June 13, 2012, 8:12 am
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Dnieper river in Kiev. Source: Dmitry A. Mottl/Wikimedia Commons

Ukraine is a nation of forty five million people in eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east

Its major environmental issues include:

  • inadequate supplies of potable water;
  • air and water pollution;
  • deforestation;
  • radiation contamination in the northeast from 1986 accident at Chornobyl' Nuclear Power Plant

Ukraine was the center of the first eastern Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe.

Weakened by internecine quarrels and Mongol invasions, Kyivan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The cultural and religious legacy of Kyivan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism through subsequent centuries. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was established during the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite continuous Muscovite pressure, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for well over 100 years.

During the latter part of the 18th century, most Ukrainian ethnographic territory was absorbed by the Russian Empire. Following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine was able to achieve a short-lived period of independence (1917-20), but was reconquered and forced to endure a brutal Soviet rule that engineered two forced famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died.

In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million more deaths.

Although final independence for Ukraine was achieved in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, democracy and prosperity remained elusive as the legacy of state control and endemic corruption stalled efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties.

A peaceful mass protest "Orange Revolution" in the closing months of 2004 forced the authorities to overturn a rigged presidential election and to allow a new internationally monitored vote that swept into power a reformist slate under Viktor Yushchenko. Subsequent internal squabbles in the Yushchenko camp allowed his rival Viktor Yanukovyck to stage a comeback in parliamentary elections and become prime minister in August of 2006.

An early legislative election, brought on by a political crisis in the spring of 2007, saw Yuliya Tymoshenko, as head of an "Orange" coalition, installed as a new prime minister in December 2007.

Viktor Yanukovyck was elected president in a February 2010 run-off election that observers assessed as meeting most international standards. The following month, the Rada approved a vote of no-confidence prompting Yuliya Tymoshenko to resign from her post as prime minister.

Ukraine has strategic position at the crossroads between Europe and Asia and is the second-largest country in Europe.



Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east

Geographic Coordinates: 49 00 N, 32 00 E

Area: 603,550 sq km(land: 579,330 sq km; water: 24,220 sq km)

Land Boundaries: 4,566 km (Belarus 891 km, Hungary 103 km, Moldova 940 km, Poland 428 km, Romania (south) 176 km, Romania (southwest) 362 km, Russia 1,576 km, Slovakia 90 km)

Coastline: 2,782 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 m or to the depth of exploitation

Natural Hazards: 

Terrain:   most of Ukraine consists of fertile plains (steppes) and plateaus, mountains being found only in the west (the Carpathians), and in the Crimean Peninsula in the extreme south. The highest point is Hora Hoverla (2,061 m).

Climate:  temperate continental; Mediterranean only on the southern Crimean coast; precipitation disproportionately distributed, highest in west and north, lesser in east and southeast; winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland; summers are warm across the greater part of the country, hot in the south.

Topography of Ukraine. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Ecology and Biodiversity

Source: World Wildlife Fund

  1. Central European mixed forests
  2. East European forest steppe
  3. Pontic Steppe
  4. Crimean Submediterranean forest complex
  5. Carpathian montane conifer forests

See also: Black Sea large marine ecosystem

The Dnepr River and its tributaries, Ukraine (false color)

As the ground begins to thaw and snow melts, the Dnieper River and its tributaries have swollen with spring run-off. According to news reports, the rivers have caused some damage as flood waters inundate small cities along their banks. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite captured this image of the river system on April 15, 2004. Four major rivers are shown running into the Dnieper, the large river that forms the trunk of this tree-like structure. On the far right is the Desna River, with the Seym River branching off of it. The center right branch is formed by the Sozh River and its tributaries. The center left branch is the Dnieper, and running into it from the top left is the Byarezina River. The far left branch is formed by the Prypyats River.

Complicating this tangle of flowing water, the borders of three countries snake along the rivers, sometimes following their flow, but often not. Russia is in the top right corner of the image, Ukraine forms the lower third, and Belarus is in the upper left corner. Romania, Moldova, and the Black Sea sit on the lower edge of the image.

In both images, fires are marked with red dots. The fires were likely started by farmers clearing their fields for spring planting. The false-color image, which makes the floods easier to spot, shows vegetation as green, bare ground as tan and pink, and clouds in light blue. Water is black and dark blue. In the true-color image, the landscape is still a winter brown.

