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Ukraine / Ukraine / Russian London
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Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Sandwiched between Russia and Europe, it tries to keep on good terms with both.
A significant minority of the population are Russians or use Russian as their first language but Ukraine has largely been free of the ethnic conflicts which have dogged some other former Soviet republics.
The country's first president, a former Communist Party official, Leonid Kravchuk, presided over a period of economic decline and runaway inflation. He was narrowly defeated in the 1994 presidential election by Leonid Kuchma, who advocated closer ties with Russia.
The economy continued to fare badly under President Kuchma who became embroiled in a series of stand-offs with parliament and failed to push ahead with economic reforms. Corruption is a major problem and investors have been wary. However, the new millennium has brought economic growth for the first time, with rising industrial output, improving exports and falling inflation.
Throughout the last decade Ukrainian foreign policy has played a delicate balancing act between the West and Russia
It played an active part in Nato's Partnership for Peace programme and has declared EU membership to be a strategic objective. In May 2002 it announced that it intended to abandon neutrality and apply formally for Nato membership. The alliance has welcomed the bid but says that further political, economic and military reforms are needed before it can be successful.
Nevertheless, Ukraine has sent over 1500 peacekeepers to Iraq as part of the stabilization force led by Poland, a NATO member, and has also contributed troops to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Millions continue to suffer as a result of the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl, during which about 8% of the country was contaminated.
Crimea is an autonomous republic within Ukraine. It was transferred from Russia in 1954.
Population: 48.5 million (UN, 2003)
Major languages: Ukrainian (official), Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 65 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 $780 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .ua
International dialling code: +380
Many Ukrainian media outlets are privately-owned but this does not prevent the government and authorities from trying to influence their output.
While the authorities attempt to keep the media in line, Ukraine still has a significant - albeit struggling - opposition media. The Kuchma government has seen the closure of several opposition papers.
Several journalists investigating high-profile crimes have died in mysterious circumstances. Journalist Georgiy Gongadze disappeared in 2000, his body was found and eventually identified a year later.
In 2002 the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders reported that 10 journalists had died in suspicious circumstances in the last four years.
Ukraine's commercial TV networks, particularly Inter TV and Studio 1+1, attract the lion's share of the viewing audience.
The FM radio band in Kiev is busy, with more than 20 stations competing for listeners.