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State

Capital

Ukraine

Kiev

Ukrain

Currency unit

Hryvna

Connections

Baltic

Borders

Central Europe

Chernobyl

Orthodox

Russia

USSR
 

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History

Ukraine (the frontier land) is the site of the first Russian states. Kiev was the principality founded by Rurik, one of the Viking invaders (known as Rus) which thus started off the modern Russian civilization. Its adoption of the form of Christianity practiced in Constantinople determined Russia's future culture. After the country had a different subsequent history the language of the people diverged from what is now Russian.

Parts of the country were ruled in the 17th century by: Lithuania, when it was a Polish-Lithuanian empire; Poland; Austria and Russia. The main part became part of Russia from the late 18th century when Poland was extinguished in the Partitions.

During the Russian revolution which led to the formation of the Soviet Union, Ukraine achieved a brief independence. Much of the Russian Civil War was fought on the territory of Ukraine. In 1920 its independence came to an end as the Ukrainians had no force left to resist incorporation in the new communist state. It was constituted as a Republic on the formation of the Soviet Union but ruled by the Communist party which centralized all power in Moskva. At this time the Kharkhov Oblast (district) of Russia was added. Stalin encouraged cultural traditions, although suppressing any signs of political independence.

In the 1930s Ukraine suffered a serious famine as a result of StalinŐs campaign against kulaks (richer farmers).

In 1946 Stalin insisted that Ukraine and Byelorussia should each have a seat at the UN (but his intention was merely to have extra votes in the Assembly; he suggested that the US give membership to Texas and California). However, until 1990 it was entirely under the control of Moskva and had no separate sovereignty.

Its relation to Russia may be considered similar to Scotland's to England as the language bears a similar relation to Russian that Scots does to English.

After the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine became independent but it had never been independent before. It is not yet clear what its future condition will be, nor indeed whether its independence will last.

The boundaries of the Ukraine have moved in the past. From 1919 to 1939 much of the present western Ukraine was part of Poland. Most of the people in the western area are Uniates (Orthodox ritual but affiliated to the Roman Catholic church), whereas the people of the east are Orthodox. Before 1939 the landlords were Polish over Ukrainian peasants. This may be a potential source of conflict. The western area was annexed by the Soviet Union as part of the Stalin-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. There are Romanian speakers in the Bukovina district which was part of Romania until the Stalin-Ribbentrop pact which shared out central Europe between the two totalitarian powers.

Following the second world war the western area was confirmed as part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine) and Poland compensated with former German territory. In 1956 the Crimea, whose population is mostly Russian, was transferred to Ukraine by Khrushchov.

Following the events of August 1991 Ukraine declared its independence and following a referendum in December 1991 became a recognized independent state. But the difference between western and eastern areas could still lead to disputes and even fighting. There may also be disputes with Russia over areas which are predominantly Russian-speaking, especially Crimea. However, if Ukraine could show itself more prosperous than Russia there might be little incentive for the Russians to demand to join Russia. But actually the economy is in an even worse condition than Russia's.

It seemed possible that Ukraine, Belarus and Russia might have formed an association of Slav states as a substitute for the Soviet Union. But this may be no more than the customs union formed by Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia - much weaker than the European Community. Ukraine has been admitted to the United Nations (its previous "membership" under Stalin's bargain was only as part of the Soviet delegation). Although it is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States its cooperation is minimal. There is talk of eventual membership in the European Community, which does not seem practicable in the foreseeable future - but history moves fast these days. Relations with Russia seem to be getting worse, even though as the economy deteriorates a new connection or dependency on Russia looks more likely.

Can it retain its independence? Some reporters note that many of the other CIS republics have already (end 1993) moved towards closer relations with Russia. Most ordinary Russians, and probably military officers, do not believe in Ukraine's separation from Greater Russia. Russian fascists are calling for the renewal of the empire.

A serious threat is the the demand in December 2005 from Russia for payment of market rates for gas supplies by the Russian state owned company Gazprom. This would require an increase of 4 times in the price of gas for heating and industry, with a threat of cutting off supplies. This has been interpreted as a punishment for electing a pro-western president.

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Politics

Former Communists controled the government after independence.
The winner of the 1994 elections, Leonid Kuchma, was believed to prefer closer integration with Russia. However, a large nationalist opposition to this might have made it unwise. His support was mainly from the Russian east; his opponent from the western area.

The 2004 elections (November 2004) showed a fairly even split between the Catholic and former Polish western part of the country - speaking mainly Ukrainian and the mainly Russian speaking east of the country. The western candidate Viktor Yushchenko appeared to have won more votes but the eastern candidate was declared the winner after suspected ballot box stuffing and irregularities in the counting. Yushchenko proposed closer relations with the EU, whereas his opponent, the Prime Minister under Kuchma, preferred closer relations with Russia.