 Source: NASA. Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC


People and Society

Population: 44,854,065 (July 2012 est.)

Ethnic Ukrainians make up approximately 78% of the total; ethnic Russians number about 17%, ethnic Belarusians number about 0.6%. The industrial regions in the east and southeast are the most heavily populated, and the population is about 69% urban. Ukrainian and Russian are the principal languages. Although Russian is very widely spoken, in the 2001 census (the latest official figures) 85.2% of the ethnic Ukrainian population identified Ukrainian as their native language. There are also small Crimean Tatar and Hellenic minorities; the former is mainly in Crimea, and the latter in the Donetsk region.

Crimea's southernmost point is the Cape of Sarych. Source: Sergiy Klymenko/Wikimedia Commons.

The dominant religions are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (which practices Orthodox rites but recognizes the Roman Catholic Pope as head of the Church). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate has the largest following, with significant presence in all regions of the country except for the western oblasts of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil. The second-largest Orthodox group is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, with most followers located in western and some central oblasts. The Kyiv Patriarchate was established after Ukrainian independence and declared full independence from Moscow. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is the smallest of the three Orthodox churches, and approximately 70% of its adherents are in the western part of the country. The Russian Old Rite Orthodox Church and smaller Orthodox groups also operate within Ukraine.

About 27% of the country's religious communities are Protestant. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant group. Other Protestant communities include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Other religious groups include Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Buddhists, and adherents of Krishna Consciousness.About 70% of adult Ukrainians have a secondary or higher education. Ukraine has about 900 colleges and universities, of which the most important are in Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv. There are about 90,000 scholars in 1,300 scientific research and development institutes.

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and of the press, and individuals have been able criticize the government publicly and privately. Following changes in government leadership after the 2010 presidential election, there have been reports that central authorities have attempted to direct media content. While independent and international media have been active and have expressed a wide variety of opinions, government pressure on both independent and state-owned media has caused some journalists and media owners to practice self-censorship on matters that the government has deemed sensitive. There have also been reports of intimidation and violence against journalists by national and local officials. Although private media outlets operate on a commercial basis and have generally operated free of direct state control or interference, private newspapers often depend on their owners (political patrons or oligarchs with government connections) for revenue and have not enjoyed editorial independence.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, although religious organizations are required to register with local authorities and with the central government. There is no formal state religion.

Minority rights are largely respected in accordance with a 1991 law guaranteeing ethnic minorities the right to schools and cultural facilities and the use of national languages in conducting personal business. However, the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority, which was deported from Crimea under Stalin in 1944, has expressed concern that the government inadequately funds the construction of Crimean Tatar schools for returnees. According to the constitution, Ukrainian is the only official state language. In Crimea and some parts of eastern Ukraine--areas with substantial ethnic Russian minorities--local and regional governments permit Russian as a language for local official correspondence.

Ethnic Groups: Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8% (2001 census)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 13.7% (male 3,186,606/female 3,014,069)
15-64 years: 70.8% (male 15,282,749/female 16,673,641)
65 years and over: 15.5% (male 2,294,777/female 4,682,865) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: -0.625% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 9.59 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 15.76 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.08 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 68.74 years

male: 63.07 years
female: 74.77 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.29 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Ukrainian (official) 67%, Russian 24%, other (includes small Romanian-, Polish-, and Hungarian-speaking minorities) 9%

Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write)99.4% (2001 census)

Urbanization: 69% of total population (2010) declining at an annual rate of change of 0.1% (2010-15 est.)


The first identifiable groups to populate what is now Ukraine were Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Goths, among other nomadic peoples who arrived throughout the first millennium B.C. These peoples were well known to colonists and traders in the ancient world, including Greeks and Romans, who established trading outposts that eventually became city-states. Slavic tribes occupied central and eastern Ukraine in the sixth century A.D. and played an important role in the establishment of Kyiv. Kievan Rus Prince Volodymyr converted the Kievan nobility and most of the population to Christianity in 988. Situated on lucrative trade routes, Kyiv quickly prospered as the center of the powerful state of Kievan Rus. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus was the largest state in Europe. Conflict among the feudal lords led to decline in the 12th century. Mongol raiders razed Kyiv in the 13th century.

