00:49 - Source: CNN
Ukraine protests: What you need to know

Story highlights

Ukraine protests are the country's largest in nine years

The country finds itself split between closer ties with the EU and cooperating more with Russia

The country is heavily dependent on Russian gas, especially during its bitter winters

Russia says the situation in Ukraine is a "domestic issue"

CNN —  

Ukraine has been hit by protests during the past few weeks, as the country finds itself split between the rest of Europe and Russia.

What sparked the protests?

The protests began in November, when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, did a U-turn over a trade pact with the European Union that had been years in the making.

Yanukovych refused to sign the agreement, which would have strengthened cooperation with the European Union, opting instead for closer ties with neighboring Russia.

Since November 21 hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets of Kiev to demand that the EU deal be signed. The epicenter of the protest has been in the city’ central Independence Square, known as the Maidan.

The demonstrations are the biggest the country has seen since the Orange Revolution which toppled the country’s government nine years ago. Protesters in Ukraine see the demonstrations as a way of choosing between Europe and Russia.

CNN contributor David Frum says the stakes are even higher now than they were in 2004-05: “Upholding Ukrainian independence is a deep concern, not only to the Ukrainians, but to all the free countries of Europe – and thus to the United States… What’s at stake in the streets of Kiev is the future of the European continent.”

Why did Yanukovych refuse to sign the EU deal?

Viktor Yanukovych, who has been in power since 2010, said he could not sign the trade and political association deals with the EU because of Ukraine’s “complex economic situation.”

He said Ukraine could not afford to sign the deal, alluding to economic pressure from Russia, which had threatened its neighbor with trade sanctions.

“The Ukrainian government will suspend the negotiations for signing the Association Agreement with the EU, until we find a solution for the situation is found and when the drop in industrial production and our relations with CIS countries are compensated by the European market, otherwise our country’s economy will sustain serious damage,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko when the EU deal was suspended.