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Ukraine (Ukrainian Ukraina), country 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 (Kiev).

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 Kievan 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.

The total area of Ukraine is 603,700 sq km (233,100 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 2780 km (1730 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).

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 (known as the Dnister in Ukraine), 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 Wisła (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.

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 16 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’k. Industrial and agricultural pollutants have contaminated soil in the south and drinking water throughout the country. Ukraine lacks funds for recycling and conservation programs, and pollution controls remain at a minimum.

The April 1986 explosion and core meltdown of a reactor at the Chernobyl’ nuclear power station in northern Ukraine had an enormous impact on the region’s environment (see Chernobyl’ Accident). Northern Ukraine and especially southern Belarus were the most severely contaminated areas from the radioactive plume that was released in the explosion. Radioactive materials from the accident seeped into the ground, contaminating farmland and the water supply. 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-1998, continue to be a major hazard, especially to Ukraine’s water supply. Complete closure of the Chernobyl’ complex was scheduled to occur by the year 2000 with the financial assistance of Western nations. However, with that assistance still uncertain, President Leonid Kuchma announced in April 1998 that the Chernobyl’ power plant may continue to operate past 2000.

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, 114 of the legislature’s members elected in 1998 had no party affiliation. Of the parties represented in the 1998 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, with an estimated strength of 387,400 in 1997. In addition to central staff, nuclear forces, and paramilitary troops, about 161,500 are in the ground forces, about 124,400 are in the air force, and about 16,000 are in the navy (excluding the Black Sea Fleet). 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).


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