4 historical maps that explain the USSR
Map Explained: Key Facts About Ukraine
The modern state of Ukraine was formed nearly 30 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, the country has often made headlines due to political instability and the imminent threat of a Russian invasion.
In the graphic map above, we look at Ukraine from a structural perspective. What is the composition of the country’s population? What drives the country’s economy? And above all, why is the country important in a global context?
Where do people live in Ukraine?
With a population of nearly 44 million, Ukraine is the eighth most populous country in Europe. For perspective, it’s slightly smaller than Spain, and four times larger than Greece.
As the cartogram below shows, a large part of the country’s population is found in and around the capital Kiev, as well as in the Donetsk region, which is at the heart of the current conflict with Russia.
Not surprisingly, many Russian-speaking citizens of the country live in the east of the country, near the Russian border.
Key Facts About Demographics Of Ukraine
Ukrainians represent almost 78% of the total population, while Russians make up about 17% of the population, making it the largest Russian diaspora in the world.
Other minorities include:
- Belarusians: 0.6%
- Bulgarians: 0.4%
- Hungarian: 0.3%
- Crimean Tatars: 0.5%
- Romanians: 0.3%
- Poles: 0.3%
- Jews: 0.2%
The country’s population has been declining since the 1990s due to a high emigration rate and high death rate coupled with a low birth rate.
The majority of the population is Christian (80%), with 60% claiming to adhere to some wing of the Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian economy: an overview
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine surrendered thousands of atomic weapons in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the United States and other countries. However, the defense industry continues to be a strategically important sector and a large employer in Ukraine. The country exports weapons to countries like India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Moreover, Ukraine is rich in natural resources, especially mineral deposits. It has the world’s largest reserves of commercial-grade iron ore—30 billion tons of ore or around a fifth of the world total. It should also be noted that Ukraine ranks second in terms of known natural gas reserves in Europe, which today remain largely untapped.
Ukraine’s mostly flat geography and high-quality soil composition make the country a major regional agricultural player. The country is the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat and the world’s largest exporter of seed oils such as sunflower and rapeseed.
Coal mining, chemicals, mechanical products (aircraft, turbines, locomotives and tractors) and shipbuilding are also important sectors of the Ukrainian economy.
The bear in the room
Given the country’s location and history, it’s almost impossible to talk about Ukraine without mentioning the surrounding area. Russia.
The country shares borders with Russia to the east and northeast. For context, a drive from Moscow to one of the Ukrainian border towns, Shostka, takes about 8 hours. To the northwest, Ukraine also shares borders with Belarus, a country with close ties to the Kremlin.
To the southeast is Crimea, a peninsula entirely surrounded by both the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov. In 2014, Russia annexed the peninsula and established two federal subjects, the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. The annexation was widely condemned around the world, and the territories are recognized by most of the international community as part of Ukraine.
The region was of particular interest to Russia since Moscow depended on the Black Sea for access to the Mediterranean. The port of Sevastopol, on the southwestern edge of Crimea, is one of the few ice-free deep-water ports Russia has in the region.
Due to ongoing tensions between the two countries, Ukraine is seeking to reduce Russia’s influence on its economy. As a result, China and Poland have overtaken Russia as Ukraine’s main trading partners in recent years.
However, Ukraine remains an important route for Russian gas that heats millions of homes, generates electricity and powers factories in Europe. The continent gets almost 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia.
In addition, Ukraine is connected to the same electricity network as Russia, so it remains dependent on Moscow in the event of a shortage. Even if the conflict escalates, the two countries still share economic ties, which will influence the development of the situation.
Conflict in the Donbass region
Ukraine is at the center of a geopolitical rivalry between Western powers and Russia, and that rivalry is heating up again.
Two regions along the Russian border, Donetsk and Luhansk, have been a conflict zone since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists began clashing with government forces. The map below shows the relative contact area between the two opposing forces.
Currently, Russia has troops and military equipment amassed at various points along the border between the two countries, as well as in neighboring Belarus.
In recent days, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, recognizing them as independent states. This recognition serves as the final end point to the seven-year peace agreement known as the Minsk Agreement.
As this conflict escalates, it remains to be seen what will happen to the estimated 5 million people who live in the Donbass region.
Note: On February 23, 2022, Russia launched a large-scale military operation in Ukraine. The situation is still changing rapidly.