Ukrainians are deeply affected by the country’s long history that predates the independent state by some 1,500 years. The march of successive civilizations from prehistoric times, the Scythians, Greeks, Varaungian, Slavic, and Turkic peoples have all left their mark. The birthplace of the Slavic state was Kyivan-Rus which flourished a thousand years ago.
There is an old legend which tells of three brothers who found Kyiv (also known as Kiev) at the end of the fifth century. The brothers Kiy, Khoriv, and Shchek, along with their sister, Lybid, decided to name this newly founded land “Kyiv,” after their elder brother.
Kyiv bloomed during the end of the ninth century as a political center inhabited by Eastern Slavs. Kyiv had an advantageous trade route in the center of Europe which allowed it to maintain political and economic ties with the West.
In 988, Kyiv’s Prince Volodymyr the Great introduced Christianity to Kyiv making it the official religion of Kyivan-Rus. This move played an important role in Kyiv’s political development and cultural relations with the European and Near Eastern countries.
In 1240, Kyiv was invaded by the Tatar-Mongols led by the grandson of Genghis Khan. The city was captured and its glory fell into decline during the period of almost century-long rule by the Tatar-Mongols.
For many centuries thereafter Ukraine was attacked and ruled by Poland and Lithuanian in the Rzecz Pospolita Commonwealth, Russia, Germany and others. During this time Ukrainian Kozack armies were formed which were led by a Hetman (military leader). One of the most famous Hetman is Bohdan Khmelnytsky who inspired one of the greatest Cossack uprisings that led to the liberation of Kyiv in 1648. He was considered by some a traitor after he signed the Treaty of Pereyaslav which authorized protection from the Russian Czar. This treaty joined Ukraine and Russia into one and led to a long period of domination by the Russian Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union.
After the revolution of 1917 Vladimir Illyich Lenin and his Bolshevik Party seized power and expanded their sphere of control into Ukraine.
Ukraine experienced a brief period of independence when on January 22, 1918, the Ukrainian Central Rada (Council) formally issued a proclamation for Ukraine’s independence. But shortly thereafter in 1919, the Ukrainian National Republic was defeated in a war against Polish expansionists and overrun once again.
Eventually, Bolshevik and Communist forces retook Ukrainian lands, and as a means to control the population, leader Josef Stalin caused the Great Famine of 1932-33 by forcibly collecting grain and deliberately starving to death nearly ten million people. Nazi Germany then began World War II and entered Kyiv in September 1941 razing the city. In November 1943, Soviet forces retook the city in fierce fighting and began their final domination of Ukraine for almost the next fifty years.
Attention from the West turned to Ukraine after the nuclear meltdown at the Chornobyl power plant in April 1986. Since then Ukrainians felt the decreased political power wielded by the Soviet Union’s Communist leaders. After the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic proclaimed Ukraine’s sovereignty in July 1990, Ukrainians fulfilled their dream of independence during the failed Soviet coup of August 1991. In a referendum held on December 1, 1991 the people of Ukraine endorsed independence and voted Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk as Ukraine’s first ever democratically elected President. The United States recognized Ukraine’s independence on December 25, 1991; and the first American Ambassador, Roman Popadiuk, arrived in Kyiv on June 8, 1992.
Ukraine’s area is 233,088 square miles (603,700 sq. km). It’s slightly larger than France. Ukraine is mainly a vast plain with no natural boundaries except the Carpathian Mountains in the southwest and the Black Sea in the south. The Dnipro River with its many tributaries unifies central Ukraine economically, connecting the Baltic coast countries with the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The mouth of the Danube River provides an outlet for Ukrainian trade with the Balkans, Austria, and Germany.
Ukraine has a complex geology with a rich variety of scenery and impressive contrasts in topography. Central and southern Ukraine is primarily steppe (prairie), with fertile black soil exceptionally well-suited for grain farming. In the east is the industrial heartland containing large reserves of mineral deposits known as the Greater Donbas or Donetsk Basin.
