1) Where is Ukraine? Ukraina literally means "borderland" or "on the edge." Makes sense seeing how it borders Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Also, Turkey is just south of it, across the Black Sea.
2) What's all the protests in Ukraine about? The short version please. It all started on November 21 when the government of Ukraine suspended preparations for signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (a political and free trade agreement that would possibly ensure Ukraine's future admission to the European Union). Many Ukrainians feel frustrated with the controlling nature Russia has exerted over Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They see the EU trade agreement as a means to get away from their authoritative neighbors and believe that Russia's main objective is to have Ukraine join a future union that would rival the EU bloc. Ukraine's government, led by President Victor Yanukovych, says Ukraine can't afford to have closer ties to the EU when it would mean sacrificing ties with Russia. Since then protests have occurred nightly throughout the country, the largest being in Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) where hundreds of thousands of people have gathered to rally for the ousting of President Yanukovych. Some of the protesters have since suffered violent anti-demonstration measures, most recently when riot police broke up a protest camp in Kyiv.
3) People keep referring to the Orange Revolution. What was that? Natalya Dmitruk is one of the most famous faces of this peaceful political rebellion. Dmitruk, hired to translate the results of 2004 Presidential Election for the state-owned UT-1 channel, staged a silent revolt when instead of signing what the presenter was saying signed "I address all deaf viewers. [Challenger Viktor] Yushchenko is our President. Do not believe the Electoral Commission. They are lying." In the days following thousands swarmed Independence Square in Kyiv, protesting the results of 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Election. Wearing orange (the color of Victor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party) the protesters stayed in the streets for six nights, braving November's freezing temperatures and snow, but staying in a controlled and peaceful mood. After six days the parliament declared the election results invalid and ordered a run-off. The final results showed a clear victory for Yushchenko, with 52 percent of the votes, trailed by Yanukovych who had merely 44. On January 23, 2005 Yushchenko took office.
4) I need a break. Didn't they have that crazy Eurovision Song Contest guy? Foreigners generally don't get Verka Serduchka, as evident by his amazingly odd performance and subsequent defeat at the 2007 Eurovision. The Ukrainian superstar is easy to spot as this cross-dressing singer likes to wear giant sequined stars on his head. Basically he was Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga existed. You should watch his Eurovision "Dancing Lasha Tumbai," entry below. Your heart will thank you.
5) I feel better. So it's just Ukraine? Chances are you've heard it referred to as "the Ukraine." Let's just collectively drop that article and respect The Ukrainian Declaration of Independence and Constitution's wishes to be referred to simply as "Ukraine." It may seem trivial to you, but many patriotic Ukrainians are offended by the inclusion of the "the," believing it harkens back to the era between 1919 and 1991 when Ukraine was known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This is a new era. A new Ukraine. Get it right or else risk looking like Kramer and Newman.
6) It's basically a frozen tundra, right? Nope. Shock those you love and go on a world-class vacation to the beaches of Crimea where the average summertime high in the seaside city of Yalta is a comfortable 84°F. Sure temperatures in the Carpathians are always cooler and they have snow, but it's safe to say Ukraine has four seasons.
7) What language do they speak? The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, which is the native language of 65 percent of the population, according to the 2001 census. Admittedly, depending on what part of the country you are traveling to, you might hear more Russian than Ukrainian. In Crimea and the East, Russian is primarily spoken. In Central Ukraine, Russian has been blended with Ukrainian to make Surzhyk, the Spanglish of the East. While in the villages of western Ukraine, and in larger western cities like Lviv, clean Ukrainian is heavily enforced by patriotic locals. It's really no surprise then that in Ukraine, the language you speak often has a political connotation to it.
8) Is it Kyiv or Kiev? Kiev is the Russian transliteration of the city's name, which has been used for centuries and dates back to the times of Kievan Rus'. However, when Ukraine became independent, there was a large movement to recognize "Kyiv," (the Ukrainian transliteration) as the preferred spelling, as it symbolized the country's newfound independence. Kyiv is the spelling now used in the country's official documents and the one recognized as the correct spelling by the United Nations and the US Government.
9) Can I have some water cooler quotes to use by a U.S. official on the recent protests? Sure! Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated that
"The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv's Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy...As church bells ring tonight amidst the smoke in the streets of Kyiv, the United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better."
10) What hashtag should I use to follow the protests? Unlike the days of Orange Revolution, the protests occurring now can be followed online in real time using the hashtag #євромайдан.