Official name: Ukraine
Area: 603,700 square kilometers (233,090 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Hoverlya (2,061 meters/6,762 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1316 kilometers (818 miles) from east to west; 893 kilometers (555 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 4,558 kilometers (2,832 miles) total boundary length; Belarus 891 kilometers (554 miles); Hungary 103 kilometers (64 miles); Moldova 939 kilometers (583 miles); Poland 428 kilometers (266 miles); Romania 531 kilometers (330 miles); Russia 1,576 kilometers (979 miles); Slovakia 90 kilometers (56 miles)
Coastline: 2,782 kilometers (1,729 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Ukraine is the second-largest country in Eastern Europe. It shares borders with Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. It has a southeastern shoreline on the Sea of Azov and a south-central coast along the Black Sea. With a total area of about 603,700 square kilometers (233,090 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Ukraine is administratively divided into twenty-four oblasti, one autonomous republic, and two municipalities.
Ukraine has no outside territories or dependencies.
The climate of Ukraine is considered moderate and continental, with warm summers and cold winters. The climate is Mediterranean along the southern Crimean coast, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. In Kiev, the July temperature averages 20°C (69°F), while in January the average is -6°C (21°F). Summers are warmer and winters are colder in eastern Ukraine, where the weather is influenced by large air masses from the steppes of Central Asia.
Ukraine's mild-to-moderate climate includes moderate levels of precipitation, averaging around 50 centimeters (20 inches) per year, although the amount varies by region. Rainfall is most frequent in summer; the highest amounts occur in the Carpathian Mountains and the lowest occur on the Black Sea coast, which proves favorable for the Crimean tourism industry.
Due to its great size, Ukraine features a wide variety of terrain and climate conditions. The center of the country is predominantly a rolling upland plain, or steppe. This plain is crossed by many of Eastern Europe's major rivers. Other lower plains are found along the Black Sea coast, while the southwestern corner of the country is part of the delta of the Danube River. The Polesye Marshes consist of low-lying swamps and wooded bogs in northern Ukraine, extending into Belarus. The Carpathian Mountains rise in the west. Lower mountains dot the Crimean Peninsula (an autonomous republic considered part of Ukraine) and the southeastern Donets region. Ukraine is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
Ukraine's coastline lies entirely on the Black Sea in the south. Only the southwestern coast is on the Black Sea proper, however; the rest is on the Sea of Azov, an arm of the Black Sea that is formed by Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The Black Sea is an inland body of water that lies between the continents of Europe and Asia. It contains calm waters that are free of tides and dangerous marine life. Called the "Hospitable Sea" by the ancient Greeks, the Black Sea is only half as saline as the Mediterranean Sea and has gentle sandy slopes, making it ideal for swimming.
Estuaries of the Dnieper, Southern Bug, and Dniester Rivers, as well as the delta of the Danube in the southwest, empty into the Black Sea. Karkinit Bay indents the coast deeply, nearly separating the Crimean Peninsula from the mainland. On the far side of the peninsula, the Kerch Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The Sea of Azov is otherwise completely enclosed by Ukraine in the west and Russia in the east. It has an area of 14,517 square miles (37,599 square kilometers). Its coastline in Ukraine consists of uplands and steppes. In the northeast, it extends deeply into Russia at the Gulf of Taganrog. In the west, the Sivash Lagoon nearly reaches Karkinit Bay in the Black Sea, separated only by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop.
The coast on the Black Sea itself is a lowland area, with clay soils.
The Crimean Peninsula, also known as the Crimea, is an autonomous republic in southeastern Ukraine. The peninsula extends well into the Black Sea, measuring 175 kilometers (110 miles) from north to south and 320 kilometers (200 miles) from east to west, with a total area of 25,993 square kilometers (10,036 square miles). The narrow Isthmus of Perekop joins the peninsula to the mainland in the north and the Kerch Peninsula extends to the east, almost linking it with Russia. The Arabat Spit is a long stretch of sand along the northeast coast of Crimea that helps to form the Sivash Lagoon.
The climate along the southern Crimean coast is mild and the land is scenic, with an abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards, and resorts. Although the southeastern section of the peninsula is mountainous, most of the interior is a flat plain or steppe. In contrast to the Mediterranean-like southern coast, the Crimean plains experience cold, windy winters and arid summers.
More than twenty thousand small lakes dot the Ukraine landscape, covering a total area of about 18,139 square kilometers (7,000 square miles). The largest lakes in the country are all artificial, as the many dams on the Dnieper have created huge reservoirs. The Kremenchuk Reservoir and the Kakhovka Reservoir are the largest. The Kiev, Kaniv, and Dniprodzerzhynsk Reservoirs are also noteworthy. The largest natural lake is Lake Yalpuh (220 square kilometers/136 square miles) in the Danube flood plain. Lake Svityaz (27 square kilometers/17 square miles) is a lake in the Polesye Marshes of the northwest.
Ukraine's most important river is the Dnieper. It flows south across the middle of the country for about 980 kilometers (610 miles), curving first east, then west, then finally south again before entering the Black Sea. It flows for a total of 2,290 kilometers (1,420 miles) from its source in Russia, making it the third-longest river in Europe. Only the Volga and Danube Rivers are longer.
Over half of Ukraine's rivers belong to the Dnieper system, draining a vast area of nearly 518,000 square kilometers (200,000 square miles). Passing through Ukraine's most agriculturally developed and industrialized areas, the Dnieper River is used to ship grain, lumber, and metals. In Ukraine the river is entirely navigable, although it freezes during the winter. The capital city of Kiev is located on the upper Dnieper. There are numerous hydroelectric dams and large reservoirs all along the Dnieper in Ukraine. Important tributary rivers include Berezina, Desna, and Pripyat' (Pripet).
