Country Profile: Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Sandwiched between Russia and Europe, it tries to keep on good terms with both.

Western Ukraine has close historical ties with Europe, particularly Poland. Both Orthodoxy and the Uniate (Greek Catholic) faith have many followers there. Ukrainian nationalist sentiment is traditionally strongest in the westernmost parts of the country which became part of Ukraine only when the Soviet Union expanded after World War II.



Overview

A significant minority of the population of Ukraine are Russians or use Russian as their first language. Russian influence is particularly strong in the industrialised east of the country, where the Orthodox religion is predominant, as well as in Crimea, an autonomous republic on the Black Sea which was part of Russia until 1954. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has its base there.

Crimea is also the homeland of the Crimean Tatars whom Stalin accused of collaborating with the Nazis and deported to Central Asia in 1944. Over 250,000 have returned since the late 1980s.

In 1932-1933 Stalin's programme of enforced agricultural collectivization brought famine and death to millions in Ukraine, the bread basket of the USSR. Not until the twilight years of the Soviet Union did details of the extent of the suffering begin fully to emerge.

News of another Soviet-era calamity, the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, rang alarm bells around the world immediately. About 8% of Ukraine's territory was contaminated as were large areas in neighbouring Belarus. Millions continue to suffer as a result.

The country's first president after independence, former Communist Party official Leonid Kravchuk, presided over a period of economic decline and runaway inflation. He was narrowly defeated in the 1994 presidential election by Leonid Kuchma.

The economy at first continued to fare badly under President Kuchma who became embroiled in a series of stand-offs with parliament and failed to push ahead with economic reforms. Corruption was a major problem and investors were wary. The new millennium brought economic growth for the first time, with rising industrial output, improving exports and falling inflation.

By the end of 2004, Russia was the country's largest trading partner although Ukraine was also looking to build partnership with the West.

It took an active part in Nato's Partnership for Peace programme and has declared EU membership to be a strategic objective. In May 2002 it announced that it intended to abandon neutrality and apply formally for Nato membership. The alliance has welcomed the bid but says that further political, economic and military reforms are needed before it can be successful.

Ukraine sent over 1500 peacekeepers to Iraq as part of the stabilisation force there, and has also contributed troops to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. However, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma ordered the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Iraq after eight servicemen were killed in an incident there. His successor, Viktor Yushchenko, has since confirmed that all of Ukraine's peacekeepers will be pulled out by October 2005.

Facts

Official Name: Ukraine
Capital City: Kiev (Kyiv)
Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east
Political Divisions: 24 oblasts (regions) and 1 autonomous republic (Crimea)
President: Viktor Yushchenko
Prime Minister: Yulia Tymoshenko
Latitude/Longitude: 49° 00'N, 32° 00'E
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian
Official Currency: Hryvnia (UAH) - 1 Hryvnia = 100 Kopiykas
Exchange Rate: $1.00 USD = 5.10 UAH (May 2005)
Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate, Ukrainian Orthodox - Kiev Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate), Protestant, Jewish
Population: 47,732,079 (2004 est.)
Land Area: 603,700 sq km (223,090 sq miles)
Independence: August 24, 1991 (from the Soviet Union)
GDP: Purchasing Power Parity - $256.5 Billion
Inflation Rate: 8.2% annual
Industries: Coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing (especially sugar)
Time Zone: GMT+3
Mobile Phone: GSM 900/1800 Standard
Mobile Operators: Golden Telecom, Wellcom, UMC, DCC and Kyivstar
Main Post Office: 22 Khreschatyk Street (Independence Square)
Electricity: 220-260 Volts/50 Hz Standard
Credit Cards: American Express, Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard/Euro Card, Visa, Visa Electron
Personal Checks: Non-existent
Travelers Checks: Not popular, accepted at only a few banks
ATM Machines: Readily available, accept most credit cards and dispense cash in UAH. Some locations also dispense cash in US dollars
Business Hours: 10:00 - 18:00
Express Mail: DHL, UPS, Federal Express, TNT
Country Tel. Code: 38
Kiev Tel. Code: 044
Country Visa: Required for most countries
Speed Limits: City - 60 kph/37 mph, Country - 90 kph/56 mph, Highway - 120 kph/72 mph
Driving /Drinking: Zero tolerance country

Source: BBC News and Kiev City Guide

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