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After a brief period of independence from 1917 to 1920, the Ukraine was brought under repressive Soviet domination. After achieving independence in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine continued to struggle with massive corruption that stymied efforts at economic and political reform. The “Orange Revolution” of 2004 precipitated a reform movement whose effects are still unclear. The struggle over the position of Ukraine in global politics, oriented either toward Russia or toward Western Europe, remains unresolved. The second-largest country in Europe, the Ukraine has a population of 47,425,336. With a per capita income of $6,800, the Ukraine is ranked 114th in world incomes. Some 29 percent of the population live below the poverty line. The United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports rank the Ukraine 78th among all nations in overall quality-of-life issues.
Bordering on the Black Sea, the Ukraine has 1,725 miles (2,782 kilometers) of coastline. The climate is Mediterranean along the southern coast and temperate continental elsewhere. Precipitation is most frequent in the west and north. In the east and southeast, winters are cool around the Black Sea but inland temperatures are colder. Summers are generally warm, although it is hotter in the south. The Carpathian Mountains in the west and the Crimean Peninsula in southernmost Ukraine are major geographical features. The rest of the country is composed of fertile plains and plateaus.
The Ukraine is rich in natural resources that include iron ore, coal, manganese, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, and timber. Over 56 percent of the Ukraine is arable, and Ukrainian farmers export milk, grain, vegetables, and meat to neighboring countries. Agriculture generates almost one-fifth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Despite the high level of agricultural activity, 67.3 percent of the population live in urban areas. With only 108 cars per 1,000 people, the Ukraine produces 1.5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide.
The Ukraine suffers from a lack of potable water. Air and water pollution are common in industrial areas, and deforestation is widespread. Residue from the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 continues to contaminate areas in the northeast. The past haunts the Ukraine in other ways. Like most former Soviet republics, the Ukraine was exploited with little care for the environment. Long-lasting environmental damage was ubiquitous after the Soviet withdrawal. For instance, elevated levels of dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were identified in samples of human milk. Likewise, high concentrations of pesticide residues were found in water samples of the Black Sea. Emission experts have identified the Ukraine as one of the heaviest contributors to European pollution because half of the pollution generated in the Ukraine has been ultimately deposited in other European countries.
In 2006, a study conducted at Yale University ranked the Ukraine 51st among 132 nations in environmental performance, slightly higher than the relevant income and geographic groups. Ratings were particularly low in sustainable energy, biodiversity and habitat, and air quality. Only 3.9 percent of land area is protected, but plans to increase such areas are under way. Sixteen of 108 mammal species endemic to the Ukraine are endangered, and eight of 215 endemic bird species are in a similar situation.
The Minister for Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety is in charge of implementing environmental policy in the Ukraine. Operating under the National Action Plan on Environmental Protection, the Ukraine has developed policies that target all levels of government by seeking to integrate sustainable development with economic growth. Since 1998 environmental policy has focused on exacting payments for nature resources and environmental pollution. With the Chernobyl accident always in mind, preventing future accidents is a priority in Ukrainian planning, and particular attention is paid to licensing procedures for hazardous activities.
The Ukraine has joined the environmental efforts of the global community by participating in the following agreements: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, AntarcticEnvironmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. The Ukrainian government has signed but not ratified the Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, and Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds agreements.
- Central Intelligence Agency, “Ukraine,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov;
- Winston Harrington et , Choosing Environmental Policy: Comparing Instruments and Outcomes in the United States and Europe (RFF Press, 2004);
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Europe: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- United Nations (UN) Development Programme, “Human Development Reports: Ukraine,” hdr.undp.org (cited April 2006);
- UN Environment Programme, Europe Regional Report: Chemicals (Global Environment Facility, 2002);
- World Bank, “Ukraine,” worldbank.org.