Ukraine is situated in eastern Europe, and the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Ukraine is bordered on the west by Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary; on the southwest by Romania and Moldova; on the south by the Black Sea and Sea of Azov; on the east and northeast by Russia; and on the north by Belarus. The Crimean Autonomous Republic—encompassing the Crimean Peninsula, or Crimea, in the south—is included in Ukraine’s borders. The capital and largest city is Kyiv.
Much of Ukraine is a fertile plain suited for agriculture. Ukraine is rich in natural resources, and has a developed economy with significant agricultural and industrial sectors. The country has a democratic form of government headed by a president.
From the 9th century AD northern Ukraine was part of Kyivan Rus, the first significant East Slavic state, which succumbed to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. Ukraine was for centuries thereafter under the rule of a succession of foreign powers, including Poland and the Russian Empire. In 1918 a Bolshevik (Communist) government was established in Ukraine, and in 1922 the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was one of the four founding republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukraine’s declaration of independence, approved by a popular vote on December 1, 1991, was a major factor in the USSR’s collapse later that month.
Land and Resources
The total area of Ukraine is 603,700 sq km (233,090 sq mi). The country extends 1316 km (818 mi) east to west and 893 km (555 mi) north to south. Much of the country is a rolling upland plain, with the highest elevations in the western half of the country and the southeastern Donets’ka region. A lowland region of wooded bogs and swamps, called the Poles’ye (Pripet) Marshes, is located in northern Ukraine, although much of this region has been drained and cleared for agriculture. Low-lying plains are found in southern Ukraine in the lower Dnieper (Dnipro) River Basin and the Black Sea coastal region. Ukraine’s coastline, including Crimea, extends about 1050 km (about 650 mi). The Carpathian Mountains in the extreme west and the Crimean Mountains in the southern end of Crimea take up about 5 percent of Ukraine’s territory. Mount Hoverla in the Carpathians is the country’s highest peak at 2061 m (6762 ft).
Rivers and Lakes
The Dnieper, Europe’s third largest river, flows through central Ukraine and forms the country’s main river network. More than half of the country’s rivers belong to this system. The Dnieper is Ukraine’s longest river, measuring about 980 km (about 610 mi) in length within the country’s borders. Other major rivers are the Dniester (Dnister), the Bug (Buh), and the Southern Bug (Pivdennyy Buh) in the west, and the Donets in the east. The Danube (Dunay) forms part of Ukraine’s border with Romania in the extreme southwest. Except for the Bug, which flows northward into the Wis?a (Vistula) in Poland, all of Ukraine’s major rivers flow southward and empty into the Black Sea or the Sea of Azov. Ukraine has more than 3000 small lakes that cover about 3 percent of its territory.
Plant and Animal Life
Ukraine’s four major zones of plant life, from north to south, are forest, forest-steppe, steppe, and Mediterranean. In the forest zone, beech trees are widespread in the west; linden, oak, and pine are found in the swamps and meadows in the north and northwest; and spruce is prevalent in the northeast. In the central forest-steppe zone, grasslands are interspersed with numerous trees, mainly oak. The steppe zone, which covers the lower third of Ukraine, features grassy plains. In the extreme south, the steppe is dry with thin-leaved grass. The Mediterranean zone, which encompasses a narrow strip along the southern Crimean coast, contains a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and grasses.
Wildlife in Ukraine includes elk, deer, wild boars, brown bears, and wolves. Species such as bison and wild horses have long been extinct. Others, such as moufflon (wild sheep), spotted deer, and muskrats, have been successfully reintroduced. A network of 10 nature reserves and more than 100 wildlife refuges has been established to protect wildlife, especially beaver, lynx, elk, and muskrats. Birds include the Eurasian black vulture, steppe eagle, and gray heron. Ukraine has more than 200 species of fish, including pike, carp, and sturgeon. There are 25 species of domesticated animals, including cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats.
Ukraine possesses rich and conveniently located natural resources. About half of its territory, especially the central and southern regions, consists of the exceptionally fertile black chernozem, a type of soil that is ideal for agriculture. Forests cover 13 percent of Ukraine’s territory. The Donets Basin in the southeast is especially well endowed with large deposits of coal, while the east central Kryvyy Rih area is rich in iron ore. Ukraine has some of the world’s largest manganese deposits, located in south central Ukraine at Nikopol’ (Nykopil). There are also considerable deposits of oil and natural gas in the Carpathian foothills, the Donets Basin, and along the Crimean coast.
Most of Ukraine has four distinct seasons and a moderate, continental climate, with cold winters and warm summers. The Crimean coast, however, has a Mediterranean climate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. In eastern Ukraine, air masses from the steppes of Central Asia often make summers warmer and winters colder. The average temperature in Kyiv is -6° C (21° F) in January and 20° C (69° F) in July. Precipitation in Ukraine averages 500 mm (20 in) per year, with considerable regional variation; levels are highest in the Carpathians and lowest on the Black Sea coast. For most of the country, rainfall tends to be most frequent in the summer months. Ukraine’s climate is generally favorable for agriculture and tourism, especially in Crimea.
