Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It is the second-largest country in Europe after Russia, which it borders to the east and north-east. Ukraine also shares borders with Belarus to the north; Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary to the west; Romania and Moldova to the south; and has a coastline along the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. It spans an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), with a population of 41.4 million, and is the eighth-most populous country in Europe. The nation’s capital and largest city is Kyiv.
The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key centre of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus’ forming the basis of Ukrainian identity. Following its fragmentation into several principalities in the 13th century and the devastation created by the Mongol invasion, the territorial unity collapsed and the area was contested, ruled, and divided by a variety of powers, including the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Tsardom of Moscovy. A Cossack Hetmanate emerged and prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, but its territory was eventually split between Poland and the Russian Empire. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, a Ukrainian national movement for self-determination emerged, and the internationally recognized Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared on 23 June 1917. After World War II, the western part of Ukraine merged into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the whole country became a part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Following its independence, Ukraine declared itself a neutral state; it formed a limited military partnership with Russia and other CIS countries while also establishing a partnership with NATO in 1994. In 2013, after the government of President Viktor Yanukovych had decided to suspend the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement and seek closer economic ties with Russia, a several-months-long wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Euromaidan began, which later escalated into the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to the overthrow of Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government. These events formed the background for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 and the War in Donbas in April 2014. On 1 January 2016, Ukraine applied for the economic component of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union.
Ukraine has a mostly temperate climate, with the exception of the southern coast of Crimea which has a subtropical climate. The climate is influenced by moderately warm, humid air coming from the Atlantic Ocean. Average annual temperatures range from 5.5–7 °C (41.9–44.6 °F) in the north, to 11–13 °C (51.8–55.4 °F) in the south.Precipitation is disproportionately distributed; it is highest in the west and north and lowest in the east and southeast. Western Ukraine, particularly in the Carpathian Mountains, receives around 1,200 millimetres (47.2 in) of precipitation annually, while Crimea and the coastal areas of the Black Sea receive around 400 millimetres (15.7 in).
In total, Ukrainian paved roads stretch for 164,732 kilometres (102,360 mi). Major routes, marked with the letter ‘M’ for ‘International’ extend nationwide and connect all major cities of Ukraine, and provide cross-border routes to the country’s neighbours. There are only two true motorway standard highways in Ukraine; a 175-kilometre (109-mile) stretch of motorway from Kharkiv to Dnipro and a section of the M03 which extends 18 km (11 mi) from Kyiv to Boryspil, where the city’s international airport is located.
Rail transport in Ukraine connects all major urban areas, port facilities and industrial centres with neighbouring countries. The heaviest concentration of railway track is the Donbas region of Ukraine. Although rail freight transport fell in the 1990s, Ukraine is still one of the world’s highest rail users. The total amount of railroad track in Ukraine extends for 22,473 kilometres (13,964 mi), of which 9,250 kilometres (5,750 mi) was electrified in the 2000s. Currently the state has a monopoly on the provision of passenger rail transport, and all trains, other than those with the cooperation of other foreign companies on international routes, are operated by its company ‘Ukrzaliznytsia.
According to the constitution, the state language of Ukraine is Ukrainian. Russian is widely spoken, especially in eastern and southern Ukraine. According to the 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their native language and 29.6 percent declared Russia Most native Ukrainian speakers know Russian as a second language. Russian was the de facto dominant language of the Soviet Union but Ukrainian also held official status. and in the schools of the Ukrainian SSR learning Ukrainian was mandatory. Effective in August 2012, a new law on regional languages entitles any local language spoken by at least a 10 percent minority be declared official within that area. Russian was within weeks declared as a regional language in several southern and eastern oblasts (provinces) and cities. Russian can now be used in these cities’/oblasts’ administrative office work and documents. On 23 February 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to repeal the law on regional languages, making Ukrainian the sole state language at all levels; however, the repeal was not signed by acting President Turchynov or by President Poroshenko. In February 2019, the law allowing for regional languages was found unconstitutional.
Ukrainian is mainly spoken in western and central Ukraine. In western Ukraine, Ukrainian is also the dominant language in cities (such as Lviv). In central Ukraine, Ukrainian and Russian are both equally used in cities, with Russian being more common in Kyiv, while Ukrainian is the dominant language in rural communities. In eastern and southern Ukraine, Russian is primarily used in cities, and Ukrainian is used in rural areas. These details result in a significant difference across different survey results, as even a small restating of a question switches responses of a significant group of people. Hungarian is spoken in the Zakarpattia Oblast.
For a large part of the Soviet era, the number of Ukrainian speakers declined from generation to generation, and by the mid-1980s, the usage of the Ukrainian language in public life had decreased significantly. Following independence, the government of Ukraine began restoring the image and usage of Ukrainian language through a policy of Ukrainisation. Today, most foreign films and TV programs, including Russian ones, are subtitled or dubbed in Ukrainian. Ukraine’s 2017 education law bars primary education in public schools in grade five and up in any language but Ukrainian. The Unian reported that “A ban on the use of cultural products, namely movies, books, songs, etc., in the Russian language in the public has been introduced” in the Lviv Oblast in September 2018.
According to the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukrainian is the only state language of the republic. However, the republic’s constitution specifically recognises Russian as the language of the majority of its population and guarantees its usage ‘in all spheres of public life’. Similarly, the Crimean Tatar language (the language of 12 percent of the population of Crimea) is guaranteed a special state protection as well as the ‘languages of other ethnicities. Russian speakers constitute an overwhelming majority of the Crimean population (77 percent), with Crimean Tatar speakers 11.4 percent and Ukrainian speakers comprising just 10.1 percent. But in everyday life the majority of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea use Russian.
Ukrainian customs are heavily influenced by Orthodox Christianity, the dominant religion in the country. Gender roles also tend to be more traditional, and grandparents play a greater role in bringing up children, than in the West. The culture of Ukraine has also been influenced by its eastern and western neighbours, 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 Organisations”. 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 colours, 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 colourful pattern. This tradition is thousands of years old, and precedes the arrival of Christianity to Ukraine. In the city of Kolomyia 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.