One outcome might even be a split of the country between the two halves. Could this be achieved without a civil war? Before the election some of the Russian speakers were talking of forming their own republic based on Donetsk, as has happened in Moldova, if Yushchenko and his west Ukraine supporters won. So far nothing like that has happened.

In a re-run of the election Yuschenko was declared the winner. (He seems to have been poisoned by agents of the previous regime and was very ill with symptoms of Dioxin poisoning, something remembered when Aleksandr Litvinenko was poisoned with Polonium in London, probably by Russian agents). He announced a policy of moving towards membership of the EU. As the economy is in such a bad state full membership cannot be foreseen for the near future, certainly not in the next wave.

The new government has been accused of being as corrupt as the previous. Yuschenko dismissed his cabinet (his associates in the Revolution) for corruption 8 September 2005.

The new government seems to be composed of people representing the corrupt oligarchy who gained from the privatisation of the state industries - just as the Kuchma government was. Is this democracy? There are reports that the voters are unhappy.

In 2007 disputes between Yuschenko and the pro-Russian Yanukovich broke out again. The latter was appointed Prime Minister and is said to work against all the president's policies. It can be assumed that Yanukovich has the support of Putin, whose policy is to reconstitute the Soviet Union.

In April 2007 Yuschchenko has declared parliament, dominated by Yanukovich, dissolved. Could this lead to a civil war?

May 2007 shows the danger of a military coup when the troops of the Ministry of the Interior were reported not to be under the control of the President.

Elections in 2010 are expected to see Yushchenko decisively defeated with a run-off between Yulia Tymoshenko and Yanukovich. The latter may well win. Will this mean moving closer to Russia, as Putin wishes?

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Economics

Heavy industry was controlled by the Soviet government. 75% of the industry was devoted to military products. This left the civilian economy starved of resources. The independent government issued its own currency and made a customs frontier with Russia and other countries. Ukraine was an important source of food for Russia, despite the contamination of large areas by radioactivity from Chernobyl.

It may well become a more prosperous country than Russia or the other republics. So far it is worse.

For some months before independence Ukraine issued quasi-monetary instruments (vouchers, ration tickets) to give Ukrainian residents priority in the shops over Russians and others. These are said to be the basis on which a new non-rouble currency will be issued. Ukrainian shops had better supplies than those of Russia.

On 2 January 1992 prices were raised, as in Russia, and subsidies on food and energy were reduced. This was intended to be the introduction of a free market economy. But the necessary increase in production was not instituted first. Will people starve?

Soon the majority of the population were impoverished. Reporters observed that Mafia-type activity prevented any falls in prices: that is, a true market does not exist because criminals intimidate the sellers and take an illegal "tax" .

The Ukrainian currency depreciated even faster than the Rouble and by Feb 1993 the Coupon (Karbovanets) was worth even less than the rouble. The country was no more successful than Russia despite the valuable agricultural exports to Russia.

Russia imposed full world prices for energy by January 1994. Ukraine cannot pay these. (Gas was not even metered, radiators have no "off" control.)

The Yuschenko government may face serious problems in escaping from the integration with Russia.

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Green/Ecology

The 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant occurred within the republic and has contaminated the rivers of the area and some of the farming land. Thousands of people were contaminated and some evacuated.

There is also serious chemical pollution of many rivers including the Volga.

A British consultancy in April 1991 is said to have advised the evacuation and abandonment of Kiev, a city of 3,000,000 people. Presuming that evacuation will not occur, all these people are at risk from early death from the high radiation of the area.

Food grown in the contaminated zone continues to be sold throughout the former Soviet Union. Fortunately, little food is exported to western Europe.

The latest reports suggest that 7,000 people have already died in the clean up of the reactor. An unknown number are suffering from radiation- related diseases, but the government estimates(Apr. 1995) a total of 162,000 deaths. (The International Atomic Energy Agency, advocates of 'peaceful' nuclear activities, released a report that most of the people are "only" suffering from psychological diseases. But there are well documented accounts of radiation-related sickness as well as an increased rate of such cancers as leukemia.)

The Kuchma government apparently intended to keep the nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union but signed an agreement in September 1993 to hand some of them over in exchange for supplies of fuel and cancellation of debts. They kept the rest for the same reason that Britain has nuclear weapons - they provide prestige even though there are no conceivable uses for them.

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Human Rights

Improved, but not a lot.

Climate effects

Last revised 10/01/12


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