Soviet policies of raising industrial and agricultural productivity with little regard to ecological considerations have had a devastating effect on the environment. Air pollution is especially severe in such industrial centers as Zaporizhzhya, Luhans’k, and Donets’ka. Industrial and agricultural pollutants have contaminated soil in the south and drinking water throughout the country. High-level radioactive contamination of the soil and food chain has been a concern since the April 1986 explosion and core meltdown of a reactor at the Chernobyl’ nuclear power station, located in northern Ukraine near the city of Chernobyl’. Northern Ukraine and especially southern Belarus were the most severely contaminated areas from the radioactive plume that was released in the explosion. The long-term impact on human health and the environment is still being assessed. The four Chernobyl’ reactors, one of which was still operating in mid-1997, continue to be a major hazard, especially to Ukraine’s water supply. Complete closure of the Chernobyl’ complex is scheduled to occur by the end of the century with the financial assistance of Western nations. Meanwhile, Ukraine lacks funds for recycling and conservation programs, and pollution controls remain at a minimum.
The People of Ukraine
The population of Ukraine was estimated in 1996 at 51,230,000, giving the country a population density of 85 persons per sq km (220 per sq mi). The most notable recent demographic trend has been a decline in population—with an estimated loss of 714,000 between 1991 and 1996—due to death rates exceeding birth rates. Leading factors in the country’s low fertility and high mortality rates are environmental pollution, poor diet, widespread smoking and alcoholism, and deteriorating medical care. About 68 percent of the population lives in cities and towns. The largest cities in Ukraine are Kyiv, the country’s capital and economic, cultural, and educational center; Kharkiv, noted for its engineering expertise, machinery plants, and educational institutions; Dnipropetrovs’k, a center of metallurgical and aerospace industries; and Donets’ka, known for mining and metallurgy. Odesa (Odessa), on the Black Sea coast, is the country’s largest seaport.
Ethnic Groups and Languages
Ethnic Ukrainians comprise 73 percent of the population of Ukraine. Russians are the largest minority group at 22 percent. Jews (considered both an ethnic and a religious group in Ukraine) and Belarusians each account for about 1 percent of the total. Other numerically significant groups are Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, and Romanians. Since the end of World War II in 1945, the proportion of Russians nearly doubled, while the Jewish population declined by about half as a result of emigration. Ethnic clashes are rare, although some tension exists in Crimea between Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians. The Crimean Tatars, who were forcibly deported to Central Asia in 1944, are being allowed to resettle in Crimea. Of the 250,000 who have returned, about 100,000 still have inadequate housing and 70,000 have not yet received Ukrainian citizenship.
The official language of the country is Ukrainian, which forms with Russian and Belarusian the eastern branch of the Slavic language subfamily of Indo-European languages. Russian also is widely used, especially in the cities.
During most of the Soviet period, the state imposed severe restrictions on religious activity, banned many churches, and persecuted religious leaders. Many believers, forced underground, continued to adhere to their faiths, however. Religious activity remained relatively strong in Ukraine, and it has greatly expanded since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A majority of the population, or 67 percent, adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy in alliance with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Ukrainian Autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Church. Until 1990 all of the country’s Orthodox churches were part of the Ukrainian exarchate, which was subsidiary to the patriarchate (jurisdiction of the patriarch, or head) of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 1992 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split into two rival denominations when the Kyivan patriarchate was formed, separating itself from the Moscow patriarchate. The autocephalous church, which was banned by the Soviet government in 1930, regained legal status in 1990. Nearly 10 percent of the population, based almost exclusively in western Ukraine, belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) Church, a church of the Byzantine rite (see Eastern Rite Churches); banned in 1946, this church was officially revived in 1991. Other denominations include Roman Catholics of the Latin rite, Jews, Muslims, and Baptists.
Literacy is almost universal in Ukraine, and education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16. Ukraine’s institutions of higher learning include ten universities and a large number of specialized academies. The most prestigious is the University of Kyiv (founded in 1834), located in the capital. L’viv State University (1784), located in L’viv, is the country’s oldest university. In recent years private schools and universities have appeared, most notably the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (1992), located in Kyiv.
Way of Life
Ukraine’s society was traditionally agrarian and village-based. With Soviet rule came rapid modernization and urbanization. By the 1960s, most inhabitants lived in cities. Important regional differences developed in Ukraine; today the west tends to be more agrarian, traditionalist, religious, and Ukrainian-speaking, while the east is industrialized, urbanized, and more often Russian-speaking. The highly regimented lifestyle of the Soviet period is slowly being supplanted by a consumer society. However, the transition to a market-based economy is difficult, and most people have been engaged in a desperate struggle to make ends meet.
A series of exploitative regimes kept living standards low during the Soviet period, although the government provided employment and other provisions such as housing. Apartments built during the Soviet period are small and cramped, and most of the buildings are now dilapidated. An average family has only about one-seventh the living space of an average family in the United States. People in Ukraine spend more than half of their income on food, and many families depend on garden plots to meet their food needs. Due to economic constraints, families are small and getting smaller. Divorce rates are high. Despite formal equality, women are especially hard-pressed. Although they form the majority of the labor force, even in sectors demanding physical labor such as farming, few women have positions of influence in politics, business, or government. Vacations, once lengthy, have become less frequent for most people. New developments since the end of Soviet rule are freedom of expression and the growth of private property, especially in the form of dwellings.
The Ukrainian diet depends heavily on rye bread, potatoes, and borsch (beet soup). Pork and pork products, especially sausage and salo (a type of smoked bacon), are favored meats. Alcohol consumption, especially of the potent horilka, a wheat-based whiskey, is high, and smoking is widespread. Consumer goods are now more available than in the Soviet period, but few people can afford them. City residents usually have appliances such as refrigerators, telephones, and televisions; these amenities are much less common in the villages. Soccer is the most popular spectator sport in Ukraine. The main leisure activity is watching television. Cultural activities such as concerts, opera, and ballet are becoming less accessible for most people because of the cost.
