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Ukraine, country located in eastern Europe, the second largest on the continent after Russia. The capital is Kyiv (Kiev), located on the Dnieper River in north-central Ukraine.

Ukraine

UkraineUkraine.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Swallow's Nest Castle

Swallow’s Nest CastleSwallow’s Nest Castle overlooking the Black Sea, Yalta, Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine.© Mike_kiev/Dreamstime.com

A fully independent Ukraine emerged only late in the 20th century, after long periods of successive domination by PolandLithuania, Russia, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). Ukraine had experienced a brief period of independence in 1918–20, but portions of western Ukraine were ruled by Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia in the period between the two World Wars, and Ukraine thereafter became part of the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.). When the Soviet Union began to unravel in 1990–91, the legislature of the Ukrainian S.S.R. declared sovereignty (July 16, 1990) and then outright independence (August 24, 1991), a move that was confirmed by popular approval in a plebiscite (December 1, 1991). With the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in December 1991, Ukraine gained full independence. The country changed its official name to Ukraine, and it helped to found the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of countries that were formerly republics of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine

UkraineEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Land

Ukraine is bordered by Belarus to the north, Russia to the east, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea to the south, Moldova and Romania to the southwest, and Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland to the west. In the far southeast, Ukraine is separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

Ukraine

UkraineEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Relief

Ukraine occupies the southwestern portion of the Russian Plain (East European Plain). The country consists almost entirely of level plains at an average elevation of 574 feet (175 metres) above sea level. Mountainous areas such as the Ukrainian Carpathians and Crimean Mountains occur only on the country’s borders and account for barely 5 percent of its area. The Ukrainian landscape nevertheless has some diversity: its plains are broken by highlands—running in a continuous belt from northwest to southeast—as well as by lowlands.

The rolling plain of the Dnieper Upland, which lies between the middle reaches of the Dnieper (Dnipro) and Southern Buh (Pivdennyy Buh, or the Boh) rivers in west-central Ukraine, is the largest highland area; it is dissected by many river valleys, ravines, and gorges, some more than 1,000 feet (300 metres) deep. On the west the Dnieper Upland is abutted by the rugged Volyn-Podilsk Upland, which rises to 1,545 feet (471 metres) at its highest point, Mount Kamula. West of the Volyn-Podilsk Upland, in extreme western Ukraine, the parallel ranges of the Carpathian Mountains—one of the most picturesque areas in the country—extend for more than 150 miles (240 km). The mountains range in height from about 2,000 feet (600 metres) to about 6,500 feet (2,000 metres), rising to 6,762 feet (2,061 metres) at Mount Hoverla, the highest point in the country. The northeastern and southeastern portions of Ukraine are occupied by low uplands rarely reaching an elevation of 1,000 feet (300 metres).

Among the country’s lowlands are the Pripet Marshes (Polissya), which lie in the northern part of Ukraine and are crossed by numerous river valleys. In east-central Ukraine is the Dnieper Lowland, which is flat in the west and gently rolling in the east. To the south, another lowland extends along the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; its level surface, broken only by low rises and shallow depressions, slopes gradually toward the Black Sea. The shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are characterized by narrow, sandy spits of land that jut out into the water; one of these, the Arabat Spit, is about 70 miles (113 km) long but averages less than 5 miles (8 km) in width.

The southern lowland continues in the Crimean Peninsula as the North Crimean Lowland. The peninsula—a large protrusion into the Black Sea—is connected to the mainland by the Perekop Isthmus. The Crimean Mountains form the southern coast of the peninsula. Mount Roman-Kosh, at 5,069 feet (1,545 metres), is the mountains’ highest point.

Crimean Peninsula cliffs

Crimean Peninsula cliffsCliffs on the Crimean Peninsula overlooking the Black Sea.Philippe Michel/age fotostock

People of Ukraine

Ethnic groups

When Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, a policy of Russian in-migration and Ukrainian out-migration was in effect, and ethnic Ukrainians’ share of the population in Ukraine declined from 77 percent in 1959 to 73 percent in 1991. But that trend reversed after the country gained independence, and, by the turn of the 21st century, ethnic Ukrainians made up more than three-fourths of the population. Russians continue to be the largest minority, though they now constitute less than one-fifth of the population. The remainder of the population includes Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Roma (Gypsies), and other groups. The Crimean Tatars, who were forcibly deported to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics in 1944, began returning to the Crimea in large numbers in 1989; by the early 21st century they constituted one of the largest non-Russian minority groups. In March 2014 Russia forcibly annexed Crimea, a move that was condemned by the international community, and human rights groups subsequently documented a series of repressive measures that had been taken against the Crimean Tatars by Russian authorities.

Ukraine: Ethnic composition

Ukraine: Ethnic compositionEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Historically, Ukraine had large Jewish and Polish populations, particularly in the Right Bank region (west of the Dnieper River). In fact, in the late 19th century slightly more than one-fourth of the world’s Jewish population (estimated at 10 million) lived in ethnic Ukrainian territory. This predominantly Yiddish-speaking population was greatly reduced by emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and by the devastation of the Holocaust. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, large numbers of Ukraine’s remaining Jews emigrated, mainly to Israel. At the turn of the 21st century, the several hundred thousand Jews left in Ukraine made up less than 1 percent of the Ukrainian population. Most of Ukraine’s large Polish minority was resettled in Poland after World War II as part of a Soviet plan to have ethnic settlement match territorial boundaries. Fewer than 150,000 ethnic Poles remained in Ukraine at the turn of the 21st century.

Languages of Ukraine

The vast majority of people in Ukraine speak Ukrainian, which is written with a form of the Cyrillic alphabet. The language—belonging with Russian and Belarusian to the East Slavic branch of the Slavic language family—is closely related to Russian but also has distinct similarities to the Polish language. Significant numbers of people in the country speak Polish, Yiddish, Rusyn, Belarusian, Romanian or Moldovan, Bulgarian, Crimean Turkish, or Hungarian. Russian is the most important minority language.

During the rule of imperial Russia and under the Soviet Union, Russian was the common language of government administration and public life in Ukraine. Although Ukrainian had been afforded equal status with Russian in the decade following the revolution of 1917, by the 1930s a concerted attempt at Russification was well under way. In 1989 Ukrainian once again became the country’s official language, and its status as the sole official language was confirmed in the 1996 Ukrainian constitution.

In 2012 a law was passed that granted local authorities the power to confer official status upon minority languages. Although Ukrainian was reaffirmed as the country’s official language, regional administrators could elect to conduct official business in the prevailing language of the area. In Crimea, which has an autonomous status within Ukraine and where there is a Russian-speaking majority, Russian and Crimean Tatar are the official languages. In addition, primary and secondary schools using Russian as the language of instruction still prevail in the Donets Basin and other areas with large Russian minorities. The Ukrainian parliament moved to rescind the minority language law in February 2014, after the ouster of pro-Russian Pres. Viktor Yanukovych, but interim Pres. Oleksandr Turchynov declined to sign the bill into law. 00:03 03:45 https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.487.0_en.html#goog_1043703662https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.487.0_en.html#goog_1043703663https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.487.0_en.html#goog_1043703664

Religion

The predominant religion in Ukraine, practiced by almost half the population, is Eastern Orthodoxy. Historically, most adherents belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Kyiv Patriarchate, though the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate was important as well. A smaller number of Orthodox Christians belonged to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. In January 2019 the Kyiv Patriarchate and Autocephalous churches were merged into a single body as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In creating the new church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I formalized the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox community, which had been under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Moscow since 1686. In western Ukraine the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church prevails. Minority religions include Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Islam (practiced primarily by the Crimean Tatars), and Judaism. More than two-fifths of Ukrainians are not religious.

Ukraine: Religious affiliation

Ukraine: Religious affiliationEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

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