Ukraine is the largest country by area in Europe (excluding the European part of Russia), and is slightly larger than France. Ukraine’s population of approximately 47 Million makes the country the seventh most populous in Europe. Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, is its largest city, with a population of approximately 2.6 million.
Many Ukrainians identify themselves as Russians. Although official statistics indicate that only 17.8% of Ukrainians are Russian by ethnicity, it is generally accepted that a much larger percentage of population identifies themselves as Russians. Russian is the predominant language spoken in Eastern Ukraine. In the western regions, particularly in cities such as L’viv, Ukrainian is the dominant language. Both languages are spoken in Kiev and both are used in television and radio broadcasts.
The predominant religion in Ukraine is Orthodox Christianity, which is split in organization among the Russian Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukraine Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Catholicism and Greek Rite Orthodoxy are followed by small but significant minorities. Much of Ukraine’s large Jewish population was wiped out during World War II and the Soviet era. Many others left Ukraine after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991-2 and now Jews account for approximately 0.2% of the population.
Ukraine’s commitment to education remains high, even as the centrally planned economy has been replaced with market forces. Ukraine maintains a literacy rate of over 99%.
Ukraine is well-known for its agricultural prowess and for its famous black earth soil which at one point in the early 20th Century could produce enough wheat to feed the world. Many experts believe that Ukraine could produce up to four times its current agricultural yield with improved management, capital and private ownership. Agriculture continues to be an important part the Ukrainian economy and has rebounded after decades of decay under the forced collectivization and socialization under Soviet control. After a crippling drought in 2010, grain exports in 2011 are expected to rebound strongly, with estimates ranging from 17.5-18.5 metric tonnes.
Ukraine also has a significant machinery and truck industry, including farm and construction vehicles. As part of its legacy from being part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine maintains a strong aerospace industry. Ukraine inherited the Antonov Design Bureau, which produces and designs passenger, cargo and military aircraft and continues to design and launch its own rockets and satellites. Ukraine’s first astronaut went to space in 1997.
Information technology is a fast-growing market in Ukraine, and Ukraine is becoming an increasingly popular destination for programming and information technology support outsourcing.
Ukraine’s primary exports are ferrous and nonferrous metals, mineral products, chemicals, energy transport services, machinery, transport equipment, grain, and textiles. 30% of Ukraine’s exports are sold to the European Union and the share is increasing.
Although Ukraine derives a substantial part of its energy supply from nuclear power, it is heavily dependent upon Russian gas and oil supplies. Russia has shown a willingness in the past to reduce fuel supplies to Ukraine, particularly in the winter, in order to influence Ukrainian government policy.
Corruption and organized crime are generally believed to be as pervasive as in Russia or other former Soviet republics, excluding the Baltic States.
Ukraine joined the World Trade Organization in May, 2008.
Currency: The Ukrainian hryvnia is the Ukrainian currency, worth approximately UAH 8 per US Dollar, or $0.125 per hryvnia.
Per capita GDP: $6,700
Real GDP shank by over 15.5% in 2009 and the country required emergency funds from the World Bank. 2010 GDP rebounded somewhat, growing by 4.9% in 2010 and similar growth is expected in 2011. Inflation is currently running at 10%.
Ukraine’s practical unemployment rate is estimated to be approximately 10%.
American companies are pursuing opportunities in the following areas:
- Sales of consumer products to a market of 46 million people whose real incomes are increasing
- Outsourcing of computer programming and technical support services
- Outsourcing of high-level scientific research and engineering services
- Providing world-class business services, such as legal, financial and accounting services to Ukrainian firms
- Providing consulting services, either directly to Ukrainian companies, or through technical assistance programs funded by individual nations or multinational organizations, such as the World Bank.
- Providing services to assist Ukrainian companies in accessing the American market for export of manufactured products, such as steel, agricultural products, chemicals, and machinery
Ukraine’s constitution calls for a president, elected for a five year term by popular vote. The 450-seat legislature, called the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Congress), elects its own prime minister. Members of the Rada are elected by a party proportional vote. The president is head of state and generally has more power than does the prime minister. The constitution of Ukraine sets the judiciary branch as independent of the executive and legislative branches. The judiciary branch passed an important test in 2004 when it ruled the presidential election invalid due to vote rigging and voided the victory claimed by establishment (and pro-Russian) candidate Viktor Yanukovych.
Ukraine is divided into 24 regions (oblasts) and one autonomous republic (Crimea). The 24 oblasts and Crimea are further separated into 490 raions (regions).
Ukraine is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose confederation of former Soviet republics formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ukraine appears to be moving toward integration with, and potentially membership in the European Union. Moves to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization under the Viktor Yushchenko Administration have been largely halted or reversed as Ukraine attempts to improve relations with the Russian Federation.
Ukraine returned all of its Soviet legacy nuclear weapons to Russia and was declared a nuclear-free zone in 1996. Ukraine’s standing army is the second largest in Europe, behind that of Russia.
The Ukrainian Language
Ukrainian is the only officially recognized state language of Ukraine. Ukrainian has survived as a distinct language in spite of the fact that throughout most of its history, Ukraine was dominated by foreign powers with their own languages. Ukrainian is closely related to Russian but nevertheless distinct. Like Russian, Ukrainian is an Eastern Slavic language and uses a variation of the Cyrillic alphabet. The language question remains a very sensitive issue in Ukrainian society.
Although the grammar is very similar to Russian, the vocabulary can be very different. Also, like Russian, Ukrainian is an inflected language, meaning that it uses cases in its grammar. Ukrainian has one additional case beyond those used in Russian. Some current Ukrainian words are related to archaic forms of Russian words; many others come from Polish, Tatar and Hungarian. Native Russian and Ukrainian speakers can sometimes understand one another; frequently they cannot or do so only with difficulty, especially if western Ukrainian dialects are used. A detailed history of the Ukrainian Language is available here.
The Ukrainian spoken is eastern Ukraine is much more similar to Russian than the dialects spoken in western and central Ukraine or among the diasporas that emigrated before Communism to the United States and Canada. The first significant secular Ukrainian language literature began to appear in the 1700’s and flourished in the 1800’s. A map displaying the regional prevalence of the Ukrainian language illustrates the regional language preferences.
Russian remains widely spoken and used in Ukraine, particularly in Eastern Ukrainian cities such as Xar’kiv, Sebastopil, and Dnipropetrivsk as well as Kyiv. In western areas such as L’viv and Ivano Frankivsk, Ukrainian is the language of choice. On occasion, individuals who understand Russian will decline to speak it on principle.
Ukraine’s recorded history extends to the 7th Century BC, when the Greeks both traded with local settlements and established their own outposts on the Black Sea. Ukrainian history therefore extends to ancient times and a summary lies beyond the scope of this web site. Some links the reader may find helpful: