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Ukraine
Capital: Kiev (Kyiv)
Official Language: Ukrainian
Population: 46,000,000 (Estimated)
Currency: Hryvnia
Time Zone: EET (UTC+2) - Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Dialing Code: +380
Coat of Arms of UkraineFlag of Ukraine,Ukrainian Flag

Ukraine (pronounced /juːˈkreɪn / ew-KRAYN; Ukrainian: Україна, transliterated: Ukrayina, [ukrɑˈjinɑ]), with its area of 603,628 km, is the second largest country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by the Russian Federation to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast respectively.

Ukraine's modern history began with the East Slavs. From at least the 9th century, Ukraine was the center of the medieval living area of the East Slavs. This state, known as Kievan Rus', became a large and powerful nation, but disintegrated in the 12th century. After the Great Northern War, Ukraine was divided among a number of regional powers, and by the 19th century, the largest part of Ukraine was integrated into the Russian Empire, with the rest under Austro-Hungarian control.

After a chaotic period of incessant warfare and several attempts at independence (1917–21) following World War I and the Russian Civil War, emerged on December 30, 1922 as one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic's territory was enlarged westward shortly before and after World War II, and southwards in 1954 with the Crimea transfer. In 1945, the Ukrainian SSR became one of the co-founding members of the United Nations.

Ukraine became independent again after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Herewith began a period of transition to a market economy, in which Ukraine was stricken with an eight year recession. Since then though, the economy experienced a high increase in GDP growth. Ukraine was caught up in the worldwide economic crisis in 2008 and the economy plunged. GDP fell 20% from spring 2008 to spring 2009, and then leveled off as analysts compared the magnitude of the downturn to the worst years of economic depression during the early 1990s.

Ukraine is a unitary state composed of 24 oblasts (provinces), one autonomous republic (Crimea), and two cities with special status: Kiev, its capital and largest city, and Sevastopol, which houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet under a leasing agreement. Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Since the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine continues to maintain the second largest military in Europe, after that of Russia. The country is home to 46 million people, 77.8 percent of whom are ethnic Ukrainians, with sizable minorities of Russians (17%), Belarusians and Romanians. The Ukrainian language is the only official language in Ukraine. Russian is also widely spoken. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has heavily influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.

Etymology - Name of Ukraine

During the period of Romantic nationalism it was popular to trace the origin of the country's name back to an ancient ethnonym. After this pseudo-historical view was discarded, two main versions of the etymology emerged. Naturally, the versions have different implications from a nationalist point of view, and are also based on different possible or certain meanings of the lexeme ukraina as it occurs in historical sources. According to one view, the term is taken to mean 'borderland' or simply 'land' (also 'in-land' or 'home-land', 'principality'), whilst in the other it is said to be derived from the old Slavic word 'kraina', meaning 'country', and therefore, according to this understanding of the term, 'u-kraina' means 'in-country' or 'my-country'.

History - Early history

Human settlement in the territory of Ukraine dates back to at least 4500 BCE, when the Neolithic Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture flourished in a wide area that included parts of modern Ukraine including Trypillia and the entire Dnieper-Dniester region. During the Iron Age, the land was inhabited by Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians. Between 700 BC and 200 BC it was part of the Scythian Kingdom, or Scythia.

Later, colonies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and the Byzantine Empire, such as Tyras, Olbia, and Hermonassa, were founded, beginning in the 6th century BC, on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, and thrived well into the 6th century AD. The Goths stayed in the area but came under the sway of the Huns from the 370s AD. In the 7th century AD, the territory of eastern Ukraine was the center of Old Great Bulgaria. At the end of the century, the majority of Bulgar tribes migrated in different directions and the land fell into the Khazars' hands.

Golden Age of Kiev

The Kievan Rus' were founded by the Rus' people, Varangians who first settled around Ladoga and Novgorod, then gradually moved southward eventually reaching Kiev about 880. The Kievan Rus' included the western part of modern Ukraine, Belarus, with larger part of it situated on the territory of modern Russia. According to the Primary Chronicle the Rus' elite initially consisted of Varangians from Scandinavia.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, it became the largest and most powerful state in Europe. In the following centuries, it laid the foundation for the national identity of Ukrainians and Russians. Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine, became the most important city of the Rus'.The Varangians later became assimilated into the local Slavic population and became part of the Rus' first dynasty, the Rurik Dynasty. Kievan Rus' was composed of several principalities ruled by the interrelated Rurikid Princes. The seat of Kiev, the most prestigious and influential of all principalities, became the subject of many rivalries among Rurikids as the most valuable prize in their quest for power.

The Golden Age of Kievan Rus' began with the reign of Vladimir the Great (980–1015), who turned Rus' toward Byzantine Christianity. During the reign of his son, Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054), Kievan Rus' reached the zenith of its cultural development and military power. This was followed by the state's increasing fragmentation as the relative importance of regional powers rose again. After a final resurgence under the rule of Vladimir Monomakh (1113–1125) and his son Mstislav (1125–1132), Kievan Rus' finally disintegrated into separate principalities following Mstislav's death.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Pechenegs and the Kipchaks, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north. The 13th century Mongol invasion devastated Kievan Rus'. Kiev was totally destroyed in 1240. On the Ukrainian territory, the state of Kievan Rus' was succeeded by the principalities of Galich (Halych) and Volodymyr-Volynskyi, which were merged into the state of Galicia-Volhynia.

Foreign domination

In the mid-14th century, Galicia-Volhynia was subjugated by Casimir III of Poland, while the heartland of Rus', including Kiev, fell under the Gediminas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after the Battle on the Irpen' River. Following the 1386 Union of Krevo, a dynastic union between Poland and Lithuania, much of what became northern Ukraine was controlled by the increasingly Slavicised local Lithuanian nobles as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

By 1569, the Union of Lublin formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and a significant part of Ukrainian territory was moved from Lithuanian rule to the Polish administration, as it was transferred to the Polish Crown. Under the cultural and political pressure of Polonisation much upper class of Polish Ruthenia (another term for the land of Rus) converted to Catholicism and became indistinguishable from the Polish nobility. Thus, the commoners, deprived of their native protectors among Rus nobility, turned for protection to the Cossacks, who remained fiercely Orthodox at all times and tended to turn to violence against those they perceived as enemies, particularly the Polish state and its representatives.

In the mid-17th century, a Cossack military quasi-state, the Zaporozhian Host, was established by the Dnieper Cossacks and the Ruthenian peasants fleeing Polish serfdom. Poland had little real control of this land, yet they found the Cossacks to be a useful fighting force against the Turks and Tatars, and at times the two allied in military campaigns. However, the continued enserfment of peasantry by the Polish nobility emphasized by the Commonwealth's fierce exploitation of the workforce, and most importantly, the suppression of the Orthodox Church pushed the allegiances of Cossacks away from Poland. Their aspiration was to have representation in Polish Sejm, recognition of Orthodox traditions and the gradual expansion of the Cossack Registry. These were all vehemently denied by the Polish nobility. The Cossacks eventually turned for protection to Orthodox Russia, a decision which would later lead towards the downfall of the Polish-Lithuanian state and the preservation of the Orthodox Church and in Ukraine.

In 1648, Bohdan Khmelnytsky led the largest of the Cossack uprisings against the Commonwealth and the Polish king John II Casimir. Left-bank Ukraine was eventually integrated into Muscovite Russia as the Cossack Hetmanate, following the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav and the ensuing Russo-Polish War. After the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century by Prussia, Habsburg Austria, and Russia, Western Ukrainian Galicia was taken over by Austria, while the rest of Ukraine was progressively incorporated into the Russian Empire.

The Crimean Khanate was one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the 18th century; at one point it even succeeded, under the Crimean khan Devlet I Giray, to devastate Moscow. The Russian population of the borderlands suffered annual Tatar invasions and tens of thousands of soldiers were required to protect the southern boundaries. From the beginning of the 16th century until the end of 17th century the Crimean Tatar raider bands made almost annual forays into agricultural Slavic lands searching for captives to sell as slaves. For example, from 1450 to 1586, eighty-six Tatar raids were recorded, and from 1600 to 1647, seventy. This was a heavy burden for the state, and slowed its social and economic development. Since Crimean Tatars did not permit settlement of Russians to southern regions where the soil is better and the season is long enough, Muscovy had to depend on poorer regions and labor intensive agriculture. Poland-Lithuania, Moldavia and Wallachia were also subjected to extensive slave raiding. The Crimean Khanate was conquered by the Russian Empire in 1778, bringing an end to Mongol and Tatar rule in Europe.

The Ruin

In 1657-1686 came "The Ruin," a devastating 30-year war between Russia, Poland, Turks and Cossacks for control of Ukraine. For three years Khmelnytsky's armies controlled present-day western and central Ukraine, but deserted by his Tatar allies, he suffered a crushing defeat at Berestechko, and turned to the Russian Czar for help.

In 1654, Khmelnytsky signed the Treaty of Pereiaslav, forming a military and political alliance with Russia that acknowledged loyalty to the Czar. The wars escalated in intensity with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Defeat came in 1686 as the "Eternal Peace" between Russia and Poland gave Kiev and the Cossack lands east of the Dnieper over to Russian rule and the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper to Poland.

In 1709 Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1687–1709) sided with Sweden against Russia in the Great Northern War (1700–1721). Mazepa, a member of the Cossack nobility, received an excellent education abroad and proved to be a brilliant political and military leader enjoying good relations with the Romanov dynasty. After Peter the Great became czar, Mazepa as hetman gave him more than twenty years of loyal military and diplomatic service and was well rewarded.

Eventually Peter recognized that in order to consolidate and modernize Russia's political and economic power it was necessary to do away with the hetmanate and Ukrainian and Cossack aspirations to autonomy. Mazepa accepted Polish invitations to join the Poles and Swedes against Russia. The move was disastrous for the hetmanate, Ukrainian autonomy, and Mazepa. He died in exile after fleeing from the Battle of Poltava (1709), where the Swedes and their Cossack allies suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of Peter's Russian forces.

The hetmanate was abolished in 1764; the Zaporizhska Sich abolished in 1775, as centralized Russian control became the norm. With the partitioning of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795, the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper were divided between Russia and Austria. From 1737 to 1834 expansion into the northern Black Sea littoral and the eastern Danube valley was a cornerstone of Russian foreign policy.

Lithuanians and Poles controlled vast estates in Ukraine, and were a law unto them selves. Judicial rulings from Cracow were routinely flouted. Heavily taxed peasants were practically tied to the land as serfs. Occasionally the landowners battled each other using armies of Ukrainian peasants. The Poles and Lithuanians were Roman Catholics and tried with some success to convert the Orthodox lesser nobility. In 1596 they set up the "Greek-Catholic" or Uniate Church, under the authority of the Pope but using Eastern rituals; it dominates western Ukraine to this day. Tensions between the Uniates and the Orthodox were never resolved, and the religious differentiation left the Ukrainian Orthodox peasants leaderless, as they were reluctant to follow the Ukrainian nobles.

The Cossack-led uprising called Koliivshchyna that erupted in the Ukrainian borderlands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1768 involved ethnicity as one root cause of Ukrainian violence that killed tens of thousands of Poles and Jews. Religious warfare also broke out between Ukrainian groups. Increasing conflict between Uniate and Orthodox parishes along the newly reinforced Polish-Russian border on the Dnepr River in the time of Catherine II set the stage for the uprising. As Uniate religious practices had become more Latinized, Orthodoxy in this region drew even closer into dependence on the Russian Orthodox Church. Confessional tensions also reflected opposing Polish and Russian political allegiances.

After the annexation of the Crimean Khanate in 1783, the region was settled by migrants from other parts of Ukraine. Despite the promises of Ukrainian autonomy given by the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the Ukrainian elite and the Cossacks never received the freedoms and the autonomy they were expecting from Imperial Russia. However, within the Empire, Ukrainians rose to the highest offices of Russian state, and the Russian Orthodox Church. At a later period, the tsarist regime carried the policy of Russification of Ukrainian lands, suppressing the use of the Ukrainian language in print, and in public.

19th century, World War I and revolution

In the 19th century Ukraine was a rural area largely ignored by Russia and Austria. With growing urbanization and modernization, and a cultural trend toward nationalism inspired by romanticism, a Ukrainian intelligentsia committed to national rebirth and social justice emerged. The serf-turned-national-poet Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861) and the political theorist Mykhailo Drahomanov (1841–1895) led the growing nationalist movement.

It is important to note though that after Ukraine and Crimea became aligned with the Russian Empire Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), significant German immigration German Russian Colonies occurred after it was encouraged by Catherine the Great and immediate successors. Immigration was encouraged into Ukraine and especially the Crimea by Catherine II Catherine II of Russia in her proclamation of open migration to the Russian Empire. Immigration was encouraged for Germans and other Europeans to thin the previously dominant Turk population and encourage more complete use of farmland.

Nationalist and socialist parties developed in the late 19th century. Austrian Galicia, which enjoyed substantial political freedom under the relatively lenient rule of the Habsburgs, became the center of the nationalist movement. The Russian government responded to nationalism by placing severe restrictions on the Ukrainian language.

However, with Western Ukraine's defeat in the Polish-Ukrainian War followed by the failure of the further Polish offensive that was repelled by the Bolsheviks. According to the Peace of Riga concluded between the Soviets and Poland, western Ukraine was officially incorporated into Poland who in turn recognized the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in March 1919, that later became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union in December 1922.

Inter-war Polish Ukraine

The war in Ukraine continued for another two years; by 1921, however, most of Ukraine had been taken over by the Soviet Union, while Galicia and Volhynia were incorporated into independent Poland. A powerful underground Ukrainian nationalist movement rose in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s, led by the Ukrainian Military Organization and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The movement attracted a militant following among students and harassed the Polish authorities. Legal Ukrainian parties, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, an active press, and a business sector also flourished in Poland. Economic conditions improved in the 1920s, but the region suffered from the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Inter-war Soviet Ukraine

Moscow encouraged a national renaissance in literature and the arts, under the aegis of the Ukrainization policy pursued by the national Communist leadership of Mykola Skrypnyk (1872–1933). Seeing the exhausted society, the Soviet government remained very flexible during the 1920s. Thus, the Ukrainian culture and language enjoyed a revival, as Ukrainisation became a local implementation of the Soviet-wide policy of Korenisation (literally indigenisation) policy. The Bolsheviks were also committed to introducing universal health care, education and social-security benefits, as well as the right to work and housing. Women's rights were greatly increased through new laws aimed to wipe away centuries-old inequalities. Most of these policies were sharply reversed by the early 1930s after Joseph Stalin gradually consolidated power to become the de facto communist party leader.

The communists gave a privileged position to manual labor, the largest class in the cities, where Russians dominated. The typical worker was more attached to class identity than to ethnicity. Although there were incidents of ethnic friction among workers (in addition to Ukrainians and Russians there were significant numbers of Poles, Germans, Jews, and others in the Ukrainian workforce), industrial laborers had already adopted Russian culture and language to a significant extent. Workers whose ethnicity was Ukrainian were not attracted to campaigns of Ukrainianization or de-Russification in meaningful numbers, but remained loyal members of the Soviet working class. There was no significant antagonism between workers identifying themselves as Ukrainian or Russian. Starting from the late 1920s, Ukraine was involved in the Soviet industrialization and the republic's industrial output quadrupled during the 1930s.

The industrialization had a heavy cost for the peasantry, demographically a backbone of the Ukrainian nation. To satisfy the state's need for increased food supplies and to finance industrialization, Stalin instituted a program of collectivization of agriculture as the state combined the peasants' lands and animals into collective farms and enforced the policies by the regular troops and secret police. Those who resisted were arrested and deported and the increased production quotas were placed on the peasantry. The collectivization had a devastating effect on agricultural productivity. As the members of the collective farms were not allowed to receive any grain until sometimes unrealistic quotas were met, starvation in the Soviet Union became more common. In 1932–33, millions starved to death in a famine known as Holodomor or "Great Famine". Scholars are divided as to whether this famine fits the definition of genocide, but the Ukrainian parliament and other countries recognize it as such.

The famine claimed up to 10 million of Ukrainian lives as peasants' food stocks were forcibly removed by the Soviet government by the NKVD secret police. Some explanations for the causes for the excess deaths in rural areas of Ukraine and Kazakhstan during 1931–34 has been given by dividing the causes into three groups: objective non-policy-related factors, like the drought of 1931 and poor weather in 1932; inadvertent result of policies with other objectives, like rapid industrialization, socialization of livestock, and neglected crop rotation patterns; and deaths caused intentionally by a starvation policy.

The Communist leadership perceived famine not as a humanitarian catastrophe but as a means of class struggle and used starvation as a punishment tool to force peasants into collective farms. It was largely the same groups of individuals who were responsible for the mass killing operations during the civil war, collectivization, and the Great Terror. These groups were associated with Efim Georgievich Evdokimov (1891–1939) and operated in Ukraine during the civil war, in the North Caucasus in the 1920s, and in the Secret Operational Division within General State Political Administration (OGPU) in 1929–31. Evdokimov transferred into Communist Party administration in 1934, when he became Party secretary for North Caucasus Krai. But he appears to have continued advising Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov on security matters, and the latter relied on Evdokimov's former colleagues to carry out the mass killing operations that are known as the Great Terror in 1937–38.

With Joseph Stalin's change of course in the late 1920s, however, Moscow's toleration of Ukrainian national identity came to an end. Systematic state terror of the 1930s destroyed Ukraine's writers, artists, and intellectuals; the Communist Party of Ukraine was purged of its "nationalist deviationists". Two waves of Stalinist political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union (1929–34 and 1936–38) resulted in the killing of some 681,692 people; this included four-fifths of the Ukrainian cultural elite and three quarters of all the Red Army's higher-ranking officers.

World War II

Following the Invasion of Poland in September 1939, German and Soviet troops divided the territory of Poland. Thus, Eastern Galicia and Volhynia with their Ukrainian population became reunited with the rest of Ukraine. The unification that Ukraine achieved for the first time in its history was a decisive event in the history of the nation.

After France surrendered to Germany, Romania ceded Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to Soviet demands. The Ukrainian SSR incorporated northern and southern districts of Bessarabia, the northern Bukovina, and the Soviet-occupied Hertsa region. But it ceded the western part of the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to the newly created Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. All these territorial gains were internationally recognized by the Paris peace treaties of 1947.

German armies invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, thereby initiating four straight years of incessant total war. The Axis allies initially advanced against desperate but unsuccessful efforts of the Red Army. In the encirclement battle of Kiev, the city was acclaimed as a "Hero City", for the fierce resistance by the Red Army and by the local population. More than 600,000 Soviet soldiers (or one quarter of the Western Front) were killed or taken captive there.

Although the wide majority of Ukrainians fought alongside the Red Army and Soviet resistance, some elements of the Ukrainian nationalist underground created an anti-Soviet nationalist formation in Galicia, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (1942) that at times engaged the Nazi forces and continued to fight the USSR in the years after the war. Using guerilla war tactics, the insurgents targeted for assassination and terror those who they perceived as representing, or cooperating at any level with, the Soviet state.

Kiev At the same time another nationalist movement fought alongside the Nazis. In total, the number of ethnic Ukrainians that fought in the ranks of the Soviet Army is estimated from 4.5 million to 7 million. The pro-Soviet partisan guerilla resistance in Ukraine is estimated to number at 47,800 from the start of occupation to 500,000 at its peak in 1944; with about 50 percent of them being ethnic Ukrainians. Generally, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army's figures are very undependable, ranging anywhere from 15,000 to as much as 100,000 fighters.

Initially, the Germans were even received as liberators by some western Ukrainians, who had only joined the Soviet Union in 1939. However, brutal German rule in the occupied territories eventually turned its supporters against the occupation. Nazi administrators of conquered Soviet territories made little attempt to exploit the population of Ukrainian territories' dissatisfaction with Stalinist political and economic policies. Instead, the Nazis preserved the collective-farm system, systematically carried out genocidal policies against Jews, deported others to work in Germany, and began a systematic depopulation of Ukraine to prepare it for German colonization, which included a food blockade on Kiev.

The vast majority of the fighting in World War II took place on the Eastern Front, and Nazi Germany suffered 93 percent of all casualties there. The total losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian population during the war are estimated between five and eight million, including over half a million Jews killed by the Einsatzgruppen, sometimes with the help of local collaborators. Of the estimated 8.7 million Soviet troops who fell in battle against the Nazis, 1.4 million were ethnic Ukrainians. So to this day, Victory Day is celebrated as one of ten Ukrainian national holidays.

Post-World War II

The republic was heavily damaged by the war, and it required significant efforts to recover. More than 700 cities and towns and 28,000 villages were destroyed. The situation was worsened by a famine in 1946–47 caused by the drought and the infrastructure breakdown that took away tens of thousands of lives. In 1945 Ukraine was one of the founding members of the United Nations organization. First Soviet computer MESM was built in Kiev Institute of Electro technology and became operational in 1950.

According to statistics, as of 1 January 1953, Ukrainians were second only to Russians among adult "special deportees", comprising 20% of the total. Apart from Ukrainians, over 450,000 ethnic Germans from Ukraine and more than 200,000 Crimean Tatars were victims of forced deportations. Following the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the new leader of the USSR. Being the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukrainian SSR in 1938-49, Khrushchev was intimately familiar with the republic and after taking power union-wide, he began to emphasize the friendship between the Ukrainian and Russian nations. In 1954, the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav was widely celebrated, and in particular, Crimea was transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.

Already by 1950, the republic fully surpassed pre-war levels of industry and production. During the 1946-1950 a five year plan nearly 20 percent of the Soviet budget was invested in Soviet Ukraine, a five percent increase from prewar plans. As a result the Ukrainian workforce rose 33.2 percent from 1940 to 1955 while industrial output grew 2.2 times in that same period. Soviet Ukraine soon became a European leader in industrial production. It also became an important center of the Soviet arms industry and high-tech research. Such an important role resulted in a major influence of the local elite.

Many members of the Soviet leadership came from Ukraine, most notably Leonid Brezhnev, who would later oust Khrushchev and become the Soviet leader from 1964 to 1982, as well as many prominent Soviet sportspeople, scientists and artists. On April 26, 1986, a reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history. At the time of the accident seven million people lived in the contaminated territories, including 2.2 million in Ukraine. After the accident, a new city, Slavutych, was built outside the exclusion zone to house and support the employees of the plant which was decommissioned in 2000. A report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization attributed 56 direct deaths to the accident and estimated that there may have been 4,000 extra cancer deaths.

Independence

On July 16, 1990, the new parliament adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. The declaration established the principles of the self-determination of the Ukrainian nation, its democracy, political and economic independence, and the priority of Ukrainian law on the Ukrainian territory over Soviet law. A month earlier, a similar declaration was adopted by the parliament of the Russian SFSR. This started a period of confrontation between the central Soviet, and new republican authorities. In August 1991, a conservative faction among the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union attempted a coup to remove Mikhail Gorbachev and to restore the Communist party's power. After the attempt failed, on August 24, 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence in which the parliament declared Ukraine as an independent democratic state.

A referendum and the first presidential elections took place on December 1, 1991. That day, more than 90 percent of the Ukrainian people expressed their support for the Act of Independence, and they elected the chairman of the parliament, Leonid Kravchuk to serve as the first President of the country. At the meeting in Brest, Belarus on December 8, followed by Alma Ata meeting on December 21, the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, formally dissolved the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Although the idea of an independent Ukrainian nation had previously not existed in the 20th century in the minds of international policy makers, Ukraine was initially viewed as a republic with favorable economic conditions in comparison to the other regions of the Soviet Union. However, the country experienced deeper economic slowdown than some of the other former Soviet Republics. During the recession, Ukraine lost 60 percent of its GDP from 1991 to 1999, and suffered five-digit inflation rates. Dissatisfied with the economic conditions, as well as the amounts of crime and corruption, Ukrainians protested and organized strikes.

The Ukrainian economy stabilized by the end of the 1990s. A new currency, the hryvnia, was introduced in 1996. Since 2000, the country has enjoyed steady real economic growth averaging about seven percent annually. A new Constitution of Ukraine was adopted under second President Leonid Kuchma in 1996, which turned Ukraine into a semi-presidential republic and established a stable political system. Kuchma was, however, criticized by opponents for corruption, electoral fraud, discouraging free speech and concentrating too much of power in his office. He also repeatedly transferred public property into the hands of loyal oligarchs.

In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, then Prime Minister, was declared the winner of the presidential elections, which had been largely rigged, as the Supreme Court of Ukraine later ruled. The results caused a public outcry in support of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who challenged the outcome of the elections. This resulted in the peaceful Orange Revolution, bringing Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to power, while casting Viktor Yanukovych in opposition. Yanukovych returned to a position of power in 2006, when he became Prime Minister in the Alliance of National Unity, until snap elections in September 2007 made Tymoshenko Prime Minister again. Yanukovych was elected President in 2010.

Conflicts with Russia over the price of natural gas briefly stopped all gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 and again in 2009, leading to gas shortages in several other European countries.

Geography of Ukraine

At 603,700 square kilometers (233,100 sq mi) and with a coastline of 2,782 kilometers (1,729 mi), Ukraine is the world's 44th-largest country (after the Central African Republic, before Madagascar). It is the largest wholly-European country and the second largest country in Europe (after the European part of Russia, before metropolitan France).

The Ukrainian landscape consists mostly of fertile plains (or steppes) and plateaus, crossed by rivers such as the Dnieper (Dnipro), Seversky Donets, Dniester and the Southern Buh as they flow south into the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov. To the southwest, the delta of the Danube forms the border with Romania. The country's only mountains are the Carpathian Mountains in the west, of which the highest is the Hora Hoverla at 2,061 meters (6,762 ft), and those on the Crimean peninsula, in the extreme south along the coast.

Climate

Ukraine has a mostly temperate continental climate, although a more Mediterranean climate is found on the southern Crimean coast. Precipitation is disproportionately distributed; it is highest in the west and north and lowest in the east and southeast. Western Ukraine receives around 1,200 millimeters (47.2 in) of precipitation annually, while Crimea receives around 400 millimeters (15.7 in). Winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland. Average annual temperatures range from 5.5 °C (41.9 °F)–7 °C (44.6 °F) in the north, to 11 °C (51.8 °F)–13 °C (55.4 °F) in the south.

Regionalism

There are not only clear regional differences on questions of identity but historical cleavages remain evident at the level of individual social identification. Attitudes toward the most important political issue, relations with Russia, differed strongly between Lviv, identifying more with Ukrainian nationalism and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Donetsk, predominantly Russian orientated and favorable to the Soviet era, while in central and southern Ukraine, as well as Kiev, such divisions were less important and there was less antipathy toward people from other regions (a poll by the Research & Branding Group held March 2010 showed that the attitude of the citizens of Donetsk to the citizens of Lviv was 79% positive and that the attitude of the citizens of Lviv to the citizens of Donetsk was 88% positive). However, all were united by an overarching Ukrainian identity based on shared economic difficulties, showing that other attitudes are determined more by culture and politics than by demographic differences.

Government and politics

Ukraine is a republic under a mixed semi-parliamentary semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The President is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is the formal head of state.

Ukraine's legislative branch includes the 450-seat unicameral parliament; the Verkhovna Rada.The parliament is primarily responsible for the formation of the executive branch and the Cabinet of Ministers, which is headed by the Prime Minister. However, the President still retains the authority to nominate the Ministers of the Foreign Affairs and of Defense for parliamentary approval, as well as the power to appoint the Prosecutor General and the head of the Security Service.

Laws, acts of the parliament and the cabinet, presidential decrees, and acts of the Crimean parliament may be abrogated by the Constitutional Court, should they be found to violate the Constitution of Ukraine. Other normative acts are subject to judicial review. The Supreme Court is the main body in the system of courts of general jurisdiction. Local self-government is officially guaranteed. Local councils and city mayors are popularly elected and exercise control over local budgets. The heads of regional and district administrations are appointed by the President in accordance with the proposals of the Prime-Minister. This system virtually requires an agreement between the President and the Prime-Minister, and has in the past led to problems, such as when President Yushchenko used a legally controversial ways to evade the law by appointing no actual governors or the local leaders, but so called 'temporarily acting' officers, thus evading the need to seek a compromise with the Prime-Minister. This practice was very controversial and required review by the Constitutional Court.

Ukraine has a large number of political parties, many of which have tiny memberships and are unknown to the general public. Small parties often join in multi-party coalitions (electoral blocs) for the purpose of participating in parliamentary elections.

Courts and Law Enforcement in Ukraine

The courts enjoy legal, financial and constitutional freedom guaranteed by measures adopted in Ukrainian law in 2002. Judges are largely well protected from dismissal (except in the instance of gross misconduct). Court justices are appointed by presidential decree for an initial period of five years, after which Ukraine's Supreme Council confirms their positions for life in an attempt to insulate them from politics. Although there are still problems with the performance of the system, it is considered to have been much improved since Ukraine's independence in 1991. The Supreme Court is regarded as being an independent and impartial body, and has on several occasions ruled against the Ukrainian government. This has largely come about as a result of a Ukraine-Ohio Rule of Law Program which was established in 1994, and brought together lawyers and judges from the American state of Ohio (including members of the Ohio Supreme Court) with their Ukrainian counterparts.

Prosecutors in Ukraine have greater powers than in most European countries, and according to the European Commission for Democracy through Law 'the role and functions of the Prosecutor's Office is not in accordance with Council of Europe standards". In addition to this, from 2005 until 2008 the criminal judicial system maintained a 99.5 percent conviction rate from, equal to the conviction rate of the Soviet Union, with suspects often being incarcerated for long periods before trial. On March 24, 2010 President Viktor Yanukovych formed an expert group to make recommendations how to "clean up the current mess and adopt a law on court organization. One day after setting this commission Yanukovych stated "We can no longer disgrace our country with such a court system.

Since January 1, 2010 it is allowed to hold court proceedings in Russian on mutual consent of parties. Citizens, who are unable to speak Ukrainian or Russian are allowed to use their native language or the services of a translator. Previously all court proceedings were required to be held in Ukrainian, which is the nation's only language with any truly official administrative status. Law enforcement agencies in Ukraine are typically organized under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They consist primarily of the national police force (Мiлiцiя) and various specialized units and agencies such as the State Border Guard and the Coast Guard services. In recent years the law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, have faced criticism for their heavy handling of the 2004 Orange Revolution, this criticism stems from the use by President Kuchma government's contemplated use of Berkut special operations units and internal troops in a plan to put an end to demonstrations on Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti. The actions of the government saw many thousands of police officers mobilized and stationed throughout the capital, primarily to dissuade protesters from challenging the state's authority but also to provide a quick reaction force in case of need; most officers were armed and another 10,000 were held in reserve nearby. Bloodshed was only avoided when Lt. Gen. Sergei Popkov heeded his colleagues' calls to withdraw.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also responsible for the maintenance of the State Security Service; Ukraine's domestic intelligence agency, which has on occasion been accused of acting like a secret police force serving to protect the country's political elite from media criticism. On the other hand however, it is widely accepted that members of the service provided vital information about government plans to the leaders of the Orange Revolution in order to prevent the collapse of the movement.

Foreign relations of Ukraine - International membership of Ukraine and Ukraine and the European Union

In 1999–2001, Ukraine served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Historically, Soviet Ukraine joined the United Nations in 1945 as one of the original members following a Western compromise with the Soviet Union, which had asked for seats for all 15 of its union republics. Ukraine has consistently supported peaceful, negotiated settlements to disputes. It has participated in the quadripartite talks on the conflict in Moldova and promoted a peaceful resolution to conflict in the post-Soviet state of Georgia. Ukraine also has made a substantial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations since 1992.

Ukraine currently considers Euro-Atlantic integration its primary foreign policy objective, but in practice balances its relationship with Europe and the United States with strong ties to Russia. The European Union's Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Ukraine went into force on March 1, 1998. The European Union (EU) has encouraged Ukraine to implement the PCA fully before discussions begin on an association agreement. The EU Common Strategy toward Ukraine, issued at the EU Summit in December 1999 in Helsinki, recognizes Ukraine's long-term aspirations but does not discuss association. On January 31, 1992, Ukraine joined the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--OSCE), and on March 10, 1992, it became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Ukraine also has a close relationship with NATO and had previously declared interest in eventual membership; this however was removed from the government's foreign policy agenda, upon election of Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency, in 2010. It is the most active member of the Partnership for Peace (PfP). Former president Viktor Yushchenko indicated that he supports Ukraine joining the EU in the future. (Ukraine and the European Union).

Ukraine maintains peaceful and constructive relations with all its neighbors; it has especially close ties with Russia and Poland, although relations with the former are complicated by energy dependence and payment arrears.

Administrative divisions

The system of Ukrainian subdivisions reflects the country's status as a unitary state (as stated in the country's constitution) with unified legal and administrative regimes for each unit. Ukraine is subdivided into twenty-four oblasts (provinces) and one autonomous republic (avtonomna respublika), Crimea. Additionally, the cities of Kiev, the capital, and Sevastopol, both have a special legal status. The 24 oblasts and Crimea are subdivided into 490 raions (districts), or second-level administrative units. The average area of a Ukrainian raion is 1,200 square kilometers (460 sq mi); the average population of a raion is 52,000 people. Urban areas (cities) can either be subordinated to the state (as in the case of Kiev and Sevastopol), the oblast or raion administrations, depending on their population and socio-economic importance. Lower administrative units include urban-type settlements, which are similar to rural communities, but are more urbanized, including industrial enterprises, educational facilities, and transport connections, and villages.

Military of Ukraine

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a 780,000 man military force on its territory, equipped with the third-largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. In May 1992, Ukraine signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in which the country agreed to give up all nuclear weapons to Russia for "disposal" and to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. Ukraine ratified the treaty in 1994, and by 1996 the country became free of nuclear weapons.

Ukraine took consistent steps toward reduction of conventional weapons. It signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which called for reduction of tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles (army forces were reduced to 300,000). The country plans to convert the current conscript-based military into a professional volunteer military not later than in 2011.

Ukraine has been playing an increasingly larger role in peacekeeping operations. Ukrainian troops are deployed in Kosovo as part of the Ukrainian-Polish Battalion. A Ukrainian unit was deployed in Lebanon, as part of UN Interim Force enforcing the mandated ceasefire agreement. There was also a maintenance and training battalion deployed in Sierra Leone. In 2003–05, a Ukrainian unit was deployed in Iraq, as part of the Multinational force in Iraq under Polish command. The total Ukrainian military deployment around the world is 562 servicemen. Military units of other states participate in multinational military exercises with Ukrainian forces in Ukraine regularly, including U.S. military forces.

Following independence, Ukraine declared itself a neutral state. The country has had a limited military partnership with Russia, other CIS countries and a partnership with NATO since 1994. In the 2000s, the government was leaning towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and a deeper cooperation with the alliance was set by the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan signed in 2002. It was later agreed that the question of joining NATO should be answered by a national referendum at some point in the future. Current President Viktor Yanukovych considers the current level of co-operation between Ukraine and NATO sufficient. Yanukovich is against Ukraine joining NATO. During the 2008 Bucharest summit NATO declared that Ukraine will become a member of NATO, whenever it wants and when it would correspond to the criteria for the accession.

Demographics

According to the Ukrainian Census of 2001, ethnic Ukrainians make up 77.8% of the population. Other significant ethnic groups are Russians (17.3%), Belarusians (0.6%), Moldovans (0.5%), Crimean Tatars (0.5%), Bulgarians (0.4%), Hungarians (0.3%), Romanians (0.3%), Poles (0.3%), Jews (0.2%), Armenians (0.2%), Greeks (0.2%) and Tatars (0.2%). The industrial regions in the east and southeast are the most heavily populated, and about 67.2 percent of the population lives in urban areas.

Demographic crisis

Ukraine has been in a demographic crisis since the 1980s because of its high death rate and a low birth rate. The population is shrinking 150,000 a year because of the lowest birth rate in Europe combined with one of the highest death rates in Europe.

In 2007, the country's population was declining at the fourth fastest rate in the world.

In 2008 more than 500,000 children were born in Ukraine, 20 percent more than in 2004. Infant mortality rates have also dropped from 10.4 deaths to 8.9 per 1,000 children under one year of age. This is still high in comparison, however, to many other nations.

According to the United Nations poverty and poor health care are the two biggest problems Ukrainian children face. More than 26 percent of families with one child, 42 percent of families with two children and 77 percent of families with four and more children live in poverty, according to United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. In November 2009 Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Nina Karpacheva stated that the lives of many of Ukraine's 8.2 million children remain tough.

Fertility and Natalist policies

The current birth rate in Ukraine is 9.55 births/1,000 populations, and the death rate is 15.93 deaths/1,000 populations. The phenomenon of lowest-low fertility, defined as total fertility below 1.3, is emerging throughout Europe and is attributed by many to postponement of the initiation of childbearing. Ukraine, where total fertility (a very low 1.1 in 2001), is one of the world's lowest, shows that there is more than one pathway to lowest-low fertility. Although Ukraine has undergone immense political and economic transformations during 1991-2004, it has maintained a young age at first birth and nearly universal childbearing. Analysis of official national statistics and the Ukrainian Reproductive Health Survey show that fertility declined to very low levels without a transition to a later pattern of childbearing. Findings from focus group interviews suggest explanations of the early fertility pattern. These findings include the persistence of traditional norms for childbearing and the roles of men and women, concerns about medical complications and infertility at a later age, and the link between early fertility and early marriage.

To help mitigate the declining population, the government continues to increase child support payments. Thus it provides one-time payments of 12,250 Hryvnias for the first child, 25,000 Hryvnias for the second and 50,000 Hryvnias for the third and fourth, along with monthly payments of 154 Hryvnias per child. The demographic trend is showing signs of improvement, as the birth rate has been steadily growing since 2001. Net population growth over the first nine months of 2007 was registered in five provinces of the country (out of 24), and population shrinkage was showing signs of stabilizing nationwide. In 2007 the highest birth rates were in the Western Oblasts

Largest municipalities in Ukraine

City Name in Ukrainian Urban Metro
1 Kiev (Kyiv) (Київ) 2,786,518 (2010) 3,648,000 (2009)
2 Kharkiv (Xаркiв) 1,440,676 (2010) 1,732,400 (2009)
3 Dnipropetrovsk (днiпропетровськ) 1,006,276 (2010) 1,859,500 (2009)
4 Odessa (Одеса) 1,005,591(2010) 1,546,600 (2009)
5 Donetsk (Донецьк) 977,257 (2010) 2,009,700 (2009)
6 Zaporizhia (Запорiжжя) 776,918 (2010) 817,900 (2009)
7 Lviv (Львiв) 758,351 (2010) 1,498,000 (2009)
8 Kryvyi Rih (Кривий рiг) 670,068 (2010) 1,010,000 (2009)
9 Mykolaiv (Миколаiв) 499,659 (2010) 502,700 (2009)
10 Mariupol (Марiуполь) 489,702 (2010) 519,000 (2009)
11 Luhansk (Луганськ) 470,152 (2010) 501,200 (2009)
12 Makiivka (Макiiвка) 398,058 (2010) Part of Donetsk metro
13 Vinnytsia (Вiнниця) 369,200 (2010) 664,000 (2009)
14 Simferopol (Сiмферополь) 359,551 (2010) 385,000 (2009)
15 Sevastopol (Севастополь) 380,301 (2010) 395,000 (2009)
16 Kherson (Xерсон) 340,525 (2010) 567,600 (2009)
17 Poltava (Полтава) 2 98,492 (2010) 462,400 (2009)
18 Chernihiv (Чернiгiв) 296,896 (2010) 305,000 (2009)
19 Cherkasy (Черкаси) 287,591(2010) 287,741 (2009)
20 Sumy (Cумн) 272,899 (2010) 283,700 (2009)
Coat of Arms of Ukraine

Religion

The dominant religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which is currently split between three Church bodies: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autonomous church body under the Patriarch of Moscow, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

A distant second by the number of the followers is the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which practices a similar liturgical and spiritual tradition as Eastern Orthodoxy, but is in communion with the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church and recognizes the primacy of the Pope as head of the Church.

Additionally, there are 863 Roman Catholic communities, and 474 clergy members serving some one million Roman Catholics in Ukraine. The group forms some 2.19 percent of the population and consists mainly of ethnic Poles and Hungarians, who live predominantly in the western regions of the country.

Protestant Christians also form around 2.19 percent of the population. Protestant numbers have grown greatly since Ukrainian independence. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest group, with more than 150,000 members and about 3000 clergy. The second largest Protestant church is the Ukrainian Church of Evangelical faith (Pentecostals) with 110000 members and over 1500 local churches and over 2000 clergy, but there also exist other Pentecostal groups and unions and together all Pentecostals are over 300,000, with over 3000 local churches. Also there are many Pentecostal high education schools such as the Lviv Theological Seminary and the Kiev Bible Institute. Other groups include Calvinists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists and Seventh-day Adventists. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) is also present.

There are an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Ukraine, and about 250,000 of them are Crimean Tatars. There are 487 registered Muslim communities, 368 of them on the Crimean peninsula. In addition, some 50,000 Muslims live in Kiev; mostly foreign-born.

The Jewish community is a tiny fraction of what it was before World War II. The cities with the largest populations of Jews in 1926 were Odessa, 154,000 or 36.5% of the total population; and Kiev, 140,500 or 27.3%. The 2001 census indicated that there are 103,600 Jews in Ukraine, although community leaders claimed that the population could be as large as 300,000. There are no statistics on what share of the Ukrainian Jews are observant, but Orthodox Judaism has the strongest presence in Ukraine. Smaller Reform and Conservative Jewish (Masorti) communities exist as well.

Economy of Ukraine

In Soviet times, the economy of Ukraine was the second largest in the Soviet Union, being an important industrial and agricultural component of the country's planned economy. With the collapse of the Soviet system, the country moved from a planned economy to a market economy. The transition process was difficult for the majority of the population which plunged into poverty. Ukraine's economy contracted severely following the years after the Soviet collapse. Day to day life for the average person living in Ukraine was a struggle. A significant number of citizens in rural Ukraine survived by growing their own food, often working two or more jobs and buying the basic necessities through the barter economy.

In 1991, the government liberalized most prices to combat widespread product shortages, and was successful in overcoming the problem. At the same time, the government continued to subsidize state-run industries and agriculture by uncovered monetary emission. The loose monetary policies of the early 1990s pushed inflation to hyperinflationary levels. For the year 1993, Ukraine holds the world record for inflation in one calendar year. Those living on fixed incomes suffered the most.

Prices stabilized only after the introduction of new currency, the hryvnia, in 1996. The country was also slow in implementing structural reforms. Following independence, the government formed a legal framework for privatization. However, widespread resistance to reforms within the government and from a significant part of the population soon stalled the reform efforts. A large number of state-owned enterprises were exempt from the privatization process.

In the meantime, by 1999, the GDP had fallen to less than 40 percent of the 1991 level, but recovered to slightly above the 100 percent mark by the end of 2006.In the early 2000s, the economy showed strong export-based growth of 5 to 10 percent, with industrial production growing more than 10 percent per year. Ukraine was hit by the economic crisis of 2008 and in November 2008, the IMF approved a stand-by loan of $16.5 billion for the country.

Ukraine's 2007 GDP (PPP), as calculated by the CIA, is ranked 29th in the world and estimated at $359.9 billion. Its GDP per capita in 2008 according to the CIA was $7,800 (in PPP terms), ranked 83rd in the world. Nominal GDP (in U.S. dollars, calculated at market exchange rate) was $198 billion, ranked 41st in the world. By July 2008 the average nominal salary in Ukraine reached 1,930 hryvnias per month. Despite remaining lower than in neighboring central European countries, the salary income growth in 2008 stood at 36.8 percent According to the UNDP in 2003 4.9 percent of the Ukrainian population lived under 2 US dollar a day[144] and 19.5 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line that same year.

Ukraine produces nearly all types of transportation vehicles and spacecraft. Antonov airplanes and KrAZ trucks are exported to many countries. The majority of Ukrainian exports are marketed to the European Union and CIS. Since independence, Ukraine has maintained its own space agency, the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NSAU). Ukraine became an active participant in scientific space exploration and remote sensing missions. Between 1991 and 2007, Ukraine has launched six self made satellites and 101 launch vehicles, and continues to design spacecraft.

The country imports most energy supplies, especially oil and natural gas, and to a large extent depends on Russia as its energy supplier. While 25 percent of the natural gas in Ukraine comes from internal sources, about 35 percent comes from Russia and the remaining 40 percent from Central Asia through transit routes that Russia controls. At the same time, 85 percent of the Russian gas is delivered to Western Europe through Ukraine.

The World Bank classifies Ukraine as a middle-income state. Significant issues include underdeveloped infrastructure and transportation, corruption and bureaucracy. In 2007 the Ukrainian stock market recorded the second highest growth in the world of 130 percent. According to the CIA, in 2006 the market capitalization of the Ukrainian stock market was $111.8 billion. Growing sectors of the Ukrainian economy include the information technology (IT) market, which topped all other Central and Eastern European countries in 2007, growing some 40 percent.

Tourism

Tourism in Ukraine occupies 8th place in the world by the number of tourists visiting, according to the World Tourism Organization rankings. Ukraine is a destination on the crossroads between central and Eastern Europe, between north and south. It borders Russia and is not far from Turkey. It has mountain ranges - the Carpathian Mountains suitable for skiing, hiking, fishing and hunting. The coastline on the Black Sea is a popular summer destination for vacationers. Ukraine has vineyards where they produce native wines, ruins of ancient castles, historical parks, Orthodox and Catholic churches as well as a few mosques and synagogues. Kiev, the country's capital city has many unique structures such as Saint Sophia Cathedral and broad boulevards. There are other cities well-known to tourists such as the harbor town Odessa and the old city of Lviv in the west. The Crimea, a little "continent" of its own, is a popular vacation destination for tourists for swimming or suntaning on the Black Sea with its warm climate, rugged mountains, plateaus and ancient ruins. Cities there include: Sevastopol and Yalta - location of the peace conference at the end of World War II. Visitors can also take cruise tours by ship on Dnieper River from Kiev to the Black Sea coastline. Ukrainian cuisine has a long history and offers a wide variety of original dishes.

The Seven Wonders of Ukraine are the seven historical and cultural monuments of Ukraine; the sites were chosen by the general public through an internet-based vote.

Energy - Nuclear power in Ukraine

Ukraine is one of Europe's largest energy consumers; it consumes almost double the energy of Germany, per unit of GDP. A great share of energy supply in Ukraine comes from nuclear power, with the country receiving most of its nuclear fuel from Russia. The remaining oil and gas, is also imported from the former Soviet Union. Ukraine is heavily dependent on its nuclear energy. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, is located in Ukraine.

In 2006, the government planned to build 11 new reactors by the year 2030, in effect, almost doubling the current amount of nuclear power capacity. Ukraine's power sector is the twelfth-largest in the world in terms of installed capacity, with 54 gigawatts (GW). Renewable energy still plays a very modest role in electrical output. In 2007 47.4% of power came from coal and gas (approx 20% gas), 47.5% from nuclear (92.5 TWh) and 5% from hydro.

Currently the country has four active nuclear power stations, located in Kuznetsovsk, Zaporizhia, Yuzhnoukrainsk and Netishyn. In addition to these active plants, a fifth reactor complex had been planned for the Crimea, but construction was suspended indefinitely in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, a major nuclear incident which took place at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station, 110 km north of Kiev.

All of Ukraine's RBMK reactors (the type involved in the Chernobyl disaster), were located at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. All of the reactors there have been shutdown leaving only VVER reactors operating in the country, which are much safer than RBMK units. Three of these new-type reactors were built since 1991 in the independent Ukraine (with the first one in 1995), whilst the other sixteen were inherited from the Soviet Union.

Transportation in Ukraine and Ukrainian Railways

Most of the Ukrainian road system has not been upgraded since the Soviet era, and is now outdated. The Ukrainian government has pledged to build some 4,500 km (2,800 mi) of motorways by 2012. In total, Ukrainian paved roads stretch for 164,732 kilometres (102,360 mi). The network of major routes, marked with the letter 'M' for 'International' (Ukrainian: Міжнародний), extends nationwide and connects all the major cities of Ukraine as well as providing cross-border routes to the country's neighbors. Currently there are only two true motorway standard highways in Ukraine; a 175 km stretch of motorway from Kharkiv to Dnipropetrovsk, and a section of the M03 which extends 18 km (12 miles) from Kiev to Boryspil, where the city's international airport is located.

Rail transport in Ukraine plays the role of connecting all major urban areas, port facilities and industrial centers with neighboring countries. The heaviest concentration of railroad track is located in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Although the amount of freight transported by rail fell by 7.4 percent in 1995 in comparison with 1994, Ukraine is still one of the world's highest rail users. The total amount of railroad track in Ukraine extends for 22,473 kilometres (13,964 mi), of which 9,250 kilometres (5,750 mi) is electrified. Currently the state has a monopoly on the provision of passenger rail transport, and all trains, other than those with cooperation of other foreign companies on international routes, are operated by its company 'Ukrzaliznytsia'.

The aviation section in Ukraine is developing very quickly, having recently established a visa-free program for EU nationals and citizens of a number of other 'Western' nations, the nation's aviation sector is handling a significantly increased number of travelers. Additionally, the granting of the Euro 2012 football tournament to Poland and Ukraine as joint hosts has prompted the government to invest huge amounts of money into transport infrastructure, and in particular airports.

Currently there are three major new airport terminals under construction in Donetsk, Lviv and Kiev, a new airport has already opened in Kharkiv and Kiev's Boryspil International Airport has recently begun operations at Terminal F, the first of its two new international terminals. Ukraine has a number of airlines, the largest of which are the nation's flag carriers, Aerosvit and UIA. Antonov Airlines, a subsidiary of the Antonov Aerospace Design Bureau is the only operator of the world's largest fixed wing aircraft, the An-225.

Maritime transport is mainly riverine, with passenger services mainly provided on the Dnieper, Danube and Pripyat rivers, as well as a number of their tributaries. Most large cities have a river port and cater for the embarkation and disembarkation of passengers as well as the loading and unloading of freight and raw materials. International maritime travel is mainly provided through the Port of Odessa, from where ferries sail regularly to Istanbul, Varna and Haifa. The largest ferry company presently operating these routes is Ukrferry.

