was initially about Europe but in the end turned to the issues of democracy and the end of corruption. There also appeared to be political divisions based on demographics, between younger and older generations, not just geography and a turbulent history.

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via Nat’l Geographic: The Growth of Megacities

Geography in the News: The Growth of Megacities

Posted by Neal Lineback of Geography in the NewsTM on February 17, 2014
By Neal Lineback and Mandy Lineback Gritzner,  Geography in the NewsTM

Megacities’ Expansive Growth

For the first time in human history, more of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in cities than in rural areas. That is an incredible demographic and geographic shift since 1950 when only 30 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion inhabitants lived in urban environments.

The world’s largest cities, particularly in developing countries, are growing at phenomenal rates. As a growing landless class is attracted by urban opportunities, meager as they might be, these cities’ populations are ballooning to incredible numbers.

A May 2010 Christian Science Monitor article on “megacities” predicted that by 2050, almost 70 percent of the world’s estimated 10 billion people—more than the number of people living today—will reside in urban areas. The social, economic and environmental problems associated with a predominantly urbanized population are considerably different from those of the mostly rural world population of the past.

A megacity is an urban agglomeration (accumulation) with more than 10 million inhabitants. Sixty years ago in 1950, there were only two megacities—New York-Newark and Tokyo. In 1995, 14 megacities existed. Today, there are 22, mostly in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. By 2025, there will probably be 30 or more.

gitn_1049_Megacities

Urbanization has been occurring in the developed countries of the West for 200 years. Since the Industrial Revolution, a period from the 18th to 19th century in which machine-based manufacturing grew tremendously, cities have grown rapidly. As technological innovations flourished, economies previously dependent on manual labor and draft-animals began to change. People moved into the cities to find work and relatively quickly, cities began to grow exponentially.

Today, the most rapid megacity growth is occurring in the world’s least developed and poorest countries—those least able to handle the political, social, economic and environmental problems associated with rapid urbanization.

In the most modern industrialized countries, on average, three out of four people already live within an urban area. In contrast, in the least-developed regions of the world, more than two out of three people still reside in a rural area. But that statistic is changing rapidly.

For people in developing countries, even the slums of cities like Mumbai, India, can offer more opportunities than their poor subsistence-based villages can. People gravitate to the cities because the potential for making money is greater there. While most of the economies in rural areas are agriculture-based with little cash flow, in the cities, people may be able to earn cash for work or retail sales.

The 10 largest cities in the world in 2010 and their projected populations by year 2025 are Tokyo, Japan  (37.1 million), Delhi, India (28.6), São Paulo, Brazil (21.7), Mumbai, India (25.8), Mexico City (20.7), New York-Newark (20.6), Shanghai, China (20.0), Calcutta, India (20.1), Dhaka, Bangladesh (20.9) and Karachi, Pakistan (18.7).

According to the Christian Science Monitor, along with the masses come problems associated with providing necessary services like clean water, sanitation systems to remove the megatons of garbage and human waste and transportation systems to ferry workers. In addition, many cities have difficult times providing electrical networks, health care facilities and police protection.

Urbanization is not all bad news. According to the Christian Science Monitor, some see great promise in the trend, especially those companies that build roads and buildings.  If a city is efficient, energy consumption can decrease by 20 percent. Transportation costs for goods and labor can fall considerably in cities because markets and workers are all close together. In essence, cities are where cash flows—they are where economic growth takes place.

As the world’s population increases at the rate of 134 million per year, the urbanization process is pushing more and more people into the cities. Such frenetic rates of urbanization and intense poverty of large urban populations strain resources. Nonetheless, to poverty-stricken, landless people, cities offer visions of opportunity. The resulting massive urban underclass, particularly in developing countries, represents one of the world’s greatest social and economic challenges.

The real question is, “What are the limits to urban growth?”

And that is Geography in the News.

Sources: GITN #1049, “Growing Megacities,” June 28, 2010; GITN #844, “Megacities: 10 Million or More People,” Aug. 4, 2006; and Bruinius, Harry, “March of the Megacities,” The Christian Science Monitor, May 10, 2010.

Co-authors are Neal Lineback, Appalachian State University Professor Emeritus of Geography, and Geographer Mandy Lineback Gritzner. University News Director Jane Nicholson serves as technical editor. Geography in the NewsTM  is solely owned and operated by Neal Lineback for the purpose of providing geographic education to readers worldwide.