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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Ukraine (05/00)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.



Area: 233,000 sq. mi..
Cities: Capital--Kiev (pop. 2.6 million). Other cities--Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, Lviv.
Terrain: A vast plan bounded by the Carpathian mountains in the southwest and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Oziv in the South.
Climate: Continental temperate.

Population (est.): 50 million.
Nationality: Noun--Ukrainian(s); adjective--Ukrainian.
Ethnic groups: Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Crimean Tatars.
Religions: Ukrainian Orthodoxy, Ukrainian Greek Catholicism, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Islam
Languages: Ukrainian, Russian, others.
Education: Literacy--98%. Health: Infant mortality rate--22/1,000; life expectancy--60 yrs. males, 72 yrs. females.
Work force: 23 million. Industry and construction--32%; agriculture and forestry--24%; health, education, and culture--17%; transport and communication--7%.

Type: presidential-parliamentary.
Independence: August 24, 1991.
Constitution: First post-Soviet constitution adopted June 28, 1996.
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister, cabinet.
Legislative--450-member parliament, the Supreme Rada (members elected to 4-year terms). Judicial--people's courts, regional courts, Supreme Court, and Constitutional Court.
Political parties: wide range of active political parties, from leftist (communist and socialist) to center and center-right (National Democratic, Rukh, Green and others) to ultra-nationalist (UNA and OUN).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions: 24 provinces and 1 autonomous republic.

Nominal GDP (est, 1998): $42.3.
Annual growth rate (1998): -1.7%.
Per capita income(1998): $846.
Natural resources: Vast fertile lands, coal, natural gas, various large mineral deposits, timber.
Agriculture: Products--Grain, sugar, sunflower seeds.
Industry: Types--Ferrous metals and products, coke, fertilizer, metallurgical equipment, diesel locomotives, tractors.
Trade: Exports--$11.3 billion:, ferrous and nonferrous metals, chemicals, machinery, and transport equipment. Imports--$13.1 billion: Energy, machinery and parts, transportation equipment, chemicals, plastics, and rubber.

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.

The birth rate of Ukraine is diminishing. About 70% of adult Ukrainians have a secondary or higher education. Ukraine has about 150 colleges and universities, of which the most important are at Kiev, Lviv, and Kharkiv. About 70,000 scholars in 80 research institutes make Ukraine a leader in science and technology.

The first identifiable groups to populate what is now Ukraine were Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, and Goths, among other nomadic peoples who arrived throughout the first millennium B.C. These people were well known to colonists and traders in the ancient world, including Greeks and Romans, who established trading outposts which eventually became city states. Slavic tribes occupied central and eastern Ukraine in the sixth century A.D. and played an important role in the establishment of Kiev. Situated on lucrative trade routes, Kiev quickly prospered as the center of a powerful state of Kievan Rus. In the 11th century, Kievan Rus was, geographically, the largest state in Europe. A Christian missionary, Cyril, converted the Kievan nobility and most of the population in 988. Conflict among the feudal lords led to decline in the 12th century. Kiev was razed by Mongol raiders in the 12th century.

Most of the territory was annexed by Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, but during that time, the Ukrainian people began to conceive of themselves as a distinct people, a feeling which survived subsequent partitioning by greater powers over the next centuries. In addition, Ukrainian peasants who fled the Polish effort to force them into servitude came to be known as Cossacks and earned a reputation for their fierce martial spirit. In 1667, Ukraine was partitioned between Poland and Russia. In 1793, it was reunited as part of the Russian Empire.

The 19th century found the region largely agricultural, with a few cities and centers of trade and learning. The region was under the control of the Austrians in the extreme west and of the Russians elsewhere. Ukrainian writers and intellectuals were inspired by the nationalistic spirit stirring other European peoples existing under other imperial governments and were determined to revive Ukrainian linguistic and cultural traditions and re-establish a Ukrainian nation-state. The Russians in particular imposed strict limits on attempts to elevate Ukrainian language and culture, even banning its use and study.

When World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia shattered the Hapsburg and Russian empires, Ukrainians declared independent statehood. In 1917 and 1918, three separate Ukrainian republics declared independence. However, by 1921, the western part of the traditional territory had been incorporated into Poland, and the larger, central and eastern part became part of the Soviet Union.

The Ukrainian national idea persevered during the interwar years, and Soviet reaction was severe, particularly under Stalin, who imposed terror campaigns, which ravaged the intellectual class. He also created artificial famines as part of his forced collectivization policies, which killed millions of previously independent peasants and others throughout the country. Estimates of deaths from the 1932-33 famine alone range from 3 million to 7 million.

After the German and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939, the western Ukrainian regions were incorporated into the Soviet Union. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, many Ukrainians, particularly in the west, welcomed them, but this did not last. German brutality was directed principally against Ukraine's Jews (of whom 1 million were killed) but also against many other Ukrainians. Kiev and other parts of the country were heavily damaged. Some Ukrainians began to resist the Germans as well as the Soviets. Resistance against Soviet Government forces continued as late as the 1950s.

Little changed for Ukraine over the next decades. During periods of relative liberalization--as under Nikita Khrushchev from 1955 to 1964--Ukrainian communists pursued national objectives. In the years of perestroika, under U.S.S.R. President Mikhail Gorbachev, national goals were again advanced by Ukrainian officials. Ukraine became an independent state on August 24, 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Ukraine is a parliamentary democracy with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The president nominates the prime minister, who must be confirmed by the parliament. The 450-member parliament (Supreme Rada) initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members were elected to four-year terms in 1994. Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk, former Chairman of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, was elected president for a 5-year term. At the same time, a referendum on independence was approved by more than 90% of the voters. Political groupings in Ukraine include former communists, socialists, agrarians, nationalists and various centrist and independent forces.

Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, which mandates a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, although religious organizations are required to register with local authorities and with the central government. Minority rights are respected in accordance with a 1991 law guaranteeing ethnic minorities the right to schools and cultural facilities and the use of national languages in conducting personal business. In Crimea and eastern Ukraine--areas with significant Russian minorities--Russian is permitted as a language of official correspondence. It is also recognized as an official language in Crimea.

Ethnic tensions in Crimea during 1992 prompted a number of pro-Russian political organizations to advocate secession of Crimea and annexation to Russia. (Crimea was ceded to Ukraine in 1954, as a gift from Khrushchev to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukrainian union with Russia.) In July 1992, the Crimean and Ukrainian parliaments determined that Crimea would remain under Ukrainian jurisdiction while retaining significant cultural and economic autonomy.

Official trade unions have been grouped under the Federation of Trade Unions. A number of independent unions, which emerged during 1992, have formed the Consultative Council of Free Trade Unions. While the right to strike is legally guaranteed, strikes based solely on political demands are prohibited.

In July 1994, Leonid Kuchma was elected as Ukraine's second president in free and fair elections. Kuchma was reelected in November 1999 to another five year term, with 56 percent of the vote. International observers criticized aspects of the election, especially slanted media coverage, however, the outcome of the vote was not called into question. The last Parliamentary elections were held in March 1998. No clear majority emerged and the left was able to maintain control of leadership positions. Following his reelection, Kuchma successfully assembled a parliamentary majority supportive of the government and its new Prime Minister, former Central Bank head and economic reformer Viktor Yushchenko.

Security forces are controlled by the president, although they are subject to investigation by a permanent parliamentary commission. Surveillance is permitted for reasons of national security.

Ukraine has established its own military forces of about 500,000 from the troops and equipment inherited from the former Soviet Union. It aims to reduce the force to between 250,000-300,000 by the end of the decade; considerable downsizing already has taken place. Ukraine has a "distinctive partnership" with Ukraine and has been an active participant in Partnership for Peace exercises and in Balkans peacekeeping. A Ukrainian unit is currently serving in Kosovo, in the U.S. sector.

Principal Government Officials
President--Leonid Kuchma
Acting Prime Minister--Viktor Yushchenko
Foreign Minister--Boris Tarasyuk

Ukraine maintains an embassy at 3350 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-333-0606)

Ukraine has many of the components of a major European economy--rich farmlands, a well-developed industrial base, highly trained labor, and a good education system. However, at present, the economy is in poor condition. Eight straight years of declining GDP have led to widespread poverty; the standard of living for most citizens has declined more than 50% since the early 1990s. The macroeconomy is stable, with the hyperinflation of earlier in the decade having been tamed. Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, was introduced in September 1996, and has remained fairly stable. The economy shows signs of growth in 2000, with first-quarter figures showing a rise in GDP. However, Ukraine's long-term economic prospects are dependent on acceleration of market reforms. The economy remains burdened by excessive government regulation, and most industries have neither been restructured or privatized.

Ukraine encourages foreign trade and investment. The parliament has approved a foreign investment law allowing Westerners to purchase businesses and property, to repatriate revenue and profits, and to receive compensation in the event that property is nationalized by a future government. However, complex laws and regulations and corruption have stymied largescale investment in Ukraine. Total foreign direct investment in Ukraine is approximately $3 billion, which, at $55 per capita, is one of the lowest figures in the region.

Most Ukrainian trade is still with countries of the former Soviet Union, principally Russia. Demand for Ukraine's nonagricultural exports--ferrous metals, steel pipe, machinery, and transport equipment--continues to fall. Ukraine imports 90% of its oil and most of its natural gas from Russia. Arrears on energy payments to Russia are estimated at $1.4 billion. Ukraine runs a slight trade surplus, but this is largely a result of falling demand for imports and energy arrears rather than external demand for Ukrainian exports. Reform of the inefficient and opaque energy sector is a major objective of the IMF and World Bank programs with Ukraine.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $2.2 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with Ukraine in September 1998. In July 1999, the 3-year program was increased to $2.6 billion. The program has been suspended since September 1999 when Ukraine fell off track during the presidential election as a result of increased government spending and slowing progress on structural reforms. Resumed lending has been delayed by allegations of improprieties concerning management and reporting of reserves from 1996-98. The IMF is conducting an investigation, with which the Government of Ukraine has cooperated. The investigation is expected to be completed by mid-summer 2000. Resumption of the program also depends on progress with structural reforms, especially in the energy sector and with privatization.

Ukraine is rich in natural resources. It has a major ferrous metal industry, producing cast iron, steel, and steel pipe, and its chemical industry produces coke, mineral fertilizers, and sulfuric acid. Manufactured goods include metallurgical equipment, diesel locomotives, and tractors.

It also is a major producer of grain and sugar and possesses a broad industrial base, including much of the former U.S.S.R.'s space industry. Although oil reserves are largely exhausted, it has important energy sources, such as coal and natural gas, and large mineral deposits.

In 1992, Ukraine became a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development but not a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization.

Environmental Issues
Ukraine is interested in cooperating on regional environmental issues. Conservation of natural resources is a high priority. It established its first nature preserve, Askanyia-Nova, in 1921 and has a program to breed endangered species.

However, the country has significant environmental problems, especially those resulting from the Chornobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986 and from industrial pollution. Ukraine has announced that the Chornobyl Atomic Energy Station will be phased out and shut down in the year 2000; it has asked for financial help to achieve this goal and to provide alternative sources of energy for its population.

Ukraine also has established a Ministry of Environment and has introduced a pollution fee system that levies taxes on air and water emissions and solid waste disposal. The resulting revenues are channeled to environmental protection activities, but enforcement of this pollution fee system is lax.

Ukraine considers membership in the European Union (EU) and other European institutions its primary foreign policy objective. The EU's Partnership and Cooperation agreement (PCA) with Ukraine went into force on March 1, 1998. The EU has encouraged Ukraine to implement the PCA fully before discussions begin on an association agreement. The EU Common Strategy toward Ukraine, issued at the EU Summit in December 1999 in Helsinki, recognizes Ukraine's long-term aspirations but does not discuss association. On January 31, 1992, Ukraine joined the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--OSCE), and on March 10, 1992, it became a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Ukraine also has a close relationship with NATO and is an active member of Partnership for Peace (PfP).

Ukraine has friendly relations with its western neighbors, especially Poland, with whom it cooperates closely. Relations with Russia are complicated by energy dependence and by payment arrears. However, the relations have improved with the 1998 ratification of the bilateral Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Also, the two sides have signed a series of agreements on the final division and disposition of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet that have helped to reduce tensions. Ukraine became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 8, 1991, but in January 1993 it refused to endorse a draft charter strengthening political, economic, and defense ties among CIS members. Ukraine is a founding member of GUUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova), the group of western-oriented former Soviet states that would prefer to limit the CIS to economic relations.

In 1999, Ukraine was elected to the UN Security Council for a 2-year term. Soviet Ukraine joined the United Nations in 1945 as one of the original members following a Western compromise with the Soviet Union, which had asked for seats for all 15 of its union republics. Ukraine has consistently supported peaceful, negotiated settlements to disputes. It has participated in the quadripartite talks on the conflict in Moldova and this year joined the Friends of the Secretary General for Georgia.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 brought an end to the Cold War and created an opportunity to build bilateral relations with the New Independent States (NIS) as they began a political and economic transformation. On December 25, 1991, the United States officially recognized the independence of Ukraine. It upgraded its consulate in the capital, Kiev, to embassy status on January 21, 1992. The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine is Steven K. Pifer, the third U.S. ambassador since Ukrainian independence.

The United States attaches great importance to the success of Ukraine's transition to a democratic state with a flourishing market economy. Following a period of economic decline characterized by high inflation and a continued reliance on state controls, the Ukrainian Government, under the leadership of reelected President Leonid Kuchma, began taking steps in the fall of 1999 to reinvigorate economic reform that had been stalled for years due to a lack of a reform majority in the Ukrainian parliament (Rada). The Ukrainian Government's new determination to implement comprehensive economic reform is a welcome development, and the U.S. is committed to strengthening its support for Ukraine as it embarks on this difficult path.

U.S. Assistance to Ukraine
A cornerstone for the continuing U.S. partnership with Ukraine and the other NIS has been the Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM) Support Act (FSA), enacted in October 1992. Ukraine has been a primary recipient of FSA assistance. Total U.S. assistance since independence has been more than $2 billion. Total U.S. assistance planned for FY 2000 is about $216 million, of which approximately $168 million is FSA funding. U.S. assistance to Ukraine is targeted to promote political and economic reform and to address urgent humanitarian needs. The U.S. has consistently encouraged Ukraine's transition to a democratic society with a prosperous market-based economy. For more detailed information on these programs, please see the FY 1999 "Annual Report to Congress on U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with the New Independent States of the Former Soviet Union," which is available on the State Department's website at the following address:

Assistance To Support Ukraine's Transition to a Market Economy. U.S. technical assistance in this area has focused primarily on economic restructuring, development of the private sector, and energy-sector reform. U.S. assistance priorities for Ukraine have included enterprise development, deregulation, macroeconomic reform, civil society development, community-based programs, and nuclear safety. U.S. advisers have provided technical assistance in financial sector reform, tax policy and administration, bankers' training, land legislation, smallscale and municipal services privatization, agricultural development and agribusiness, corporatization of the electric power sector, energy pricing and efficiency, and public education concerning the environment. The Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), announced by President Clinton in January 1994 to promote private sector business development in Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, has committed $74 million to 22 companies through 1999.

Assistance To Support Ukraine's Transition to Democracy. The U.S. is promoting Ukraine's democratic transition by supporting programs on participatory political systems, independent media, rule of law, local governance, and civil society, as well as a wide range of exchanges and training. USAID has provided Ukraine with technical assistance related to elections, the development of political parties and grassroots civic organizations, and the development of independent media. USAID has been working with Ukrainian officials and nonprofit organizations to create a legal system supportive of a democratic government and a market-based economy. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) is promoting cooperation between U.S. law enforcement agencies and their Ukrainian counterparts to reform Ukraine's criminal justice system. In 1997, the U.S. Government launched a special initiative to combat trafficking in women and children from Ukraine, including efforts to promote economic alternatives for vulnerable populations, increase public awareness, and provide support for victims. See the Department of State's website at

During the 1999 meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Binational ("Gore-Kuchma")Commission in Washington, the U.S. announced the Next Generation Initiative, which will double the number of key exchange programs, refocusing U.S. assistance on Ukraine's youth. Since 1993, the U.S. Government has brought nearly 11,400 Ukrainians to the U.S. for long-term study or short-term professional training and will bring an additional 2,300 over the next year. Ukrainian entrepreneurs, journalists, academia, local government officials, and other professionals have participated in these exchanges. U.S. exchanges and training programs have enabled Ukrainians to participate in a broad range of programs in the United States. The U.S. Commerce Department's Special American Business Internship Training (SABIT) Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Cochran Fellowship Program have brought nearly 500 Ukrainian business executives, scientists, and agriculturists to the U.S. for internships and training programs. In addition, a $5-million joint U.S.-EU civil society project is supporting civic education, NGO development, good governance, and parliamentary exchanges, expanding Ukraine's contacts with Americans and Europeans, and Peace Corps volunteers are working in Ukraine with a focus on small-business development and English teaching.

Support for the Social Sector. The U.S. is assisting Ukraine's efforts to maximize equity in reform and to sustain social welfare and stability during and beyond its market economic transition. Toward this end, USAID is providing assistance to local governments in redefining the roles of the public and private sectors in providing social services to allow government to focus limited resources on key social sectors. Training and technical assistance are being provided to Ukrainian institutions and government agencies on reforms of health care financing and delivery of medical services. A number of medical partnerships between U.S. and Ukrainian health care institutions have been established to improve both patient care and institutional management. Also, USAID is providing training and technical assistance on ways to improve reproductive health, focusing on providing family planning services and reducing the use of abortion.

Humanitarian Assistance. Since 1992, the U.S. State Department's Operation Provide Hope has provided more than $416 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. In 1999, the Office of the Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to the NIS expended $3.8 million in transportation and grant funds to deliver $77 million in humanitarian assistance to targeted groups in Ukraine. In 1999, Operation Provide Hope funded a total of six humanitarian airlifts and 544 deliveries via surface transportation. A total of $18.5 million in U.S. Defense Department excess medical equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals was delivered and distributed during the 1999 August-October period to 18 hospitals and clinics in Ukraine's Kharkiv Oblast (Region).

Bilateral Trade Issues. The U.S.-Ukraine Trade Agreement, effective June 22, 1992, provides reciprocal most-favored-nation tariff treatment to the products of each country. Since January 1994, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has approved investment insurance totaling more than $23 million for three projects in Ukraine. OPIC also has sponsored conferences and exchanges to encourage joint ventures between U.S. and Ukrainian companies. U.S. Export-Import Bank signed a project incentive agreement with the Ukrainian Government in 1999 but has yet to approve any projects in Ukraine. A treaty on avoiding double taxation is close to completion.

Security Issues. In Lisbon on May 23, 1992, the United States signed a protocol to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan (those states on whose territory strategic nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union are located). The protocol makes each state a party to the START Treaty and commits all signatories to reductions in strategic nuclear weapons within the 7-year period provided for in the treaty. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan also agreed to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear weapons states. The treaty entered into force on December 5, 1994, the same day Ukraine acceded to the NPT.

Security-Related Assistance. Through FY 1999, the U.S. Department of Defense has provided $568 million under its Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR or "Nunn-Lugar") Program to eliminate strategic nuclear delivery systems in Ukraine. CTR activities are facilitating START I implementation and are helping to eliminate all strategic nuclear weapons systems in Ukraine, including SS-19 and SS-24 ballistic missiles and associated silos and launch control centers, heavy bombers and air-launched cruise missiles. The U.S. has provided nearly $15 million to assist Ukraine in establishing an effective export control system. In FY 2000, the U.S. will contribute over $14 million to projects aimed at redirecting former Soviet weapons scientists to peaceful research. In addition, the U.S. has provided Ukraine more than $19 million in International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to promote military reform and advance Ukraine's ability to participate in NATO Partnership for Peace activities, including peacekeeping in Kosovo.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Steven K. Pifer
Deputy Chief of Mission--David Hess
Political Counselor--Kathleen Kavalec
Economic Counselor--John Bowen
Commercial Officer--David Hunter
Consular Officer--Lauren Marcott
Administrative Officer--Bohdan Dmytrevich
Public Affairs Officer--Mark Taplin
USAID--Christopher Crowley

The U.S. Embassy in Kiev is at 10 Yuriya Kotsyubinskoho, 25203 (tel. [380] (044) 244-9750).

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