Ukraine

Driving Directions Ukraine

UKRAINE, formerly a Soviet socialist republic, declared itself inde­pendent of the former USSR in 1991. An eastern European country shares borders with Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia. Within Europe, it is surpassed in size only by Russia. The Crimean Peninsula in the south (Crimea), which borders the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, has been an autonomous region within Ukraine between 1996-2014. Russian forces seized Crimea by force in 2014. Russia then annexed Crimea in 2014 following a referendum, administers it as two federal subjects of Russia, and claimed it to be “fully integrated” in July 2015.

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Most of the country is an elevated continuation of the Russian plains with the higher ground in the west and a smaller area in the southeast around Donetsk. The Carpathian Mountains cut across the extreme western portion of Ukraine. The Crimean Mountains occupy the extreme south of the peninsula. The plains are generally lower-lying in the east and south, while there is a region of marshes in the northwest.

Ukraine encompasses four vegetational zones, which, from south to north, are Mediterranean, steppe, forest-steppe, and forest. In the forest region, the main species are pine and oak in the northwest and spruce, pine, and other northeast conifers. In the west, beech trees predominate, but in the mixed forest and steppe areas, various species, including oak, can be found. The steppe or grassland region for which Ukraine is famous occupies the southern one-third of the country, giving way to a narrow strip of Mediterranean-type vegetation in the Crimean Peninsula. Large areas of the steppe are highly fertile, particularly the “black earth” soils in the west and central regions, and intensively cultivated. The prairie becomes much drier in the far south and hence less useful for agriculture.

Ukraine is drained by numerous rivers, mainly flowing southwards towards the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, of which the most important is the Dnieper (Dnipro) and its tributaries. As well as being Europe’s third longest river, it is an essential source of hydroelectric power. The forests and steppes of Ukraine provide a habitat for a variety of wild animals and birds. These include wolves, brown bears, lynx, elk, beavers, wild boar, muskrats, deer, eagles, and vultures. Many colorful wildflowers adorn the valleys and hillsides of the Ukrainian countryside. However, people, wildlife, and vegetation have all suffered as a result of pollution problems that affect parts of Ukraine. The most severe incident was the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the northern part of the country, which caused death and devastation over a wide area, and the effects of which continue felt today.

Most of Ukraine has a continental-type climate with warm or hot summers and cold winters, especially in the east. There are considerable variations, with conditions being generally more severe in the east and the mountains. Rain is usually more frequent in summer, and there may be significant snowfall in parts of Ukraine in the winter months. In Crimea, a Mediterranean climate prevails with moist, mild winters and dry, hot summers. The capital and largest city are Kyiv (Kiyev, or Kiev).

Ukraine has some of the most fertile soils in Europe and has been called the breadbasket of Europe. The central farming region is in the west, and during the period of union with Russia, Ukraine was responsible for a quarter of all agricultural production. Wheat, corn, sugar beet, soya beans, potatoes, flax, tobacco, and hops are the main crops, while cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, and poultry are the animals raised. Most farms are still organized as collective or state-run enterprises, although some are privately owned. Ukraine has valuable reserves of timber that can supply domestic needs and the small-scale fishing industry.

Ukraine is rich in natural mineral resources, especially coal, iron ore, and manganese. It has the highest production of manganese in the world and is the second-highest producer of iron ore. Industry and manufacturing much developed during the Soviet period, and the country became highly industrialized, especially in the east. Since the collapse of communism, however, many industries have struggled to compete on the world market and are significantly in need of reinvestment to modernize their technology and production methods. Industries and manufacturing include iron and metals, heavy machinery, chemicals, oil and gas refining, and food processing.

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Due to its great size, Ukraine features a wide variety of terrain and climate conditions. The center of the country is predominantly a rolling upland plain or steppe. This plain is crossed by many of Eastern Europe’s major rivers. Other lower plains are found along the Black Sea coast, while the southwestern corner of the country is part of the Danube River’s delta. The Polesye Marshes consists of low-lying swamps and wooded bogs in northern Ukraine, extending into Belarus. The Carpathian Mountains rise in the west. Lower mountains dot the Crimean Peninsula (an autonomous republic considered part of Ukraine) and the southeastern Donets region. Ukraine is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.

Ukraine’s coastline lies entirely on the Black Sea in the south. Only the southwestern coast is on the Black Sea proper. However, the rest is on the Sea of Azov, an arm of the Black Sea that Ukraine forms are the Crimean Peninsula. The Black Sea is an inland body of water that lies between the continents of Europe and Asia. It contains calm waters that are free of tides and dangerous marine life. Called the “Hospitable Sea” by the ancient Greeks, the Black Sea is only half as saline as the Mediterranean Sea and has gentle sandy slopes, making it ideal for swimming.

Did you know about Ukraine?

In April 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine experienced an explosion and core meltdown. Radioactive contamination spread through the air over northern Ukraine and southern Belarus and seeped into the ground, poisoning the nearby farmland’s water supply. The devastating effects of this accident on human health and the environment continue into the twenty-first century.

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