Sign Up  |  Login

The School of Russian and Asian Studies to Change Names, Launch Fully Updated Website

Summer Study Abroad: Update on Recent Diplomatic Events

SRAS Announces Special Moscow-St.Petersburg Summer RSL Program for 2018

Summer Study Abroad: Important Updates

The State of Study Abroad in Russia

Russian Studies Abroad (RSA) Splits Into Two Programs

Join SRAS at NAFSA and Forum

SRAS and SPBGIKIT Language Partnership: The Year in Review

SRAS Site Visit to Irkutsk

Summer Programs Abroad - 2018

Travel Alert for Russian Cities: May 25 - July 25, 2018

Scholarships Available!

Stetson University and SRAS Announce New Partnership

Call for Papers: Vestnik!

Find Us on Facebook

Michael Smeltzer holds B.A. degrees in Russian Language and Philosophy from St. Olaf College. Sophia Rehm is a graduate from the University of Chicago with a BA in Russian Language and Literature. Both authors studied on the year-long Home and Abroad Program with The School of Russian and Asian Studies. This program combines study abroad, an intensive professional internship focusing on translation, research, and writing.

This article was published as part of SRAS's free monthly newsletter. Want the newsletter?

Results of the second round of voting in the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election. Provinces voting heavily for Yanukovytch are darker blue; those voting more heavily for Tymoshenko are darker red. The country has long been split politically between the more Russian and conservative East and the more Ukrainian, European West. Graphic from Wikipedia.

Ukrainian Politics
Major Issues and
Personages (Updated)

By Michael Smeltzer,
Sophia Rehm,
and Josh Wilson

Nearly all of Ukraine's political struggles, both domestically and internationally, can be understood as stemming from the deep political and demographic divisions between the country's eastern and western portions.

Eastern Ukraine, which borders Russia and has a much heavier ethnic Russian population, is generally more conservative and more pro-Russian in its international outlook. Donetsk in eastern Ukraine is a strong political and economic center. Known for coal mining and metal processing, the city has also produced a great number of Kiev's politicians, including former president Viktor Yanukovych.

In Western and Central Ukraine, Kiev and Lviv serve as political and economic centers. Western and Central Ukraine are growing faster in terms of economic output and population than Eastern Ukraine. Lviv is primarily known for electronics and software development while Kiev is an administrative center for government and business. Their relatively young, strongly middle-class populations tend to more strongly identify themselves as ethnically Ukrainian and tend to favor integration with Europe. They tend to distrust Russia, which some see as having been only recently a foreign occupier of their country.

These divisions have boiled over several times in the short period that Ukraine has been an independent country – most notably during the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005 and in Euromaidan Revolution of 2013. The former saw recently-elected Victor Yanukovych displaced from the Presidency by pro-western forces amid accusations of electoral fraud. Yanukovych, however, regained the Presidency after the Orange Revolution failed to reduce corruption and grow the economy.

From left to right: Oleh Tyahnybok, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Vitali Klitschko became the main leaders of the Euromaidan Revolution.

Ukraine's economic and legislative heritage, like Russia's, stems from the USSR. Many of Ukraine's industries, such as machine building and chemical processing, are not competitive in European markets and are largely exported to Russia. At the same time, the EU has risen to be a nearly equal trade partner overall. Thus, Ukraine has traditionally balanced relations between Russia and the EU, courting both historical rivals while declaring allegiance to neither. The Yanukovych administration claimed that integration with Europe would have cost more than half a trillion dollars in upgrades to economic infrastructure and government reforms.

Yanukovych was already accused by his opponents of consolidating power around himself and marginalizing his opponents. When he postponed the EU agreement, this led many in the EU and many pro-EU Ukrainians to accuse Yanukovych of having caved to Russian pressure. Small student-led protests in Kiev against this turned into massive, violent protests after the early protests met with force used by Ukraine's riot police.

The Euromaidan Revolution culminated in February 2014, when power was transferred from the President to the parliament. Yanukovych fled the country, an interim government was instated, and early elections were scheduled for May.

Russian troops moved into Crimea on the heels of the Revolution, and the region voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in March 2014. The eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv were seized by separatists the following month, and fighting shifted east as Ukraine’s military launched an “anti-terror operation” in response.

Since the swearing-in of new president Petro Poroshenko in June 2014, Ukraine has signed an Association Agreement with the EU, and engaged in continued conflict with the separatists. The West’s support of Ukraine has intensified with recent events such as the fatal and apparently accidental shooting of Malaysian Airlines passenger flight over the country in July, and Russia’s increasing presence in eastern Ukraine in September.

Given current economic and demographic trends, Ukraine's ties with Europe are likely to grow. However, undertaking the major economic and legislative reforms required by the free trade agreement offered by the EU is likely to be a difficult process at best, especially considering Ukraine's overall weak economy, which was badly hit by the 2008 financial crisis and is now suffering from the loss of Crimea and its several ports and from a major war in the country's east. Ten months after the Euromaidan protests gained support in Kiev, Ukraine remains in the international spotlight. With more than 2,600 lives lost in the conflict and more than one million people displaced, stability is still far off for this young country.