The transition from the Soviet period has brought serious new problems. Much of the old elite (nomenklatura) has weathered the transition well. Many Soviet-era managers and factory directors retained their positions and profited from privatization. Highly placed members of the Communist Party hierarchy and security apparatus moved into business, often of a dubious kind. A thin stratum of new rich has begun to appear.
For the vast majority of the population, however, the transition has meant a catastrophic decline in living standards. Since 1991 the average standard of living has declined by 80 percent. An estimated 45 percent of the population, especially the elderly, now lives below the poverty level. Unemployment is growing, and health care is deteriorating. Life expectancy of males has dropped from 65 to 58 years. Ecological disasters, poor diet, and other factors have lowered resistance to diseases. Epidemics of diphtheria, cholera, and hepatitis have been frequent in recent years. A tragic consequence of the Chernobyl’ explosion has been a large increase in thyroid cancer in children.
Crime and especially corruption is rampant, with much economic activity controlled by “mafia” clans based in industrial centers such as Donets’ka, Dnipropetrovs’k, and Crimea. The influence of organized crime often reaches into the highest levels of government.
Ukraine’s geographical location between Europe and Asia meant that much of its early culture was a synthesis of Eastern and Western influences. When a developed culture emerged in the medieval, or Kyivan, period, the influence of the Byzantine Empire was paramount. In early modern times, major European currents such as the Renaissance reached Ukraine via Poland. A cultural dichotomy today exists within Ukraine, with western regions reflecting European, especially Polish, influence, while in the eastern regions the impact of Russian culture is evident.
The well-developed and colorful folklore of Ukraine has helped Ukrainians retain a cultural distinctiveness in the face of strong assimilatory pressures from neighboring lands. During the Soviet period the government extensively subsidized cultural activity, but culture was expected to serve as a vehicle for Communist propaganda. In the late 1920s and especially in the early 1930s, the Soviet regime began enforcing socialist realism as the only acceptable artistic style. Socialist realism mandated that all artists and writers glorify the Soviet regime and its goal of attaining communism. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought new freedoms for Ukrainian artists, but it also meant a sudden drop in government subsidies. Today government support is minimal and a funding crisis exists. The Westernization of cultural activity is moving ahead rapidly, with commercialized and previously taboo activities such as pop concerts becoming commonplace.
The literature that emerged between the 11th century and 13th century was primarily religious and based on Byzantine and Balkan models. It was written in Old Church Slavonic, which diverged from the spoken language, and dealt with gospels, psalms, sermons, and lives of saints. Historical and other secular topics were treated in chronicles, notably the Primary Chronicle. The works of this period, produced in the East Slavic state of Kyivan Rus, are also the literary heritage of Belarus and Russia.
The second, or cossack, literary period began in the 16th century, when the epic songs (dumy) of the Ukrainian cossacks, who developed an independent society along Ukraine’s southern steppe frontier, marked a high point of Ukrainian oral literature. The cossack chronicles describe the tumultuous history of the 17th and 18th centuries. Meanwhile, the rich polemical literature of this period reflects Polish influence. It is concerned with the religious controversies of the time, and sermons are a favorite topic.
The 19th century ushered in the third, or vernacular, period. Reflecting the influence of Western romanticism, it is characterized by the use of spoken language for literary purposes, a development pioneered by the classicist poet-playwright Ivan Kotliarevsky, and by depictions of peasant and cossack life. In the mid-19th century, Ukraine’s most renowned cultural figure, romanticist poet-painter Taras Shevchenko, wrote Kobzar (The Bard, 1840), a collection of poems demonstrating that the Ukrainian language could be used to express a full range of emotion and profound thought. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, realist and modernist trends set in. From 1863 prohibitions imposed on the use of the Ukrainian language by Russia’s imperial regime greatly impeded literary development. In western Ukraine, which was then part of the Austrian Empire, writers Ivan Franko and Vasyl Stefanyk, among others, continued to develop all literary genres.
The most dynamic era in Ukrainian literary history came in the 1920s, when a brief period of Soviet cultural leniency allowed for the appearance of dozens of prominent writers and a great variety of literary trends. Pavlo Tychyna emerged as the most renowned Ukrainian poet of the period. Soviet rule under Joseph Stalin brought this literary renaissance to an abrupt and brutal end when his regime imposed the doctrine of socialist realism. In the 1960s the so-called shestydesiatnyky (sixtiers), including poets Lina Kostenko and Vasyl Symonenko, rejected socialist realism and managed to revitalize Ukrainian literature. However, renewed political pressures in the 1970s forced most authors either to accept Communist Party controls or suffer repression. Only in recent years has literature obtained the opportunity to evolve freely.
Art and Architecture
Although prehistoric and Greek paintings have been discovered in Ukraine, the first major style to develop was the religious iconography of the Kyivan period. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, long-standing Byzantine traditions gave way to European influences during the Renaissance and the baroque period, when secular, non-religious themes were introduced. Portraits were especially popular. When eastern Ukraine lost its autonomy under Russian rule in the late 18th century, many Ukrainian painters, such as Dmytro Levytsky, moved to Russia in search of training and wider markets.
