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Ukraine is bordered by Belarus on the north, by Russia on the north, north-east, and east, by the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea on the south, by Moldova and Romania on the south-west, and by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on the west. Richly endowed in natural resources, Ukraine has been fought over and subjugated for centuries; its 20th-century struggle for liberty is not yet complete. A short-lived independence from Russia (1917-1920) was followed by brutal Soviet rule that engineered two artificial famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died, and World War II, in which German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 million more deaths. Although independence was attained in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, true freedom remains elusive as many of the former Soviet elite remain entrenched, stalling efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civic liberties.  

Ukraine occupies an area of 233,100 square miles (603,700 square km) and its population is about 50,000,000. Ukraine consists almost entirely of level plains and occupies a large portion of the East European Plain. The Dnipro River runs from north to south. Other lowlands extend along the shores of the Black and Azov seas in southern Ukraine, while the Crimean Peninsula, in the extreme south, has both lowlands and low mountains. Western Ukraine has some uplands, and the Carpathian Mountains extend through that region for more than 150 miles (240 km). Ukraine has extremely fertile black-earth soils in the central and southern portions, totaling nearly two-thirds of the territory. Mixed forest vegetation occupied the northern third of the country, forest-steppe the middle portion, and steppe the southern third of the country. Now, however, much of the original vegetation has been cleared and replaced by cultivated crops. Much of the original wildlife has also disappeared, but many animal species still remain.
Ukraine lies in a temperate climatic zone and receives 16 to 24 inches (400 to 600 mm) of precipitation annually. The Dnipro, Don, Dniester, and other rivers all drain southward through the plains to empty into the Azov-Black Sea Basin. Ukraine's most important river, the Dnipro, is extensively dammed along much of its course for hydroelectric and irrigation purposes.

Ethnic Ukrainians make up more than seven-tenths of the total population of about fifty million people. The Ukrainian language is related to Russian and Belarussian and belongs to the Slavic group of languages.
Russians are the largest minority group, accounting for about two-tenths of the population. Other ethnic minorities of varying sizes are Belarussian, Moldavians, Poles, Bulgarians, Jews, Greeks, Tartars, and others. The highest population densities are found in the industrialized Donets Basin and Dnipro Bend regions and in the agriculturally productive forest-steppe belt.

The capital is Kyiv. Kyiv (also known as Kiev), a scenic city of close to 3 million people situated on the Dnipro River, is the bustling capital of Ukraine. Ancient Kievan Rus, which reached its greatest period of ascendancy during the 11th and 12th centuries, was a center of trade routes between the Baltic and the Mediterranean. The city of Kyiv and the power of Kievan Rus were destroyed in 1240 by Mongol invaders and the lands of Kievan Rus were divided into principalities located to the west and north: Galicia, Volynia, Muscovy and later, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. Once a powerful force on the European scene, Ukraine's fate in modern times has been decided in far-off capitals. As a result, modern Ukrainian history, for the most part, has been defined by foreign occupation.

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