President: Petro Poroshenko (2014)
Prime Minister: Arseniy Yatsenyuk (2014)
Total area: 233,089 sq mi (603,700 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 44,291,413 (growth rate: –0.6%); birth rate: 9.41/1000; infant mortality rate: 8.1/1000; life expectancy: 69.14; density per sq mi: 191
Capital (2013 est.): Kyiv (Kiev), 3,275,000 (metro. area), 2,847,000 (city proper)
Other large cities: Kharkiv, 1,441,622; Odessa, 1,003,705; Dnipropetrovsk, 1,001,962; Donetsk, 962,024;
Monetary unit: Hryvna
Located in southeast Europe, the country consists largely of fertile black soil steppes. Mountainous areas include the Carpathians in the southwest and the Crimean chain in the south. Ukraine is bordered by Belarus on the north, by Russia on the north and east, by the Black Sea on the south, by Moldova and Romania on the southwest, and by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on the west.
Ukraine was known as “Kievan Rus” (from which Russia is a derivative) up until the 16th century. In the 9th century, Kiev was the major political and cultural center in eastern Europe. Kievan Rus reached the height of its power in the 10th century and adopted Byzantine Christianity. The Mongol conquest in 1240 ended Kievan power. From the 13th to the 16th century, Kiev was under the influence of Poland and western Europe. The negotiation of the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596 divided the Ukrainians into Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic faithful. In 1654, Ukraine asked the czar of Moscovy for protection against Poland, and the Treaty of Pereyasav signed that year recognized the suzerainty of Moscow. The agreement was interpreted by Moscow as an invitation to take over Kiev, and the Ukrainian state was eventually absorbed into the Russian Empire.
After the Russian Revolution, Ukraine declared its independence from Russia on Jan. 28, 1918, and several years of warfare ensued with several groups. The Red Army finally was victorious over Kiev, and in 1920 Ukraine became a Soviet republic. In 1922, Ukraine became one of the founders of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the 1930s, the Soviet government's enforcement of collectivization met with peasant resistance, which in turn prompted the confiscation of grain from Ukrainian farmers by Soviet authorities; the resulting famine took an estimated 5 million lives. Ukraine was one of the most devastated Soviet republics after World War II. (For details on World War II, see Headline History, World War II.) On April 26, 1986, the nation's nuclear power plant at Chernobyl was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident. On Oct. 29, 1991, the Ukrainian parliament voted to shut down the reactor within two years' time and asked for international assistance in dismantling it.