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Independence declared: 24 August 1991

Population: 49 million

Capital: Kiev

President: Leonid Kuchma (since 19 July 1994)

 Country profile


I don’t remember what the Soviet Union was like. I know that there were queues, shortages and no goods in the shops. My mother has told me how it was difficult to get hold of books, toothpaste and clothes. My mother and I lived in the Crimea. She couldn’t find work, and the teachers were on strike, so we moved in with our relatives in Kiev. I began studying in Ukrainian. They say that in the Soviet times it was impossible to go abroad. My mother says it would be good for me to study abroad. But I don’t want to. Education is the same everywhere, but my friends are here.

Mikhail, schoolboy, 13, Kiev

I remember as a child I really thought: “How good that I live in the USSR, the best country in the world!” And now that great country is no more. Even the economy is in tatters. I used to try to sell things at the market, although I have higher education and am a music teacher. Thankfully my husband has now found a good job, so I can stay at home for now with my baby.

Svetlana, housewife, Kiev

Thank goodness that the USSR has gone. I can now go abroad on holiday. I’ve not yet been able to go abroad for business, but while my wife and children are relaxing on Turkish beaches, I take great pleasure in looking round the shops and observing what they are selling and how they trade. I now have a second-hand Audi. In the old days I’d have had to save all my life, and would still only have been able to afford a “Zhigul”. Yet I still have a strange feeling inside that things are not yet as they should be - from the toilets in Kiev that have no lights to the fact that we don’t know how much money was spent on our 10th anniversary celebrations.

Evgenii, businessman

Introduction 4. Lithuania 8. Georgia 12. Uzbekistan
1. Russia 5. Belarus 9. Armenia 13. Tajikistan
2. Estonia 6. Ukraine 10. Azerbaijan 14. Kyrgyzstan
3. Latvia 7. Moldova 11. Turkmenistan 15. Kazakhstan

Crowds cheer as the national flag is erected in Kiev/ AP
About 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence/ AP

Ukraine was once described as the breadbasket of Europe, producing more than a quarter of the Soviet Union’s agricultural output. But the country went through a period of rapid economic decline and runaway inflation after independence.

The first president, Leonid Kravchuk, was narrowly defeated in the 1994 presidential election by Leonid Kuchma, who advocated closer ties with Russia, but became a stout defender of Ukrainian independence once in power.

Ukraine finally shut down the nuclear power plant Chernobyl in 2000, 14 years after the explosion that killed more than 10,000 people. But millions of people continue to suffer from health problems as a result of the accident.

Although Ukraine has avoided ethnic conflict, President Kuchma’s implication in a murder of an opposition journalist has provoked massive anti-Kuchma demonstrations and destabilised the country.

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