Renowned for his poetry, Taras Shevchenko is also considered the father of modern Ukrainian painting. Historical themes and landscapes were a popular genre through much of the 19th century. Realist tendencies appeared in the final decades, represented most notably by Ilya Repin. Meanwhile, Oleksander Murashko and the versatile Vasyl Krychevsky adopted impressionism. In the early 20th century, Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin were leading representatives of the avant-garde, while Mykhailo Boichuk and his followers sought to provide art for the masses by combining Ukrainian traditions with European models. After the cultural renaissance of the 1920s, the state-imposed dogma of socialist realism limited artistic freedom and experimentation. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave the artists of Ukraine a chance to join the international artistic mainstream.
Ukrainian folk art is especially rich, particularly in the Carpathian regions of western Ukraine. Outstanding examples of folk art are the famous intricately designed Ukrainian Easter eggs, called pysanky, and embroidery.
Among the earliest sculptures are the numerous stone babas, life-size female figures that Turkic nomads erected in the steppe between the 11th century and 13th century. Sculpture was not well developed in the Kyivan and early modern periods. In the 19th century sculpture in parks, squares, and other public places became popular, such as the statues of Saint Volodymyr (Vladimir) and the cossack leader Bohdan Khmel’nyts’ky in Kyiv. Ukraine’s most famous sculptor, Alexander Archipenko, was a pioneer of the cubist style. He emigrated early in his career, eventually settling in the United States in 1923.
Architecture in Ukraine has a rich history beginning with structures built by Greek colonists in the Crimea in the 6th century BC. The importance of Kyiv as a political and economic center from the 10th century AD encouraged the building of major Byzantine-style structures there, most notably the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in the 11th century. The impact of the Renaissance was especially strong in western Ukraine, reflected in structures such as the Dormition Church in L’viv. A synthesis of Ukrainian, Byzantine, and European styles, called Cossack Baroque, produced a series of unique churches in the 18th century. Ukraine also was influenced by the lavish rococo style that originated in France; examples include the Church of Saint Andrew in Kyiv and the Cathedral of Saint George in L’viv. Ukraine’s ornate wooden churches are especially renowned in world architecture. During the Soviet period, functionalist and constructivist tendencies predominated, resulting in new structures such as the Derzhprom office complex in Kharkiv.
Music and Dance
Ukrainians possess a remarkable repertoire of folk songs, and singing is an important part of their culture. In the 17th century they developed an innovative form of choral singing a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment). Important composers of church music in the late 18th century included Maksym Berezovsky, Dmytro Bortniansky, and Artem Vedel. In the 19th century, Semen Hulak-Artemovsky wrote a popular comic opera based on folk themes, Zaporozhets za Dunayem (Zaporozhian Beyond the Danube, 1863). A high point in musical creativity came in the early 20th century when Mykola Lysenko established a school of music that drew heavily on folk songs for inspiration.
Many of the dynamic and colorful folk dances of Ukraine reflect a rural or cossack lifestyle. The oldest dances are the khorovody, agricultural dance games associated with the cult of the sun. Originally, folk dances were either accompanied by songs or by instruments. They were also exclusively female, such as the metylytsia, or exclusively male, such as the arkan or the famous hopak; today both males and females participate in the same dances. Numerous Ukrainian dance troupes cultivate the traditional folk dances.
Introduced in the late 18th century, classical ballet developed under Russian and European influence and attained high standards. Ukraine has six theaters for opera and ballet performances.
Theater and Film
In early modern times, the vertep (puppet theater) was widespread and popular. Mykhailo Starytsky, Ivan Karpenko-Kary, and Marko Kropyvnytsky laid the foundation of modern Ukrainian theater in the late 19th century. Despite repression under Russian rule, it continued to develop. The high point was reached in the early 1920s when the avant-garde Berezil Theater in Kharkiv, under Les Kurbas, staged such plays as Mykola Kulish’s Narodnii Malakhii, Myna Mazailo, and Patetychna Sonata. Stalinist repression cut this revival short, and socialist realism stifled further innovation. Only in recent years have innovation and experimentation been possible.
Filmmaker Oleksander Dovzhenko, often called “the first poet of cinema,” gained international recognition for his silent motion pictures Zvenyhora (1928) and Arsenal (1929). His Zemlya (The Earth, 1930) is considered one of the best silent films ever produced. Stalinist repression and socialist realism had a devastating effect on Ukrainian filmmaking. Not until the 1960s did signs of a revival begin to appear, demonstrated by the film Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1964), which won numerous international awards for the outstanding work of Armenian director Serhii Paradzhanov and Ukrainian cameraman Iurii Illienko. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought an end to government subsidies, and in recent years filmmaking has been practically paralyzed by lack of funding.
Libraries and Museums
The largest library in Ukraine is the Central Library of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (founded in 1918) in Kyiv. The academy’s scientific library in L’viv (1940) is the country’s second largest library. Other prominent libraries are the Scientific and Technical Library of Ukraine (1935) and the State Public Library (1866), both in Kyiv, as well as numerous university libraries.
The Historical Museum of Ukraine (1899) in Kyiv is the country’s largest museum. Its branch, the Museum of Historical Treasures (1969), is noted for its collection of ancient Scythian artifacts.
The Museum of Ukrainian Art (1936) in Kyiv contains the largest collection of Ukrainian art, including medieval paintings and wood carvings.
Exhibits of architecture and artifacts dating from the 11th century can be found in Kyiv in the museums affiliated with the Saint Sophia National Preserve, as well as the Caves Monastery Museum. Ukraine also has a number of open-air museums that preserve native architecture.
