603,700sq km (233,100sq mi)
Ukrainian 73%, Russian 22%, Jewish 1%, Belarussian 1%, Moldovan, Bulgarian, Polish
Ukrainian Orthodox 80%, Ukrainian Catholic 10%, Protestant 3%
ClimateUkraine's continental climate is moderated by proximity to the Black Sea. Winters are most severe in the ne and the highlands. Rainfall is heaviest in summer.
VegetationThe once-grassy central steppe is now mostly under the plough. The black, chernozem soil of the s is especially fertile. In the n, around the Pripet marshes, are large woodlands, with trees such as ash and oak. Pine forests cover the slopes of the Carpathian and Crimean mountains.
History and PoliticsIn ancient history, the area was successively inhabited by Scythians and Sarmatians, before invasions by the Goths, Huns, Avars, and Khazars. The first Ukrainian Slavic community originates from this period. In the 9th century, the Varangians united the n regions as Kievan Rus. The empire disintegrated under the onslaught of the Mongol hordes. In the late 14th century, Ukraine became part of Lithuania. In 1478, the Black Sea region was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. In 1569, the Lithuanian sector passed to Poland following the Poland-Lithuania union.
The enserfment of the peasantry and persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church marked Polish rule. In 1648, refugees from Polish rule (Cossacks) completed Ukraine's liberation. Independence was short-lived due to the emerging power of Russia. A succession of wars resulted (1775) in the division of Ukraine into three Russian provinces. The nationalist movement was barely suppressed and found an outlet in Galicia. Ukraine's industry developed from the 1860s.
In 1918 (after the Russian Revolution), Ukraine declared independence and was invaded by the Red Army, which was repulsed with the support of the Central Powers. The World War 1 armistice prompted the withdrawal of the Central Powers. A unified, independent Ukraine was once more proclaimed. The Red Army invaded again, this time with greater success. In 1921, Poland received w Ukraine, and in 1922 e Ukraine became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, Stalin's autocratic, agricultural collectivization replaced Lenin's policy of appeasement. The programme caused 7.5 million Ukrainians to die of famine. The 1939 Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland reunified the Ukraine. In 1940, it also acquired Northern Bukovina and part of Bessarabia from Romania. In 1945, it gained Ruthenia from Hungary and e Galicia from Poland.
After 1945, all Ukrainian land unified into a single Soviet republic. In 1954, the Crimea was annexed to the Ukraine. Ukraine became one of the most powerful republics in the Soviet Union, contributing 30% of total Soviet industrial output. In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster contaminated large areas of Ukraine. After a unilateral declaration of sovereignty in 1990, Ukraine proclaimed independence in August 1991.
In December 1991, the former Communist leader Leonard Kravchuk was elected president and Ukraine joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Tensions with Russia over the Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, the control of nuclear weapons, and oil and gas reserves eased after a treaty in 1992. Crimean independence was refused. In the 1994 presidential elections, Leonid Kuchma defeated Kravchuk. Kuchna continued the policy of establishing closer ties with the West, and sped up the pace of privatization. In 1995, direct rule was imposed on Crimea for four months. Subsequent elections saw reduced support for pro-Russian parties. Disputes continue about the extent of the powers of the Crimean legislature. Kuchna was re-elected in 1999. In 2001, Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko was dismissed by Parliament. Pope John Paul II made his first visit to Ukraine in June 2001. The results of presidential elections in 2004 were disputed and, after demonstrations and international pressure, re-run with Viktor Yushchenko declared the winner.