Who's Who in Ukrainian Politics

Petro Poroshenko

(Bloc of Petro Poroshenko)


 Study Abroad
in Eurasia!


Petro Poroshenko is Ukraine’s President. A businessman with an estimated $1.3 billion net worth, he received his degree in economics from Kiev State University before buying state-owned confectionary factories in the 1990s and earning his fortune that he later diversified into ship building and a television channel. He entered politics in 1998, winning a seat in the Verkhovna Rada representing the Social Democrats. He has been associated with several diverse parties as well, straddling both sides of Ukraine's political divisions. He founded the Solidarity Party in 2000, co-founded the Eastern-based Party of Regions (formerly led by Viktor Yanukovych) in 2001, and joined Viktor Yushchenko’s pro-Western Our Ukraine party in 2002.

Poroshenko participated in the Orange Revolution that challenged Yanukovych’s claim to the presidency after the 2004 election, and he was appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council under Yushchenko, who won the presidency in the new elections held after the revolution. Poroshenko later served as Foreign Minister, and then as Minister of Trade and Economic Development under Yanukovych, who won the presidency in 2010.

Poroshenko was back in parliament as an independent when the Euromaidan protests erupted in Ukraine in 2013. He gained wide popular support when, after Russia banned the import of his chocolates in the summer of 2013, he advocated for and financially supported the protests. He participated in rallies, and his television channel, Channel 5, broadcast pro-Euromaidan news. Following the 2014 Revolution, Poroshenko ran for president as an independent, pro-Western candidate.

Leading up to the election, Poroshenko defined himself as anti-corruption, intolerant of separatist violence, and interested in improving the country’s economy and ties with Europe. Poroshenko’s main opponents in the 2014 election were also pro-Western politicians: former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland), who was jailed under Yanukovych, and former boxer Vitali Klitschko of the United Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), who also participated in Euromaidan rallies. Klitschko, who was polling in second place behind Poroshenko, withdrew from the race two months before the 2014 election, giving Poroshenko his support. Poroshenko won more than 54% of the vote on May 25, 2014, avoiding a run-off after the first round of voting. The election was declared fair and free by Western international observers, though voting was impossible in Crimea and much of the separatist-held east.

A billionaire with his own TV channel and powerful political and financial connections, Poroshenko bears resemblances to the powers ousted by Euromaidan. Most of his cabinet is also Orange Revolution veterens. He has, however, proven Ukraine's most consistently pro-Western leader. Ukraine has signed the economic portion of the Association Agreement with the EU since his election. What he may be most remembered for, however, is the continued military operation in the east. While he has fought to hold the rest of Ukraine together, his opponents have accused him of using harsh tactics, including the use of artillery and unguided missiles, that have not properly protected the local population. Confidence in the government across Ukraine is also sinking as the war drags on, as Ukraine's political divisions have become even more pronounced, and as the government has not been immediately effective at curbing corruption. Poroshenko and his supporters have pledged to continue to lead Ukraine, however, and in anticipation of the parliamentary elections scheduled for late October, the former Solidarity party changed its name to the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko in August 2014. 

Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Prime Minister

The People's Front



 Study Abroad
in Eurasia!



Arseniy Yatsenyuk is Ukraine’s Prime Minister. Previously the leader of the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland” (Batkivshchyna) party, Yatsenyuk and Parliament Chairman Oleksandr Turchynov founded a new party, The People's Front, in September 2014.

Yatsenyuk is a former lawyer and economist from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine. After working as lawyer in his own law firm in the 1990s, Yatsenyuk held a number of finance-related political positions in Ukraine in the early 2000s, including Minister of Economy for Crimea, President of the National Bank of Ukraine, Vice Governor of the Odessa Oblast, and the Ukrainian Minister of Economics. He also held the post of Foreign Minister in mid-2007 under President Yushchenko. Most of these posts he held for only a few months.

In late 2007, Yatsenyuk was put forward by Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc as a candidate for the Verkhovna Rada. He was ultimately elected Chairman of the Parliament a few months later, with support from Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party and held the position for a year. He was dismissed from office after the 2008 Ukrainian political crisis, during which the parliament was gridlocked due to conflicts between the two leading parties, the Party of Regions and the Batkivshchyna party.

Yatsenyuk ultimately broke from Yushchenko's party, attempted to form his own party, and declared his own candidacy for the 2010 presidential election. His platform was very similar to Yushchenko's, and many criticized him as a spoiler who only ended up drawing a few votes away from Yushchenko's already incredibly poor showing. After the election, he was offered the nomination by President Yanukovych for the post of Prime Minister. He declined the offer and joined Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party. In 2012, he headed the party list after Tymoshenko’s imprisonment. He also represented Batkivshchyna in the 2013 protests and saw his political star rapidly rise.

A westward looking politician, Yatsenyuk spoke out against associations with Russia during the Euromaidan protests and supported Ukraine joining the EU. After the February Revolution ousted Yanukovych, Yatsenyuk was appointed Prime Minister of Ukraine by vote of the Verkhovna Rada. Under Yatsenyuk, Ukraine signed the political portion of the Association Agreement with the EU before Poroshenko’s election. Since the presidential election, Yatsenyuk has continued to support joining the EU, and sought NATO membership for Ukraine.

