Water profile of Ukraine

Source: FAO

Geography and Population

Ukraine (49°00' North, 32°00' East), located in eastern Europe, has a total area of 60,3700 square kilometers (km2) making it the third largest country of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) after the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. It is bordered in the southwest by Romania and Moldova, in the west by Hungary, the Slovak Republic and Poland, in the north by Belarus, in the east by the Russian Federation, and in the south by the Black Sea, where the Crimea peninsula is located. Administratively, Ukraine is divided into 24 provinces (oblasts) plus the autonomous Republic of Crimea and the two large cities of Sevastopol and the capital Kiev, which are special districts.

caption Map of Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

The predominant lowland is interrupted by several regions of modest elevation, such as the Volyn-Podolsk plateau (also called the Podolian plateau) in the west, the Dnepr ridge in the center, and the Donets ridge in the southeast. The Carpathian mountains (with their highest peak at 2,061 meters (m) above sea level) and their foothills in the southwest, together with the Crimean mountains (1,545 m above sea level) along the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, constitute the only mountainous sections of Ukraine.

The cultivable area is estimated at 44.8 million hectares (ha), or 74% of the total area of the country. The cultivated area was estimated at about 31.2 million ha in 1993, of which about 30.2 million ha, or 97%, consisted of annual crops and 1 million ha, or 3%, of permanent crops. The potential for agricultural production is rather evenly spread throughout the country, with two distinguishable centers: the western region characterized by a moderate climate; and the southern region with its fertile black soils where irrigation plays an important role. The Chernobyl nuclear accident has contaminated about 4.1 million ha. About 92 settlements around Chernobyl have been evacuated. The State has provided financial support to 835 settlements for people wanting to move away. A strict radiological control has been applied over a larger zone, covering an additional 1,288 settlements. Due to the prevailing winds, most of the radioactivity fell on Belarus.

caption Figure 1: Land categories of Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

Due to the market-oriented transformation of the economy, agricultural land ownership is undergoing many changes as land privatization progresses. The previously dominant collective sector is shrinking, giving way to the development of the private sector. According to the latest official data of 1 January 1993, a few months after the announcement of the land privatization decree, the private sector, consisting of individual farms, agricultural companies, and agricultural cooperatives, owned 5.5 million ha, or about 12% of the total cultivable area (Figure 1). The public sector kolkhoz (collective farms) and sovkhoz (state farms) occupied 29.2 million ha and 10.1 million ha respectively.

The total population is estimated at 51.6 million inhabitants (1996), of which 29% is rural. The annual population growth rate averaged 0.3% in the period 1980-1992, but in the last few years there has been a slight decrease in the total population of the country. The average population density is 85 inhabitants/km2, and ranges from 40 inhabitants/km2 in the south and northwest (Volyn, Kherson) to more than 200 inhabitants/km2 in the most industrialized regions (Kiev, Donietsk, Lviv). Women make up 54% of the total population, and are also the majority in the rural population (55%), unlike in other East European countries. Agriculture employs about 18% of the economically active population, far behind industry. Agriculture contributes 14% to the gross domestic product (GDP), which declined by 33% between 1993 and 1995. Agricultural exports, consisting mainly of meat and animal products, account for about 40% of total exports.

Climate and Water Resources


There are four agro-climatological zones in Ukraine:

  • The humid zone. This zone covers 35% of the country in the northwest. It is moderately warm in summer and cold in winter. The average annual precipitation is 600 millimeters (mm), concentrated between May and October, but can reach 1,600 mm in the highest part of the Carpathian Mountains, with to up 300 mm falling as snow. In these areas, the snow cover generally lies for 70-90 days, from early or mid-December to the end of February, but can last until April and even mid-May. Average temperatures vary between -4 degrees Celsius (°C) in January and 17°C in July.
  • The warm zone. This zone comprises the eastern and central forested steppe (25% of the country). The average annual precipitation is 500 mm, concentrated between February and April. Average temperatures vary between -6°C in January and 21°C in July.
  • The semi-arid zone. This zone covers 25% of the country and comprises the so-called northern steppe (central part of the country) and the far east of the country (Donietsk high plain). The average annual precipitation is 450 mm, concentrated between April and October. Average temperatures vary between -6°C in January and 21°C in July.
  • The arid zone. This area in the south covers 15% of the country, including the Crimean peninsula. It is characterized by mild winters, with an average annual precipitation of about 360 mm, concentrated between December and May. Average temperatures vary between 0°C in January and 23°C in July.

