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Ukraine - A Murder in Kyiv


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "A Murder in Kyiv"

Scenes and opinions from the streets of Kyiv

Editor and cofounder of Ukrainskaya Pravda

Outspoken TV journalist

Learn more about Ukraine's history and people

Find out more about the forces behind the Orange Revolution




Images of ukrainian landscapes, people and culture
Facts & Stats

Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe, though throughout large segments of its history it has been under the authority of others. The Slavic nation, which was a key cultural center in the Middle Ages, gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

• Land and People
• History and Culture
• Politics and Social Issues

Land and People

Ukraine's land area is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. To the west lie Poland, Romania and Moldovia; to the east is Russia. Kyiv is its capital and largest city.

The Carpathian Mountains, located at the far west of Ukraine, have been recognized by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the 200 most significant ecosystems on Earth. The rest of the country is mainly fertile plains and plateaus, although the Crimean Peninsula in the southern part of Ukraine is also mountainous. The Crimean coast leads into the Black Sea, the largest marine system in the world that is oxygen-free, a result of the great depth and high salinity of the sea.

The population of the country is 47.8 million. Nearly 80 percent are Ukrainian, but a significant minority are Russian or speak Russian as their first language. There is no state religion, but the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church tend to predominate in the east and west of the country, respectively. Life expectancy for Ukrainian men is 65, and 75 for Ukrainian women.

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History and Culture

The culture of the southeastern region of Europe that is currently occupied by Ukraine can be traced back to 700B.C., when the kingdom of Scythia ruled the area. In the third century, the Goths took control of the region, which later became the first eastern Slavic state of Kyiven Rus', whose capital was that of contemporary Ukraine, Kyiv.

In the seventh century, the Khazars founded a kingdom in the area that occupied contemporary Ukraine, western Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, southern Russia and Crimea. As the centuries passed, the territory of Ukraine became an important European center and was the beginning of a Slavic "Rus" identity that later flowed into that of modern Russian people.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Ukrainian region underwent major geographic changes -- it was reorganized three different times under disparate governments. In 1922, most of Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Ukraine was the most fertile agricultural region of the Soviet Union and, as such, was called upon under the giant republic's collectivization of food supplies. The region's farms were collectivized into state farms and animal ranches. The peasants -- particularly the wealthiest among them -- were heavily affected, and they resisted. Many slaughtered their own animals rather than surrender them to authorities, and the result was a decimation of Ukrainian resources that propelled many into starvation.

World War II brought heavy casualties to Ukraine, with between 5 million and 7 million killed, including 500,000 Jews. Some Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazis; others resisted the eventual capture of Kyiv. Ukraine is known as one of the first nations to resist the Nazis. An estimated 11 million Soviet troops died in the war against Nazi forces, a quarter of which (2.7 million) were ethnic Ukrainians.

After World War II, the borders of the Soviet Union were extended west to incorporate Crimea into the area of Ukraine, a decision that is seen to have created tension between Russia and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, Ukraine achieved its independence and became one of the founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

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Politics and Social Issues

Ukraine is a parliamentary democracy with separate executive, judicial and legislative branches.

In 1986, the worst nuclear accident in history occurred in Ukraine, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, about 80 miles north of Kyiv. As much as 400 times the radioactive contamination of the Hiroshima bomb was released, and more than 350,000 people were resettled. The effects of the disaster are still seen today -- cases of thyroid cancer around Chernobyl are still being diagnosed, and public confidence in the safety of nuclear power is low.

In 1991, Ukraine declared independence following an attempted coup in Moscow. In a referendum in December of that year, 90 percent of Ukrainians vote for independence. The country's first president after independence was former Communist Party official Leonid Kravchuk. Under Kravchuk, Ukraine suffered hard economic times and runaway inflation. In 1994, Kravchuk was defeated by Leonid Kuchma.

In 2000, 31-year-old Georgy Gongadze, a well-known Ukrainian journalist and editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda, was murdered. The circumstances of his death became a national scandal, and then-President Kuchma was implicated by secret tape recordings. Although Kuchma has denied involvement, some mark this incident as the beginning of Ukraine's revolution. Since his death in 2000, Gongadze has become an iconic figure of the reform movement in Ukraine.

Viktor A. Yushchenko became president of Ukraine in January 2005, after a dramatic race during which Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, which caused his face to become severely disfigured. Voting went to an unprecedented three rounds, when irregularities at the polls led to nearly two weeks of massive protests by Yushchenko supporters. Orange became the official color of the movement, in solidarity with Yushchenko's campaign, and the series of political events that brought him to power is now known as the Orange Revolution.

Sex trafficking of Ukrainian women, a near-epidemic HIV/AIDS infection rate and domestic violence are all serious problems. Ukraine's government has made commitments to combat all these problems, but the struggling economy keeps progress slow.

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Sources: BBC News; CIA World Factbook; The Economist; U.S. Department of State; Wikipedia.