Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi)—including Crimea, making it the largest country entirely within Europe. Ukraine borders Russia to the east, northeast and south,Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and theBlack Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively.
The territory of Ukraine was inhabited at least 44,000 years ago, with the country being a candidate site for thedomestication of the horse and for the origins of the Indo-European language family.
In the Middle Ages, the area became a key center of East Slavic culture, as epitomized by the powerful state of Kievan Rus’. Following its fragmentation in the 13th century, Ukraine was contested, ruled and divided by a variety of powers. A Cossack republic emerged and prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, but Ukraine remained otherwise divided until its consolidation into a Soviet republic in the 20th century, becoming an independent state only in 1991.
Ukraine has long been a global breadbasket due to its extensive, fertile farmlands. As of 2011, it was the world’s third-largest grain exporter with that year’s harvest being much larger than average. Ukraine is one of ten most attractive agricultural land acquisition regions. Additionally, the country has a well-developed manufacturing sector, particularly in aerospace and industrial equipment.
Ukraine is a unitary state composed of 24 oblasts (provinces) and a city with special status: its capital and largest city of Kiev. The country is recognized as including another city of special status—the port city of Sevastopol—and an autonomous republic, Crimea. Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Since thedissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine continues to maintain the second-largest military in Europe, after that of Russia, when reserves and paramilitary personnel are taken into account.
The country, including Crimea, is home to 44.6 million people, 77.8% of whom have the Ukrainians nationality, with sizable minorities of Russians (17%), Belarusians, Tatars and Romanians. Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine; its alphabet is Cyrillic. Russian is also widely spoken. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has strongly influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.
There are different hypotheses as to the etymology of the name Ukraine. According to an older and most widespread hypothesis, it means “borderland”, while newer linguistic studies point to a different meaning: “homeland” or “region, country”. “The Ukraine” was once the usual form in English but since the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, the English-speaking world has largely stopped using the definite article.