National name: Ukrayina

Languages: Ukrainian 67%, Russian 24%, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian

Ethnicity/race: Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belorussian 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% (2001)

Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate 19%, Moscow Patriarchate 9%, no particular division 16%), Ukrainian Greek Catholic 6%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 2%, Protestant, Jewish, none 38% (2004)

Literacy rate: 100% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2009 est.): $294.3 billion; per capita $6,400. Real growth rate: –14.1%. Inflation: 12.3%. Unemployment: 4.8% officially registered; large number of unregistered or underemployed workers; International Labor Organization est.: 7%. Arable land: 54%. Agriculture: grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, vegetables; beef, milk. Labor force: 21.58 million (2007 est.); industry 32%, agriculture 24%, services 44% (1996). Industries: coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing (especially sugar). Natural resources: iron ore, coal, manganese, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, timber, arable land. Exports: $41.49 billion (2009 est.): ferrous and nonferrous metals, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals, machinery and transport equipment, food products. Imports: $45.58 billion (2009 est.): energy, machinery and equipment, chemicals. Major trading partners: Russia, Germany, Turkey, Italy, U.S., Turkmenistan (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 9.45 million (April 1999); mobile cellular: 236,000 (1998). Radio broadcast stations: AM 134, FM 289, shortwave 4 (1998). Radios: 45.05 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: at least 33 (plus 21 repeater stations that relay broadcasts from Russia) (1997). Televisions: 18.05 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 260 (2001). Internet users: 750,000 (2001).

Transportation: Railways: total: 22,473 km (2002). Highways: total: 169,491 km; paved: 163,898 km; unpaved: 5,593 km (2000). Waterways: 4,499 km (1990). Ports and harbors: Berdyans’k, Feodosiya, Illichivs’k, Izmayil, Kerch, Kherson, Kiev (Kyyiv), Kiliya, Mariupol’, Mykolayiv, Odesa, Reni, Sevastopol’, Yalta, Yuzhnyy. Airports: 790 (2002).

International disputes: 1997 boundary treaty with Belarus remains unratified over unresolved financial claims, preventing demarcation and encouraging illegal cross-border activities; land delimitation of boundary with Russia is complete, but maritime regime of the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait remains unresolved; difficulties in the Transnistria region of Moldova complicate border crossing and customs, facilitating smuggling, arms transfers, and other illegal activities; has not resolved Romanian claims to Ukrainian-administered Zmiyinyy (Snake) Island and Black Sea maritime boundary despite ongoing talks based on 1997 friendship treaty to find a solution in two years.

An Independent Nation

When President Leonid Kravchuk was elected by the Ukrainian parliament in 1990, he vowed to seek Ukrainian sovereignty. Ukraine declared its independence on Aug. 24, 1991.

In Dec. 1991, Ukrainian, Russian, and Belorussian leaders cofounded a new Commonwealth of Independent States with the capital to be situated in Minsk, Belarus.

The new country’s government was slow to reform the Soviet-era state-run economy, which was plagued by declining production, rising inflation, and widespread unemployment in the years following independence.

The U.S. announced in Jan. 1994 that an agreement had been reached with Russia and Ukraine for the destruction of Ukraine’s entire nuclear arsenal.

In Oct. 1994, Ukraine began a program of economic liberalization and moved to reestablish central authority over Crimea. In 1995, Crimea’s separatist leader was removed and the Crimean constitution revoked.

In June 1996, the last strategic nuclear warhead was removed to Russia. Also that month parliament approved a new constitution that allowed for private ownership of land. An agreement was signed in May 1997 on the future of the Black Sea fleet, by which Ukrainian and Russian ships will share the port of Sevastopol for 20 years.

A Struggling Economy and a Troubled Government

The Russian financial crisis in fall 1998 led to severe problems for the Ukrainian economy, which is dependent on Russia for 40% of its foreign trade. Ukraine remains saddled with its Soviet-era economy, and most of its major industries are still under state control. Corruption is rampant, and as a result, Western investors have shown only minimal interest. The election of the reform-minded Viktor Yushchenko as prime minister in Dec. 1999, however, was greeted with optimism by the West. He was also highly popular among Ukrainians. But in April 2001, he was dismissed in a no-confidence vote engineered by Communist hard-liners and Ukrainian big business.

