Ukraine

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    Ukrayina, known in English as Ukraine or the Ukraine (the former is becoming increasingly common) is a former Soviet state, declaring independence in 1991. Before that, it was under Russian and, even earlier, Polish rule, and most famous for its hard-to-pronounce Cossack Host, the Zaporozhians.

    Many Ukrainians will object if you call them Russians- the Russians were responsible for millions of deaths in the Ukrainian SSR, including a possible genocide in the Holodomor("death by hunger"), the 1932-33 famine in the country, caused by Soviet crop seizures. Similar seizures took place in Belarus and on the Volga, but consider the fact Ukraine was a heavily agrarian country back then.

    This was a major factor in the Western Ukrainian population initially welcoming the Nazis, before realising that they weren't really distinguishing between Slavic groups. They then fought against them, with a quarter of Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War being Ukrainian.

    The most notable recent event was the Orange Revolution, where peaceful demonstrations forced the re-run of a questionable election and changed the government from pro-Russian to pro-Western (the recent election changed it back, but was more peaceful). The second-notable will be Ukraine holding the Euro-2012 football championship, along with Poland, and preparations for the event are painstakingly made.

    Ukraine is also known as the location of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. It is home to the former V.I. Lenin Memorial Nuclear Power Station (or something like that...) and the surrounding Zone of Alienation, most of that being in neighbouring Belarus.

    During Soviet times, Soviet planners wanted to prevent any one region from establishing totally independent arms production, and a lot of defence and aerospace plants (such as Antonov and Yangel) ended up in the Ukraine. When the USSR collapsed, the Russian Federation found itself in the unenviable position of having the vendors of many of its equipment and weapons systems in a foreign country and often they weren't very cooperative. Ukraine is sitting on top of a lot of old Soviet industrial bases, needless to say. Also for a while they inherited all the nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles the Soviets had stationed in the Ukraine, but they decided to give them up, as did Belarus and Kazakhstan, which had found themselves in similar positions.

    We mentioned earlier that most Ukrainians object to being called Russians. While only Russian nationalists and ignorant people try and claim that the Ukrainian nation isn't real, a big number of Ukrainians in the east and south of the country, especialy the Crimea peninsula, are in fact Russian-speaking, Russophile, and in short Russian. Well, Crimea was only transferred under the administration of the USSR (Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic, not the Soviet Union itself) in 1961, and as such remained part of Ukraine, even though it's an autonomous republic nowadays. Russian naval bases are still there, in Sevastopol, which for the past five years invoked much controversy and general hate. Somewhat ironic is that foreign troops and ships participating in joint military exercises in Crimea (notably the U.S. ones) come into dock at Sevastopol. Cue pro-Russian, anti-NATO demonstrations. Also cue a major Broken Base, especially in the 2006/2010 elections.

    Ukraine has a law that prohibits its own citizens being extradited from the country to elsewhere- a fact that was used in a Trial And Retribution two-parter. Like other countries that do this (like France), however, this means that Ukrainian law applies to its citizens abroad.

    In 2005, Ukraine loosened its border controls so that tourists from the European Union and Switzerland could visit the country without a visa. This was partly to make life easier for foreigners visiting Kiev (or Kyiv, as the locals spell it) for the Eurovision Song Contest that year, but is part of a general trend towards closer relations with the west.

    And despite what anyone might tell you, the best vodka does not come from Russia. It comes from Ukraine. But Ukrainian vodka is properly called horilka, not vodka. There's also the Polish wódka, which is pronounced vootka. It's like "whisky" (Scotch and Canadian) vs "whiskey" (Irish and American).

    The area of Ukraine south of Lviv (part of Ukrainian Galicia) was transferred from Austria to Russia in the late 19th century, which prompted the emigration of well over 80% of the rural population of the area to North America. Most emigrants settled in Western Canada and eastern Pennsylvania. To this day anything vaguely Central or Eastern European will be assumed in Canada to be Ukrainian.

    People tend to get the flag upside-down.

    the Ukrainian flag

    Golden wheat under a blue sky in the breadbasket of Eastern Europe.

    Famous Ukrainians include: