After Russia, the Ukrainian republic was far and away the most important economic component of the former Soviet Union, producing about four times the output of the next-ranking republic. Its fertile black soil generated more than one-fourth of Soviet agricultural output, and its farms provided substantial quantities of meat, milk, grain, and vegetables to other republics. Likewise, its diversified heavy industry supplied the unique equipment (for example, large diameter pipes) and raw materials to industrial and mining sites (vertical drilling apparatus) in other regions of the former USSR. Ukraine depends on imports of energy, especially natural gas, to meet some 85% of its annual energy requirements. Shortly after independence in December 1991, the Ukrainian Government liberalized most prices and erected a legal framework for privatization, but widespread resistance to reform within the government and the legislature soon stalled reform efforts and led to some backtracking. Output by 1999 had fallen to less than 40% of the 1991 level. Loose monetary policies pushed inflation to hyperinflationary levels in late 1993. Ukraine's dependence on Russia for energy supplies and the lack of significant structural reform have made the Ukrainian economy vulnerable to external shocks. Now in his second term, President Kuchma has pledged to reduce the number of government agencies, streamline the regulatory process, create a legal environment to encourage entrepreneurs, and enact a comprehensive tax overhaul. Reforms in the more politically sensitive areas of structural reform and land privatization are still lagging.
Currency: hryvnia (UAH).
Industries: coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing (especially sugar).
Central square of Kiev, Ukraine.
Population: 47.7 million (July 2004).
Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate 26.5%, Ukrainian Orthodox - Kiev Patriarchate 20%, Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) 13%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish.
Ethnic groups: Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8%.
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian.
Country name: Ukraine (local: Ukrayina).
Government type: republic.
Independence: 24 August 1991.
Administrative divisions: 24 oblasti (singular - oblast'), 1 autonomous republic (avtomnaya respublika), and 2 municipalities (mista, singular - misto) with oblast status.
Total area: 603,700 km˛, the second-largest country in Europe.
Terrain: most of Ukraine consists of fertile plains (steppes) and plateaus, mountains being found only in the west (the Carpathians), and in the Crimean Peninsula in the extreme south.
Highest point: Hora Hoverla 2,061 m.
Coastline: 2,782 km.
Climate: temperate continental; Mediterranean only on the southern Crimean coast; precipitation disproportionately distributed, highest in west and north, lesser in east and southeast; winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland; summers are warm across the greater part of the country, hot in the south.
Ports and harbors: Berdyans'k, Feodosiya, Illichivs'k, Izmayil, Kerch, Kherson, Kiev (Kyiv), Kiliya, Mariupol', Mykolayiv, Odesa, Reni, Sevastopol', Yalta, Yuzhnyy.
Ukraine was the center of the first Slavic state, Kievan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Weakened by internecine quarrels and Mongol invasions, Kievan Rus was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and eventually into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The cultural and religious legacy of Kievan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism through subsequent centuries. A new Ukrainian state, the Cossack Hetmanate, was established during the mid-17th century after an uprising against the Poles. Despite Muscovite pressure, the Hetmanate managed to remain autonomous for well over 100 years.
During the latter part of the 18th century, most Ukrainian territory was absorbed by the Russian Empire. Following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine was able to bring about a short-lived period of independence (1917-1920), but was reconquered and forced to endure a brutal Soviet rule that engineered two artificial famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died.
In World War II, German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 to 8 million more deaths. Although independence was achieved in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, true freedom remains elusive, as the legacy of state control has been difficult to throw off.
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(St. Andrew's Cathedral)