Education

According to the Ukrainian constitution, access to free education is granted to all citizens. Complete general secondary education is compulsory in the state schools which constitute the overwhelming majority. Free higher education in state and communal educational establishments is provided on a competitive basis. There is also a small number of accredited private secondary and higher education institutions.

Because of the Soviet Union's emphasis on total access of education for all citizens, which continues today, the literacy rate is an estimated 99.4%. Since 2005, an eleven-year school program has been replaced with a twelve-year one: primary education takes four years to complete (starting at age six), middle education (secondary) takes five years to complete; upper secondary then takes three years. In the 12th grade, students take Government Tests, which are also referred to as school-leaving exams. These tests are later used for university admissions.

The first higher education institutions (HEIs) emerged in Ukraine during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The first Ukrainian higher education institution was the Ostrozka School, or Ostrozkiy Greek-Slavic-Latin Collegium, similar to Western European higher education institutions of the time. Established in 1576 in the town of Ostrog, the Collegium was the first higher education institution in the Eastern Slavic territories. The oldest university was the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, first established in 1632 and in 1694 officially recognized by the government of Imperial Russia as a higher education institution. Among the oldest is also the Lviv University, founded in 1661. More higher education institutions were set up in the 19th century, beginning with universities in Kharkiv (1805), Kiev (1834), Odessa (1865), and Chernivtsi (1875) and a number of professional higher education institutions, e.g.: Nizhyn Historical and Philological Institute (originally established as the Gymnasium of Higher Sciences in 1805), a Veterinary Institute (1873) and a Technological Institute (1885) in Kharkiv, a Polytechnic Institute in Kiev (1898) and a Higher Mining School (1899) in Katerynoslav. Rapid growth followed in the Soviet period. By 1988 a number of higher education institutions increased to 146 with over 850,000 students. Most HEIs established after 1990 are those owned by private organizations.

The Ukrainian higher education system comprises higher educational establishments, scientific and methodological facilities under federal, municipal and self-governing bodies in charge of education. The organization of higher education in Ukraine is built up in accordance with the structure of education of the world's higher developed countries, as is defined by UNESCO and the UN.

Nowadays higher education is either state funded or private. Students that study at state expense receive a standard scholarship if their average marks at the end-of-term exams and differentiated test is at least 4 (see the 5-point grade system below); this rule may be different in some universities. In the case of all grades being the highest (5), the scholarship is increased by 25%. For most students the level of government subsidy is not sufficient to cover their basic living expenses. Most universities provide subsidized housing for out-of-city students. Also, it is common for libraries to supply required books for all registered students. There are two degrees conferred by Ukrainian universities: the Bachelor's Degree (4 years) and the Master's Degree (5–6th year). These degrees are introduced in accordance with Bologna process, in which Ukraine is taking part. Historically, Specialist's Degree (usually 5 years) is still also granted; it was the only degree awarded by universities in the Soviet times.

Culture

Ukrainian customs are heavily influenced by Christianity, which is the dominant religion in the country. Gender roles also tend to be more traditional, and grandparents play a greater role in raising children than in the West. The culture of Ukraine has been also influenced by its eastern and western neighbors, which is reflected in its architecture, music and art.

The Communist era had quite a strong effect on the art and writing of Ukraine. In 1932, Stalin made socialist realism state policy in the Soviet Union when he promulgated the decree "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations". This greatly stifled creativity. During the 1980s glasnost (openness) was introduced and Soviet artists and writers again became free to express themselves as they wanted.

The tradition of the Easter egg, known as pysanky, has long roots in Ukraine. These eggs were drawn on with wax to create a pattern; then, the dye was applied to give the eggs their pleasant colors, the dye did not affect the previously wax-coated parts of the egg. After the entire egg was dyed, the wax was removed leaving only the colorful pattern. This tradition is thousands of years old, and precedes the arrival of Christianity to Ukraine. In the city of Kolomya near the foothills of the Carpathian mountains in 2000 was built the museum of Pysanka which won a nomination as the monument of modern Ukraine in 2007, part of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine action.

Language- Ukrainian language, Russian language in Ukraine - Languages of Ukraine

According to the Constitution, the state language of Ukraine is Ukrainian. Russian, which was the de facto official language of the Soviet Union, is widely spoken, especially in eastern and southern Ukraine. According to the 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their native language and 29.6 percent declared Russian. Most native Ukrainian speakers know Russian as a second language.

These details result in a significant difference across different survey results, as even a small restating of a question switches responses of a significant group of people. Ukrainian is mainly spoken in western and central Ukraine. In western Ukraine, Ukrainian is also the dominant language in cities (such as Lviv). In central Ukraine, Ukrainian and Russian are both equally used in cities, with Russian being more common in Kiev, while Ukrainian is the dominant language in rural communities. In eastern and southern Ukraine, Russian is primarily used in cities, and Ukrainian is used in rural areas.

For a large part of the Soviet era, the number of Ukrainian speakers declined from generation to generation, and by the mid-1980s, the usage of the Ukrainian language in public life had decreased significantly. Following independence, the government of Ukraine began restoring the image and usage of Ukrainian language through a policy of Ukrainisation.Today, all foreign films and TV programs, including Russian ones, are subbed or dubbed in Ukrainian.

According to the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukrainian is the only state language of the republic. However, the republic's constitution specifically recognizes Russian as the language of the majority of its population and guarantees its usage 'in all spheres of public life'. Similarly, the Crimean Tatar language (the language of 12 percent of population of Crimea) is guaranteed a special state protection as well as the 'languages of other ethnicities'. Russian speakers constitute an overwhelming majority of the Crimean population (77 percent), with Ukrainian speakers comprising just 10.1 percent, and Crimean Tatar speakers 11.4 percent. But in everyday life the majority of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea use Russian.

Architecture

Ukrainian architecture is a term that describes the motifs and styles that are found in structures built in modern Ukraine, and by Ukrainians worldwide. These include initial roots which were established in the Eastern Slavic state of Kievan Rus'. After the 12th century, the distinct architectural history continued in the principalities of Galicia-Volhynia. During the epoch of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, a new style unique to Ukraine was developed under the western influences of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. After the union with the Tsardom of Russia, architecture in Ukraine began to develop in different directions, with many structures in the larger eastern, Russian-ruled area built in the styles of Russian architecture of that period, whilst the western Galicia was developed under Austro-Hungarian architectural influences. In both cases producing fine examples. Ukrainian national motifs would finally be used during the period of the Soviet Union and in modern independent Ukraine.

The great churches of the Rus', built after the adoption of Christianity in 988, were the first examples of monumental architecture in the East Slavic lands. The architectural style of the Kievan state, which quickly established itself, was strongly influenced by the Byzantine. Early Eastern Orthodox churches were mainly made of wood, with the simplest form of church becoming known as a cell church. Major cathedrals often featured scores of small domes, which led some art historians to take this as an indication of the appearance of pre-Christian pagan Slavic temples.

Several examples of these churches survive to this day, however in the course of the 16-18th centuries, many were externally rebuilt in the Ukrainian Baroque style. Examples include the grand St. Sophia of Kiev - the year 1017 is the earliest record of foundation laid, Church of the Saviour at Berestove - built from 1113–1125, and St. Cyril's Church, circa 12th century. All can still be found in the Ukrainian capital. Several buildings were reconstructed during the late-19th century, including the Assumption Cathedral in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, built in 1160 and reconstructed in 1896-1900, the Paraskevi church in Chernihiv, built in 1201 with reconstruction done in the late 1940s, and the Golden gates in Kiev, built in 1037 and reconstructed in 1982. The latter's reconstruction was dismissed by some art and architecture historians as a revivalist fantasy. Unfortunately little secular or vernacular architecture of Kievan Rus' has survived.

Ukraine became increasingly integrated into the Russian Empire, Russian architects had the opportunity to realize their projects in the picturesque landscape that many Ukrainian cities and regions offered. St. Andrew's Church of Kiev (1747–1754), built by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, is a notable example of Baroque architecture, and its location on top of the Kievan mountain made it a recognizable monument of the city. An equally notable contribution of Rasetrelli was the Mariyinsky Palace, which was built to be a summer residence to Russian Empress Elizabeth. During the reign of the last Hetman of Ukraine, Kirill Razumovsky, many of the Cossack Hetmanate's towns such as Hlukhiv, Baturyn and Koselets had grandiose projects built by the appointed architect of Little Russia, Andrey Kvasov. Russia, winning successive wars over the Ottoman Empire and its vassal Crimean Khanate, eventually annexed the whole south of Ukraine and Crimea. Renamed New Russia, these lands were to be colonized, and new cities such as the Nikolayev, Odessa, Kherson and Sevastopol were founded. These would contain notable examples of Imperial Russian architecture.