The Yatsenyuk Government was originally comprised of a coalition of nationalist parties including UDAR, Batkivschyna, and Svoboda. When the coalition dissolved in July 2014, Yanukovych submitted his resignation, which was not accepted by the parliament. Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk entered talks in August to discuss uniting for the October election, but Yanukovych ultimately declined and co-founded his own political party, the People’s Front.

Yatsenyuk has mantained a hard line against Russia as Prime Minister, and his party will likely be defined by anti-Russian and anti-corruption stances. The party may receive backing from oligarch and governor Ihor Kolomoyskyi, and his popular TV channel, 1+1. Kolomoyskyi’s rival, Dmitry Firtash, has lent support of his channel, Inter, to Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party.

Lysenko Ukrainian Radical
Oleh Lyashko

Rada Deputy

The Radical Party
of Oleh Lyashko

Oleh Lyashko is the leader of Ukraine’s Radical Party and a member of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) representing his party. A former journalist, Lyashko entered politics in 2006, when he was elected in the parliamentary election for Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko. He was expelled from the BYT in 2010 after a video was released purporting to show him discussing a homosexual affair he had. Lyashko claims that the video was doctored and that he is straight. Lyashko was reelected in 2011, this time as the leader of the Ukrainian Radical Democratic Party, now officially called the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko.

Lyashko is fiercely anti-Russian, and has gained notoriety for taking the law into his own hands. He and members of his armed volunteer battalion have threatened, attacked, and detained those they claim support the separatists or who have not fully supported Ukraine. They have also shared videos of their activities on social media, despite the fact that many of their activities would probably be considered illegal. In May 2014, gunmen from Lyashko’s battalion fatally shot two unarmed separatists after storming a government building in the city of Torez, in the Donbass region. Lyashko celebrated the killings on Facebook. Amnesty International has condemned Lyashko’s violence and called for an investigation into his actions, but so far the politician has suffered no consequences in Ukraine.

Oleh Lyashko ran for president in May 2014 as the Radical Party’s candidate. He received 8.32% of the vote, putting him in third place behind Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. His party has gained popularity since the election among voters who remain dissatisfied with Ukrainian authorities. July polls predicted that the Radical Party would receive 23% of the popular vote in the parliamentary election scheduled for October 2014, placing it well ahead of the Batkivshchyna and UDAR parties.

Vitali Klitschko


Mayor of Kiev

Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR)

Party List Lead:
Bloc of Petro Poroshenko

Vitali Klitschko is the mayor of Kiev and leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, or UDAR. A former boxer, his party's name translates in Ukrainian and Russian to "strike" or "punch." UDAR has fared well in local and regional elections and now controls about 9% of the Rada.

Vitali Klitschko is known internationally for his professional boxing career in the World Boxing Council and his title as the reigning heavyweight champion (his nickname is Dr. Ironfist). Klitschko’s first foray into Ukrainian politics came during the 2006 Kievan mayoral campaign. Klitschko lost with 26% of the vote, but was later elected to Kiev’s city council.

In 2010, Klitschko became the party leader of New Country. The party, however, changed its name to Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, or UDAR to capitalize on Klitschko's reputation as a boxer. After winning around 400 seats in municipalities and oblasts in the 2010 local elections, Klitschko and his party ran in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Billing themselves as government outsiders, UDAR pledged to fight corruption, reduce the size of the government, and push for alliances with the European Union. They won a total of 40 parliamentary seats that year.

UDAR provides party materials in Ukrainian and English, but not Russian. UDAR has never taken a specific stand on whether Ukraine should join NATO.

In December 2013, Klitschko retired from boxing to focus on politics. He participated in Euromaidan rallies, and gained fame as an opposition protester. He was polling in second place behind Poroshenko until March 2014. At that point he dropped out of the race following a meeting between himself, Poroshenko, and oligarch Dmitry Firtash in Austria. Klitschko gave his support to Poroshenko and joined agreed to have UDAR join the Poroshenko Bloc. Klitschko ran for mayor of Kiev, with the promise of making it a more European city, and won the election with almost 57% of the vote in May 2014. He assumed office in June. Until assuming the mayorship, Klitschko led his party’s faction in the Verkhovna Rada. As of September 2014, Klitschko also plans to head the Poroshenko Bloc party list in the October parliamentary elections, while maintaining his position as mayor.

Oleksandr Turchynov

Chairman of the Rada

The People's Front

Oleksandr Turchynov is the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) and a former acting President of Ukraine. A native of Dnipropetrovsk and a devout Baptist, Turchynov became the economic aid to the Prime Minister – and future president - Leonid Kuchma in 1993. Later that year, Turchynov and Pavlo Lazarenko founded the Hromada Party, which Tymoshenko joined. Turchynov was elected to parliament in 1998, and founded the Batkivshchyna party with Tymoshenko. He helped run Yushchenko’s 2004 campaign and then briefly directed the Security Service of Ukraine under President Yushchenko. He was its first civilian head. A long-time ally of Yulia Tymoshenko, he was the First Deputy of the All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland), managing the day-to-day operations of the party while its leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, served her prison term.

