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Official Name: Ukraine

Capital City: Kiev

Type of Government: Parliamentary democracy

Official Languages: Ukrainian (official), Russian

Area: 603,700 sq. km/233,088 sq. mi

Population: 45.7 million

Religion: Ukrainian Orthodox

Currency: Hryvnia, UAH

Number of Time Zones: 1

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus 2 hrs; Eastern Standard Time (EST) plus 7 hrs. Daylight Savings Time is observed late March through late October

Weights and Measures: Metric system

Country Domain: .ua

Country Tel Code: 380


The former Soviet state of Ukraine is situated between Asia, Europe, and Russia. Rich in culture and history, this fascinating country is currently undergoing much economic, political, and social change. Abundant natural resources and with a highly-skilled labor force, it ranks second only to Russia among former Soviet states in potential to become a successful market economy.

Expatriates will find ancient cities, magnificent Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox cathedrals and monasteries, as well as many good restaurants and well-stocked shops.

The capital, Kiev, one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, is a lively cultural center with its excellent theater, opera, and ballet companies.

Government and politics

Ukraine is a parliamentary democracy with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch consists of an elected president and a prime minister who is appointed by parliament. The president controls security forces, although they are subject to investigation by a permanent parliamentary commission. The unicameral parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget.

Regional and district heads are nominated by the president; however, the prime minister must also approve of these appointments. Local leaders are directly elected, and have full control over local budgets.

Ukraine’s political landscape features many parties, although many are small and have few members. As a party must gain 3% of the vote to win any seats in the parliament, these small parties will often join together in coalitions to achieve this goal. Major parties include the Party of Regions, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (comprised of two smaller parties), and the “Our Ukraine” Bloc (comprised of many smaller parties). Both the Socialist and Communist parties also hold seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The ruling coalition currently includes the Party of Regions along with the Socialist and Communist parties. The Party of Regions, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, endorses making Russian a second official language of Ukraine, pro-Russia foreign policy, and regionalism.


Ukraine, with its highly-skilled labor force and abundant natural resources, has great potential to capture the rewards of an independent free-market economy. Privatization and foreign investment are limited, but improving, as Ukraine recovers from the sharp economic decline of the 1990s post-Soviet era. Despite economic growth in every year since 2000, and double-digit growth in GDP, the standard of living is still well below that which the people of Ukraine enjoyed in the early ’90s.

Recent reforms have aimed at transforming Ukraine into a European-style capitalist state. Still, vast segments of the economy are state-controlled, particularly in the high-tech industrial sector.

Former Communists have lost much of their influence, but still exercise some limited power in the government as part of the majority coalition, where they vigorously resist economic change. Reports contend that corruption and favoritism are prevalent. The black market is everywhere, and merchants are becoming increasingly ingenious at avoiding government bureaucracy in marketing their goods. This corruption, along with complex regulations, remain the main limiting factors to foreign investment.

Ukraine depends heavily on Russia for its energy supply, a dependancy which could weigh heavily on Ukraine’s economic future. A gas dispute in early 2006 between the two nations led to Russia to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine for three days before a compromise was reached. The incident was felt throughout Europe, as most European nations receive gas which travels through Ukraine from Russia, and supplies in these countries quickly dropped as a result of the dispute.


In spite of its great agricultural expanses, Ukraine’s population is primarily urban; 70 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Industrial areas in the east and southeast are the most heavily populated.

Russians and Ukrainians are the two most closely related Slav peoples in the former Soviet Union. In addition to having a longer history than Russians, Ukrainians are thought to have special qualities that set them apart from their neighbors to the east. Ukrainians are known for their characteristic good humor, their love of music and dance, their wit, their individualism, and their support of family and neighbors.

Ukrainians are respected for their intelligence, industriousness, and initiative. Consequently, many Ukrainians were recruited for high positions in the Soviet government, and about a quarter of the officers in the Red Army were Ukrainian.

At the end of the 19th century, in search of land and work, many Ukrainians migrated to North and South America. There are now large Ukrainian populations in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.


For centuries, Ukraine was subjugated by its larger Russian neighbor and given the subordinate role of a provincial breadbasket for first Russia and then the Soviet Union. Referring to this vast, fertile land of nearly 50 million people as “the” Ukraine granted it only provincial status, somewhat like “the Midlands” or “the Midwest.” Although only a simple, innocuous figure of speech to many non-Ukrainians, to Ukrainians the use of “the” was almost as degrading as its title of “Little Russia” in czarist Russia, especially since Russian culture is the upstart offspring of ancient Ukrainian culture.

As early as the ninth century, Kiev was an important center for trade and political, artistic, and religious activities; the city became the center of the powerful Kievan Rus state and Slavic culture. After centuries of foreign conquest and domination, Ukrainian nationalism found a voice in the revered poet and leader Taras Shevchenko. Recently, Kiev has been a base for movements protesting Russification and other aspects of Soviet dictatorship and encouraging restoration of ancient Ukrainian Orthodox religion.

As evidenced by the many cathedrals, monasteries, opera houses, theaters, and museums Ukraine has a rich artistic heritage. Folk art, especially, has survived as an artistic and nationalistic expression of indigenous culture. Ukrainian folk art is considered among the most aesthetic and highly developed in the world.

Ethnic Makeup

About 75 percent of Ukraines 47 million people are Ukrainian; ethnic Russians make up about 20 percent of the population throughout Ukraine but almost 65 percent in the Crimea. Smaller ethnic populations include Belarussian, Jewish, Crimean Tatar, Moldovan, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, and Bulgarian groups.


Ukrainians are well educated with a literacy rate approaching 100 percent; education is highly valued. Education is compulsory from age six to age fourteen; after that age students choose from a variety of options for continuing education or for job preparation.

The country has a large university and college system and upwards of a hundred specialized academies, as well as a large range of schools geared to training for specialized industries. About 70 percent of adults have a secondary or higher education. Scholars in its research institutes make Ukraine a leader in science and technology.


Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, but religious organizations must register with local authorities and with the governmental Council of Religious Affairs.

The overwhelming majority of religious Ukrainians are Ukrainian Orthodox, which retains its ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. The other major religions are Ukrainian Catholicism or Uniate, 13 percent; Judaism, one percent; a small number of Baptists, Mennonites, and other Protestants; and Islam.

Although the Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed by the Soviet government after World War II, it continued to flourish abroad in such places as the U.S. and Canada and be celebrated clandestinely in Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to function relatively freely in Ukraine during the Soviet years. In 1988, Ukrainians around the world celebrated 1,000 years of Christianity with the rebirth of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Church.


Ukrainian is an East Slavic language with great similarity to Russian. Most of the population speaks Russian fluently and almost all people understand Russian.

The Ukrainian alphabet is Cyrillic; letters are different from those of the Roman alphabet. Signs and maps are usually printed in Cyrillic and may be difficult for those who do not know the Cyrillic alphabet.

As a rule of thumb, a surname that ends in “o” is probably Ukrainian; the feminine ending is “a.”
Harsh Russian repression of the Ukrainian language has fostered an appreciation o the importance of maintaining ones national language. Minority rights guarantee ethnic minorities schools and cultural facilities conducted in their national language, and the use of their national language in personal business. In areas with significant Russian minorities, Russian is permitted as a language of official correspondence; Russian is also an official language in Crimea.


Toward foreigners

Ukrainians in general are interested in foreigners are especially eager to make contact with Westerners, whose prosperity and democratic values they hope to emulate in coming years. Western businesspeople are greeted with an enthusiasm unknown in many other countries. Ukrainians feel a special bond with North Americans because of a long history of extensive emigration and because Ukraine is the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

Russians may feel unwelcome, particularly in western Ukraine. In the east, where there is a large number of ethnic Russians, the attitude is different.

Toward work

Although the Soviet system tended to make Ukrainian workers unproductive, developments in private enterprise, made possible by a combination of full employment and low wages, have shown the labor force to be hard-working, disciplined, resourceful, ingenious and self-reliant given the proper motivation and incentives.

Toward women

Women in Ukraine are architects, factory managers, and high-level bureaucrats and are represented in almost every profession in the workforce. Despite this male chauvinism is firmly entrenched and surprisingly widespread. Some Ukrainian men will never take a woman leader seriously. The younger generation, however, seem more willing to accept women in positions of power.

Courtesy towards women is expected from men. Men hold doors for women and carry heavy packages.


Most of Ukraine has a moderate continental climate, much milder than that of Russia. Spring begins earlier and autumn lasts longer, permitting good traveling weather from April through October. Winters along the Black Sea are more temperate than those inland, while summers are warm across most of the country and hot in the south.

The average winter temperature is -6C /20F, while the average summer temperature is 19C /65F. Because extreme temperature variations are rare, vegetation and parkland are abundant. Precipitation is unevenly distributed, with the highest amounts in the west and north.

The climate in southern Crimea is Mediterranean.

Ukraine observes summer or daylight savings time from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.

Information provided in association with Living Abroad