Ukraine was the second-ranking Soviet republic in industrial and agricultural production, after Russia. Long known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” Ukraine traditionally had a highly developed agricultural sector because of its vast, fertile lands. It generated more than one-fourth of the total agricultural output of the Soviet Union. Industrial development was a high priority of the Soviet government. In the 1930s Ukraine experienced a rapid and extensive industrial upsurge, mainly in the mineral-rich Donets’ka and Kryvyy Rih regions. Because of Soviet development, which emphasized heavy industry, Ukraine possesses one of the most industrialized economies of Europe. However, its industries are highly inefficient and in pressing need of modernization.
The collapse of the Soviet Union brought a dramatic rise in energy costs and a reduction in demand for Ukraine’s products, causing a catastrophic decline in production. The problems were compounded by high rates of inflation and sluggish reforms to increase private ownership of enterprise. In 1995 and 1996, however, inflation was significantly reduced and reforms toward a system based on free enterprise were accelerated. In addition, the United States as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international organizations provided large grants and loans.
The value of Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 1995 was estimated at $35.9 billion. Agriculture, which includes forestry, accounted for 13.2 percent; industry, which includes mining and manufacturing, accounted for 34.4 percent; trade and other services accounted for 36.9 percent; and other sectors, including construction, accounted for 15.5 percent.
The country’s labor force totals approximately 28 million people. About 40 percent of workers are employed in industry, 40 percent in the service sector, and 20 percent in agriculture. Unemployment is rising steadily, especially in the form of hidden unemployment, which includes people who have been kept on payrolls but have not been paid salaries. Although official data reported an unemployment rate of only 1.6 percent in 1996, the minister of labor acknowledged an actual rate of more than 11 percent. Trade union membership is strong, reaching nearly 100 percent of the workforce. The miners’ unions are especially active.
The primary crops are wheat, corn, and sugar beets. Small private plots account for much of the vegetables and fruits that are grown. Livestock raising is widespread and involves cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats. Despite heavy government subsidies, agricultural output declined by 35 percent between 1990 and 1995. Collective cooperatives and state-owned farms, holdovers from the Soviet period, continue to outnumber privately owned farms; private ownership is allowed, but lack of capital, social attitudes, and the high cost of fuel have discouraged it. The major agricultural regions are located in central and southern Ukraine, where the fertile chernozem soil is found.
Forestry and Fishing
Forestry is based in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine. This sector has been in decline for decades because of excessive timber harvesting in the 1950s and 1960s. Consequently, Ukraine imports much of its lumber and paper. The fishing industry, once relatively well developed, experienced a sharp drop in productivity in 1992 from which it has not recovered. The catch of common carp, for example, decreased from 105 metric tons in 1991 to 45 metric tons in 1992.
Ukraine is the world’s largest producer of manganese ore and second largest producer of iron ore. Reserves of these minerals are located primarily in the south central Kryvyy Rih area. Ukraine is also the world’s fourth largest producer of bituminous coal (soft coal), which is concentrated in the Donets Basin of the southeastern Donets’ka region. The mining sector is hampered by outdated equipment and inefficiency, however, and its productivity severely declined between 1990 and 1995.
Ukraine has a large ferrous metallurgical industry. Heavy industries such as metalworking, mechanical engineering, and machinery and chemicals manufacturing also dominate the industrial sector. Light industries producing consumer goods such as household appliances are underdeveloped by Western standards. Between 1990 and 1995, output in major industries such as metallurgy, coal mining, and chemicals manufacturing decreased by nearly 60 percent. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s industrial sector has been cut off from its traditional markets, and supplies from former republics are no longer easily accessible. Products of relatively poor quality and stiff international competition obstruct entry into the global market, while the increasing cost of the energy needed to power industry makes many items too expensive to produce. Other products, especially those of the large defense sector, are no longer in demand.
Many of the enterprises included in the service sector are poorly developed, especially in rural areas. The tourism industry, for example, is hindered by a shortage of hotels and inadequate transportation.
Most of Ukraine’s energy, or about 60 percent, is supplied by coal- and oil-based thermal power stations. Less than 10 percent of its energy is supplied by hydroelectric stations, most notably the Dniprohes hydroelectric station on the Dnieper near Zaporizhzhya, one of Europe’s largest. Ukraine’s five nuclear power plants generate about 30 percent of the country’s electricity. To supply its energy needs, Ukraine must import 80 percent of its natural gas and 90 percent of its oil. Lacking the funds to purchase what it needs, however, Ukraine has had to sharply curtail its consumption of these sources. The resulting energy shortage explains the country’s reluctance to immediately shut down the hazardous Chernobyl’ nuclear power station. Ukraine’s reliance on nuclear power is expected to increase, with the government planning to complete construction on two plants that were partially built during the Soviet period.
Transportation and Communications
Ukraine has an extensive state-owned and centrally planned transportation system of uneven quality. There are about 163,000 km (about 101,000 mi) of roads and highways and 23,000 km (14,000 mi) of railroad track. The Dnieper and the Danube rivers are major waterways for international freight. Major airports are in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Donets’ka, and L’viv. Air Ukraine is the national airline. The largest seaports, located on the Black Sea coast, are in Odesa, Illchinsk, and Mykolayiv. Major cities have subway systems, but automobiles are the fastest growing mode of transportation.
In the mid-1990s Ukraine had approximately 3340 newspapers, about half of which were government-owned. Many newspapers face rising production costs and plummeting readership. The largest newspaper is Holos Ukrainy (Voice of Ukraine), which has about 500,000 subscribers and is sponsored by the legislature. Although the blatant censorship of the Soviet regime has come to an end, the government still has indirect means of influencing the media.