Most of the territory of what is modern Ukraine was annexed by Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, but during that time, Ukrainians began to conceive of themselves as a distinct people, a feeling that survived subsequent partitioning by greater powers over the next centuries. Ukrainian peasants who fled the Polish effort to force them into servitude came to be known as Cossacks and earned a reputation for their fierce martial spirit and love of freedom. When Poland was partitioned in the late 18th century, much of modern-day Ukraine was integrated into the Russian Empire.

The 19th century found the region largely agricultural, with a few cities and centers of trade and learning. The region was under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the extreme west and the Russian Empire elsewhere. Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples existing under other imperial governments and were determined to revive Ukrainian linguistic and cultural traditions. Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), national hero of Ukraine, presented the intellectual maturity of the Ukrainian language and culture through his work as a poet and artist. The Russian Government, however, imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian culture, even banning the use and study of the Ukrainian language.

When World War I and the Russian revolution shattered the Habsburg and Russian empires, Ukrainians declared independent statehood. In 1917 the Central Rada proclaimed Ukrainian autonomy and in 1918, following the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd, the Ukrainian National Republic declared independence under President Mykhaylo Hrushevsky. After 3 years of conflict and civil war, however, the western part of Ukrainian territory was incorporated into Poland, while the larger, central and eastern regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was officially created in 1922.

Ukrainian culture and education flourished during the twenties, but with Josef Stalin's rise to power and the campaign of forced collectivization beginning in 1929, the Soviet leadership imposed a campaign of terror that ravaged the intellectual class. The Soviet Government under Stalin also created an artificial famine (called “Holodomor” in Ukrainian) as part of his forced collectivization policies, which killed millions of previously independent peasants and others throughout the country. Estimates of deaths in Ukraine from the 1932-33 Holodomor alone range from 3 million to 7 million.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, some Ukrainians, particularly in the west, welcomed what they saw as liberation from Communist rule, but this did not last as they quickly came to understand the nature of Nazi rule. Nazi brutality was directed principally against Ukraine's Jews (of whom an estimated 1 million were killed), but also against many other Ukrainians. Babyn Yar in Kyiv was the site of one of the most horrific Nazi massacres of Ukrainian Jews, ethnic Ukrainians, and many others. Kyiv and other parts of the country were heavily damaged.

After the Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939, the western Ukrainian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. Armed resistance against Soviet authority continued as late as the 1950s. During periods of relative liberalization--as under Nikita Khrushchev from 1955 to 1964 and during the period of "perestroika" under Mikhail Gorbachev--Ukrainian communists cautiously pursued nationalist objectives. The 1986 explosion at the Chornobyl (Chernobyl in Russian) nuclear power plant, located in the Ukrainian SSR, and the Soviet Government's initial efforts to conceal the extent of the catastrophe from its own people and the world, were a watershed for many Ukrainians in exposing the severe problems of the Soviet system.

On April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the Ukrainian-Belarus border. Toxic radionuclides like Cs137 and Sr90 contaminated an area of 155,000 square kilometers in what is today Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, sickened from radiation-induced illnesses, or resettled to uncontaminated land.

Today, the immediate area remains off limits to humans. The plant was permanently closed in 2000. The surrounding agricultural land has been abandoned, and the two nearby towns (Pripyat to the north and Chernobyl to the south) where plant workers lived are largely ghost towns. Instead of people, abundant wildlife—packs of wolves, deer, and birds—roam and live near Chernobyl.

This image, taken from the Russian Mir spacecraft (taken April 27, 1997), shows Chernobyl and the surrounding countryside. The power plant is situated on the northwest end of a cooling pond on the Pripyat River, which flows into the Dnepr River just 80 miles north of Kiev. The main features visible in the image are the massive concrete dams and levees that were constructed to contain elements of the power plant and prevent contaminated runoff from entering the local streams. The cooling water canals leading to the pond, and the levees in the middle of the pond that channeled the water circulation can also be seen. The darker green regions are forests and the light green areas are cleared land used for agriculture. Source: NASA


Ukraine became an independent state on August 24, 1991, and was a co-founder of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, although it has not officially joined the organization.

The Crimean peninsula is home to a number of pro-Russian political organizations that advocate secession of Crimea from Ukraine and annexation to Russia. Crimea was ceded by the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, in recognition of historic links and for economic convenience, to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine's union with Russia. In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant political, economic, and cultural autonomy.

Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk, former chairman of the Rada, was elected to a 5-year term as Ukraine's first president. At the same time, a referendum on independence was approved by more than 90% of the voters. Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, mandating a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties.

Recent Elections
The campaign leading to the October 31, 2004, presidential election was characterized by widespread violations of democratic norms, including government intimidation of the opposition, abuse of state administrative resources, and highly skewed media coverage. The two frontrunners--Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko--each garnered between 39% and 40% of the vote and proceeded to a second round. The November 21 runoff election was marred by credible reports of widespread and significant violations, including multiple voting by busloads of people, abuse of absentee ballots, and coercion of votes in schools and prisons. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Kyiv and other cities to protest electoral fraud and express support for Yushchenko, and conducted ongoing peaceful demonstrations during what came to be known as the "Orange Revolution."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other independent observers found that the runoff election did not meet international standards for democratic elections. On November 24, the Central Election Commission (CEC) declared Yanukovych the winner with 49.46% compared to 46.61% for Yushchenko. The U.S. and Europe refused to accept the result as legitimate due to the numerous, uninvestigated reports of fraud. On November 27, Ukraine's Rada passed a resolution condemning the election results, and on December 1 it passed a vote of no confidence in the government. On December 3, Ukraine's Supreme Court invalidated the CEC's announced results and mandated a repeat of the second-round vote. An agreement mediated by European leaders resulted in the December 8 passage and adoption of new electoral legislation aimed at closing loopholes that had permitted pervasive electoral fraud.

While irregularities were noted during the December 26 re-vote, observers found no systemic or massive fraud. On January 10, 2005, after the CEC and the Supreme Court had considered and rejected numerous complaints and appeals filed by the Yanukovych campaign, the CEC certified the results: Yushchenko had won 51.99% of the votes, with 44.20% for Yanukovych.

Ukraine held parliamentary and local elections on March 26, 2006. International observers noted that conduct of the Rada election was in line with international standards for democratic elections. Pre-term parliamentary elections were held on September 30, 2007, and international observers judged this vote to be in line with international democratic standards in an open and competitive environment. The new coalition formed on December 18, 2007 nominated Yuliya Tymoshenko as Prime Minister. Beginning in 2008, the Rada experienced chronic deadlock, which was exacerbated by a feud between Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko.

The first round of Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election took place on January 17. International and domestic observers assessed the vote as having met most international standards. As no candidate received 50% or more of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes--opposition leader Yanukovych (35%) and Prime Minister Tymoshenko (25%)--progressed to a second-round runoff. The second round took place on February 7 in a vote that observers again assessed as largely free and fair. On February 14, the Central Election Commission announced that Yanukovych had won the election with 49% of the vote, compared to Tymoshenko’s 46%. Alleging fraud, Tymoshenko initially appealed, but then withdrew her appeal on February 20 saying that the court would not consider her appeal fairly. Yanukovych was inaugurated on February 25, and on March 11, the Party of Regions, the Communists, the Lytvyn Bloc, and 16 non-aligned members of parliament (MPs) established the “Stability and Reform” ruling coalition in the Rada composed of 235 MPs. Also on March 11, the Rada confirmed President Yanukovych’s nomination of Mykola Azarov as Prime Minister and replaced the entire cabinet of ministers. Opposition MPs and others argued the coalition had been formed illegally, as a coalition could only be composed of factions, not individuals. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine ruled on April 8 that the Party of Regions-led coalition was constitutional, stating that individuals MPs do in fact have the right to take part in forming parliamentary coalitions.

Ukraine held local elections on October 31, 2010. International and local election observers concluded that overall the elections did not meet standards for openness and fairness. Observers noted shortcomings such as insufficient training for electoral commissions, which contributed to procedural violations and organizational problems. In particular, the registration of fraudulent Batkivshchyna Party candidate lists led to the disqualification of all Batkivshchyna Party candidates in the Kyiv and Lviv oblast council elections, preventing the main opposition party from running for election in regions where it had considerable support. Election observers also reported incidences of law enforcement authorities pressuring monitors and candidates, and election officials selectively barring or removing candidates from ballots.

