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As Europes second largest country Ukraine is a land of wide, fertile agricultural plains, with large pockets of heavy industry in the east. While Ukraine and Russia share common historical origins, the west of the country has close ties with its European neighbours, particularly Poland, and Ukrainian nationalist sentiment is strongest there.
Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is now seeking closer integration with Western Europe - a process watched with unease by its eastern neighbour, Russia. The first president after independence, former Communist Party official Leonid Kravchuk, presided over a period of economic decline and runaway inflation. Although trade with EU countries now exceeds that with Russia - the largest individual trading partner - Ukraine depends on Russia for its gas supplies and forms an important part of the pipeline transit route for Russian gas exports to Europe.
The Ukrainian economys dependence on steel exports made it particularly vulnerable to the effects of the global financial crisis of 2008, and in October of that year the country was offered a $16.5bn (£10.4bn) loan by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since Viktor Yushchenko became president, Ukraine has made clear its aspiration towards EU membership; 2015 has been mooted as a possible target entry date.
- Population: 44.9 million (UN, 2012)
- Capital: Kiev
- Area: 603,700 sq km (233,090 sq miles)
- Major languages: Ukrainian (official), Russian
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 64 years (men), 75 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 hryvnya = 100 kopiykas
- Main exports: Military equipment, metals, pipes, machinery, petroleum products, textiles, agricultural products
- GNI per capita: US $3,130 (World Bank, 2011)
- Internet domain: .ua
International dialling code: +380
The optimism that followed the Orange Revolution has faded for many Ukrainians. Economic growth has slowed and prices have risen - a process accelerated by the global downturn of 2008.
One of Mr Yushchenks key pledges was to fight corruption. In a country where business and politics remain closely entwined this has turned out to be tricky. Mr Yushchenko himself has faced allegations of cronyism. Viktor Yushchenko is regarded as a pro-Western liberal reformer. He was born in north-east Ukraine in 1954 and is an economist and banker by training. He served as prime minister under Leonid Kuchma between 1999 and 2001 when he was credited with steering through successful economic reforms.