Violent demonstrations rocked Ukraine in the winter of 2001, with protesters demanding the resignation and impeachment of authoritarian president Leonid Kuchma. Critics accused Kuchma of involvement in the murder of a journalist critical of government corruption. Kuchma was recorded on tape urging that the journalist be disposed of.

In 2004, Kuchma announced he would be retiring. A presidential election pitted Viktor Yushchenko, the former reformist prime minister, against Viktor Yanukovich, the current prime minister and Kuchma’s chosen successor. The campaign was an especially dirty one. Yushchenko was nearly fatally poisoned with dioxin and had to be hospitalized for several weeks shortly before the election. His doctors predicted that the poisoning will affect his health for years to come. In the Nov. 21 runoff election, Prime Minister Yanukovich received 49.5% of the vote and Yushchenko 46.5%. International monitors declared the elections massively fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko’s supporters took to the streets of the capital and other cities in protest, and what became known as the Orange Revolution (after Yushchenko’s signature campaign color) continued full strength over the next two weeks. On Dec. 3, the supreme court invalidated the election results. On Dec. 8, parliament voted in favor of an overhaul of Ukraine’s political system, amending the constitution to reform election laws and transferring some presidential powers to the parliament. In the final presidential runoff on Dec. 26, Yushchenko won 52% of the vote to Yanukovich’s 44.2%. On Jan. 23, 2005, Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in. Fellow reformist Yulia Timoshenko became the prime minister. But within the year Yushchenko’s reformist reputation was tarnished by his administration’s infighting and allegations of corruption. He fired Prime Minster Timoshenko and her entire cabinet in Aug. 2005. The crisis shook the public’s belief in the Orange Revolution, and Yushchenko’s continued inattentiveness to governmental corruption has further disillusioned the public.

Gas Causes an Energy Crisis

Russia suddenly quadrupled the price of gas sold to Ukraine in Jan. 2006, triggering an energy crisis in the country. Ukraine maintained that Russia, angry at Ukraine’s growing pro-Western stance and its loss of influence in the region, was attempting to damage its economy. Russia maintained that the rise in prices was purely a commercial consideration. Russia briefly stemmed the flow of gas to Ukraine to force the country to accept the higher prices, sending alarms throughout Europe—a quarter of Europe’s gas supplies come from Russia via Ukraine’s pipelines. A compromise was eventually reached, with Ukraine agreeing to pay about double its current price. Furious at the unfavorable terms of the deal, Ukraine’s parliament then sacked the government of prime minister Yuri Yekhanurov. The prime minister, however, maintained the vote was nonbinding.

In parliamentary elections on March 26, 2006, Yushchenko’s party fared badly, receiving only 14% of the vote. His two major opponents did considerably better: Viktor Yanukovich, the former prime minister whom Yushchenko had defeated in 2004, received the largest percentage, 32%, and Yulia Timoshenko, the former prime minister whom Yushchenko had sacked earlier in 2005, won 32% of the vote. It took until August before a strange ruling coalition was cobbled together: Yushchenko appointed his arch-rival Viktor Yanukovich as prime minister—the very leader the Orange Revolution had defeated in 2004. Yanukovich has vowed to strengthen Ukraine’s ties with Russia once again.

Several Rounds of Elections and Another Gas Crisis

Yushchenko, accusing Yanukovich of attempting to consolidate power, dissolved Parliament in April 2007. After extended negotiations and political posturing, the rivals agreed to hold parliamentary elections in the fall. The elections in September proved inconclusive, and after weeks of talks, the parties that rose to power during the Orange Revolution of 2004 formed a coalition.

On Oct. 9, 2008, after weeks of political turmoil that saw that collapse of his pro-Western coalition, President Viktor Yushchenko signed an order to dissolve Parliament and called for new elections.

A dispute over debts and pricing of gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine led Gazprom, the major Russian gas supplier, to halt its gas exports to Europe via Ukraine, affecting at least ten EU countries in January 2009. About 80% of Russian gas exports to Europe are pumped through Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the disruption to Europe’s energy supply.

Viktor Yushchenko, who led Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004, resoundingly lost the first round of the Ukrainian presidential election. Former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich won the second round in February 2010, defeating Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by 3.48%. International observers declared the election fair, but Tymoshenko alleged election fraud. She resigned in March, after losing a confidence vote in Parliament. Yanukovich formed a government in March, with Mykola Azarov, a Russian-born former finance minister, as his prime minister.