Remembering the 2014 Ukraine revolution, which set the stage for the 2022 Russian invasion
CBC News crew arrived in Ukraine in 2014 on morning of a massacre in Kyiv's Independence Square
It's been a year since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. But nine years ago this week, CBC News correspondent Susan Ormiston and videographer Pascal Leblond witnessed dramatic events in Ukraine that set the stage for the current war.
In late February 2014, while most of the world's attention was on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, CBC dispatched a team to Kyiv to cover the Maidan Revolution in Independence Square.
They arrived the morning of a massacre — snipers gunned down people protesting the pro-Kremlin regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. It was the bloody culmination of three months of protest in the Ukrainian capital.
A day later, Yanukovych fled. And in short order — 24 days — Russia illegally annexed Crimea with a dubious referendum.
CBC News has been on the ground covering Russia's invasion of Ukraine from the start. What do you want to know about their experience there? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our reporters will be taking your questions as the one-year anniversary approaches.
Ukraine has told Russia that any end to the current conflict would have to include returning Crimea to Ukraine.
Here are some recollections of that tumultuous time in 2014, through pictures and video.
WATCH | Anti-government protests in Ukraine in February 2014 lead to bloodshed:
Tension had been building for three months in the brutally cold winter in Kyiv. A wave of large-scale protests — known as Euromaidan — had begun in November after President Yanukovych abruptly refused to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union, choosing instead to draw closer to Russia.
Protesters were camped out in Independence Square. Soldiers were on high alert after previous deadly skirmishes. But on the morning of Feb. 20, 2014, snipers mowed down up to 50 protesters.
When we arrived, people were still hauling the dead to ambulances, mopping up blood, reinforcing barricades and gathering up bricks and rifles, girding for more protests at nightfall.
The Maidan had become a rebel camp. Homemade barricades were fortified to prevent police infiltrators. Everyone was nervous. Parliament was surrounded by Ukrainian soldiers as international pressure was building against Yanukovych, who many believed had a hand in the killings.
After the tragedy of the day before, Yanukovych announced an agreement with the opposition. But by the end of that day, he'd fled — an unbelievable turn of events. It was over: Yanukovych had been toppled.
WATCH | Ukraine president Victor Yanukovych is ousted in February 2014:
As word spread that Yanukovych was gone, his lavish 350-acre estate was immediately opened to the public. Those who'd watched a wealthy president accused of corruption were curious to roam his property, taking in its yacht pier, and golf course, a palace, peacocks and a helicopter pad.
In Independence Square, funerals for slain protesters began. Political opponents such as Yulia Tymoshenko were suddenly released from prison, vowing to take Yanukovych's place in an upcoming election. Events were moving at a rapid pace.
St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv had turned into a refuge for Maidan protesters. There were cots for resting, a medical centre and canteens of donated food — canned vegetables and jars of pure lard, a Ukrainian specialty.
In Kyiv, we had begun to hear murmurs that "something" was about to happen in Crimea, more than 800 kilometres southeast of the capital. We made a snap decision to fly to the Crimean capital, Simferopol, just as pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian crowds had gathered outside the Crimean parliament.
Inside, a group of pro-Russian agitators were trying to wrest control from Ukrainian lawmakers. By now, the Sochi Olympics had ended and the world's attention was turning to the Crimean Peninsula. Tension was building — you could feel it and no one could accurately predict what would happen next.
And then it did.
WATCH | Green-clad soldiers in Crimea won't reveal who they are working for:
What appeared to be Russian military vehicles began to gather on Crimean highways from Sevastopol in the south to the Crimean-Ukrainian border in the north. Armed soldiers with no insignias and vehicles with no licence plates appeared on the streets. The Kremlin denied the "green men" were part of the Russian Armed Forces.
When we approached some of these individuals and asked who they were, the response was "no comment," in thickly accented English.
Overnight and into the day on Feb. 27, armed Crimean "militia" men, supported by Russia, forced out Crimea's council of ministers. They took control of parliament, barricaded it and in subsequent days seized the Simferopol airport.
NATO declared the military men were in fact Russian soldiers.
By early March, Russia was organizing a referendum in Crimea. The U.S., Canada and Western allies called the takeover illegal and were devising sanctions against Russia. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry visited Kyiv to shore up support.
Meanwhile, Independence Square had been turned into a memorial for what was called the "Heavenly 100," those who died in the square during the uprising. Including police, an estimated 130 people were killed.
The Crimean referendum campaign was volatile, with allegations that Ukraine was being run by Nazis, an allegation Russian President Vladimir Putin uses to this day. On voting day, local television ran long black and white documentaries of Nazis in the Second World War. Billboards warned of a Nazi threat if Crimea stayed under Ukrainian rule.
- This week, join The National, hosted by the CBC's chief correspondent, Adrienne Arsenault, in Kyiv. Watch at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network, 10 p.m. on CBC-TV, or stream it on CBC Gem and CBC News Explore.
On March 16, Ukrainians living in Crimea went to the polls. The result was never in doubt — 97 per cent allegedly voted to join Russia, amid reports of voter intimidation, discrimination against Crimean Tatars and the presence of armed guards. Many ethnic Russians there did want closer ties with Russia, but the size of the majority was widely disputed.
On the night of March 16, Russia claimed Crimea and officially annexed the territory two days later, setting in motion a protracted war for more land in the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, with Russia backing separatist rebels.
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia went much further, launching the largest land war in Europe since the Second World War.