Selective Prosecutions
There was a sharp increase in criminal charges brought against opposition politicians after the appointment of a new prosecutor general in November 2010, giving rise to concerns of selective and politically-motivated prosecution by the Yanukovych administration. At the end of 2010 and throughout 2011, prosecutors brought charges against former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and many members of her government for abuse of office and/or misuse of state funds during their tenure. The questioning of charged individuals by government prosecutors, which often lasted for hours at a time over a period of several days, and denial of bail in certain cases, further exacerbated the perception of selective prosecution. However, the government contended that the prosecutions were not targeted toward the opposition, and that there were many ongoing investigations into pervasive corruption on the part of previous and current government officials. Once cases were turned over to the courts, the judges’ tendency to deny defense motions, support prosecution motions, and to violate courtroom procedures raised questions about the independence of the judiciary. Tymoshenko’s arrest on August 5, 2011 and October 11 conviction for exceeding her powers while in office drew strong international condemnation. She was sentenced to 7 years, ordered to repay the state $188 million, and banned from seeking public office while in prison.

Since the election of President Yanukovych, Ukraine has pursued improved relations with Russia. Ukraine’s relations with Russia have focused on energy security, natural gas prices, economic cooperation, border demarcation and delimitation, and issues related to the stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. In January 2009 Gazprom, the Russian natural gas producer, cut supplies to Ukraine. The cutoff developed into a crisis as both the gas supplies intended for consumption in Ukraine and those in transit to the rest of Europe were cut off for nearly a month. Ukraine was able to meet most of its domestic demand with reserves, but consumers in other European countries were left without gas for nearly 3 weeks. A hastily-negotiated agreement was signed with Russia on January 19, 2009, which called for market pricing for gas and transit and the elimination of intermediaries. After Yanukovych’s public statements calling for a “just price” for Russian gas imports, the Azarov government signed a sweeping 10-year agreement with Russia on April 21, 2010 to exchange a 25-year extension of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s basing lease in Sevastopol for a discounted price on Russian gas imports. Since then, Ukraine has continued to negotiate with Russia for less expensive gas imports and lobbied for an end to Russia’s planned South Stream gas pipeline.

European Integration
The Government of Ukraine has stated that European integration is its top foreign policy priority, and closer ties with the European Union are broadly popular in Ukraine. The Yanukovych administration has sought to improve relations with Russia and strengthen its strategic partnership with the United States. As noted above, one of the more significant changes in Ukraine’s foreign policy has been the formal adoption of a “non-bloc” policy and abandonment of Ukraine’s formal bid for NATO membership. Seeking to expand trade and investment, Ukraine is also reaching out to non-traditional partners, including countries in Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East.

Ukraine’s relations with the EU have been guided by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) since 1998. In March 2009, the European Council endorsed the Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative to help the EU’s Eastern neighbors (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) undertake political and economic reforms and to bring them closer to the EU. The EaP was launched in May 2009. At the November 2010 EU-Ukraine Summit, President Yanukovych reiterated his desire to conclude an Association Agreement with the EU. The two sides also signed an action plan on visa liberalization at the summit. As of December 1, 2011, all technical negotiations relating to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) were completed. Ahead of the December 19, 2011 EU-Ukraine Summit in Kyiv, the only outstanding issue concerned the inclusion of a membership perspective for Ukraine in the preamble to the Association Agreement.


Government Type: Republic

Ukraine has a presidential-parliamentary system of government with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The prime minister is appointed by the president with the consent of more than one-half of the parliament. The prime minister, first deputy prime minster, three deputy prime ministers, and cabinet ministers are appointed by the president based on a submission by the prime minister. The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members are elected to 5-year terms, with the next Rada election occurring in October 2012.

Amendments to the 1996 constitution were adopted during the 2004 "Orange Revolution" and took effect in January 2006, shifting significant powers from the president to the prime minister and Rada (parliament). On October 1, 2010, the Constitutional Court in a closed-door ruling announced that the 2004 amendments were unconstitutional because procedures used to adopt them violated the constitution. The court reinstated the 1996 constitution, which granted greater powers to the presidency, returning the government to a presidential-parliamentary system.

Capital:  Kiev (Kyiv) - 2.779 million  (2009)

The International Space Station Expedition 8 crew took a series of images of the Ukrainian city of Kyiv (Kiev) on a reservoir on the Dnipro (Dnieper) River. Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine and home to nearly 3 million people.

Kyiv is rich in the history of western civilization. It was a trade center on the Baltic-Black Sea route in the 11th and 12th centuries, and one of the major cities in the Christian world, until Mongol invaders destroyed the city in 1240. Some of the 11th-century cathedrals, which contain famous artifacts, remain standing and have been restored. Throughout the Middle Ages, Kyiv suffered through different occupations, but rose to be the center of Russian Orthodox Christianity by the 1800s. This cosmopolitan city was again largely destroyed during World War II. Despite its turbulent history, many of Kyiv ’s world famous artifacts have been rebuilt, and the city is prominent as a cultural center.

Image ISS008-E-20656 was taken April 4, 2004. Source: NASA.


Other Major Cities:   Kharkiv 1.455 million; Dnipropetrovsk 1.013 million; Odesa 1.009 million; Donetsk 971,000 (2009)

Administrative divisions: 24 provinces (oblasti, singular - oblast'), 1 autonomous republic* (avtonomna respublika), and 2 municipalities (mista, singular - misto) with oblast status**; Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Chernivtsi, Crimea or Avtonomna Respublika Krym* (Simferopol'), Dnipropetrovs'k, Donets'k, Ivano-Frankivs'k, Kharkiv, Kherson, Khmel'nyts'kyy, Kirovohrad, Kyiv**, Kyiv, Luhans'k, L'viv, Mykolayiv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, Sevastopol'**, Sumy, Ternopil', Vinnytsya, Volyn' (Luts'k), Zakarpattya (Uzhhorod), Zaporizhzhya, Zhytomyr. Note: administrative divisions have the same names as their administrative centers (exceptions have the administrative center name following in parentheses)


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Independence Date:  24 August 1991 (from the Soviet Union)

Notable earlier dates:

  • ca. A.D. 982 (Volodymyr I consolidates Kyivan Rus),
  • 1648 (establishment of Cossack Hetmanate)

Legal System:  civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts. Ukraine has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the International criminal court (ICCt).

Transnational Disputes:

  • 1997 boundary delimitation treaty with Belarus remains un-ratified due to unresolved financial claims, stalling demarcation and reducing border security;
  • delimitation of land boundary with Russia is complete with preparations for demarcation underway;
  • the dispute over the boundary between Russia and Ukraine through the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov remains unresolved despite a December 2003 framework agreement and ongoing expert-level discussions;
  • Moldova and Ukraine operate joint customs posts to monitor transit of people and commodities through Moldova's break-away Transnistria Region, which remains under OSCE supervision;
  • the ICJ ruled largely in favor of Romania its dispute submitted in 2004 over Ukrainian-administered Zmiyinyy/Serpilor (Snake) Island and Black Sea maritime boundary delimitation;
  • Romania opposes Ukraine's reopening of a navigation canal from the Danube border through Ukraine to the Black Sea

Environmental Issues

Ukraine faces significant environmental challenges, primarily related to the Chornobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986, industrial pollution, and waste management. Despite the government commitment to conservation of natural resources and biodiversity as national priorities, Ukraine ranks 20th in the world for greenhouse gas emissions and is among the European countries with the highest levels of land under plough, energy consumption, water usage, and illegal logging.

In accordance with its agreement with the G7 and European Commission in 1995, Ukraine permanently closed the last operating reactor at the Chornobyl site in 2000 and completed all urgent and required stabilization measures of the "sarcophagus"--the concrete shelter hastily built around the damaged reactor by the Soviet Union in the months following the disaster. Construction of a new confinement shelter to be built around the sarcophagus was begun in 2007, with commissioning due in 2014.

Ukraine established a pollution fee system that taxes air and water emissions, as well as solid waste disposal, but the derived revenues still are not fully redirected to environmental activities. Under the National Action Plan on Environment Protection for 2011-2015 approved in May 2011, the government pledges to complete the removal and disposal of pesticides and toxic chemicals from air and water by the end of 2012, create automated air pollution monitoring systems in main industrial regions, improve urban water supply and wastewater treatment, and decrease carbon dioxide emissions in the municipal heating sector by 10% by 2015.

Ukraine is a party to numerous international conventions and treaties including the Kyoto Protocol and is interested in regional environmental cooperation. Although its commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development lags behind commitments made by its East European neighbors, Ukrainian policy for EU integration is a positive driver for the development of a national environmental policy commensurate with EU environmental standards.

