Follow Ukraine’s 30-year struggle for independence with this visual timeline

Since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, Ukraine has had to contend with neighbouring Russia’s tightening grip and expanding power.

By National Geographic Staff
Published 27 Feb 2022, 09:24 GMT
A Ukrainian serviceman keeps watch at a position on the front line with Russian-backed separatists near ...
A Ukrainian serviceman keeps watch at a position on the front line with Russian-backed separatists near the town of Schastia (meaning “happiness” in both Ukrainian and Russian), near the eastern Ukraine city of Lugansk on February 23, 2022, one day before Russia’s full assault on Ukraine.
Photograph by Photo by Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian forces invaded Ukraine early on February 24, 2022, following an ominous yearlong military buildup and 30 years of Ukrainian independence after the Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991. The country of nearly 45 million people, assaulted from Belarus to the north, Russia to the east, and Russian-controlled Crimea in the south, is strategically positioned between Russia and the rest of Europe—including a swath of eastern European nations once under the Soviet sphere that have since joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an expansion of the Western defensive alliance that Russia views as a profound threat.

Russian interventions in other former Soviet-bloc countries have led to several still disputed regions known as “frozen conflict” zones, including along Ukraine’s border. Ukraine has deep historical and cultural ties with Russia. But its efforts to throw off Russian domination in recent years have resulted in losses of Ukrainian lives and territory. This includes the Crimean Peninsula, annexed in 2014, followed soon after by Russian seizures of large regions of eastern Ukraine—and, now, in early 2022, an assault on the entire country.


Ukraine declares independence as the Soviet Union is collapsing in 1991.

Thousands of pro-independence demonstrators flash a three-finger sign, to indicate the fork, emblem of Ukraine, on August 28, 1991, during rally in central Kiev.

Photograph by Anatoly Sapronenkov, AFP/ Getty Images


Ukraine joins a collaborative partnership with NATO. It gives up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for a signed agreement from Russia, the U.S., and the U.K. to protect its sovereignty.

Women in Yalta, a Black Sea port city on the Crimean Peninsula, prepare to cast their ballots for parliamentary elections on March 27, 1994.
Photograph by Hector Mata, AFP/ Getty Images


Disputed elections in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 set off Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” and Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” protesting corruption and Russian influence.

Ukrainians gather in Kyiv in December 2004 following the election victory of Viktor Yushchenko over his pro-Moscow competitor on December 28, 2004.

Photograph by James Hill, Redux


Ukraine and Georgia begin to pursue membership in the NATO alliance. Later that summer, Russia backs separatists in breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ukraine begins talks to form ties with the European Union.

Russian forces fortify positions outside Tblisi, Georgia, as civilians try to escape the fighting in 2008.

Photograph by Jan Grarup, Laif/Redux


Protests erupt in Kyiv’s Maidan Square over the government’s withdrawal from EU talks. More than 100 protestors are killed; the Moscow-backed Ukrainian president flees to Russia.

A violent conflict between protestors and police rages in Kyiv’s Independence Square on November 21, 2013. Protests were sparked by the pro-Moscow government’s decision to suspend talks for closer ties with the European Union.
Photograph by David Rose, Panos Pictures/Redux


March 2014

Russia seizes control of the Crimean Peninsula and annexes the territory.

Russian soldiers block the road when nearly 200 Ukrainian army forces come close to a military airport near Russia's Black Sea fleet Base in Sevastopol, in Russian-annexed Crimea on March 4, 2014.
Photograph by Bulent Doruk, Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

April 2014

Pro-Russian separatists seize control of parts of Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk; the 2015 Minsk II peace agreement quells some of the violence, but the region suffers more than 13,000 casualties by the end of 2021.

Pro-Russian separatist gunmen stand guard in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 25, 2014.
Photograph by Stanley Greene, Noor/Redux


In 2019 Ukraine passes a constitutional amendment to pursue NATO and EU membership. The following year it becomes a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner, cooperating on missions and exercises.

Ukrainian servicemen take part in military drills in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. The drills are part of the Rapid Trident 2020 program of multinational military exercises uniting Ukraine, the United States, and NATO member countries and states that have joined the alliance's Partnership for Peace cooperation program.
Photograph by Stringer, Sputnik/ AP


Russia builds up a massive military presence along Ukraine’s border. Russian president Vladimir Putin orders troops into separatist-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk and recognises the regions as independent. On February 24, 2022, Russia begins a full assault on Ukraine by land, air, and sea.


Russian-backed disputed regions also exist in other areas of the former Soviet Union, including Georgia and on Moldova’s eastern border with Ukraine.

Sailors wearing the naval caps of the former Soviet fleet participate in a 2014 pro-Russian rally in Donetsk’s Lenin Square. Donetsk is the largest city of the Donbas region, an area that is the center of Ukraine’s coal mining and steel industry.
Photograph by Jeroen Oerlemans, Panos Pictures/Redux

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