The average annual precipitation over the country is estimated at 500 mm. This figure includes snowfall, which is an important source of water, particularly in the west.

River Basins and Water Resources

caption Figure 2: Internal renewable surface water resources by basin in Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

The country can be divided into seven major river basins, all of them discharging into the Black Sea except the Northern Bug which flows towards the Baltic Sea:

  • The Dnepr basin, covering about 65% of the country. The Dnepr River rises in the Russian Federation, then flows into Belarus before entering Ukraine. Its main effluents in Ukraine are: on the left bank, the Desna River, which rises in the Russian Federation; and on its right bank, the Pripyat River, which comes from Belarus and the Ingulets.
  • The Dnestr basin, covering 12% of the country. It flows into Moldova before re-entering Ukraine some 50 km before its mouth in the Black Sea.
  • The Danube basin, covering 7% of the country. The final 120 km of the Danube River before it reaches the Black Sea form the border between Ukraine and Romania. The Danube is the river with the largest number of riparian countries in the world. Some effluents of the Danube rise in Ukraine, in the Carpathian mountains, flow into neighboring countries, and join the mainstream of the Danube before its mouth in the Black Sea. In particular, the Cisa River flows out of Ukraine into Hungary, while the Prut River flows into Romania and Moldova. Ukraine contributes 7.5% to the total flow of the Danube.
  • The coastal basin, covering 7% of the country. It groups all the small rivers which flow directly into the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, including all the Crimean rivers.
  • The Northern Donietsk basin, covering 4% of the country. It rises in the Russian Federation, and flows through Ukraine for about 450 km in its eastern part before re-entering the Russian Federation.
  • The Southern Bug basin, covering 3% of the country. It is an internal river basin, generating about 3.4 cubic kilometers per year (km3/year).
  • The Northern Bug basin, covering 2% of the country. The Northern Bug River rises in Ukraine and flows north, forming the border with Poland, and then the border between Poland and Belarus. Like the Northern Bug, the San River rises in Ukraine before entering Poland where it joins the Northern Bug.

The internal renewable surface water resources (IRSWR) can be estimated at 50.1 km3/year (Figure 2), while the total surface water resources can be estimated at 136.55 km3/year.

The groundwater resources are estimated at 20 km3/year. Artesian wells are found at an average depth of 100-150m in the north of the country and at 500-600m in the south. The overlap between surface and groundwater resources has been estimated at 17 km3/year.

International Agreements

caption Table 1: Renewable surface water resources (RSWR) by major river basin in Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

The Soviet legislation regarding international water issues is still valid, which means that the agreements with Poland, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, and Romania, as well as the internal regulations between former Soviet republics, are still in force. An agreement between Moldova and Ukraine stipulates that Moldova may use water stored in the Curciugan reservoir, located on a tributary of the Dnestr. This tributary rises in Ukraine and forms the border with Moldova before it reaches the Dnestr. Ukraine and Poland have begun discussions concerning the protection of the Northern Bug resources against pollution.

Lakes and Dams

There are about 3,000 natural lakes in Ukraine, with a total area of 2,000 km2. The largest freshwater lakes have an approximate area of 50 km2 and are located in the central and southern parts of the country. In addition to these lakes, there are about 12,000 km2 of swamp (peat soils) in the north.

About 22,000 dams have been constructed in Ukraine for flow regulation, hydropower, irrigation, and fishery purposes. The largest ones, with a total capacity of 18.5 km3 and a total surface water area of 6,888 km2, are located on the Dnepr: the Krementshutskie (2,252 km2), the Kachowskie (2,155 km2), the Kiivskie (922 km2), the Dnieprodierzhinskie (567 km2), the Zaporoskie (410 km2), and the Kaniowskie (582 km2). They are used for hydropower production, for supplying electricity to the main cities and industrial centers; for flood protection; and for storing irrigation water. The gross theoretical hydropower potential is estimated at 45,000 gigawatt hours per year (GWh/year), about 40% of which would be economically feasible. The hydropower installed capacity is estimated at 4.5 gigawatts (GW), generating 9% of the total electricity production.

