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Located in eastern Europe, Ukraine is the second largest country on the continent after Russia. Its
name in the Ukrainian language is Ukrayina. Ukraine is bordered by Belarus on the north, Russia on
the east, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea on the south, Moldova and Romania on the southwest,
and Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on the west; in the far southeast, Ukraine is separated from Russia
by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. Ukraine has an area of 233,100
square miles (603,700 square kilometres). Its capital is Kiev (Kyyiv), located on the Dnieper River in
north-central Ukraine. An independent Ukraine emerged only late in the 20th century, after long
periods of successive domination by Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics. Ukraine formed part of the latter under the name Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1922 to 1991.
Ukrainians are deeply affected by the country's long history that
predates the independent state by some 1,500 years. The march of
successive civilizations from prehistoric times, the Scythians, Greeks,
Varaungian, Slavic, and Turkic peoples have all left their mark. The
birthplace of the Slavic state was Kyivan-Rus which flourished a
thousand years ago.
There is an old legend which tells of three brothers who found Kyiv (also
known as Kiev) at the end of the fifth century. The brothers Kiy, Khoriv,
and Shchek, along with their sister, Lybid, decided to name this newly
founded land "Kyiv," after their elder brother.
Kyiv bloomed during the end of the ninth century as a political center
inhabited by Eastern Slavs. Kyiv had an advantageous trade route in the
center of Europe which allowed it to maintain political and economic ties
with the West.
In 988, Kyiv's Prince Volodymyr the Great introduced Christianity to
Kyiv making it the official religion of Kyivan-Rus. This move played an
important role in Kyiv's political development and cultural relations with
the European and Near Eastern countries.
In 1240, Kyiv was invaded by the Tatar-Mongols led by the grandson
of Genghis Khan. The city was captured and its glory fell into decline
during the period of almost century-long rule by the Tatar-Mongols.
For many centuries thereafter Ukraine was attacked and ruled by
Poland and Lithuanian in the Rzecz Pospolita Commonwealth, Russia,
Germany and others. During this time Ukrainian Kozack armies were
formed which were led by a Hetman (military leader). One of the most
famous Hetman is Bohdan Khmelnytsky who inspired one of the
greatest Cossack uprisings that led to the liberation of Kyiv in 1648. He
was considered by some a traitor after he signed the Treaty of
Pereyaslav which authorized protection from the Russian Czar. This
treaty joined Ukraine and Russia into one and led to a long period of
domination by the Russian Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union.
After the revolution of 1917 Vladimir Illyich Lenin and his Bolshevik
Party seized power and expanded their sphere of control into Ukraine.
Ukraine experienced a brief period of independence when on January
22, 1918, the Ukrainian Central Rada (Council) formally issued a
proclamation for Ukraine's independence. But shortly thereafter in 1919,
the Ukrainian National Republic was defeated in a war against Polish
expansionists and overrun once again.
Eventually, Bolshevik and Communist forces retook Ukrainian lands,
and as a means to control the population, leader Josef Stalin caused the
Great Famine of 1932-33 by forcibly collecting grain and deliberately
starving to death nearly ten million people. Nazi Germany then began
World War II and entered Kyiv in September 1941 razing the city. In
November 1943, Soviet forces retook the city in fierce fighting and
began their final domination of Ukraine for almost the next fifty years.
Attention from the West turned to Ukraine after the nuclear meltdown at
the Chornobyl power plant in April 1986. Since then Ukrainians felt the
decreased political power wielded by the Soviet Union's Communist
leaders. After the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic proclaimed
Ukraine's sovereignty in July 1990, Ukrainians fulfilled their dream of
independence during the failed Soviet coup of August 1991. In a
referendum held on December 1, 1991 the people of Ukraine endorsed
independence and voted Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk as Ukraine's
first ever democratically elected President. The United States recognized
Ukraine's independence on December 25, 1991; and the first American
Ambassador, Roman Popadiuk, arrived in Kyiv on June 8, 1992.
Ukraine's area is 233,088 square miles (603,700 sq. km). It's slightly
larger than France. Ukraine is mainly a vast plain with no natural
boundaries except the Carpathian Mountains in the southwest and the
Black Sea in the south. The Dnipro River with its many tributaries unifies
central Ukraine economically, connecting the Baltic coast countries with
the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The mouth of the Danube
River provides an outlet for Ukrainian trade with the Balkans, Austria,
Ukraine has a complex geology with a rich variety of scenery and
impressive contrasts in topography. Central and southern Ukraine is
primarily steppe (prairie), with fertile black soil exceptionally well-suited
for grain farming. In the east is the industrial heartland containing large
reserves of mineral deposits known as the Greater Donbas or Donetsk
Northern and western Ukraine are hilly, forested areas with many
picturesque mountain resorts. Enhancing the topography of Ukraine are
two mountain ranges, the Carpathian on its western border where winter
sports are very popular; and the Crimean range, which divides the
Crimean peninsular, creating a semitropical area on its southernmost tip.
The Crimea is a favorite destination not only for Ukrainian tourists, but
also for citizens of other states of the former Soviet Union, as well as the
eastern and the western Europe.
CLIMATE - The climate in Ukraine is similar to the wheat-producing
regions of Canada and is characterized by abundant precipitation and
cloudy skies, especially in fall and winter. The mean temperature in
summer is 67oF (19oC) and in winter 21oF (-6oC). Although the
summers tend to be short, the temperature can rise into the 90's making
it uncomfortable, since most buildings have no central cooling systems.
The winters are long and cold, with cloudy skies a norm.
The population of Ukraine is approximately 52 million, of which 73% is
Ukrainian and 22% Russian. The remaining population is made up of
many minorities, the largest of which is Jewish (1.35%), followed by
Byelorussians, Moldovans, Poles, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and
others. Ukrainian population is only 64% urban.
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