Ukraine, apart from being the new borderland between Europe and Russia and the nest to famous cities like Yalta, Kiev and Odessa, is a country belonging to Eastern Europe that became independent after the fall of Soviet Union in 1991. The name Ukraine has its roots in the word окраина/okraina (outskirts/borderland) in Russian or країна/krajina (country) in Ukranian.
An exciting and dynamic country that reflects its quality on its warm and friendly people, Ukraine always seems to bubble with a passion for life. Travellers are usually taken aback by Ukraine’s diverse and rich natural beauty; and consequently records show that returning visitors from this country is found to be declaring with pride that “Ukraine is guaranteed to add that little extra curve even to the stiffest of the upper lips”.
Ukraine meets the Russian border at the northeast, the Belarussian in the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary in the west, Romania and Moldova in the southwest and has the Black Sea in the south; the borders being established in the year of 1954. Ukrainian mostly comprises of fertile plains, or steppes, and plateaus along the banks of several rivers, Dnieper being the most prominent one. Among the rest, Seversky Donets, Dniester and the Southern Buh flow south into the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov. The delta of the Danube in the southwest marks the Ukrainian border that separates it from Romania. The Carpathian Mountains in the west is the only mountain range of Ukraine with the Hora Hoverla being the highest at 2,061 mts. apart from those in the Crimean peninsula in the extreme south along the coast of the Black Sea.
The climate is a temperate continental one; a more Mediterranean influence can be detected on the southern Crimean coast. Snowfall is highest in the west and north and lesser in the east and southeast due to the winters that vary from cool along the Black Sea to coldest farther inland. Summers, though warm across the greater part of the country, are generally hot as one move southwards.
The first Human settlement in Ukraine was first noticed between 4500 BC and 3000 BC, a time when the neolithic Trypillian culture started flourishing. Much later, Iranian nomads or Scythians flocked in the southern and eastern parts of modern Ukraine, giving rise to the Scythian Kingdom between 700 and 200 BC. Third century A.D. saw the arrival of Goths who called their new settlement Oium, the place from where the Chernyakhov culture showed up. 7th century Ukraine was transformed into the prime state of Greater Bulgaria under the Bulgars who laid their capital in the city of Phanagoria. The Bulgars eventually moved out in several directions at the end of the seventh century AD, leaving the country in the hands of the Khazars (of a nomadic Turkish origin from Central Asia), who stretched their territory from today’s eastern Ukraine on one side to Azerbaijan, southern Russia, and Crimea on the other.
Tenth century A.D. saw the territory of Ukraine becoming the centre of 'Kievan Rus' (an important state in medieval Europe) that had the Varangians or Vikings as its primary inhabitants. This laid the foundation for the national identity of the Ukrainians and the Slavic nations in the East, marking Kiev the capital of modern Ukraine under Askold and Dir in the later part of 800 AD.
Though the Vikings gave the Rus' its first powerful dynasty (the Rurik Dynasty), but Kievan Rus' kept growing weak due to the internal disputes before being destroyed finally by the Mongol and Tatar invasions. The state of Kievan Rus' within the Ukrainian territory thus came under the Princedoms of Halych and Volodymyr-Volynskyi, later merged into the state of Halych-Volynia.
The St. Vladimir cathedral in Khersones
The state of Halych-Volynia, by the middle of the 14th century came under the domination of Kazimierz IV of Poland and then the Lithuanians, following the marriage of Lithuania's Grand Duke Jagiello to Poland's Queen Jadwiga in 1386. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569 eventually took under it a significant part of Ukraine to be ruled under the Polish administration, making the Ukrainian upper class convert to Catholicism; a beneficial transition that proved successful in achieving the political influence within the state. The common people, however, continued with the age-old Orthodoxy that later gave rise to increasing social tensions - the 1596 Union of Bresc under Zygmunt III being a significant example, the reason being his attempts to bring the Orthodox population closer to Catholicism. The move gave rise to a new "intermediate" religion, which was not taken too well by the upper class. As a result, the common people of Ukraine, who were no more under their native protectors, handed over the rights to the Cossacks, who were staunchly Orthodox and anti-Pole by nature, making the Zaporizhian Sich the final outcome of the newly taken measure, by the middle of the 17th century. The new-founded Cossack state was located in central Ukraine; an autonomous military state that allied with the Commonwealth in its nascent state.
The Polish nobility took the orthodox Ukrainians for granted which made the Cossacks turn down the alliance; the Cossack uprising against the Commonwealth and the Polish king Jan II Kazimierz led to a partition of Ukraine between Poland and Russia. Left-Bank Ukraine became the Cossack Hetmanate as per the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1667, only to let Western Ukraine (Galicia) taken over by Austria. The rest of Ukraine was incorporated into the Russian Empire over a period of time, thus dooming the hope of the Ukrainians on the freedom-front. It became worse during the First World War as the Austro-Hungarian authorities in the Galician territories made a large number of Ukrainians subjects to repression in the Austrian concentration camps of Talerhof, Stiria, the fortress of Terezien and Czechia.
1922 saw Ukraine divided between Poland and the Soviet Union making most of Central and Eastern Ukraine a constituent republic of the USSR. This was followed by a policy of Ukrainization, introducing Ukrainian language and culture in the Russian-speaking cities of Ukraine.
Ukraine, the nation's breadbasket had also suffered a horrible manmade famine due to the strict policies of the authorities who demanded collective peasantry, till the German invaders took over. Though mistaken as the liberators initially, Ukrainians later fought the Axis powers in Carpatho-Ukraine and became one of the first few nations to make the move.
The Post-WWII Soviet Ukraine extended to the West under one political state, expelling the Poles between 1942 and 1943 (The massacres of Wolynia), followed by the occupation of Crimea in 1954. A brief period of tension was noticed between Russia and Ukraine after Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but it brought forth the much-awaited freedom marking Ukraine the founder-member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Vorontsov's Palace in Alupka
Termed formerly as the ‘bread-basket’ of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is primarily an agricultural and industrial region depending largely on Russia for most of its energy supplies including natural gas. Lately the country is trying to diversify its sources, but a lack of significant structural reform stands as the bar besides making the Ukrainian economy an easy prey to external shocks; the loose monetary policies during late 1993 being a burning example that pushed inflation to higher levels.
The current government has introduced policies for reducing the number of government agencies besides streamlining the regulatory process. A legal environment has been created for encouraging entrepreneurs besides overhauling the tax structure.
The GDP in 2000 proved a strong export-oriented growth (first since independence) by 6% and an industrial production growth of 12.9%. The economy is expanding since 2001 making GDP rise to 9% and industrial output over 14%. Aided by the steel exports to China Ukraine’s economic growth, between 2002 and 2004, promises a well-set future for the country.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves)
A democracy under a semi-presidential system, Ukraine has separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches and elects its President by popular vote, who in turn nominates the Prime Minister under the consent of the 450-seat parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. Members of the Cabinet of Ministers are also selected by the President, under the guidance and consent of the Prime Minister. A similar rule is applied while choosing the heads of all the central agencies and regional and district administrations. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine holds the sole authority of the Laws, the acts of the Parliament and the Cabinet and the acts of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Crimean parliament). The Supreme Court of Ukraine holds the prime authority of the system of courts of general jurisdiction in spite of the existence of a large number political party, many of which are obscure to the general population.
The Euro-Atlantic integration is Ukraine’s primary foreign policy objective that initiated on March 1, 1998. March 10, 1992 was when Ukraine became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, apart from sharing a close relationship with NATO and being most active member of the Partnership for Peace (PFP). Ukraine also maintains a peaceful and constructive relation with all the neighbouring countries, especially Poland and Russia – the latter being the energy resource of Ukraine. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) since December 8, 1991.
1999 and 2001 saw Ukraine serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and making substantial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations since 1992. The 1997 Boundary Treaty with Belarus resulted in a reduced border security; Moldova and Ukraine now have joint customs posts to restrict and monitor transit through Moldova's break-away Transnistria Region under OSCE supervision. Ukraine and Romania are currently under a dispute over Ukrainian-administered Zmiyinyy (Snake) Island and Black Sea maritime boundary.