In 1995 Ukraine imported about $14.5 billion of goods and exported about $11.5 billion. The major imports are oil and gas from Russia and Turkmenistan and technology from Western nations. Exports, which are minimal for a developed country, consist mainly of raw materials and agricultural goods. Major trading partners are Russia, Belarus, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Germany, the United States, Italy, and China. Ukraine is experiencing great difficulty breaking into the global market, and much of its export goes to former Soviet republics.
In 1992 Ukraine became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank). It also became affiliated with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Ukraine is an associate member of the trade and economic union of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the loosely organized alliance of 13 former Soviet republics.
Currency and Banking
In September 1996 Ukraine introduced its new currency, the hryvnia (1.8 hryvni equal U.S.$1, 1996). The currency of the Soviet period, the ruble, ceased to be legal tender in 1992 when it was replaced with a temporary coupon currency, the karbovanets. In 1993 already high inflation reached hyperinflationary levels, with an average annual rate of 4735 percent; however, a strict monetary policy introduced in late 1994 significantly reduced inflation in 1995 and 1996. The country’s bank of issue is the National Bank of Ukraine, founded in 1991 and located in Kyiv.
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought Ukraine independence, the rigidly centralized Soviet structure of government remained. The first five years were a tumultuous time of trying to establish democratic institutions and traditions. Ukraine’s first direct presidential election was held in 1991. In 1994 an early presidential election took place, as well as elections to the legislature. Ukraine was the last of the former Soviet republics to adopt a new constitution. The delay was caused by a struggle in the legislature between reformers, who wanted to introduce a new, democratic system of government, and conservatives, who wanted to preserve the structures of the former Soviet state. The reformers finally triumphed in June 1996 when the legislature adopted a new constitution that stipulated a democratic form of government. All citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to vote.
Under the 1996 constitution, the president is head of state. The president is elected by direct, majority vote for a term of five years and may serve no more than two consecutive terms. The president appoints the prime minister and, under the advice of the prime minister, also appoints the Cabinet of Ministers. These appointments are subject to confirmation by the legislature. The prime minister is head of government and is responsible for carrying out its policies.
The legislature (Verkhovna Rada, or Supreme Council) consists of a single chamber of 450 deputies elected for four-year terms. The inability of some candidates to win absolute majorities in their constituencies has left a number of these seats unfilled. Among its prerogatives, the legislature has the right to change the constitution, pass laws, confirm the budget, and impeach the president.
The highest court is the Constitutional Court, which is charged with protecting and interpreting the constitution. The president, the legislature, and a conference of judges each appoint six of the court’s 18 members. The Supreme Court is the highest appeals court for nonconstitutional issues. A Supreme Judiciary Council, consisting of 20 members, recommends judiciary appointments and deals with the removal of judges.
Although Ukraine is a unitary state, its constitution allows for a considerable degree of decentralization. The country is divided into 24 oblasts (districts) and one autonomous republic, Crimea. The cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol’ have special status; their governments, which operate independently of oblast authority, are responsible only to the central government in Kyiv. Local councils and executive bodies, elected every four years, are responsible for their jurisdiction’s taxes, budgets, schools, roads, utilities, and public health. The Crimean Autonomous Republic enjoys far-ranging autonomy within Ukraine, including its own constitution, legislature, and Cabinet of Ministers. The latter controls Crimea’s government and economy, but is restricted from implementing policies that would contradict the constitution of Ukraine.
In the late 1980s, when the Communist Party began to lose influence, the first non-Communist political groups appeared. However, the Communist Party was Ukraine’s only legal party until its constitutional monopoly was abolished in 1990. The Communist Party was banned from 1991 to 1993, but by 1994 it was Ukraine’s largest party. More than 40 political parties were officially registered in the mid-1990s, most of which had only several thousand members. Ukraine’s entire party system is poorly developed, and its political parties lack local organization and grassroots support. The electoral system allows workers’ collectives to nominate candidates for the legislature, thus weakening the role of parties in the electoral process. As a result, almost 170 members of the legislature have no party affiliation. Of the parties represented in the 1994 elections to the legislature, the Communist Party won the most seats, while the People’s Movement of Ukraine, known as Rukh, won the second largest number of seats. In general, Ukraine’s political parties fall into four categories: extreme nationalists, such as the Ukrainian National Assembly; moderate nationalists, such as Rukh, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Ukrainian Republican Party; centrists, such as the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party; and the left, such as the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Peasants’ Party of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Socialist Party.
Ukraine has retained much of the Soviet-style system of social welfare and free medical care, financed by the government. The country’s economic crisis has had a catastrophic impact on these services, however. Pensions, averaging between $30 and $40 per month, barely assure survival. Hospitals are deteriorating, doctors are poorly paid, and medicine and equipment are in short supply.
Ukraine’s armed forces are the second largest in Europe, after those of Russia. Of approximately 450,000 personnel, about 250,000 are in the ground forces, about 90,000 are in the air force, and about 60,000 are in the navy. Other types of forces, mainly border guards, number about 50,000. Military service is compulsory for all males 18 and older; those with higher education serve 12 months, and those without it serve 18 months.
Because Ukraine is committed to a policy of nonalignment, it does not subscribe to the treaty on collective security of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), nor does it desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, Ukraine’s armed forces do cooperate with the latter through the Partnership for Peace program. In November 1994 Ukraine signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which brought it under the terms of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). This required Ukraine to liquidate its large nuclear arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), a project that was completed in 1995.