Northern and western Ukraine are hilly, forested areas with many picturesque mountain resorts. Enhancing the topography of Ukraine are two mountain ranges, the Carpathian on its western border where winter sports are very popular; and the Crimean range, which divides the Crimean peninsular, creating a semitropical area on its southernmost tip. The Crimea is a favorite destination not only for Ukrainian tourists, but also for citizens of other states of the former Soviet Union, as well as the eastern and the western Europe.
CLIMATE – The climate in Ukraine is similar to the wheat-producing regions of Canada and is characterized by abundant precipitation and cloudy skies, especially in fall and winter. The mean temperature in summer is 67oF (19oC) and in winter 21oF (-6oC). Although the summers tend to be short, the temperature can rise into the 90′s making it uncomfortable, since most buildings have no central cooling systems. The winters are long and cold, with cloudy skies a norm.
A list of Web pages providing weather forecasts for Ukraine can be found at “Global Ukraine’.
The population of Ukraine is approximately 52 million, of which 73% is Ukrainian and 22% Russian. The remaining population is made up of many minorities, the largest of which is Jewish (1.35%), followed by Byelorussians, Moldovans, Poles, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and others. Ukrainian population is only 64% urban.
UKRAINIAN POLITICAL SYSTEM
The Ukrainian Political system has a popularly-elected President, a 450-person single chamber national parliament (Verkhovna Rada), and a Prime Minister, nominated by the President subject to approval by the Rada. The new post-Soviet Constitution was adopted by Verkhovna Rada on June 28, 1996.
Politically, Ukraine has made tremendous strides toward establishing a stable, tolerant and open democratic society in its 3 years of independence. Ukraine achieved independent statehood when its citizens approved the December 1, 1991 independence referendum and the Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 31, 1991.
The years since have been difficult for Ukraine. As the country begins its fourth year much remains to be done to solidify democratic reforms and to create a functioning market economy. After centuries of Soviet and Tsarist repression, Ukraine today has a largely free press, freedom of religion, and elections that recently led to the first peaceful, democratic change of leaders in Ukrainian history. While Ukrainians today are freer than they have ever been, the public is impatient for a visible improvement in the standard of living.
Ukraine held its first presidential elections as an independent country in June and July 1994. In those elections, former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma defeated Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk. The democratic transfer of power that followed was the first in Ukraine’s history and a crucial milestone for the entire region. Among the key issues facing President Kuchma are the rapid implementation of crucial economic reforms, the resolution of disputes over the status of Crimea and the Russian naval bases there, language and cultural issues related to Ukraine’s large (approx. 25 percent) ethnic Russian minority, relations with Moscow in general, including both economic and political concerns, and relations with the West.
Elections to Ukraine’s unicameral, 450-seat Parliament (the Supreme Council, or Verkhovna Rada) were held in March 1994. A series of runoff and second-round elections followed throughout the course of the year. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz was elected Chairman of the Parliament on the basis of a strong showing by leftist parties. The Socialists, Communists, and Agrarians collectively received about a third of the seats in the Rada, making their faction the largest single bloc and giving them substantial operational control. Second round elections later in the year decreased this proportion somewhat, as newly elected deputies tended to align themselves more toward the center. Nationalist parties and factions now have the support of about 20 percent of the deputies, with about half the Parliament either nonaligned or grouped in centrist factions.
ARTS, SCIENCE AND EDUCATION
Ukrainians have made a spirited effort to preserve their cultural traditions and customs. There are several outdoor museum villages displaying buildings, crafts, and living conditions of the last century. Folk dancing and music festivals are often held with traditional, regional music and costumes.
The theater scene is lively. Performances are usually in Ukrainian or Russian. The Kyiv Opera House is home to a very good opera company and a ballet company of considerable talent and expansive repertoire. Government subsidies make opera and theater tickets inexpensive.