International Environmental Agreements

Ukraine is party to international agreements on: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. It has signed, but not ratified international agreements on: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, and Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds.

Numerous wildfires dot the landscape of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This region is mostly grassland, similar to the prairies of the United States. Grasslands are characterized by frequent fires and droughts, which prevent tree growth but promote the development of a rich organic soil layer. It was known as the “breadbasket” of the former Soviet Union because of its rich agricultural production. Ukraine´s natural resources also include oil, coal and natural gas, which have fueled rapid economic development since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. One of the most well-known environmental catastrophes occurred here: The meltdown of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in 1986. Like many former Soviet republics, Ukraine suffers from air and water pollution from industrial plants that had few environmental controls. This has contributed to a decline in the health of the Black Sea, the body of water visible in the lower left of the image. Source: NASA. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz


Total Renewable Water Resources: 139.5 cu km (1997)

Freshwater Withdrawal:    37.53 cu km/yr (12% domestic, 35% industrial, 52% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 807 cu m/yr (2000)

See: Water profile of Ukraine


Agricultural products: grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, vegetables; beef, milk

Irrigated Land: 21,790 sq km (2008)


Natural Resources: iron ore, coal, manganese, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, timber, arable land

Land Use:

arable land: 53.8%
permanent crops: 1.5%
other: 44.7% (2005)


Although proven onshore and offshore oil and natural gas reserves are limited, there is now interest in oil exploration in the Ukrainian portion of the Black Sea as well as prospecting for shale gas. The country has other important energy sources, such as coal, and large mineral deposits, and is one of the world's leading energy transit countries, providing transportation of Russian gas across its territory. Ukraine imports almost 80% of its oil and 77% of its natural gas. Russia ranks as Ukraine's principal supplier of oil, and Russian firms now own and/or operate the majority of Ukraine's refining capacity. Natural gas imports currently come from Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, which deliver the gas to Ukraine's border through a pipeline system owned and controlled by Gazprom, Russia's state-owned gas monopoly. Ukraine owns and operates the gas pipelines on its territory, which are also used to transit Russian gas to Western Europe. Ukraine's laws forbid the sale of the gas pipeline network. Strained relations between the two countries over fair pricing for gas caused severe gas supply disruptions for downstream consumers in 2006 and 2009. In April 2010, the Rada ratified the Kharkiv gas-for-basing agreement in which Ukraine agreed to extend the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s basing rights in Sevastopol for an additional 25 years (until 2042) in exchange for a $100 per thousand cubic meters (tcm) discount of Ukraine’s imports of Russian gas. With the price of gas expected to rise above $456 per tcm by January 2012, Russia and Ukraine were renegotiating the gas contract for a lower price as of late 2011. Both sides had openly pledged to avoid any disruptions of gas supply during the coming winter.

See: Energy profile of Ukraine


After Russia, the Ukrainian republic was far and away the most important economic component of the former Soviet Union, producing about four times the output of the next-ranking republic. Its fertile black soil generated more than one-fourth of Soviet agricultural output, and its farms provided substantial quantities of meat, milk, grain, and vegetables to other republics. Likewise, its diversified heavy industry supplied the unique equipment (for example, large diameter pipes) and raw materials to industrial and mining sites (vertical drilling apparatus) in other regions of the former USSR.

Shortly after independence in August 1991, the Ukrainian Government liberalized most prices and erected a legal framework for privatization, but widespread resistance to reform within the government and the legislature soon stalled reform efforts and led to some backtracking.

Output by 1999 had fallen to less than 40% of the 1991 level.

With rich farmlands, a well-developed industrial base, highly trained labor force of 20 million, and good education system, Ukraine has the potential to become a major European economy. After a robust 8-year expansion beginning in 2000 that saw real GDP expand 75%, Ukraine’s economy experienced a sharp slowdown in late 2008, which continued through 2009. After contracting 15.1% in 2009, GDP bounced back only 4.3% in 2010 and was forecast to grow between 4.5% and 4.7% in 2011.

Ukraine’s economy remains burdened by excessive government regulation, corruption, and lack of law enforcement, and while the government has taken steps against corruption and small and medium enterprises have been largely privatized, much remains to be done to restructure and privatize key sectors such as energy and to create a market system for agricultural land. President Yanukovych chairs a Committee on Economic Reform, and in 2010 Ukraine developed an economic reform plan for 2010-2014. In December 2010 a comprehensive new tax code was passed by parliament and signed into law, provoking major street protests in Kyiv. The protests forced the government to remove elements that would have expanded the authority of the state tax service, but small businesses continue to report that the new code is more burdensome than the previous system.

