Ukraine is a nation on the eastern edge of Europe that has emerged from Soviet rule as a democratic state. Its citizens hold a wide range of views on its future, but a majority support closer ties to the EU and NATO as well as more regional autonomy from Russia.
Although its history has been fraught, Ukraine has largely avoided the violence and political instability that engulfed many other European countries. Its democracy, civil society and human rights have been improved since the Euromaidan revolution in 2013, but challenges remain in implementing major reforms and combating corruption.
The Ukraine-Russia conflict is a key manifestation of a renewed great-power rivalry that could dominate international relations in the decades ahead. It reflects deep and enduring polarization between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the West, as well as an increasing concern among Ukrainians about a lack of political freedom.
In 2021, human rights in Ukraine remained severely compromised. Impunity for torture remained widespread, gender-based violence was often repressed, and human rights defenders were regularly attacked by groups advocating discrimination or violence.
As a result, the country lacked effective protection for journalists and other public figures. Unfounded criminal proceedings against a former prisoner of conscience, Vasil Muravitskyi, were ongoing, and he was forced to flee the country. In occupied Crimea, a military crackdown on dissent and human rights continued.
Despite these challenges, the Ukrainian economy was recovering somewhat after losses in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region. However, concerns over corruption persisted in government-controlled territory. In addition, the Pandora Papers leaked data on secretive offshore deals, naming the current President as a former beneficiary of these investments.
The Ukrainian economy is relatively small compared to other European economies, and much of it relies on oil extraction. It is also vulnerable to external shocks. The country is also a transit point for Russia and Europe, making it susceptible to geopolitical tensions between the two giants.
Ukraine’s climate is moderate and arid, with warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. Snowfall is common in the western regions, but less so in the east and south. Temperatures are highest in the Carpathian Mountains, which receive more than 47 inches of precipitation a year.
In Ukraine, there are several important religious denominations. Orthodox Christianity is the country’s largest religion, but a number of other traditions also exist. Some Christians have a more localized understanding of faith, while others are universalists or nondenominational.
A large number of Orthodox churches are located in the capital, Kiev, which is a center of national culture and tradition. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has a long and complicated history, involving a series of schisms and rifts over issues such as ecumenical communion, liturgical practices, and other matters.
During the 20th century, a period of intense nationalist sentiments began to build in Ukraine. These sentiments were rooted in the traumatic experience of the ‘Holodomor’, a mass famine that killed between three and five million people under Stalin’s policies. The famine was a contributing factor in the outbreak of the civil war that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.