Water, Withdrawal, and Wastewater

caption Figure 3: Water withdrawal by sector in Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

In 1992, the total water withdrawal was estimated at 26 km3, of which 30% was used for agricultural purposes, and 52% for industry (Figure 3). A further 0.9 km3/year were reported to be withdrawn for other purposes.

A comparison with 1985 data shows that in the period 1985-1992 the total water withdrawn for agriculture declined by 2 km3, and for industry by 3 km3. This might be explained by the decrease in irrigated area due to the lack of fuel and spare parts for the pumps, the decline in animal husbandry, and the drop in industrial production caused by the prevailing difficult post-independence economic situation.

In 1989, wastewater treatment amounted to 3.8 km3/year, which was 57% of the total produced wastewater at that time.

Irrigation And Drainage Development

Irrigation Development

Irrigation in Ukraine has a long tradition, particularly in Crimea, where it dates back to the early centuries of the modern era. Major irrigation development also took place in the Middle Ages, during the Tatar Empire (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), and again in the nineteenth century, when it expanded from Crimea to the steppes in the south of the country. Large irrigation schemes were built in the 1930s in eastern Soviet Ukraine, as part of the `electrification of the socialist state' project. In 1967, the area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 667,000 ha.

The irrigation potential has been estimated at 5.5 million ha. The most suitable areas for irrigation development, from a technical and economic point of view, are: the coastal plain along the Black Sea coast between Odessa and the Danube Delta; the area between Odessa and the Southern Bug valley; central Crimea; and the coastal areas along the Sea of Azov.

In 1994, irrigation covered about 2.6 million ha. The reservoirs built on the main rivers, and particularly on the Dnepr River, provide water to the irrigated areas downstream through canals up to 500 km long. These canals also provide water to cities and industrial complexes in Crimea and in the far southwest of the country. The main irrigation canals in Ukraine are: the north Crimean (400 km), the Kachowski (130 km), the Frunzenski (120 km), the Krasnoznamenski (102 km), and the north Rohaczinski (110 km), all in the same area. There is no irrigation from groundwater in Ukraine.

caption Figure 4: Irrigated crops in Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

Irrigation is mainly concentrated in the south of the country. In 1984, the irrigated areas in Ukraine amounted to 2.4 million ha. More than 50% of this total was concentrated in the four districts which border the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Other important regions for irrigation are the valleys of the Donietsk and of the Dnepr where supplementary irrigation is practiced in summer. Between 1985 and 1994, an average of a further 23,000 ha/year were equipped for irrigation.

In 1985, about 2.1 million ha were under sprinkler irrigation. The locally produced rain guns are the most widely used in Ukraine. Surface irrigation covers the rest of the area, while micro-irrigation has been introduced on an experimental basis only. Most of the irrigated areas require pumping.

Irrigation belongs to the kolkhoz and sovkhoz sector. In 1996, a small part of the irrigated land was rented by private companies. Where still operating, large irrigation projects have now turned to extensive agricultural production. Lack of fuel and capital are the main causes for the abandoning of irrigated land. Moreover, the status of irrigated land is still uncertain.

About 85% of irrigated land is used for growing fodder crops (52%) and grain (33%). About 9% is used for growing vegetables, and the remaining 6% for the production of industrial crops (Figure 4). In 1990, the average yield for cereals was 4.6 tons per hectare (t/ha); 34% higher than the average yield for rainfed cereals. The average yields for irrigated winter wheat, sunflower seed, and sugar beet were 3.9 t/ha, 1.9 t/ha and 28.4 t/ha respectively. The yields for the same crops grown on drained land in the northwest were only 2.7 t/ha, 1.7 t/ha and 27.5 t/ha respectively.

Drainage Development

caption Figure 5: Drainage techniques in Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

The first drainage works were introduced at the end of the eighteenth century in northwest Ukraine, then part of Poland. At that time, major canals were built, mainly for communication and transport purposes, and the swamps were drained for cultivation. Drainage development has continued in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Recent studies have identified some 5.4 million ha as requiring drainage. In 1994, the drained area was estimated at 3.3 million ha, of which 63% was equipped with subsurface drains, mainly pipes (Figure 5). About 1.8 million ha of irrigated land are equipped with drainage facilities to prevent salinization. In these areas, the underground water level is kept at 1.5-3.0 m below the soil surface.

caption Figure 6: Crops grown on drained areas in Ukraine. (Source: FAO)

About 80-95% of the drained area is cropped every year. In 1990, the main crops on drained areas were permanent meadows (38%), cereals (27%), and fodder crops (26%) (Figure 6).

Drainage is mainly concentrated in the north and west of the country. In 1984, the drained area in Ukraine amounted to almost 3 million ha, of which 53% was in the four most northwestern districts. A further 20,000-30,000 ha have been equipped for drainage since 1984, mainly with subsurface drainage.

Institutional Environment

Water management in Ukraine has traditionally been administered by different ministries:

  • The Ministry of Land Improvement is, with the Department of New Projects, responsible for the design and execution of irrigation and drainage schemes.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture is, with the Department of Water Management, responsible for operation and maintenance of the irrigated and drained areas.
  • The Ministry of Power Engineering is, with the Department of Control of Water Use, responsible for water use for energy purposes.
  • The Ministry of Transport is involved in water management in view of the important role canals and rivers play in transportation and navigation.

In order to coordinate ministerial actions in the water sector, in 1992 the government established the State Committee for Water Administration. This committee is responsible for all policy issues related to water resources development, and particularly for new investments.

The Hydrometeorological Committee operates under the Council of Ministers, and maintains an extensive network of hydrological and climatological stations throughout the country.

The National Agrarian Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, established in the 1990s, supervises two affiliated institutions which deal with water resources development:

  • the Institute of Hydraulic Sciences and Land Drainage, located in Kiev, in the north; and
  • the Institute of Irrigation in Kherson, in the south

The main laws relating to the water sector were introduced during the Soviet era. A new law is under preparation. There are no water charges for irrigation in Ukraine.

Trends in Water Resources Management

In the water sector, the government of Ukraine is now focusing on drinking water supply. Indeed, although nearly 100% of the population has access to safe water supply (in rural areas, mostly through wells), the existing network is overexploited. For this reason, and because of energy shortages, many cities receive water only twice a day for a limited number of hours. Expenditure in this sector has increased substantially: while the five year plans of the 1980s envisaged the laying of about 60 km of pipes for the whole period, there are now some 250 km of pipes laid every year. This development should lead to an improved water supply in the near future.

In the past, the agricultural sector was a priority for the government. Indeed, in the 1960s, the Council for Dnepr River Resources Management was established with a mandate to prepare legal acts concerning the exploitation of the Dnepr, Northern Donietsk, Southern Bug, Crimea, and Donbas regions. This program was completed in the early 1980s.

Public expenditure on water resources development for agriculture has fallen substantially since 1992. This fall has been caused by a lack of capital and by the undefined status of landownership on large areas. Combined with a lack of fuel to pump water to the irrigated land, this explains the recent decrease in irrigated areas.

In the mid-1980s, the Soviet National Committee for Science and Technology launched a project concerning the automation of the Dnepr water resources management. This project reflected the prevailing needs of industry, cities, and irrigated agriculture in some districts. Indeed, one of the most crucial problems is, and will be in the future, the optimal use of river water resources. At the beginning of the 1990s, some rivers of the central and southern regions were exploited in their downstream courses to such an extent that aquatic life was endangered and basic environmental requirements were not satisfied.

Salinity problems are concentrated mostly in the southern region.

Further Reading

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Food and Agriculture Organization. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Food and Agriculture Organization should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2008). Water profile of Ukraine. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/157006


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