FIVE FAST FACTS ABOUT UKRAINE
1. Disputed history
Ukraine literally means “on the edge”.
Both modern Russia and Ukraine have their roots in the medieval state of Kievan Rus, which at its height stretched from the Black Sea to the Baltic.
Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote a 5,000-word essay trying to prove that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people.”
But Ukrainians speak their own language, and much of what is now Ukraine was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, with other areas controlled by Cossacks and Crimean Tatars until the end of the 18th century. century.
It then became part of the Tsarist Russian Empire although some western areas belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
2. Stalin’s Famine
Ukraine then became part of the Soviet Union, suffering a devastating famine known as the Holodomor caused by the policies of Joseph Stalin who killed up to five million people there.
Tensions between Kyiv and Moscow erupted again in the decades following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, when an overwhelming majority of the Ukrainian people voted for independence.
After a popular pro-Western uprising led to the flight of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The conflict claimed around 14,000 lives.
3. Economic issues
The annexation of Crimea and the loss of industrial Donbass in 2014 threw the Ukrainian economy into a tailspin. GDP fell by more than 6% and the following year it fell by almost a tenth, with inflation reaching over 40%.
The economy has since recovered somewhat, but the country of 45 million people remains one of the poorest in Europe.
An average monthly salary is $615.
The country depends on Russian gas transit fees to Europe, but Moscow’s new energy pipelines like Nord Stream bypass it.
During the 2006 and 2009 disputes, Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine during the winter, causing shortages in Europe.
The country also suffers from endemic corruption, with anti-corruption activists regularly coming under physical attack.
The worst nuclear accident in the world took place in Ukraine on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Several hundred died although the exact figure remains disputed. The Soviet authorities initially tried to cover up the disaster.
Eventually, 350,000 people were evacuated within a 30 kilometer radius of the plant, an exclusion zone that remains uninhabited except for a few elderly residents who returned despite an official ban.
Humans will only be able to safely live there again in 24,000 years.
In recent years, the site has become a tourist attraction, with the success of HBO’s “Chernobyl” miniseries.
5. Borscht and Chicken Kiev
While some in the West think borscht is synonymous with Russian cuisine, Ukraine claims beetroot-based soup with cabbage as part of its national heritage dating back to the 14th century.
A number of other dishes are contested by Russia and Ukraine, including Chicken Kiev.