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Ukraine Society

The population of Ukraine is about 45 million. Ethnic Ukrainians make up approximately 78% of the total; ethnic Russians number about 17%, ethnic Belarusians number about 0.6%. The industrial regions in the east and southeast are the most heavily populated, and the population is about 69% urban. Ukrainian and Russian are the principal languages. Although Russian is very widely spoken, in the 2001 census (the latest official figures) 85.2% of the ethnic Ukrainian population identified Ukrainian as their native language. There are also small Crimean Tatar and Hellenic minorities; the former is mainly in Crimea, and the latter in the Donetsk region.

The dominant religions are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (which practices Orthodox rites but recognizes the Roman Catholic Pope as head of the Church). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate has the largest following, with significant presence in all regions of the country except for the western oblasts of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil. The second-largest Orthodox group is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, with most followers located in western and some central oblasts. The Kyiv Patriarchate was established after Ukrainian independence and declared full independence from Moscow. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is the smallest of the three Orthodox churches, and approximately 70% of its adherents are in the western part of the country. The Russian Old Rite Orthodox Church and smaller Orthodox groups also operate within Ukraine.

About 27% of the country's religious communities are Protestant. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant group. Other Protestant communities include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Other religious groups include Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Buddhists, and adherents of Krishna Consciousness. About 70% of adult Ukrainians have a secondary or higher education. Ukraine has about 900 colleges and universities, of which the most important are in Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv. There are about 90,000 scholars in 1,300 scientific research and development institutes.

Ukraine has made good progress in recent years on democratisation and freedom of expression and the media, with three consecutive elections recognised as largely free and fair, and a diverse and lively media environment. Human Rights organisations in Ukraine are becoming increasingly involved in Government work to protect human rights. There are, however, a number of areas where progress has been much less rapid, for example on tackling corruption, strengthening the rule of law, reversing the rise in suspected serious racist and anti-Semitic attacks, preventing people trafficking, improving the way in which detainees are treated by the law enforcement agencies and bringing those responsible for the murder of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze to justice.

Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2011 highlights reports of torture and other ill-treatment in prisons and police custody and that human rights defenders were physically attacked and faced harassment from law enforcement officers. The UK is working closely with Ukraine on all of these issues, in particular through the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe.

A number of non-governmental organisations and representatives of the media have claimed that media freedoms and freedom of expression in Ukraine may be in the process of being reversed, in part because of interference by the Security Services. In response to these claims, President Yanukovych stated on 20 April that “I will always defend media freedom and do everything possible to ensure transparency of power and the openness of its actions to the press and society”. The EU issued statements on 29 April and 16 September 2010 expressing concern over recent developments and calling on Ukraine to ensure its international commitments on media freedoms are met.

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