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Crimea was part of Russia from 1783, when the Tsarist Empire annexed it a decade after defeating Ottoman forces in the Battle of Kozludzha, until 1954, when the Soviet government transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukr SSR).
The transfer was announced in the Soviet press in late February 1954, eight days after the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet adopted a resolution authorizing the move on 19 February.
A sizable population of Tatars had lived in Crimea for centuries until May 1944, when they were deported en masse by the Stalinist regime to barren sites in Central Asia, where they were compelled to live for more than four decades and were prohibited from returning to their homeland.
Stalin also forcibly deported smaller populations of Armenians, Bulgarians, and Greeks from Crimea, completing the ethnic cleansing of the peninsula.
Although Crimea is briefly contiguous with southern Ukraine via the Isthmus of Perekop, the large eastern Kerch region of Crimea is very close to Russia.
Occasional armed clashes were still occurring in the mid-1950s, but the war was over by the time Crimea was transferred in February 1954.
The repeated references at the meeting of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium on 19 February to the “unity of Russians and Ukrainians” and to the “great and indissoluble friendship” between the two peoples, and the affirmation that the transfer would demonstrate how wise it was to have Ukraine “under the leadership of the Communist Party and the Soviet government,” indicate that Khrushchev saw the transfer as a way of fortifying and perpetuating Soviet control over Ukraine now that the civil war had finally been won.
Nevertheless, the post-Stalin power struggle was by no means over in early 1954, and Khrushchev was trying to line up as much support as he could on the CPSU Presidium for a bid to remove Malenkov from the prime minister’s spot (a feat he accomplished in January 1955).
Among those whose support Khrushchev was hoping to enlist was Oleksiy Kyrychenko, who had become first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine in early June 1953 (displacing Leonid Mel’nykov, who had succeeded Khrushchev in that post in December 1949) and soon thereafter had been appointed a full member of the CPSU Presidium.