A country comprising a large region of eastern Europe stretching from the Carpathian Mountains to the Donetz River and bounded on the south by the Black Sea. To the east are Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova; to the west, Russia.
Northern Ukraine is a continuation of the low plains, woods, and marshes of Belarus. To the south, and forming three-quarters of the region, is the treeless steppe. In the extreme south is the Crimea, a peninsula with a milder climate than the steppe.
After independence Ukraine undertook measures to reduce its economic interdependence with former Soviet republics, including an agreement to import Iranian oil to replace Russian supplies. Mineral resources are abundant and varied. Heavy industry includes iron and steel production, machinery and transport equipment, aircraft, chemicals, and consumer goods. Food-processing and textiles are important light industries. Grain is the most important agricultural product. Agriculture has suffered greatly because the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986 contaminated large tracts of the rich steppe.
Originally inhabited by Neolithic settlers in the Dnieper and Dniester valleys, Ukraine was overrun by numerous invaders before Varangian adventurers founded a powerful Slav kingdom based on Kiev in the 9th century. Mongol conquest in the 13th century was followed in the 14th century by Lithuanian overlordship until 1569, when Polish rule brought serfdom and religious persecution, which produced an exiled community of Cossacks who resisted both Polish and Russian domination. With the partition of Poland in 1795 the region, including the Crimea, under Ottoman control from 1478, came under Russian control, a situation which lasted until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Yet Ukrainian nationalism, despite repression, remained strong. In 1918 independence was proclaimed, but by 1922 the area had been conquered by Soviet forces, to become the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Stalin imposed collectivization on the region, which suffered grievously from his purges. It was devastated during the German occupation of 1941 to 1944, although many nationalists welcomed the Germans. Territorial gains from Romania, eastern Poland, and Slovakia completed the union of all Ukrainian lands into one republic by 1945, the Crimea being added in 1954. By 1990 strong pressure had built up for independence from the Soviet Union, and the Ukraine Supreme Soviet formally declared independence in August 1991, with overwhelming support in a referendum. Multiparty elections followed, with Leonid Kravchuk elected President. The 20% Russian minority was placed under no pressure; at the same time, negotiations took place with Russia over naval and military armed forces, Ukraine declaring itself a nuclear-free zone. The Chernobyl nuclear power-station disaster of 1986 had left thousands of square kilometres of its countryside permanently contaminated; the plant was closed in 2000. Following independence, the largely Russian region of the Crimea declared itself an autonomous region in 1992. Ukraine formally joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1993. In elections to the Supreme Council, held in 1994, both communists and independent parties fared well. Later in the same year, the former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma, who advocated economic reform and closer links with Russia, replaced Kravchuk as President; he was re-elected in 1999. Relations with Russia remained tense, as Ukraine continued to dispute the autonomy of Crimea. A new constitution abolishing Soviet-style institutions and consolidating democracy was adopted in June 1996. The 2004 presidential election was declared to have been won by the pro-Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych. However, allegations of fraud quickly escalated into the Orange Revolution: the election was re-run and the pro-Western opposition candidate, Viktor Yeshchenko, was elected. In 2006 a crisis arose over Russia's demands that Ukraine pay a much higher price for its natural gas supplies. This led to the collapse of the government, followed by inconclusive elections and months of talks aimed at creating a new coalition.