In 1945 Ukraine became a member of the United Nations (UN). In December 1991 it was a founding member of the CIS, and in November 1995 it became a full member of the Council of Europe. It is also a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Ukraine’s geographic location between Europe and Asia was an important factor in its early history. The steppes were the domain of Asiatic nomads, the Black Sea coast was inhabited by Greek colonists, and the forests in the northwest were the homeland of the agrarian East Slavic tribes from whom, eventually, the Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian nations evolved. As the East Slavs expanded, they accepted, in the 9th century, a Varangian (Viking) elite that led them to establish a vast domain, centered in Kyiv (Kiev) and called Kyivan Rus. It became one of the largest, richest, and most powerful lands in medieval Europe. In 988 Saint Volodymyr (Vladimir), grand prince of Kyiv, accepted Orthodox Christianity, and in this way brought Kyivan Rus under the cultural influence of the Byzantine Empire. Inter-princely feuds, shifting trade routes, and recurrent nomadic attacks weakened Kyivan Rus, however, and in 1240 it fell to the invading Mongols. Only the western principality of Galicia-Volhynia managed to retain its autonomy for about a century thereafter.
In the mid-14th century the grand duchy of Lithuania gained control of most Ukrainian lands, while the Polish kingdom ruled the western region of Galicia. In 1569 most of Ukraine was annexed into Poland when the Union of Lublin joined the Lithuanian duchy and the Polish kingdom—already linked dynastically since the late 14th century—in a constitutional union, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita).
The colonization of the vast steppes gave rise to the cossacks, frontier settlers who, in time, became defenders of Ukrainian interests against Polish overlords. In 1648 Bohdan Khmel’nyt’sky, the cossack hetman, or leader, led a massive uprising against the Poles. Seeking foreign support, he accepted the overlordship of the Russian emperor in 1654 in the Treaty of Pereyaslav. This initiated steady Russian expansion into Ukraine. Hetman Ivan Mazepa attempted to throw off Russian rule in 1708 and 1709 but failed. In 1793, as a result of the three partitions of Poland, all of the Ukrainian lands east of the Dnieper River came under Russian rule. At about this time the Crimean Peninsula was also annexed by the Russian Empire. Meanwhile, the western regions of Galicia, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia were incorporated into the Austrian Empire beginning in 1772. As a result of these foreign conquests, about 80 percent of Ukrainians lived under the rule of Russia, while the remaining 20 percent lived under the rule of Austria (known as Austria-Hungary from 1867 to 1918).
Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, introduced serfdom in Russian-ruled Ukraine in 1795 and encouraged the colonization of the south, which soon became the leading agricultural region of the empire. As Russian imperial rule became more encompassing, the Ukrainian elite and the cities became Russified. The villages, however, remained distinctly Ukrainian. In the late 19th century, rapid and large-scale industrialization of the Donets’ka and Kryvyy Rih regions began, bringing an influx of Russian workers. Sparked by Western ideas and the poetry of Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian national movement developed among the intelligentsia. But imperial repression, including bans on the Ukrainian language, kept it weak. In 1848 a widespread revolution in the lands ruled by the Austrian Empire, including Ukraine’s western regions, resulted in the emancipation of the serfs and a new constitution; this allowed for the growth of a strong Ukrainian national movement, which was fiercely opposed by the Poles in Galicia. In social and economic terms, however, change in the village-based society was limited and slow.
The Soviet Period
The Russian monarchy was overthrown during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Russian Empire ceased to exist. The Bolsheviks (Communists) seized power and established a new Soviet government in Russia. Ukraine, represented by the Central Rada led by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, declared independence in early 1918. However, the first modern Ukrainian government collapsed following invasions by the Soviet Red Army and German intervention. Subsequent Ukrainian governments, led by Pavlo Skoropadsky and Symon Petlyura, also failed to withstand Red Army invasions, and a Bolshevik-affiliated government was established in most of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I in 1918, an independent west Ukrainian republic was formed in Galicia. It entered into federation with the briefly independent east Ukrainian state. However, the west Ukrainians lost a bitter struggle with the Poles and were incorporated into Poland in 1923. Czechslovakia and Romania absorbed Transcarpathia and Bukovina, respectively.
In the 1920s the USSR’s New Economic Policy (NEP), designed to rehabilitate the postwar economy, helped rejuvenate agriculture in Ukraine. Anxious to attract popular support, the Soviet regime also introduced Ukrainization, a policy that encouraged the use of Ukrainian language and the development of national culture. Beginning in the late 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin brutally reversed both trends. Peasant landholdings were forcibly collectivized and crops were extorted to support industrialization. The result was a terrible famine in 1932 and 1933 in which an estimated 5 million to 7 million Ukrainians perished. At this catastrophic cost, industrial production was pushed to record-breaking levels; in 1940 it was more than seven times as high as in 1913. In the mid-1930s Stalin initiated mass arrests and executions of his opponents or possible opponents, resulting in the devastation of Ukraine’s intelligentsia by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, in Galicia an extreme form of nationalism, embodied in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), developed and called for independence at any cost.