Turchynov was involved in organizing Euromaidan protests. He was elected by the Rada as the parliament’s speaker on February 22, 2014, and was appointed acting president the following day. His presidency witnessed Crimea’s succession to Russia and referendums on independence in eastern Ukraine. His tenure as acting president ended on June 7, when Poroshenko was sworn in as the new elected president.

In September 2014, Turchynov co-founded the People’s Front party with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, another former member of Batkivshchyna. They broke from Batkivchyna following an announcement in August that Tymoshenko would head the party in the October parliamentary election.  

Oleh Tyahnybok

All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda"


Oleh Tyahnybok leads All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda," a nationalist, right wing party that was originally restricted to only ethnic Ukrainians. In 2012, Svoboda (which means "Freedom") entered the Rada for the first time. It now controls 7% of the seats there.

Tyahnybok first became politically active in 1991 when he joined the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), the nationalist, right wing party that would be renamed "Svoboda" in 2004.

Tyahnybok was elected to the Lviv Oblast Council shortly after earning a degree in surgery from the Lviv Medical Institute in 1993. He served in the council until 1998, when he was elected to the Verkhovna Rada as a member of the SNPU. He and SNPU supported several of the anti-Kuchma efforts in 2002 and supported Viktor Yushchenko presidential campaign.

Tyahnybok and Svoboda is anti-Russian and anti-Communist, and in favor of NATO and EU ascension for Ukraine. They opposed the adoption of Russian as Ukraine’s second official state language.

In 2004, Svoboda was kicked out of the Yushchenko’s bloc for Tyahnybok's anti-semitic comments. Svoboda won less than 1% of the vote in the 2007 parliamentary elections, a result that disallowed them seats in the legislative body. However, the party staged a major comeback in 2012, receiving 10.44% of the vote and 38 seats in the parliament, making them the third largest party in parliament.

While Tyahnybok continues to be accused of racism and xenophobia, he asserts that he and his party are “not against anyone”, but “for [them]selves.”

During the 2014 Revolution, Tyahnybok was a major opposition leader and signed the parliamentary peace deal, along with Klitschko and Yatsenyuk, that took power out of Yushchenko’s hands. He ran in the 2014 presidential elections, claiming 1.16% of the vote.

Sergei Tigipko

Strong Ukraine

$986 million

Former Head:
National Bank of Ukraine



 Study Abroad
in Russia!


Sergei Tigipko is the leader of the Strong Ukraine party and is Ukraine’s 9th richest citizen, with a net worth of $986 million, according to Forbes.

Tigipko is a politician and finance specialist who has been involved in the Ukraine’s monetary policy since shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tigipko, born in the Moldovan SSR under the USSR was educated in finance in Dnipropetrovsk in the east of the Ukrainian SSR. He became politically active in the 80s, when he joined the Komsomol, the Soviet youth group and quickly became the First Secretary of the group’s nearly 500 thousand members in the region. Shortly after the fall of the USSR, Tigipko began a banking career as the manager of a small regional Ukrainian bank, Privatbank. Privat quickly became one of Eastern Europe's largest banking institutions and Tigipko, a major shareholder.

Starting in 1996, Tigipko consulted President Kuchma on monetary policy matters, helping to launch Ukarine's new national currency, the hryvnia. As his role in politics advanced, Tigipko sold his Pryvat shares to avoid a conflict of interest in 1997. He then served as Minister of Economics from 1997 to 1999 and Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine from 2002 to 2004. At that time, he was also the leader of the party Labor Ukraine and represented that party in the Rada.

After chairing the election campaign for Viktor Yanukovych in the 2004 presidential election, Tigipko left politics and returned to private banking. After 5 years, he sold his new banking project for nearly $1 billion and returned to the political arena as the leader of the party Strong Ukraine. Tigipko ran as an underdog candidate (despite his extensive political experience) in the 2010 presidential election. He received 13.05% of the national vote, taking a strong third place in the first round and earning himself an exceptionally strong spotlight as both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, who scored a close first and second place, lobbied for his endorsement in round two.

Tigipko said he would take the Prime Minister position were it offered to him by the president. In the end, Tigipko gave no endorsement at all, but as his platform had been much closer to Yanukovych's and as Tigipko had actively courted Russian voters in Ukraine, it is unlikely that many of his voters went to Tymoshenko and this helped secure Yanukovych's victory.

After the election, Sergiy Tigipko was made Vice Prime Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine. In 2012, Tigipko’s party, Strong Ukraine, merged with the Party of Regions, and Tigipko was elected to that party’s board of directors.

Before the Euromaidan Revolution, Tigipko actively pushed for a national referendum on the issue of whether to favor EU integration or integration with the Russia-led Customs Union. However, he also argued that Ukraine should cooperate with both entities and that Ukrainian legislation mandated that Ukraine would strive for EU integration.

Tigipko left the Party of Regions with his Strong Ukraine faction in April 2014 after the Party of Regions refused to nominate him as a candidate for President of Ukraine. He ran in the May presidential elections on a platform that consisted of condemnation for Russian and separatist aggression as well as a plan to make Russian a second state language if elected. He received 5.23% of the vote. In August 2014, Tigipko was elected leader of the reestablished Strong Ukraine political party, with which he plans to run in the October Parliamentary elections.  

Tigipko maintains investments in agriculture, energy, finance, and machine building in Ukraine.

 Pravyi Sektor

Political Party /
Activist Movement


 Study Abroad
in Eurasia!


The Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) is a Ukrainian nationalist political party. Established in November 2013 as a confederation of paramilitary groups fighting the riot police in the Euromaidan protests, Pravyi Sektor became a political party in March 2014. It had an estimated membership of about 10,000 people at that time.

Pravyi Sektor entered the public spotlight during the Hrushevskoho Street riots in January 2013. The group quickly became known for its coordinated attacks against the police during the protests. They would strike quickly and then disperse quickly into the crowd, making them hard to catch. Then-President Yanukovych denounced the organization as an extremist group. After the collapse of Yanukovych’s government, members of Pravyi Sektor patrolled the streets of Kiev wielding baseball bats and guns.

The presence of Pravyi Sektor has loomed large in media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine. Founded by several far-right nationalist groups, including White Hammer, which was ousted from the confederation for its racist slogans, Pravyi Sektor has been characterized as fascist and neo-Nazi by the Russian media. The Kremlin has portrayed the group as wielding enormous political power in Ukraine. Claims of the party’s attacks on Russian speakers and Jews were used by the Kremlin as justification for sending troops into Crimea.

In fact, Pravyi Sektor has not fared well politically since the Revolution. The party’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, was passed over by the interim government for the position of Deputy to the National Security and Defense Council. Oleksandr Muzychko, a party leader in the west, was shot and killed by security forces in March 2014. Yarosh ran for president in the May elections and received only 1% of the vote, suggesting that the party’s sway in the country has been overstated.

Pravyi Sektor denies allegations of racism, anti-Semitism, and violence against separatists. At the same time, it has maintained an aggressive stance, helping to maintain the camps at Maidan long after the new government ordered them cleared, and pledging to hold the new government accountable for its deeds by force if necessary. Activists from Pravyi Sektor have also been involved in recent violent protests against former members of the Yanukovych government.

While the party uses anti-Russian rhetoric and rejects the Customs Union, Pravyi Sektor also opposes joining the European Union. The party considers both Russia and the EU oppressive powers, and advocates building a new Ukrainian state, while looking to socially conservative areas of Europe as models for the future.

Petro Symonenko

Communist Party in Ukraine

Petro Symonenko is First Secretary of the Central Committee of the renewed Communist Party in Ukraine. The Communists were expelled from the Rada in July 2014. Before that, they controlled about 5% of the Rada.

Prior to his political work, Symonenko was trained as a mining engineer in Dontetsk, which is where President Victor Yanukovych's powerbase is also centered. Shortly after graduation in 1974, Symonenko worked as an instructor for the communist youth group, Komsomol. He officially joined the Communist Party in 1978 and worked as the Central Committee’s secretary for Ukraine’s Komsomol from 1982-1988.

When Ukraine became an independent state, the government banned the Communist Party and Symonenko returned to engineering. However, in 1993, when the ban was ruled unconstitutional, Symonenko helped renew the Ukrainian Communist Party and was elected First Secretary (a position he has occupied ever since). He was then elected to the Verkhovna Rada. Symonenko ran for president in 1999, gaining second place with 22.2% in the first round of voting. However, he ultimately lost to Kuchma after taking just 38.8% in the second round.

Symonenko has continued to be elected to the Ukrainian parliament, but his party support has decreased substantially over the years. In 2012, the party saw a brief rebound with an increase of 1.5 million more votes than they received in the previous parliamentary election, allowing them to maintain representation in the Rada.

The Communist Party supports Russian as a second language for Ukraine and supports the Russia-led Customs Union. As vocal opponents of Ukraine's military actions in the east, they have been accused of supporting Russia's annexation of Crimea and supporting the separatists in Donbas.

Because of this, they have been publically decried by the new leaders in Kiev. The Verkhovna Rada passed new rules specifically aimed at the Communists allowing the Chairman of the Rada to dissolve any faction within the Rada if that faction had sitting deputies resign from the party represented. Because the Communists had had six sitting deputies resign after legal action was threated against the party, Chairman Turchynov used the rules to expel the party from the Rada in July, 2014. Thus, the party currently holds no seats in the parliament, but plans to run in the October parliamentary elections.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Leader and Founder:
All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland)

Former Prime Minister

Personal Website

 Study Abroad
in Eurasia!


Yulia Tymoshenko is the leader All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland), which controls 19% of the Rada. After narrowly losing the 2010 presidential election to Victor Yanukovych, she was tried and convicted of abuse of office for her role in negotiating a "disadvantageous" agreement for the delivery of natural gas from Russia.

