Located in Eastern Europe, Ukraine is bordered to the east by Russia. It is a relatively large country, covering over 600,000 square kilometres. In the early 20th century, most of what is now Ukraine was ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian nobility. Most ethnic Ukrainians lived in the west, while most ethnic Russians lived in the east.
The Ukrainian people are known for deeply religious beliefs. The country is a major agricultural heartland. In addition, Ukraine is home to the chernozems, one of the world’s most fertile soils. The climate in Ukraine is humid, warmer than the steppes of Eurasia. In the lowlands along the Black Sea, the minimum precipitation is usually just a few inches per year. In the central region, however, the average annual precipitation is sixteen to twenty-six inches.
The Ukrainians share a cultural affinity with the Russians. Many ethnic Ukrainians spoke Russian as their native language. They formed a semi-autonomous host of peasant warriors called the Cossacks. A significant uprising by the Zaporizhian Cossacks against the overlords of Poland took place in 1648. In response, the Tsardom of Russia signed a treaty of alliance with the Cossacks.
The chernozems of central Ukraine are among the most fertile soils in the world. They are podzolized soils, which formed from extension of postglacial forests. They require the addition of nutrients to produce good harvests. The southernmost chernozems are thinner and have less humus. They account for about two-thirds of the area of the country.
The Ukrainian people have long sought independence from the Soviet Union. They have been trying to achieve this goal for nearly three decades. The Kremlin has shown little interest in settling the Donbas conflict. This would be a major obstacle to normalization. In the meantime, the country will likely seek closer relationships with the European Union and NATO.
The Ukrainian government has taken a more authoritarian approach in recent years. Pro-Kyiv political outlets have been silenced in areas that are under Russian control. This has increased anti-Russian sentiment. The national media has adopted a united patriotic agenda. The government has blocked popular websites and social networks in the Ukrainian language.
Russia has a long history of dominance over Ukraine. Most of what is now Ukraine was once part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union. In the late 1700s, the Russians gained control of most of the country. In the 1920s, the Bolsheviks added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Ukraine. They did so without considering the ethnic make-up of the population.
Throughout the 19th century, the Russian imperial authorities attempted to suppress the Ukrainian language and culture. The nationalist movement in Ukraine sparked in the post-World War I era. The national consciousness of the Ukrainian people developed among the intelligentsia and became widespread.
In the 18th century, most of what is now Ukraine consisted of Orthodox East Slavs. They formed statelets and semi-autonomous hosts of peasant warriors known as the Cossacks. They posed a threat to the Polish-Lithuanian overlords and requested the Tsardom of Russia’s help. The Tsardom of Russia agreed to assist the Cossacks, allowing them to form a military force in 1648.