International

Ukraine’s polarizing political parties

The country’s history with Russia remains central to the identity of political groups

Tens of thousands gather in Kiev's Independence Square to hear the line-up of the new pro-Western cabinet on Feb. 26, 2014.
Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian political parties played a large role in organizing supporters during the country’s unrest, sparked by ousted President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to reject a European Union trade deal in November and instead draw closer to Russia. The tension between pro-Western and pro-Russian sentiments is central to Ukraine’s identity, sandwiched as it is between Russia, which once colonized the country, and Europe. Ukraine’s political parties reflect this, and define the national debate between East and West.

Al Jazeera analyzes the country's major political groups:


Party of Regions

Yanukovych
Viktor Yanukovich
Thomas Trutschel/Photothek/Getty Images

Ousted President Viktor Yanukovich belongs to the Party of Regions, which professes to defend and uphold the rights of ethnic Russians and speakers of the Russian language in Ukraine. More than 8 million ethnic Russians make up Ukraine’s largest minority, and most of them live in the country’s eastern region. Ukraine’s current political crisis erupted when Yanukovich, favoring ties with Russia, rejected a European Union trade deal in November. On Feb. 22, Yanukovich fled into hiding, and the parliament unanimously voted to dismiss him as the nation’s leader, even though the Party of Regions holds more seats in parliament than any other party. 

Yanukovich's whereabouts were unknown for a week until he announced he was in Moscow for protection. "I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists," Yanukovich said in a statement. 


Fatherland (Batkivshchyna)

Oleksandr Turchynov
Oleksandr Turchynov
Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

After Yanukovich was ousted on Feb. 22, Ukraine’s parliament voted to appoint Oleksandr Turchynov of the Fatherland party as interim president until May. Fatherland, which advocates for European values, is the largest minority group in parliament with 88 seats and was one of the more active parties participating in the Kiev protests. Fatherland is one of many parties that oppose Russia's influence after a bloody history of control by the former Soviet Union. The Fatherland leader is former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Like Turchynov, she was released from prison when Yanukovich was deposed.

During the interim period, Fatherland has gained control over key positions including acting interior minister, central-bank governor and parliamentary speaker.


UDAR

Vitali Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko
Anatoliy Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Parliament member and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko leads the Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), which has a pro-European platform and advocates against corruption.

Klitschko, a vocal and recognizable figure at the protests, helped arrange a deal with parliament to move up presidential elections to May. He is widely seen as the front-runner.

UDAR holds 42 seats in Ukraine’s parliament.


Svoboda

Oleh Tyahnybok
Oleh Tyahnybok
Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The All Ukrainian Union Svoboda party, led by parliament member Oleh Tyahnybok, is an ultra-nationalist party that calls for withdrawal from all Russian organizations. Svoboda members played an active role in the anti-Yanukovich protests.

Svoboda advocates against communism and the social policies of the former Soviet Union. Party members helped toppled the Kiev statue of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Russian Communist Party, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect and first head of the Soviet state.

Svoboda also participated in occupying Kiev's city hall in early December, a milestone in the protest movement's campaign against Yanukovich.

Svoboda is often criticized for being homophobic and anti-Semitic. Svoboda's fascist tendencies have drawn criticism from Russia, and Jewish groups in Ukraine and beyond.

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