The northernmost channel of the Danube River forms Ukraine's southwestern border with Romania. At 2,850 kilometers (1,771 miles), it is the second-longest river in Europe. Thus, while it flows through Ukraine for only a short distance before emptying into the Black Sea, the Danube is the longest river that passes through the country. The Danube has been a vital commercial and communications link since ancient times, connecting the interior of Eastern and Central Europe to the Black Sea.
The Dniester River originates in the Carpathian Mountains near Drohobych in western Ukraine. It then flows southeast for 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) through western Ukraine and eastern Moldova (forming part of the border with that country), before emptying into the Black Sea southwest of Odessa. Its average width is 152 to 229 meters (500 to 750 feet), but near the mouth it reaches a maximum width of 427 meters (1,400 feet) and also forms a broad, marshy lagoon called the Dnistrovskyy Lyman. For most of the year, grain, vegetables, sunflower seeds, cattle, and lumber produced in the Dniester River Basin are shipped down the river to the Black Sea and on to European and Asian markets. The Dniester Basin encompasses some 77,700 square kilometers (30,000 square miles). In winter the river remains largely frozen.
The Donets River (1,015 kilometers/631 miles) has its source in Russia and flows south into Ukraine, then curves east across the easternmost part of the country and reenters Russia. A tributary of Russia's Don River, which empties into the Sea of Azov, the Donets has long been used as a transportation artery. The Donets Basin is an important center of industry and population in Ukraine.
The Bug River (Western Bug) originates in western Ukraine and flows north, forming part of the border with Poland. Another river of the same name, the Southern Bug, rises in northwestern Ukraine and flows southeast, eventually emptying into the Black Sea near the mouth of the Dnieper. Navigation is possible only for about 160 kilometers (100 miles) because of shallow conditions and rough water. At 856 kilometers (532 miles) in length, the Southern Bug is the longest river that lies entirely within Ukraine.
The Tisza River, noted for its abundance of fish, is formed by the confluence of the Black Tisza and the White Tisza rivers in the Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains. It then flows northeast into Romania, curving southwest and then south, running for a total of some 970 kilometers (600 miles) before finally joining the Danube in northern Serbia.
The Polesye Marshes are a lowland in northern Ukraine and southern Belarus, located along the Pripyat' River and covering about 270 square kilometers (105 square miles), making them the largest wetland in Europe. The land consists mostly of flat, sandy, bog soils, interspersed by a few low hills. Forests cover about a third of the marshes. The marshes range in elevation from 100 meters (328 feet) in the northeast to 250 meters (820 feet) in the south.
There are no desert regions in Ukraine.
Central Ukraine is characterized by mixed forest-steppe, with grasslands interspersed with various deciduous trees, primarily oak. A true steppe zone (grassy plains) covers the lower third of the country, thinning out in the drier, more arid south. Along the southern Crimean coast lies a narrow Mediterranean zone of mixed shrubs, grasses, and evergreens.
Ukraine has well-defined forest zones, with beech trees in the west; linden, oak, and pine forest in the north and northwestern swamps and meadows; and spruce trees in the northeast. About 18 percent of the country is blanketed by forest; the densest tree cover occurs in the Carpathian Mountains and in the Polesye Marshes.
Outside of its mountains, Ukraine has several areas of hills and uplands. The most noteworthy are the Azov Upland north of the Sea of Azov, the Donets Hills, and the Dnieper Upland, which is the watershed between the Dnieper and the Southern Bug.
The Carpathian Mountains in the extreme west are the highest peaks in the country. Mount Hoverlya, the tallest summit in the country (2,061 meters/6,762 feet), emerges from the Carpathians. The Crimean Mountains at the southern end of Crimea are also noteworthy, reaching a maximum height of 1,545 meters (5,068 feet) at Mount Roman-Kosh.
The Giant Gypsum Caves of Western Ukraine are located within the region north of the Carpathian Mountains. One of the most famous is Optimistic Cave, which has labyrinth passageways that stretch for a total distance of about 212 kilometers (132 miles), making it the largest cave on the continent and one of the largest in the world.
The Monastery of the Caves, near Kiev, is a fifty-six-acre complex that started out as a small cave dwelling for a single Russian Orthodox monk. Around the year 1051, as others joined him in his monastic life, the small cave was dug into a larger underground community of cells (residences for the monks) and a church. Eventually, the monks moved above ground and began to use the caves as a burial site. Today, the caves and the more recent cathedral structures have been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are no major plateau regions in Ukraine.
Ukraine has a large number of dams built along nearly all of the major rivers of the country. The largest ones are located on the Dnieper River. These include the Kremenchuk, the Kakhovka, the Kiev, the Kaniv, and the Dniprodzerzhynsk Dams. They are used primarily for hydroelectric power, flood protection, and irrigation. All of these dams have created large reservoirs throughout the course of their respective rivers.
In April 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine experienced an explosion and core meltdown. Radioactive contamination spread through the air over northern Ukraine and southern Belarus and seeped into the ground, poisoning the water supply and the nearby farmland. The devastating effects of this accident on human health and the environment continue into the twenty-first century.
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Magocsi, Paul Robert. Ukraine: A Historical Atlas . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.
Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.
Edwards, Mike. "Ukraine." National Geographic , May 1987, 595-631.
The Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, DC. http://www.ukremb.com (accessed May 9, 2003).