Ukraine, slightly smaller than Texas, is located in Eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east; other border countries include Belarus, Hungary, and Slovakia. As the second-largest country in Europe, Ukraine lies in a strategic crossroads between Europe and Asia. The population of Ukraine is about 46.9 million. Kiev is the capital city, with an estimated population of 2.8 million; other cities include Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Odesa, and Lviv.
In general, the climate ranges from continental temperate to Mediterranean; precipitation is disproportionately distributed, highest in the west and the north, lesser in the east and the southeast; winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland; summers are warm across the greater part of the country and hot in the south. Most of Ukraine consists of fertile plains (steppes) and plateaus, bounded by the Carpathian mountains in the west and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in the south.
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 airplanes, turbines, metallurgical equipment, diesel locomotives, and tractors. It also is a major producer of grain, sunflower seeds, and sugar.
Ukraine was the center of the first Slavic state, Kievan Rus, which during the 10th and 11th centuries was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. Ethnic Ukrainians make up about 73% of the total; ethnic Russians number about 22% and ethnic Belarusians and other groups (Moldovans, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Jews, Poles, and Crimean Tatars) make up the remaining 5%.
Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential system of government with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The president nominates the defense and foreign ministers, each of whom must be confirmed by the parliament. The Supreme Rada initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members are elected to five-year terms. Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk became Ukraine's first president. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996; amendments took effect January 1, 2006, which shifted significant powers from the president to the prime minister and Supreme Rada. Political groupings in Ukraine include former communists, socialists, agrarians, liberals, nationalists, and various centrist and independent forces.
CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, 8/2006