In 1934, the capital of Soviet Ukraine moved from Kharkiv to Kiev. During the preceding years, the city was seen as only a regional centre, and hence received little attention. All of that was to change, but at a great price. By this point, the first examples of Stalinist architecture were already showing and in light of the official policy, a new city was to be built on top of the old one. This meant that priceless examples such as the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery were destroyed. Even the St. Sophia Cathedral was under threat. Following the heavy destruction of the Second World War, a new project for the reconstruction of central Kiev was unveiled. This transformed the Khreshchatyk Avenue into one of the finest examples of Stalinism in Architecture. Unfortunately by 1955, the new politics of architecture once again promptly stopped the project from fully being realized.

The task for modern Ukrainian architecture is diverse application of modern aesthetics, the search for an architect's own artistic style and inclusion of the existing historical-cultural environment. Good examples of modern Ukrainian architecture include the reconstruction and renewal of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti in central Kiev, despite the limit set by narrow space within the plaza, the engineers were able to blend together the uneven landscape and also use underground space to set a new shopping centre.

The major project that will take up most of the 21st century, is the construction of the Kiev City-Centre on the Rybalskyi Peninsula, which, when finished, will include a dense skyscraper park amid the picturesque landscape of the Dnieper.

Weaving

Artisanal textile making is an important element of Ukrainian culture. National dress is traditionally woven or embroidered and adorned with black, red or blue motifs. Weaving with the help of handmade looms is today still practiced in the village of Krupove, situated in Rivne Oblast. The village is furthermore the birth place of two famous personalities in the scene of national crafts fabrication. Nina Myhailivna and Uliana Petrivna have won several awards, and national as well as international recognition for their crafts. In order to preserve this traditional knowledge the village is now planning to open a local weaving centre which will include a museum and weaving school.

Ukrainian Cuisine

The traditional Ukrainian diet includes chicken, pork, beef, fish and mushrooms. Ukrainians also tend to eat a lot of potatoes, grains, fresh and pickled vegetables. Popular traditional dishes include varenyky (boiled dumplings with mushrooms, potatoes, sauerkraut, cottage cheese or cherries), borscht (soup made of beets, cabbage and mushrooms or meat) and holubtsy (stuffed cabbage rolls filled with rice, carrots and meat). Ukrainian specialties also include Chicken Kiev and Kiev Cake. Ukrainians drink stewed fruit, juices, milk, buttermilk (they make cottage cheese from this), mineral water, tea and coffee, beer, wine and horilka.

Ukrainian cuisine has a rich history and offers a wide variety of dishes. Ukrainian cuisine is rich in taste and nutritional value.

Soups: Ukrainian Borscht, made from beetroots and other vegetables, with meat. Borsch (borshch): vegetable soup made out of beets, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, dill, sometimes green pepper, served with sour cream.
Kapusniak soup: made with pork, salo (pork fat),sauerkraut and served with sour cream
Rosolnyk: soup with pickles.
Yushka: fish soup, made of fresh-water fish, usually carp. Similar to the Russian cuisine, Uha, this is also a fish-soup.

Salads: Olivye (Salade Olivier): salad made out of cooked and chopped potatoes, dill pickles, broiled chopped eggs, cooked and chopped ham, chopped onions, and canned peas,mixed with mayonnaise.Vinaigrette (from French Vinaigrette): salad with cooked and shredded beets,sauerkraut,cooked and chopped potatoes, onions and carrots, sometimes pickles mixed with some sunflower oil and salt. Pickles: Pickled cucumbers (kvasheni ohirky) or tomatoes (kvasheni pomidory) are usually made with garlic and dill. Also, sauerkraut (kvashena kapusta).

Breads: Easter PaskaBreads and wheat products are very important to Ukrainian cuisine. Decorations on the top can be very elaborate for celebrations.

Paska: traditional rich Easter bread. It is shaped in a short round form. The top of the paska is decorated with typical Easter symbols, such as roses or crosses.
Babka: another Easter bread, usually a sweet dough with raisins and other dried fruit. It is usually baked in a tall, cylindrical form.
Kolach: ring-shaped bread typically served at Christmas and funerals. The dough is braided, often with three strands representing the Holy Trinity. The braid is then shaped into a circle (circle = kolo in Ukrainian) representing the circle of life and family.
Korovai: a round, braided bread, similar to the kolach. It is most often baked for weddings and its top decorated with birds and periwinkle.

Main course

Perohy (Perogy): Dumplings stuffed with fillings such as potato and cheese, often served boiled.
Varenyky: small pastries made with any filling such as mashed potatoes and fried onions, ground meat and fried onions, liver and fried onions, fried cabbage with fried onions, cherries, strawberries. Served with sour cream and butter or sugar when filled with fruits.
Pyrizhky: Small potato filled buns baked in thickened rich cream and dill.
Cabbage rolls (holubtsi/holubchi): cabbage leaves (sour) rolled with meat (minced beef or bacon) and rice filling, optionally stewed in tomato sauce or roasted with bacon strips on top, served with sour cream.
Syrnyky: cottage cheese fritters, sometimes with raisins, served with sour cream and jam.
Mlyntsi: crepes (blyntsi or nalisnyky), filled usually with cottage cheese, meat, cabbage, fruits, served with sour cream.
Stuffed duck or goose with apples.
Roast meat (pechenya): pork, veal, beef or lamb roast.
Fish (ryba): fried in egg and flour; cooked in oven with mushrooms, cheese and lemon; marinated, dried or smoked variety.
Studenetz: jellied fish (zalyvne) or meat (kholodets).
Kasha hrechana zi shkvarkamy: buckwheat cereal with chopped, fried bacon and/or onion.
Potato (kartoplia, also barabolia or bulba): young or peeled, served with butter, sour cream, dill; a more exclusive variety includes raw egg.
Guliash: refers to stew in general or specifically Hungarian goulash.
Sausage (kovbasa or sosysky): various kinds of smoked or boiled pork, beef or chicken sausage.
Salo: salted (or occasionally raw) unrendered pork fat lard.
Kotlety (cutlets): (plural; singular: kotleta) minced meat or fish mixed with eggs, onions, garlic, breadcrumbs and milk, fried in oil sometimes rolled in breadcrumbs.
Deruny: potato pancakes, usually served with rich servings of sour cream.

Desserts

Kutia: traditional Christmas dish, made of poppy seeds, wheat, nuts, honey, and delicacies.
Pampushky: fried, rich sweet dough similar to doughnut holes. Frequently tossed with cinnamon sugar. Pampushky (pl., singular is pampusho'k) can also be filled with poppy seed or other sweet fillings.
Syrnyky: fried curd fritters.
Torte: many varieties of cakes, from moist to puffy, most typical ones being Kyjivskyj, Prazhskyj, and Trufelnyj. They are frequently made without flour, instead using ground walnuts or almonds.
Zhele: (plural and singular) jellied fruits, like cherries, pears, etc. or Ptashyne moloko (literally 'birds' milk')—milk/chocolate jelly.

Beverages – Alcoholic and Non-alcoholic

Strong spirits (горілка, horilka, водка, vodka in Russian): самогон Samohon (moonshine) is also popular, including with infusions of fruit, spices or hot peppers.
Beer (пиво, pyvo): the largest producers of beer are Obolon, Lvivske, Chernihivske, Slavutych, Sarmat and Rogan, which partly export their products.
Wine (вино, vyno): from Europe and Ukraine (particularly from Crimea).
Mead (мед, med, or медовуха, medovukha): a fermented alcoholic beverage made from honey, water, and yeast. Its flavor depends on the plants frequented by the honeybees, the length of time and method of aging, and the specific strain of yeast used. Its alcohol content will vary from maker to maker depending on the method of production.

Non-alcoholic

Kompot (компот): a sweet beverage made of dried or fresh fruits and/or berries boiled in water.
Uzvar (узвар): Traditional compote is made of dried fruit, mainly apples, pears and prunes.
Kvas (квас): a sweet-and-sour sparkling beverage brewed from yeast, sugar and dried rye bread.
Kefir (кефір): milk fermented by both yeast and lactobacillus bacteria and having a similar taste to yoghurt. Homemade kefir may contain a slight amount of alcohol.
Mineral water: well-known brands are Truskavetska, Morshynska and Myrhorodska. They usually come strongly carbonated.
Ryazhanka (ряжанка): another kind of natural yoghurt made of baked milk.

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