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Ukraine - Geography

The population of Ukraine is about 50 million, which represents about 18% of the population of the former Soviet Union. Ukrainians make up about 73% of the total; ethnic Russians number about 22%. The industrial regions in the east and southeast are the most heavily populated, and the urban population makes up about 70% of the population. Ukrainian and Russian are the principal languages, but about 88% of the population consider Ukrainian their native language. The dominant religions are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, much of which retains its links to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) is independent of Moscow.

A defining feature of Ukraine's national structure is the existence of a regional divide. Soviet era propaganda had labeled western Ukrainians [ and the Ukrainian diaspora] collectively as "bourgeois nationalists" and "fascist collaborators." The opposition's failure to acknowledge the results of the second round of the presidential elections in November 2004 resulted in the country's disintegration. Such disintegration divided the country into two parts along the river Dnieper, the historically well-known border. It was often said that, just a few years ago, only peasants and intellectuals spoke Ukrainian. This is clearly changing, and Ukrainian is now the official language of Ukraine. However, the business language of Ukraine remains Russian. The dilemma of two Ukraines, or even three, remains. One is Ukrainian-speaking; another is Russian, culturally as well as linguistically. The "third Ukraine" consists of ethnic Ukrainians who have been Russified linguistically but who still consider themselves Ukrainians. This group is more difficult to define, since it shows both Ukrainian and Russian cultural traits. Because of these three Ukraines, it is difficult to generalize about Ukrainians.

Travelling east from the Polish border in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, through to the capital, Kyiv, and on to the city of Luhansk on the Russian border, the internal variation becomes particularly apparent. In the west, the population is predominantly ethnic Ukrainian and Catholic (Uniate). As one moves eastward, Ukrainian language gradually gives way to Russian, Catholism (Roman and Greek) to Orthodoxy. Throughout Ukraine, however (except in Lviv), Russian is the language predominantly spoken in the cities. The regions of Kharkiv, Luhansk and their neighbours to the south, such as Donetsk, Zaporizhya, Odesa and Crimea are home to Ukraine's 11 million ethnic Russians, who make up 20% of Ukraine's total population. This ethnic distribution, and the different history of the two parts of Ukraine, have created the east-west divide which continues to tug at the center and the allegiances of politicians in Kyiv today.

The east generates much of Ukraine's wealth with its coal, chemical and steel industries. Russian-speaking Crimea, which in the 1990s railed against rule by Ukrainian authorities, has its own parliament and government [Avtonomna Respublika Krym the Autonomous Republic of Crimea] and enjoys more powers than Ukraine's 26 other regions. Ukraine's history has been defined by its own internal divisions between east and west. Most of eastern Ukraine has been under Russian control since the 17th century, and the Russian state today traces its roots to medieval Kiev (which it emphatically calls Kievan Rus).

Western Ukraine was for many years part of Poland-Lithuania. In 1648 an uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks persisted in spite of Warsaw's efforts to subdue it by force. After the rebels won the intervention of Muscovy on their behalf, Tsar Aleksei conquered most of the eastern half of Poland-Lithuania by 1655. Russia was defeated by a new Polish-Ukrainian alliance in 1662.

In 1663 Ukraine was divided into two parts: Left-bank and Right-bank of the Dnieper, where people elected their Hetmans. Pavel Teterya was the first governor on the Right-bank and Ivan Bryukhovetskiy - on the Left-bank. Moreover, the former was disposed to Poland and the latter - to Russia. Petr Doroshenko, the Hetman, tried to put an end to chaos in Ukraine and to unite the country. Poles did not like this and they claimed Mikhail Khanenko to be the governor of the Right-bank. Doroshenko was forced to fight against him and acknowledged the protection of Turkey. The struggle over control of Ukraine ended in the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667, in which Russia gained eastern Ukraine.

Catherine the Great (1729 - 1796) proclaimed herself the Empress of Russia upon ousting her unpopular husband (Peter III) from power soon after his succession to the throne. Exercising superlative political and military leadership, she waged two successful wars with Turkey. These wars resulted in annexing large parts of Poland and gaining the Crimea and access to the Black Sea. In 1792 Polish conservative factions appealed for Russian assistance in restoring the status quo. Catherine invaded Poland under the pretext of defending Poland's ancient liberties. Russia and Prussia carried out a second partition of Poland in 1793. Russia received a vast area of eastern Poland, extending southward from its gains in the first partition nearly to the Black Sea. In the wake of the insurrection of 1794, Russia, Prussia, and Austria carried out the third and final partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795, erasing the Commonwealth of Two Nations from the map and pledging never to let it return.

This divisive and well-remembered history is largely responsible for two complicated political problems today. First, Ukrainian society is divided into two parts with largely different histories, different experiences with democracy and the free market, and different attitudes toward those institutions. The population in the western part tends to identify with the models being provided by its neighbors to the west-the former Hapsburg territories of Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. In eastern Ukraine, ties with Russia are much stronger, and there is greater identification with and affinity for traditionally Russian political culture and institutions.

Second, Ukraine has a very complex relationship with Russia, with its citizens' attitudes toward Russia tending to follow Ukraine's regional divisions. For Ukrainian nationalists, Russia is the historical enemy of the Ukrainian people, having subjugated Ukraine in the 17th and 18th centuries and then causing the deaths of millions of Ukrainians during the Great Famine of 1932 and 1933. Other Ukrainians identify closely with Russia because of their shared history, language, and culture and a high rate of intermarriage between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians, who make up 22 percent of the population of Ukraine.

This split emerged again during the 1994 elections when Leonid Kravchuk, who presented himself as a Ukrainian patriot, carried the 13 western provinces of Ukraine, while Leonid Kuchma, who took Ukrainian speech lessons during the campaign and preached closer ties to Russia, won the 13 eastern provinces.

One fifth (20%) of those who relate themselves to the Ukrainian culture speaks the Russian language, while every fourth (25%) of the adherents of the Soviet culture speak Ukrainian. This means that widespread stereotypes that those who speak Russian are the enemies of Ukrainian culture or those who speak Ukrainian belong to the Ukrainian culture do not correspond to the reality. Certainly, there is a correlation between the language and cultural identity but it is not an absolute one.

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Page last modified: 23-09-2012 17:48:34 ZULU