Tymoshenko is a populist politician who campaigns on boosting social programs. She uses nationalist / patriotic rhetoric and strongly supports Ukraine's ascension to the EU and NATO.

Tymoshenko became an entrepreneur under glastnost and made a fortune in Ukraine’s energy sector. Tymoshenko entered the political realm as an independent member of the Verkhovna Rada in the mid-90s. She later joined the political party Hromada and was selected to lead the Rada’s largest and most powerful committee, the budget committee. She later abandoned Hromada due to a scandal surrounding the party’s leader, Pavlo Lazarenko. Tymoshenko quickly set up her own left-leaning, patriotic party and faction, the All-Ukrainian Union “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland), in July of 1999. She solidified her place as one of Ukraine's foremost politicians by joining several other parties to Batkivshchyna in the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, and later forming coalitions that, for a time, controlled the Rada.

Tymoshenko helped lead the Orange Revolution (with Viktor Yushchenko) that unseated Victor Yanukovych as president in 2005. Afterwards, Yushchenko was elected President and Tymoshenko became Prime Minister.

In 2010, Tymoshenko lost by a three point margin in the presidential election to Victor Yanukovych. In 2011, Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office in her handling of a 2009 gas contract with Russia. Many of her supporters argue that the charges were fabricated by Yanukovych’s government to remove her from the political scene. Her party was also been weakened by legislation sponsored by the Party of Regions, barring political blocs from the Rada. This removed one of Batkivshchyna's most effective political strategies.

Although in jail, Tymoshenko remained a gadfly for the Yanukovych administration. She complained of her treatment while imprisoned and campaigned for her release at home and abroad through her young, English-speaking daughter, Yevhenia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko's release, at least to seek medical treatment in Germany for back ailments, was a key stipulation for the European trade agreement to be signed in 2013. Both the Rada and the Yanukovych administration decided that this was not possible. Tymoshenko urged that the agreement be signed anyway, saying that it was "too important."

In the protests of 2013, Yulia Tymoshenko undertook a hunger strike a show of solidarity with the protestors.

Tymoshenko was freed when Yanukovych left office. She ran in the May 2014 presidential election, coming in second with 12.81% of the vote. Although she still leads one of Ukraine's best-known and most successful political parties, her personal political star seems to have greatly fallen after the latest revolution she supported. In fact, two of the major leaders of the Batkivshchyna party and two of her closest former allies, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov have now left her and her party to form their own competing political party, The People's Front. This may greatly harm her party's chances in the next elections.

Rinat Akhmetov
Rinat Akhmetov

Net worth: $12.4 Billion

Rinat Akhmetov is Ukraine’s richest man.

A businessman from Donetsk, Forbes estimates his net worth at $12.5 billion. Akhmetov’s fortune lies in heavy industry, metallurgy, and coal mines, all of which had recieved heavy subsidies from Yanukovitch. Akhmetov is president of the System Capital Management (SCM) holding company and owner of professional football club Shakhtar Donetsk.

Akhmetov was a financial supporter of the Yanukovich regime. Opponents of that regime say that it was this financial connection that led the state to drop charges in murder and organized crime investigations agains Akmetov in 2006. Akhmetov was a member of the Rada from 2006 to 2012. He was targeted with protests during Euromaidan and has been accused of funding separatists in Donetsk. He denies this.

While he was slow to express support for the new government or condemn the separatists, Akhmetov now advocates for a united Ukraine after deadly fighting in May 2014 between rebels and the Ukrainian military incited thousands of civilians, many of whom worked in Akhmetov’s factories, to flee the Donbass region. After separatists declared independence from Kiev in May following a referendum, Akhmetov called on his workers to protest the separatists, and financed a worker patrol.

ihor kolomoyskyi
Ihor Kolomoyskyi

Dnepropetrovsk Oblast

Net worth: 1.6 Billion

Ihor Kolomoyskyi is current governor of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast.

He is the co-founder of Pryvatbank, which Sergei Tigipko helped make one of Eastern Europe's largest. Forbes ranks Kolomoyskyi's fortune at $1.6 billion, down from $3 billion before the current crisis. Kolomoyskyi is a leading member of Privat Group, a business group that controls companies worldwide. He is also the chairman of the football club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, owner of the TV channel 1+1, and shareholder of Ukrnafta, an oil and gas conglomerate.

Kolomoyskyi has long made use of political connections for economic gain. Deals with former Prime Minister Pavolo Lazarenko and former president Viktor Yanukovych kept him at the center of the oil industry in Ukraine. A long-time Tymoshenko supporter and financer, he reportedly came under pressure from the authorities in 2010 and withheld his support for her during the presidential election that year.

Kolomoyskyi’s staunch nationalism has earned him support in Ukraine. He was appointed governor of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast by interim President Turchynov, himself from Dnepropetrovsk, in March 2014. Dnepropetrovsk was considered especially strategic at that time, as it lies in central Ukraine, borders Donetsk and Luhkansk, has a significant ethnic Russian population (about 23%), and would be strategic if the sepratists attempted to take over all southern Ukraine or press ahead to Kiev.

Kolomoyskyi has consistently supported a united Ukraine, both verbally and financially. He funded car batteries for the Ukrainian military in March 2014, and has offered rewards from his own fortune for the capture of separatist leaders. He also merged a private security company he owns with the Ukrainian military, effectively financing a group of soldiers within the national fighting forces. He has also pitched an idea to President Poroshenko for a $136 million, 1,200 mile long barbed wire fence (with accompanying moat) along the Russian border, to protect Ukraine from the Russian military. Construction of the fence was recently begun.

Dmytro firtash
Dmytro Firtash

Net worth: $500 million 

Dmytro Firtash is a powerful Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist. He maintained close ties with the Yanakovytch government and continues to have close ties with the new Poroshenko administration.

Forbes values Firtash’s wealth at about $500 million. Firtash earned his fortune in the telecommunications and energy sectors, and owns the TV channel Inter TV. Arrested in March 2013 on bribery charges from the United States, Firtash was released on bail and is currently in Austria, fighting extradition to the US. He has played an influential role in recent politics from abroad, lending his channel’s support to Poroshenko leading up to the election, perhaps in hopes of receiving future help fighting his extradition, and using his channel against his rival, Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Poroshenko and fellow presidential candidate Vitali Klitschko met with Firtash in Austria before the election, after which Klitschko dropped out of the race, lending his support to Poroshenko.

Firtash is accused of having mob connections and of financing many of Tymoshenko’s opponents in the 2010 Presidential election and later supporting her prison sentencing.

And a few additional names...  

Victor Yushchenko is a former President of Ukraine and a former leader of the Orange Revolution that shook Victor Yanukovych from power in 2005. However, by the time of the 2010 presidential election, his approval rating had slipped into the single digits. He had also had several confrontations with his former ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been instrumental in helping him land the presidency as part of the Orange Coalition. While he still appears occasionally as a political commentator, he is now a marginal player at best in Ukrainian politics.   

FEMEN is an international feminist protest group founded in Ukraine. Asserting that the female body should be a symbol of strength, they often hold protests topless. Founded by former show business professional Anna Hutsol, the group started out protesting sex tourism, prostitution, and pornography. They now protest "patriarchy in all its forms," targeting especially conservative politicians and religions. They now have branches in seven countries and regularly gain international press coverage.  

Patriarch Filaret is the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyivan Patriarchate). Filaret was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1997 for his work to create an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Filaret actively involves himself in political issues. He urged the release of Yulia Tymoshenko during Yanukovych’s presidency, and also working closely with Yanukovych on other matters. In the midst of heightened Russian intervention in Ukraine in September 2014, Filaret likened Putin to Cain in a blog post.

Major Leaders
Displaced by the Euromaidan Revolution

Viktor Yanukovych

Former President
(Party of Regions)


 Study Abroad
in Eurasia!


Viktor Yanukovych was twice Ukraine’s President. A former engineer and director at a number of state-owned transportation companies, he began his political career in the Eastern region of Donetsk, presiding over a growing economy in the industrial region. Ultimately, he was appointed Governor by then-President Kuchma. In 2000, Yanukovych helped found the Party of Regions, of which he ultimately became the leader in 2003.

Viktor Yanukovych served as Prime Minister under President Kuchma from 2002-2005, during a time of steady economic growth for Ukraine. In 2004, Yanukovych ran for president as the Party of Region’s candidate. Though he was declared the winner, allegations of fraud led to the Orange Revolution and a subsequent reelection, which he lost to his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko.

Despite the setback, Yanukovych retained control of the powerful Party of Regions and retained a solid base of support concentrated in eastern Ukraine. Yanukovych guided the party as an opposition force against the dominant Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc in the Verkhovna Rada. He gained political capital as an opposition force as Ukraine's economy took turns for the worse after the Orange Revolution and particularly after the 2008 financial crisis. He regained the presidency in 2010, in what was roundly decreed a free and fair election.

Yanukovych stepped down as leader of the Party of Regions to comply with Ukraine's election laws which state that a presidential candidate may not be the leader of a political party. He was succeeded by his long-term ally Mykola Azarov, who became his Prime Minister after Yanukovych won the election.

Following the 2010 election, Yanukovych consolidated power. His main rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, was jailed for her role in negotiating a "disadvantageous" agreement for Russian gas. Tymoshenko's supporters, including many leading politicians in the European Union, assert that the prosecution was politically motivated. The Party of Regions also passed electoral reforms barring anyone who has lived and paid taxes in another country from running for president. This disqualified Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Udar party and widely considered Yanukovych's second most likely challenger in the next presidential race.

Yanukovych was one of Ukraine's most Russia-friendly politicians. However, he also steered a careful course between Russia and the EU, two of Ukraine's biggest trading partners. He suggested that Ukraine act as a bridge between Russia and the EU by hosting tripartite talks, although neither Russia nor the EU expressed much interest in the proposal. Yanukovych resisted calls by Russia to join the Russia-led Customs Union, which boosted confidence that his country might sign a free trade deal with the EU in 2013. When Ukraine declared that it would postpone the deal, citing the costs needed to reform the Ukraine's economy and legislation, many in the EU and many pro-EU Ukrainians accused Yanukovych of having caved to Russian pressure. Protests erupted in Ukraine, calling for Yanukovych's resignation and for Ukraine to sign the deal. These protests grew massively large after early protests met with force used by Ukraine's riot police. The protests eventually grew into the Maidan Revolution, which eventually saw Yanukovych from power for a second time.

Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February, 2014. He has lived in Russia ever since. Ukraine has issued an arrest warrent for him, charging him with mass murder in connection with violence used against Euromaiden protestors.

Mykola Azarov

Former Prime Minister

Former Leader:
Party of Regions

Mykola Azarov was Ukraine’s Prime Minister and was leader of the Party of Regions, then Ukraine's most powerful political party with 46% of the Rada seats.

Azarov, born in the Russian SSR (in the USSR), is known primarily as a successful technocrat. Like Victor Yanukovych, Azarov began his career in Donetsk, where he rose to lead the Ukrainian State Geological Institute in the late 80s and early 90s. Mykola Azarov served as head of the State Tax Administration under President Kuchma from 1996 until 2002. He also served as Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister in Yanukovych’s tenure in the premiership. He has been Prime Minister since 2010.

During his time as Minister of Finance, Azarov was credited for handling many difficult financial situations for Ukraine. For instance, during the Orange Revolution, confidence in the hryvnia, Ukrainian's currency, was shaken. Yet, Azarov was able to keep the state’s finances in check, preventing a massive depreciation in the value of the hryvnia, while also briefly stepping in to serve as Prime Minister in Yanukovych’s absence.

Azarov was an early member of the Party of Regions. He was its first head, elected in 2001 in what he described would be a temporary post, and was succeed by Yanukovych in 2003. He has long been an ally of President Yanukovych.

Azarov’s command of the Ukrainian language is poor, and he received much criticism for this. He was attacked at home and internationally for stating that women do not serve in his administration because "Reforms do not fall into a woman's competence."

Azarov is sought by the Ukrainian government on charges of abuse of power. He currently resides in Russia.

Serhiy Arbuzov

Former Vice Prime Minister:

Former Head:
National Bank of Ukraine


Serhiy Arbuzov was First Vice Prime Minster of Ukraine and formerly served two years as the Chairman of The National Bank of Ukraine.

Arbuzov is originally from President Yanukovych’s home of Donetsk and was educated as an economist. Before entering the political realm, Arbuzov worked at Sergei Tigipko's Pryvatbank in the early 2000s and then went on to work with several other banks including the All-Ukrainian Bank of Development, UkrEximBank, and Ukrainian Business Bank.

He entered politics as a member of Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, but after a failed parliamentary election, he has since gone officially unaffiliated, but has worked closely with the Yanukovych government. In late 2010, Arbuzov became Chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine under Yanukovych. He was just 35 at the time of his appointment, making him the one of the world's youngest central bankers.

Under his direction, the state continued to inject cash into the Ukrainian economy, supported the nation’s currency’s exchange rate, and helped boost Ukraine’s slowing economy prior to the next parliamentary elections. In December 2012, Arbuzov was appointed as Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine by President Yanukovych.

Some speculated that Arbuzov was being groomed as a possible next Prime Minister and, later, a possible successor to Yanukovych. As is common for many who desire to gain prominance in post-Soviet Slavic politics, Arbuzov cultivated an image as an energetic, strong, and independent leader. He also avoided taking sides in the east/west debate, asserting that Ukraine should remain independent and work with all available partners.

With the explusion of Yanukovych, however, Arbuzov's fall from power was quick and complete. He is currently on international wanted lists, accused by the current Ukrainian government for having abused his power as head of the Central Bank. He asserts the charges are political. His whereabouts are unkown.

Andriy Klyuyev

National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine

Andriy Klyuyev is Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. This council advises the Ukrainian president on matters of national security (both domestically and internationally) and coordinates and controls executive branch institutions implementing national security policy.

Klyuyev worked as both a miner and foreman before receiving his degree in mining engineering from the Donetsk Polytechnic Institute in 1986. In 1994, he left a research and mining career to become deputy chairman for the Donetsk Oblast Executive Council. It was there that he first connected with Viktor Yanukovych.

In 2001, Klyuyev was elected the deputy chairman of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and was elected to the Verkhovna Rada on the party’s list. From there, he became the Vice Prime Minister for Fuel, Energy, and Nuclear Policy and Safety under Viktor Yanukovych. After Yanukovych’s premiership ended, Klyuyev returned to his normal duties in the Verkhovna Rada and the Party of Regions. He was once again elected to parliament in 2006, where he served until Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010 and Klyuyev was tapped to lead the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. He remained in that position until he was appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, ranked as one of Ukraine's most powerful government offices.


Klyuyev is currently charged with mass murder for his role in the security forces' use of violence during the Euromaidan Revolution. His whereabouts are currently unknown. He has a net worth of over $200 million, made by investing mostly in mining and mining equipment in Donetsk.

« back to Politics in Translation archive