During the first stage of World War II, from 1939 to 1941, western Ukraine was occupied by the Soviets, who proceeded to impose totalitarian rule, including arrests, mass deportations, and executions. In the second stage, from 1941 to 1943, Nazi troops occupied the entire country, and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s policies to exploit Ukraine to the fullest were implemented with exceptional brutality. In the third stage, from 1943 to 1944, the Nazis retreated, destroying everything possible in their wake, and the Soviets reimposed their control. Ukrainian nationalists, who briefly cooperated with Nazi Germany in hopes of obtaining independence, were quickly disillusioned and forced into a suicidal battle with both Nazis and Soviets. The human and material losses in Ukraine were among the highest in Europe. As a result of the Soviet victory, ethnically Ukrainian lands in the west were incorporated into the Ukrainian republic. Poland ceded the regions of Galicia and Volhynia, while Czechoslovakia ceded Transcarpathia. The southern and northern parts of Bessarabiya, as well as northern Bukovina, all ceded by Romania, also were incorporated. In 1954 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ceremoniously transferred the Crimean Peninsula from Russia to Ukraine, marking the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav.
During postwar reconstruction, Ukraine became even more industrialized and urbanized. The immigration of Russians, encouraged by Moscow, grew markedly. Because of Ukraine’s economic and political importance in the USSR, Soviet control was particularly severe and recurrent dissent was repressed quickly, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. Economic stagnation set in by the 1980s. After USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced political and economic reforms in the mid-1980s, Ukraine was slow to reform, largely because of the reactionary policies of Vladimir Shcherbitsky, head of the Communist Party of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the 1986 Chernobyl’ nuclear disaster roused popular discontent, in part because it highlighted certain failings of the Soviet system. The popular-front movement, known as Rukh, capitalized on this and raised the cry for independence.
Confused and demoralized by the failure of the abortive coup of August 1991, in which Communist hard-liners tried to take over the government, the Communists of Ukraine gave in and joined the nationalists in proclaiming Ukraine’s independence on August 24. The legislature’s declaration was confirmed by more than 90 percent of the electorate in a nationwide referendum in December. At the same time, Leonid Kravchuk was elected as the country’s first president.
The euphoria over independence soon faded in the face of mounting problems. In foreign policy, the most serious problem was Ukraine’s relations with Russia. The Russian legislature raised questions about the inclusion of Crimea—where ethnic Russians are in the majority and where the Black Sea Fleet is stationed—in the new Ukrainian state. An active, vocal pro-Russian separatist movement in Crimea added to the tensions. The autonomous government there voted in February 1992 to create an independent Crimean republic, but rescinded the declaration of independence two weeks later. The United States, for its part, was uneasy about Ukraine retaining possession of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, which it had inherited when the Soviet Union dissolved. Internally, tensions arose between the more nationalistic west and the Sovietized east. Above all else, the rapid deterioration of the economy was the most pressing concern. The collapse of the Soviet Union accelerated the decline of an already seriously faltering economy. President Kravchuk was slow in launching market-oriented reforms, and the growing confrontation between the opposing political parties in the legislature further complicated the situation.
Despite the deteriorating economy, there were some political successes. The presidential elections of 1994 were conducted calmly and fairly, leading to a peaceful transfer of power to the new president, Leonid Kuchma, whose priority was economic reform. But parliamentary infighting and the lack of a post-Soviet constitution delineating the powers of the executive and legislative branches produced a political stalemate. In January 1994 Ukraine became one of the first countries in the world to begin unilaterally eliminating its nuclear arsenal, thereby greatly improving its relationship with the United States. It also entered NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, formed in 1993 to offer former Warsaw Pact members limited associations with NATO. In October 1995 it was accepted into the Council of Europe, an advisory council that works to coordinate the activities of European nations. Undoubtedly, Ukraine’s most important achievement since gaining independence was the adoption, on June 28, 1996, of a new, democratic constitution. This success was buttressed by the smooth introduction, in August, of a new unit of currency, the hryvnia, which held strong into 1997. In addition, Kuchma succeeded in persuading most of the political leaders in Crimea to accept the idea of autonomy within Ukraine.
Nevertheless, political problems abounded. In May 1996 Kuchma replaced his prime minister, Evhen Marchuk, with Pavlo Lazarenko, a rich, influential businessman from Dnipropetrovs’k, a region from where the new president himself and many top government officials came. In July an attempt was made to assassinate the new prime minister. Many viewed it as a reflection of the power struggles between powerful clans of politicians and businessmen from Dnipropetrovs’k and those from Donets’ka. Such regional loyalties and conflicts, accompanied by extensive corruption, began to play an increasing role in the politics of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, complications arose in the highly sensitive dispute between Ukraine and Russia over the unresolved issue of the Black Sea Fleet, stationed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol’. Originally the conflict was how to divide the fleet’s roughly 800 poorly maintained ships. Although Russia and Ukraine tentatively agreed to divide the fleet, negotiations then focused on who should control Sevastopol’. Russia wanted control indefinitely, while Ukraine was willing to offer a long-term lease. In December 1996 the Russian Council of the Federation, the upper house of the Russian legislature, declared Sevastopol’ was a Russian city and that it should belong to Russia. This was a territorial demand that challenged the integrity of Ukraine’s borders. Although the Russian government, including the foreign ministry, did not formally support the statement, the Ukrainian legislature responded by calling for the removal of all foreign, or Russian, troops from Ukrainian territory. In late May 1997, however, the prime ministers of Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement to settle the dispute. According to the terms of the accord, Russia is guaranteed a 20-year lease for its use of the port at Sevastopol’ and the two countries are to keep their separate navies at different bays in the port. Shortly after the accord was reached, the two governments signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation.