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Ukraine

Location of UkraineUkraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It borders Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania, Moldova (including the breakaway Pridnestrovie) to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south. The city of Kiev (Kyiv) is both the capital and the largest city of Ukraine.

The nation's modern history began with that of the East Slavs. From at least the 9th century, the territory of Ukraine was a center of the medieval Varangian-dominated East Slavic civilization, forming the state of Kievan Rus' which disintegrated in the 12th century. From the 14th century on, the territory of Ukraine was divided among a number of regional powers, and by the 19th century, the largest part of Ukraine was integrated into the Russian Empire, with the rest under Austro-Hungarian control. After a chaotic period of incessant warfare and several attempts at independence (191721) following World War I and the Russian Civil War, Ukraine emerged in 1922 as one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic's territory was enlarged westward shortly before and after World War II, and again in 1954 with the Crimea transfer. In 1945, the Ukrainian SSR became one of the co-founding members of the United Nations.

Capital
(and largest city)

Kiev (Kyiv)
50°27'N 30°30'N

Official language Ukrainian

Independence
- Declared

from the Soviet Union
August 24, 1991
Area
- Total

- Water

603,628 km?
233,090 sq mi
7%
Population
- 2008 estimate
- 2001 census
- Density

46,372,700
48,457,102
77/km?
Time zone
EET (UTC+2)
Internet TLD .ua
Calling code +380

Ukraine became independent again after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This began a period of transition to a market economy, in which Ukraine was stricken with an eight year recession. Since then, the economy has been experiencing a stable increase, with real GDP growth averaging seven percent annually.

Ukraine is a unitary state composed of 24 oblasts (provinces), one autonomous republic (Crimea), and two cities with special status: Kiev, its capital, and Sevastopol, which houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet under a leasing agreement. Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Since the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine continues to maintain the second largest military in Europe, after that of Russia. The country is home to 46.4 million people, 77.8 percent of whom are ethnic Ukrainians, with sizable minorities of Russians, Belarusians and Romanians. The Ukrainian language is the only official language in Ukraine, while Russian is also widely spoken and is known to most Ukrainians as a second language. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has heavily influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.

 

Climate

Climate moderately continental, except for Southern Crimea, where the climate is subtropical, of the Mediterranean type. The Carpathian climate is also mild, with warm winter and rainy summer. Average winter temperature is from -8 to -12 C (from +17.6 F to +3 F). In the Southern regions average winter temperature is 0 C (+32 F). Average summer temperature is from +18 to +25 C (from +64.4 F to +77 F), although maximum temperature can be more than +35 C (+95 F). Best time to visit Ukraine: summer, late spring and early autumn.

Independence

On July 16, 1990, the new parliament adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine. The declaration established the principles of the self-determination of the Ukrainian nation, its democracy, political and economic independence, and the priority of Ukrainian law on the Ukrainian territory over Soviet law. A month earlier, a similar declaration was adopted by the parliament of the Russian SFSR. This started a period of confrontation between the central Soviet, and new republican authorities. In August 1991, a conservative faction among the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union attempted a coup to remove Mikhail Gorbachev and to restore the Communist party's power. After the attempt failed, on August 24, 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence in which the parliament declared Ukraine as an independent democratic state. A referendum and the first presidential elections took place on December 1, 1991. That day, more than 90 percent of the Ukrainian people expressed their support for the Act of Independence, and they elected the chairman of the parliament, Leonid Kravchuk to serve as the first President of the country. At the meeting in Brest, Belarus on December 8, followed by Alma Ata meeting on December 21, the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, formally dissolved the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Ukraine was initially viewed as a republic with favorable economic conditions in comparison to the other regions of the Soviet Union. However, the country experienced deeper economic slowdown than some of the other former Soviet Republics. During the recession, Ukraine lost 60 percent of its GDP from 1991 to 1999, and suffered five-digit inflation rates. Dissatisfied with the economic conditions, as well as crime and corruption, Ukrainians protested and organized strikes.

Orange revolution in UkraineThe Ukrainian economy stabilized by the end of the 1990s. A new currency, the hryvnia, was introduced in 1996. Since 2000, the country has enjoyed steady economic growth averaging about seven percent annually. A new Constitution of Ukraine was adopted in 1996, which turned Ukraine into a semi-presidential republic and established a stable political system. Kuchma was, however, criticized by opponents for concentrating too much of power in his office, corruption, transferring public property into hands of loyal oligarchs, discouraging free speech, and electoral fraud. In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, then Prime Minister, was declared the winner of the presidential elections, which had been largely rigged, as the Supreme Court of Ukraine later ruled. The results caused a public outcry in support of the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, who challenged the results and led the peaceful Orange Revolution. The revolution brought Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to power, while casting Viktor Yanukovych in opposition.

Government and politics

Ukraine is a republic under a mixed semi-parliamentary semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The President is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is the formal head of state.

Verkhovna Rada of UkraineUkraine's legislative branch includes the 450-seat unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. The parliament is primarily responsible for the formation of the executive branch and the Cabinet of Ministers, which is headed by the Prime Minister.

Laws, acts of the parliament and the cabinet, presidential decrees, and acts of the Crimean parliament may be abrogated by the Constitutional Court, should they be found to violate the Constitution of Ukraine. Other normative acts are subject to judicial review. The Supreme Court is the main body in the system of courts of general jurisdiction. Local self-government is officially guaranteed. Local councils and city mayors are popularly elected and exercise control over local budgets. The heads of regional and district administrations are appointed by the president.

Ukraine has a large number of political parties, many of which have tiny memberships and are unknown to the general public. Small parties often join in multi-party coalitions (electoral blocs) for the purpose of participating in parliamentary elections.

The European Union offered an Association Agreement with Ukraine in September, 2008. The country is a potential candidate for future enlargement of the European Union.

Geography

At 603,700 kilometres? (233,074 sq mi) and with a coastline of 2,782 kilometers (1,729 mi), Ukraine is the world's 44th-largest country (after the Central African Republic, before Madagascar). It is the second largest country in Europe (after the European part of Russia, before metropolitan France).

The Ukrainian landscape consists mostly of fertile plains (or steppes) and plateaus, crossed by rivers such as the Dnieper (Dnipro), Seversky Donets, Dniester and the Southern Buh as they flow south into the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov. To the southwest, the delta of the Danube forms the border with Romania. The country's only mountains are the Carpathian Mountains in the west, of which the highest is the Hora Hoverla at 2,061 m (6,762 ft), and those on the Crimean peninsula, in the extreme south along the coast.

Ukraine has a mostly temperate continental climate, although a more Mediterranean climate is found on the southern Crimean coast. Precipitation is disproportionately distributed; it is highest in the west and north and lesser in the east and southeast. Western Ukraine, receives around 1,200 mm (47 in) of precipitation, annually. While Crimea, receives around 400 mm (15.4 in) of precipitation. Winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland. Average annual temperatures range from 5.57 C (4245 F) in the north, to 1113 C (5255.4 F) in the south.

Culture

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral in KievUkrainian customs are heavily influenced by Christianity, which is the dominant religion in the country. Gender roles also tend to be more traditional, and grandparents play a greater role in raising children than in the West. The culture of Ukraine has been also influenced by its eastern and western neighbors, which is reflected in its architecture, music and art.

The Communist era had quite a strong effect on the art and writing of Ukraine. In 1932, Stalin made socialist realism state policy in the Soviet Union when he promulgated the decree "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations". This greatly stifled creativity. During the 1980s glasnost (openness) was introduced and Soviet artists and writers again became free to express themselves as they wanted.

The tradition of the Easter egg, known as pysanky, has long roots in Ukraine. These eggs were drawn on with wax to create a pattern; then, the dye was applied to give the eggs their pleasant colors, the dye did not affect the previously wax-coated parts of the egg. After the entire egg was dyed, the wax was removed leaving only the colorful pattern. This tradition is thousands of years old, and precedes the arrival of Christianity to Ukraine. In the city of Kolomya near the foothills of the Carpathian mountains in 2000 was built the museum of Pysanka which won a nomination as the monument of modern Ukraine in 2007, part of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine action.

The traditional Ukrainian diet includes chicken, pork, beef, fish and mushrooms. Ukrainians also tend to eat a lot of potatoes, grains, fresh and pickled vegetables. Popular traditional dishes include varenyky (boiled dumplings with mushrooms, potatoes, sauerkraut, cottage cheese or cherries), borsch (soup made of beets, cabbage and mushrooms or meat) and holubtsy (stuffed cabbage rolls filled with rice, carrots and meat). Ukrainian specialties also include Chicken Kiev and Kiev Cake. Ukrainians drink stewed fruit, juices, milk, buttermilk (they make cottage cheese from this), mineral water, tea and coffee, beer, wine and horilka.

Religion

The dominant religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which is currently split between three Church bodies: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autonomous church body under the Patriarch of Moscow, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

A distant second by the number of the followers is the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which practices a similar liturgical and spiritual tradition as Eastern Orthodoxy, but is in communion with the Holy See (See of Rome) of the (Roman Catholic Church) and recognizes the primacy of the Pope as head of the Church.

Additionally, there are 863 Roman Catholic (Latin or Western Rite) communities, and 474 clergy members serving some one million Roman Catholics in Ukraine. The group forms some 2.19 percent of the population and consists mainly of ethnic Poles and Hungarians, who live predominantly in the western regions of the country.

Protestant Christians also form around 2.19 percent of the population. Protestant numbers have grown greatly since Ukrainian independence. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest group, with more than 150,000 members and about 3000 clergy. The second largest Protestant church is the Ukrainian Church of Evangelical faith (Pentecostals) with 110000 members and over 1500 local churches and over 2000 clergy, but there also exist other Pentecostal groups and unions and together all Pentecostals are over 300,000, with over 3000 local churches. Also there are many Pentecostal high education schools such as the Lviv Theological Seminary and the Kiev Bible Institute. Other groups include Calvinists, Lutherans, Methodists and Seventh-day Adventists. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) is also present.

The Crimean Khan's palace in BakhchisarayThere are an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Ukraine, and about 300,000 of them are Crimean Tatars. There are 487 registered Muslim communities, 368 of them on the Crimean peninsula. In addition, some 50,000 Muslims live in Kiev; mostly foreign-born.

The Jewish community is a tiny fraction of what it was before World War II. Jews form 0.63 percent of the population. A 2001 census indicated 103,600 Jews, although community leaders claimed that the population could be as large as 300,000. There are no statistics on what share of the Ukrainian Jews are observant, but Orthodox Judaism has the strongest presence in Ukraine. Smaller Reform and Conservative Jewish (Masorti) communities exist as well.

As of January 1, 2006 there were 35 Krishna Consciousness and 53 Buddhist registered communities in the country.

Education

According to the Ukrainian constitution, access to free education is granted to all citizens. Complete general secondary education is compulsory in the state schools which constitute the overwhelming majority. Free higher education in state and communal educational establishments is provided on a competitive basis. There is also a small number of accredited private secondary and higher education institutions.

Due to the Soviet Union's emphasis on total access of education for all citizens, which continues today, the literacy rate is an estimated 99.4 percent. Since 2005, an eleven-year school program has been replaced with a twelve-year one: primary education takes four years to complete (starting at age six), middle education (secondary) takes five years to complete; upper secondary then takes three years. In the 12th grade, students take Government Tests, which are also referred to as school-leaving exams. These tests are later used for university admissions.

The Ukrainian higher education system comprises higher educational establishments, scientific and methodological facilities under federal, municipal and self-governing bodies in charge of education. The organization of higher education in Ukraine is built up in accordance with the structure of education of the world's higher developed countries, as is defined by UNESCO and the UN.