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Ukraine, a nation in Eastern Europe, is bordered on the north by Belarus, on the north and east by Russia, on the south by the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, on the southwest by Romania and Moldova, and on the west by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

One of the largest European countries, it ranks second in area (after Russia), and sixth in population. The capital of Ukraine is KYIV [formerly Kiev). For much of its history, the country has been subject to Russian and Polish influence. Formerly a republic of the USSR, it became independent in 1991.


Ukraine is mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills. Elevation generally rises from the southern Black Sea region northward, although the northernmost region of Polesie is a vast marshy lowland. The only mountain ranges are the CARPATHIANS in the extreme west and the Yayla Range in the southern CRIMEA. The major river, fed by numerous tributaries, is the DNEPR (Dnipr; Dnieper), which bisects the country in a broad arc before emptying into the Black Sea. Other important waterways include, in the west, the DNESTR (Dnistr; Dniester) and the Southern Bug (Boh) rivers, which drain into the Black Sea, and, in the east, the DONETS, which flows into the Sea of Azov.

Vegetation and Soil

Vegetation is divided among three zones from north to south: the forest (coniferous and deciduous) zone, the mixed forest-steppe zone, and the STEPPE. Forests cover less than 15% of the land. Almost half of Ukraine--the steppe and most of the forest-steppe zone--is covered with some of the world's most fertile chernozem soil, the basis for the country's rich agriculture. Human settlement has destroyed much of Ukraine's natural flora and fauna.


Most of Ukraine has a moderately continental climate, though it is alpine in the Carpathians and subtropical in parts of the Crimea. Average temperatures vary from -8 deg C (18 deg F) in the north and 4 deg C (39 deg F) in the south in January, to 18 deg C (64 deg F) in the north and 24 deg C (75 deg F) in the south in July. Annual precipitation also varies, from an average of 1500 mm (59 in) in the Carpathians to 300 mm (12 in) on the Black and Azov sea coasts; the south often suffers from drought.


Ukraine has large reserves of peat, natural gas, and coal but insufficient oil reserves to meet its energy needs. Iron ore and other mineral resources are most abundant in the DONETS BASIN (Donbas) and the Dnepr Basin, which are the nation's industrial heartlands.


The two principal ethnic groups in Ukraine are Ukrainians and Russians. In 1989 ethnic Ukrainians formed 73% of the population, and ethnic Russians 22%. In the more rural western and central regions Ukrainians make up 90% or more; their percentage is substantially lower in the industrialized east and south (in the Donbas it is just over 50%), where a correspondingly higher proportion of Russians exist. Only since the 1970s have a majority of Ukrainians been city dwellers, whereas the Russians are 90% urban; many large cities are predominantly Russian-speaking. Use of the Ukrainian language, a East Slavic language closely related to Russian, is now being promoted in all spheres of life.

In the Crimea, from which the native Tatars (see TATAR) were deported in 1944, the population is two-thirds Russian and one-third Ukrainian. Since the late 1980s the Tatars have been returning in large numbers and pressing their demands for the reconstitution of a Crimean Tatar homeland.


Ukrainians have traditionally been Eastern Christians, divided since 1596 into an Orthodox majority and a minority of EASTERN RITE (Uniate) Catholics, who predominate in the west. Both the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church and the Ukrainian Catholic (Easter Rite) church were banned under Stalin, but have reemerged and grown in strength since 1989. Separate from these is the Ukrainian Orthodox church, which is subject to the Moscow patriarchate. Most Russian believers are Orthodox. Latin Rite Catholicism is limited to ethnic Poles and Hungarians. Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim (mostly Crimean Tatar) communities also exist.


Ukrainian folk art and music are internationally famous. Centuries of foreign rule inhibited the development of a vernacular Ukrainian literature. Despite tsarist Russification policies, however, such a literature did begin to flourish in the 19th century, exemplified in the works of Taras SHEVCHENKO and others. Party controls and official Russification were also hindrances in the Soviet period, but the 1920s and 1960s were times of considerable cultural creativity. Since the late 1980s there has been a cultural revival, especially through the medium of the Ukrainian language.

Education and Health Care

Literacy has been nearly universal since the mid-20th century. All education through the university level is free and compulsory through the eighth grade. Medical care is free of charge, but medical services have deteriorated since the 1970s.


Ukraine's common designation as the "breadbasket of Europe" reflects the traditional importance of agriculture in the country's economy. Industrialization began in the late 19th century and continued under Soviet rule, mostly in the Donbas and the central Dnepr region. Central planning, directed by Moscow, led to sectional imbalances and reliance on supplies from other Soviet republics, which resulted in serious economic difficulties when independence came. The transition to a market economy, the declared goal of Ukraine's government, has been slow. Legislation on privatization was enacted in 1992; some progress toward that end was made in the service sector, but agriculture remained almost totally collectivized and factories continued to be run by state-appointed managers.

Over 40% of the labor force is employed in industry. Despite some progress in regional equalization, the east remains the most industrialized area, followed by the south; the western, and especially the central regions still lag in industrial development. Extractive industries (the mining of coal, iron ore, and other minerals) have long been important. Soviet economic policies in Ukraine favored heavy machine industry to the detriment of light industry and consumer goods. Much of Ukraine's pre-independence retooling of plants for civilian production is a high priority in the present economy.

Ukraine's leading industrial centers include Kyiv, Kharkiv, and DONETSK (Donets) in the east; Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kryvyi Rih in the central Dnipro basin; and the Black Sea ports of Odessa, Kherson, and Mykolaiv, which are important for the shipbuilding industry.


In emulation of the Soviet Communist party and its leader Mikhail GORBACHEV, the Ukrainian party surrendered its monopoly of power early in 1990. The first free and partially contested elections in Ukraine were held in March of that year. In the newly elected 450-member Supreme Council (parliament), orthodox Communists held a slim but controlling majority of 53%; the Democratic Bloc (an alliance of opposition groups) accounted for 30%, and reform Communists for the remainder. Weakening Soviet central power permitted Ukraine to adopt a declaration of sovereignty in July 1990; independence was proclaimed, and the Communist party was banned in August 1991. Well over a dozen new political parties have emerged, including the Socialist party (with a membership consisting largely of former Communists), the liberal-democratic Ukrainian Republican party, the moderate new Ukraine party, and the environmentalist Green World party.

In the summer of 1991 parliament voted to create the post of president, and the first presidential election was held in December. Executive power is exercised by a council (cabinet) of ministers headed by the premier, who is appointed by the president subject to parliamentary approval.

The Crimea was recognized as an autonomous republic within Ukraine in 1991.


In the 1st millennium BC, Ukraine's Black Sea coast and the Crimean Peninsula became an outpost of Greek, and later Roman and Byzantine, civilization. The steppe hinterland, by contrast, was for centuries the domain of nomadic tribes arriving in succession from Central Asia. Beginning in the 6th century AD, East Slavic tribes settled the interior.

In the 9th century the first historic state on Ukrainian territory rose around the city of Kyiv. From its core in Ukraine, the Kievan state expanded rapidly toward the northwest into modern Belarus, and northeast into what is now Russia (see RUSSIA, HISTORY OF). The name Rus', by which the Kievan state came to be known, was at first applied to the environs of Kyiv and later to the entire territory ruled by members of the Kievan dynasty. In 988, VLADIMIR I introduced Byzantine (Orthodox) Christianity as the official religion of the realm, and under his successors a new Christian culture developed.

In the 12th and 13th centuries Kievan Rus' was in decline as a result of shifting trade routes, nomadic incursions from the steppe, and separatist tendencies among its various principalities. The final blow to Kyiv was the Mongol invasion of the mid-13th century. But already the focus of power had shifted to the Galician-Volhynian principality (in present western Ukraine), which became the main heir to the Kievan legacy.

In the 14th century GALICIA fell under the rule of Poland, and most of the rest of Ukraine came under the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, when Lithuania formed a political union with Poland, virtually all Ukrainian lands were transferred to the direct jurisdiction of the Polish crown. The expansion of Polish magnate landownership, the Polonization of the local nobility, and the inroads of Roman Catholicism at the expense of Orthodoxy engendered social, religious, and national tensions in Ukraine. Religious
strife increased when a majority of the Orthodox bishops in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth accepted union with Rome in 1596. The strongest opponents of the new Uniate church were the COSSACKS, who had developed into a powerful military force on Ukraine's steppe frontier and staunchly resisted Polish attempts to bring them under control.