Ukraine ostensibly encourages foreign trade and investment. Foreigners have the right to purchase businesses and property, to repatriate revenue and profits, and to receive compensation in the event property were to be nationalized by a future government. However, the country's complex laws and regulations, poor corporate governance, weak enforcement of contract law by courts, and particularly corruption have discouraged broad foreign direct investment in Ukraine. While there is a functioning stock market, the lack of protection for minority shareholder rights severely restricts portfolio investment from abroad.

Ukraine abounds in natural resources and industrial production capacity.

Ukraine's dependence on Russia for energy supplies and the lack of significant structural reform have made the Ukrainian economy vulnerable to external shocks. Ukraine depends on imports to meet about three-fourths of its annual oil and natural gas requirements and 100% of its nuclear fuel needs. After a two-week dispute that saw gas supplies cutoff to Europe, Ukraine agreed to 10-year gas supply and transit contracts with Russia in January 2009 that brought gas prices to "world" levels. The strict terms of the contracts have further hobbled Ukraine's cash-strapped state gas company, Naftohaz.

Ukraine’s economy is heavily dependent on its exports, which make up about 40% of its gross domestic product. While countries of the former Soviet Union remain important trading partners, especially Russia for energy imports, Ukraine's trade is becoming more diversified. The European Union (EU) accounts for about 30% of Ukraine's trade, while CIS countries account for about 40%. Ukraine has a broad industrial base, including much of the former U.S.S.R.'s space and rocket industry. The country has a major ferrous metal industry, producing cast iron, steel, and steel pipe, and its chemical industry produces coke, mineral fertilizers, and sulfuric acid. Manufactured goods include airplanes, turbines, metallurgical equipment, diesel locomotives, and tractors.

The drop in steel prices and Ukraine's exposure to the global financial crisis due to aggressive foreign borrowing lowered growth in 2008 and the economy contracted more than 15% in 2009, among the worst economic performances in the world.

World demand for steel and chemicals began to recover in 2009 after dropping sharply in the second half of 2008, and Ukraine's suppliers experienced nearly 50% year-on-year export growth at the start of 2011. Steel constitutes nearly 40% of exports. Ukraine is also a major producer of grain, sunflower seeds, and beet sugar. Ukraine introduced grain export quotas in 2010. The distribution of these quotas was highly non-transparent and discriminatory to foreign grain trading companies, which did not receive allocations. Export quotas were replaced by export duties in July 2011. While duties on barley remain, Ukraine eliminated export duties on corn and wheat in October 2011.

In July 2010, following extended negotiations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a second loan package to Ukraine, after an earlier package negotiated in 2008 went off-track. The 29-month $15.2 billion Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) was primarily conditioned on adjustments in fiscal and monetary policy, consumer gas price increases, and pension reform. Disbursement of SBA funds has not taken place since November 2010, due to the Ukrainian Government's delay in enacting pension reforms and its reluctance to move forward on the politically unpopular issue of gas pricing reform. The World Bank has committed more than $7 billion to Ukraine in 38 projects since the country joined the Bank in 1992.

Ukraine is a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in May 2008. In 2008 Ukraine and the European Union launched negotiations on a free trade agreement. As an interim step to an EU Association Agreement, Ukraine hopes to conclude with the EU a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) as well as an agreement on visa liberalization. Some chapters remain under negotiation.

Ukrainian Government officials eliminated most tax and customs privileges in a March 2005 budget law, bringing more economic activity out of Ukraine's large shadow economy, but more improvements are needed, including fighting corruption, developing capital markets, and improving the legislative framework.

Ukraine's economy was buoyant despite political turmoil between the prime minister and president until mid-2008. Real GDP growth exceeded 7% in 2006-07, fueled by high global prices for steel - Ukraine's top export - and by strong domestic consumption, spurred by rising pensions and wages.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $329 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $162.9 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $7,200 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 9.3%
industry: 34.7%
services: 56.1% (2011 est.)

Industries: coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing

Currency: Hryvnia (UAH)



Administration, N., Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Ukraine. Retrieved from


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