Since protests in Kyiv drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014, Eastern Ukraine has been convulsed by a rebel insurgency, inflamed by Russia, that has evolved into a full-fledged war centered in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk – an industrial region known as Donbass.
At heart is a desire among the rebels for greater autonomy, out of widespread fear—justified or not—that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are at risk of political repression by the government in Kyiv. Russian propaganda has carried this storyline further, implying that the Ukrainian government is comprised of fascists and neo-Nazi Ukrainian nationalists. Russia itself has been widely accused of backing the rebels with weapons, cash, training, and fighters, prompting the deepest divide between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Ukraine’s economy has taken a massive blow. Huge expenditures on the war effort, combined with the loss of Crimea and much of the industrial output of Donbass, mean that international bailouts intended to stave off default may yet prove insufficient. Political reforms are inching along, corruption remains rampant, and the overall atmosphere of instability has kept away foreign investment.
Meanwhile, as always, civilians are falling victim to the indiscriminate effects of uncaring weapons. According to the United Nations, at least 9,333 people have died in the conflict as of April 2016.