The Kyiv Philharmonic concert hall, a 19th century church with a fine organ, and the opera have a scheduled program of concerts, including concerts by the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ukrainian contemporary art includes painting and sculpture in a wide range of experimental and traditional styles. Icons and folk art are displayed in museums, and contemporary versions are skillfully done and can be purchased in galleries and shops. There are several art museums with collections of Ukrainian and European art. There are house museums in Kyiv as well as a museum of the history of Kyiv. The former Lenin Museum, now called The Ukrainian National House, uses its exhibition space to display numerous small exhibits of current Ukrainian art. In addition, there are museums with good collections of archeology, geology, botany, zoology, and aerospace.
Educational policy favors the study of science and technology. At present, education is compulsory for ages 7-16. University-level education is open to anyone who can pass an admission test.
Kyiv is rich in universities and institutes of higher learning. Chief among the universities is Taras Schevchenko. Higher levels of technology are taught at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Mohylo Academy is a private liberal arts university recently chartered on the site of Ukraine’s first university founded in the 17th century. Among the new facilities is a School of Law with courses that are taught both in Ukrainian and English. There are many Americans at the graduate student level conducting research in Ukraine using grants administered by the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) program. American professors conduct courses at universities in American literature and other subjects under the Fulbright program. Other American students in Ukraine pursue academic work under the auspices of other foundations and privately funded programs.
COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY
Once called the “Breadbasket of Europe,” Ukraine is rich in natural resources. This includes excellent agricultural land and a substantial industrial base consisting of coal and mineral resources, and aerospace and chemical industries. Despite this wealth of resources, the Ukrainian economy has suffered badly since the nation’s independence in 1991. All sectors of industry have experienced major production declines. Despite fuel shortages and shortages of fertilizers and pesticides, the 1993 harvest was significantly better than the previous few years, but a hard winter and severe droughts have cut the harvest for 1994 by about 20 percent. Fuel supplies continue to be limited.
Small-scale privatization has begun in several cities, including Lviv, Khmelnitsky, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhyia, and State housing privatization has begun in every oblast of the country. However, there has been little medium- or large-scale privatization in Ukraine.
Market-oriented reforms were introduced in 1992 and 1993 in a tentative manner. Ukrainian officials appear determined to move toward a more efficient economy without creating social upheaval, even if this includes temporary reliance on administrative planning, of the “third way.” This policy has caused a decrease in industrial production in most sectors, spiraling inflation, little privatization, and overall gridlock in the economy. The former government attempted to stabilize the economy in late 1992 and early 1993. However, these attempts met with only initial success, and were soon overwhelmed by the weight of collapsing production, ruptured trade links with the former Soviet Union, and, above all, lack of the necessary political will within then-President Kravchuk’s administration, the Parliament, and Cabinet of Ministers.
In September 1993 President Kravchuk directed the economic activities of the government and set privatization and combating inflation as its priorities. The newly created Economic Reform Committee contained few reformers, but President Kravchuk initiated a few reform measures, including a presidential decree on privatization of uncompleted construction sites, including the land beneath them.
The Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) provides assistance and information to U.S. companies seeking trade and investment opportunities in Ukraine. FCS has opened an American Business Center, which offers a range of practical services, including phone, fax, and photocopying services. FCS also hosts delegations of U.S. business interests in Ukraine, and travels throughout the country cataloging investment opportunities for U.S. business. The Commerce Office provides information to Ukrainian enterprises and helps them contact U.S. companies.
KYIV (Kiev) — THE CAPITAL OF UKRAINE
Kiev (Kyiv, in Ukrainian), the capital of Ukraine, has a population of nearly 3 million inhabitants and covers over 43 km from east to west and 42 km from north to south. Approximately 85% of the Ukrainian population are Orthodox Christians; 10% are Catholics of the Byzantine rite; 3% are Protestant (mainly Baptists); 1.3% are of the Jewish faith. Kyiv has much to offer in the cultural and architectural arenas with its wide tree-lined boulevards and historical buildings reflecting various styles and periods of the ancient Kyivan-Rus Empire.
Kyiv is a major industrial center that includes companies specializing in electronics, engineering, aviation, food and chemical production, etc. Kyiv’s economic development has been enriched by its advantageous location along the Dnipro River, which links Kyiv to the Black Sea.