Ukraine (Ukrainian: Україна, Ukrayina) 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. For reasons that'll be explained later, "the Ukraine" is nowadays considered to be incorrect and even offensive. Ukrainians prefer their country to be called simply "Ukraine." The word Ukraine means "Borderland," derived from the Slavic word "край" ("krai") meaning "edge." Some modern Ukrainians have attempted to redefine the word, claiming it means something closer to the more-patriotic-sounding "Homeland," however this has not been widely accepted. Ukraine draws its history all the way back from the Kievan Rus. The Kievan Rus was an ancient state, and the first to unify the Eastern Slavs - therefore Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all claim descent from it. Unsurprisingly, its capital was based in Kiev. The state was united for approximately 300 years from the late 9th century to 12th century, when it fractured into various quarreling principalities. This left them easy prey for the Mongol Empire, which easily conquered the East Slavs and made them vassals for almost 300 years. The Kievan Rus was the first and last "Ukrainian" state for a long, long time. In fact, for the next 700 years from the 13th century all the way up to the end of the 20th century, there was little that could conceivably be called a "Ukrainian state," with Ukrainian land being variously ruled by Tatars, Austrians, Poles, Russians, and Lithuanians. Even Italians and Turks had a go at ruling Crimea. As you can imagine, this makes modern Ukraine a very interesting place. Ukraine has been a divided land for a long time. When Russia came to rule all the East Slavs, it considered itself to be carrying on the legacy of the Kievan Rus - uniting all the Slavic people. As far as Russia was concerned, these people were all "Russian," split into three main groups: Great Russia (modern Russia), White Russia (modern Belarus), and Little Russia (modern Ukraine). They went so far as to deny that Belarusian and Ukrainian were separate languages, considering them merely rustic "dialects" of Russian. Unlike the situation with Belarus, which has been largely Russified (Belarusian is only commonly used by 10% of the population), Russia and Ukraine have never entirely gotten along, despite protestations to the contrary from both sides and extremely close cultural ties. The recent unpleasantness is only the latest in a string of grievances going back centuries, not least of which is the question of "historical legitimacy." Moscow's claim to be the successor of the Kievan Rus was never completely accepted in Kiev. Indeed, the centuries-old Ukrainian term "Moskal" to refer to a Russian person is considered derogatory. note While Eastern Ukraine was ruled by Russia for many centuries and the Tsars attempted to impress on them the idea of being part of an All-Russian Brotherhood, many Ukrainians never quite shook the feeling that they were being ruled by a foreign power. However while many Ukrainians object to being called Russian, there are in fact a large number of people in the east of the country, especially in the Crimea peninsula, who are Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian (this doesn't necessarily mean they want to be part of Russia, though). Another issue is the Holodomor ("death by hunger"), a famine which lasted from 1932-33 due to Soviet crop seizures and agricultural policies, killing around 4 million Ukrainians. Many Ukrainians consider this little less than a Soviet holocaust, while many Russians claim the famine was due to factors outside of human control. This problem is even bigger in Western Ukraine. While Eastern Ukraine was part of Russia for many centuries, Western Ukraine has only been ruled by Moscow since about the start of the 19th century. Until then it had been ruled mostly by Poles and Lithuanians. This makes Western Ukraine very culturally distinct from the rest of Ukraine, it being considered generally more "European" in everything from architecture to religion. This divide is dramatically illustrated by typical Ukrainian voting results, with the country being split exactly down the middle: the east voting for the pro-Russia candidate and the west voting for the pro-Europe candidate. Now we come to the issue of "the Ukraine vs Ukraine." Obviously Russia and Ukraine don't have this English grammar problem, but they have their own version of it which involves the prepositions "на" (pronounced "na") and "в" (pronounced "v"). In Russian and Ukrainian, the preposition "na" is used to refer to regions or areas, while "v" is used to refer to proper nouns or definite locations. Until independence, it was considered correct to refer to Ukraine using "na," but since independence many Ukrainians have switched to "v." Russians, however, have stubbornly continued on using "na." This is a problem, because to Ukrainians using "the" and "na" when referring to Ukraine implies it's not a "real" country. Another controversy is the spelling of the capital. "Kiev" is the romanization of the Russian spelling, and pronounced with two syllables, while "Kyiv" is the Ukrainian spelling and (mostly) has only one syllable. Since independence, Ukrainians have made it a point, even passing a law, that English-speakers should write it as "Kyiv." Accordingly most "official" organizations, such as the US government and the United Nations, spell it as "Kyiv" on official documents, but the old spelling of "Kiev" remains in wide colloquial use among English-speakers. Basically what it comes down to is whether you consider Ukraine and Belarus legitimate nations with full rights to self-determination, or simply regions and subgroups of a "Greater Russia" that have temporarily fallen away due to historical accident and western plotting. Vladimir Putin is said to have told George Bush that Ukraine "isn't even a state." In some ways Russia and Ukraine are like two broken lovers; many Russians are genuinely puzzled and saddened that Ukrainians would want to be a separate country, while many Ukrainians are frustrated that Russians just don't "get it." A notable recent event was the 2004 Orange Revolution, where peaceful demonstrations forced the re-run of a questionable election and changed the government from pro-Russian to pro-Western (later elections changed it back, but were more peaceful). Another event of note was Ukraine holding the Euro-2012 football championship, along with Poland, and preparations for the event were painstakingly made. The most notable event in Ukraine of the 2010s so far has been the semi-violentnote revolution of 2014 which overthrew the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych; this episode is called the Euromaidan, i.e. "Europe Square" (because the triggering event was Yanukovych rejecting a deal with the European Union to take a deal with the Russians). In response, Russia annexed Crimea and started stirring up trouble in Eastern Ukraine; The Other Wiki has dubbed this the Crimean Crisis. For its part, Crimea seems indifferent or possibly happy to be part of Russia (except for the Crimean Tatars), while most surveys say that Eastern Ukraine is indifferent or possibly happy to remain a (prickly) part of Ukraine (protesters aside). Ukraine is also known as the location of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, near its northern borders. It is home to the former V.I. Lenin Memorial Nuclear Power Station and the surrounding Zone of Alienation, most of that being in neighboring 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 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 Ukraine, but they decided to give them up, as did Belarus and Kazakhstan, which had found themselves in similar positions. Before Crimea was seized by Russia, the Russians used to lease a naval base there in Sevastopol. The Ukrainian parliament used to have one brawl per year (literally, with fists flying and things being thrown) over whether to let them stay. Now that Russia controls the entire peninsula, it's a moot point. People tend to get the flag upside-down. An easy way to remember the correct orientation is that the blue represents the sky and the yellow represents rich fields of grain.
Famous Ukrainians include:
the Ukrainian flag
The simple blue and yellow colors symbolize an allegorical landscape of grain fields underneath the clear sky, befitting Ukraine's reputation as the breadbasket of Europe.