The rising tensions exploded in a vast Cossack insurrection under the leadership of Bohdan CHMIELNICKI (Khmelnytsky) in 1648, which was joined by the peasantry in revolt against serfdom. Rebel activity was directed not only against the Poles but also the Jews, whom the peasants identified with the Polish regime. Initial success encouraged Chmielnicki to begin the formation of a Ukrainian Cossack state independent of Poland. However, an agreement with Moscow in 1654 made him a vassal of the Russian tsar, and in 1667, Ukraine was partitioned between Muscovy and Poland. For a time Ukraine enjoyed self-rule under its hetman (prince). After Hetman Ivan MAZEPA made a bid (1708-09) for independence in alliance with Sweden, however, Ukrainian autonomy was severely curtailed; it was finally abolished by Catherine II in the 1760s. In the late 18th century the Russian Empire absorbed the remainder of Ukraine in the partitions of Poland, except for Galicia, which was annexed by Austria. At the same time, Russia's conquest of the Crimea opened up the southern steppes and the Black sea coast to Ukrainian settlement.

In the 19th century a modern national movement developed in Ukraine. Russia's response was repression, denial of Ukrainian nationality, and a ban on the Ukrainian language (1863 and 1876). A freer atmosphere for Ukrainian self-expression existed in Austrian Galicia.

After the collapse of both the Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I, the two Ukrainian regions were briefly reunited in an independent state. In 1921, however, Galicia and Volhynia were occupied byPoland, while smaller areas in the west (northern BUKOVINA and RUTHENIA) were annexed by Romania and Czechoslovakia, respectively. Eastern Ukraine, conquered by the Soviets, became the Ukrainian SSR. In the east Stalin's forced collectivization and an artificially induced famine in 1932-33 led to the loss of several million lives. World War II brought massive destruction and further loss of life as Ukraine became the main battlefield between the USSR and Nazi Germany. Postwar Soviet annexation of western Ukraine was resisted by guerilla forces until the early 1950s. The transfer of the Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 completed the present configuration of the country.

Under the Ukrainian Communist party leader Petro Shelest (1963-72) a modest national revival occurred, but it was cut short by Shelest's removal. Arrests of dissenters and cultural leaders followed. The long tenure of Volodymyr Shcherbytsky as party chief was marked by Russification, cultural sterility, political stagnation, and the disaster of the CHERNOBYL nuclear plant accident in 1986.

Political changes proceeded rapidly after 1989, the year that saw the rise of mass organizations, most notably the Rukh (People's Movement of Ukraine), which pushed for greater autonomy in the last years of Soviet rule. Following the failure of the Moscow coup, independence was proclaimed on Aug. 14, 1991. This was confirmed by 90% of the voters in referendum held on Dec. 1, 1991. On the same day former Communist Leonid KRAVCHUK was elected to the presidency, defeating the Rukh candidate, V. M. Chornovil, with 62% of the vote to Chornovil's 23%.

After the demise of the USSR, Ukraine joined the other former Soviet republics in forming the COMMONWEALTH OF INDEPENDENT STATES, but, having at last attained independence after centuries of foreign domination, its primary concern was to avoid falling back into the Russian orbit. Ukrainian relations with Russia were troubled by disputes over the Crimea (which the Russians coveted), control of the former Soviet Black Sea fleet, and the disposition of Soviet nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil. By the terms of the START I nuclear disarmament treaty, all such weapons are to be dismantled.

But Ukraine was reluctant to comply with this, fearing that Russia might use its nuclear arsenal to reassert its dominance. Another problem was the country's deteriorating economy. In September 1993, President Kravchuk took personal control of the government (eliminating the prime minister) and appointing an emergency committee to deal with the economic crisis. Presidential elections held in mid-July 1994 resulted in defeat for Kravchuk, however, who was challenged by an increasingly negative economy and tensions between a nationalistic western part of the nation and Russian-speaking sections in the east. The new president, Leonid Kuchma, a former prime minister, called for closer economic and other relations with Russia and accelerated economic reforms.