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Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It borders Russia to the northeast, Belarus to the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest and the Black Sea to the south. The historic city of Kiev is the republic's capital. From at least the ninth century the territory of present-day Ukraine was a centre of medieval East Slavic civilization that formed the state that became known as Kievan Rus and for the following several centuries the territory was divided between a number of regional powers. After a brief period of independence (1917-1921) following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Ukraine became one of the founding Soviet Republics in 1922. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic's territory was enlarged westward after the Second World War, and finally in 1954 with the Crimea transfer. Ukraine became independent again after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.

Government and politics

Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The President of Ukraine is elected by countrywide popular vote and is the head of the executive branch. The Prime Minister is appointed by the 450-seat parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. The parliament also approves the Cabinet of Ministers, proposed by the Prime Minister and the President. The heads of all central agencies and regional and district administrations are appointed by the President. Ukraine has a large number of political parties, many of which have tiny memberships and are unknown to the general public. Small parties often join in multi-party coalitions (electoral blocks) for the purpose of participating in parliamentary elections.

Administrative divisions

Ukraine is divided into twenty-four regions and one autonomous republic, Crimea. Additionally, two cities, Kiev and Sevastopol, have a special legal status. The regions are subdivided into 494 districts.

Geography

The Ukrainian landscape consists mostly of fertile plains, or steppes, and plateaus, crossed by rivers such as the Dnieper, Seversky Donets, Dniester and the Southern Buh as they flow south into the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov. To the southwest the delta of the Danube forms the border with Romania. The country's only mountains are the Carpathian Mountains in the west, of which the highest is the Hora Hoverla at 2,061 metres (6,762 ft), and those in the Crimean peninsula, in the extreme south along the coast. Ukraine has a mostly temperate continental climate, though a more mediterranean climate is found on the southern Crimean coast. Precipitation is disproportionately distributed; it is highest in the west and north and lesser in the east and southeast. Winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland. Summers are warm across the greater part of the country, but generally hot in the south.

Economy

Formerly an important industrial and agricultural region of the Soviet Union, Ukraine now depends on Russia for most energy supplies, especially natural gas, although lately it has been trying to diversify its sources. The current government has pledged to reduce the number of government agencies, streamline the regulatory process, create a legal environment to encourage entrepreneurs, and enact a comprehensive tax overhaul. The GDP in 2000 showed strong export-based growth of 6% - the first growth since independence - and industrial production grew 12.9%. The economy continued to expand in 2001, as real GDP rose 9% and industrial output grew by over 14%. Growth was undergirded by strong domestic demand and growing consumer and investor confidence. Rapid economic growth in 2002 - 2004 is largely attributed to a surge in steel exports to China.

Demographics

According to the Ukrainian Census of 2001, ethnic Ukrainians make up 77.8% of the population. The minorities include significant groups of ethnic Russians (17.3%), Belarusians (0.6%), Moldavians (0.5%), Crimean Tatars (0.5%), Bulgarians (0.4%), Hungarians (0.3%), Romanians (0.3%), Poles (0.3%), Jews (0.2%), Armenians (0.2%), Greeks (0.2%) and Tatars (0.2%). The industrial regions in the east and south-east are the most heavily populated, and about 67.2% of the population lives in urban areas. Ukrainian is the only official state language. Russian, which was a de facto official language in the Soviet Union, is largely used by many people, especially in eastern and southern Ukraine. Standard literary Ukrainian is mainly spoken in western and central Ukraine. In western Ukraine, Ukrainian is also the dominant language in cities (such as Lviv). In central Ukraine, Ukrainian and Russian are both equally used in cities, with Russian being more common in Kiev, while Ukrainian is the dominant language in rural communities. Ukrainian embassies report that 300,000 Ukrainian citizens are working in Poland, 200,000 in Italy, approximately 200,000 in the Czech Republic, 150,000 in Portugal, 100,000 in Spain, 35,000 in Turkey, and 20,000 in the US. The largest number of Ukrainian workers abroad, about one million, are in the Russian Federation.

Religion

The dominant religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which is currently split between three Church bodies; the distant second is the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which practices the same liturgical and spiritual tradition as Eastern Orthodoxy. There are also smaller Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities