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Useful Notes: Ukraine

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. It was also a divided land for a long time: the Western part of the modern Ukraine was ruled by Poland and then Austria and saw little or no Russian rule before the USSR; the eastern part was Russian territory and saw a lot of Russian cultural influence. The differences between the two parts are still very visible; it's the Western Ukrainians who are the most nationalistic and pro-European, and follow a different religion (Greek Catholicism). It was them who played the most major role in the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.

Many Ukrainians (nearly all Western Ukrainians) will object if you call them Russians. The Soviet government was responsible for millions of deaths in the Ukrainian SSR, including a Holodomor ("death by hunger"), the 1932-33 famine in the country, caused by Soviet crop seizures and taking the lives of many millions of people. Similar seizures took place in Belarus and on the Volga, but consider the fact Ukraine was a heavily agrarian country back then. By comparison, pre-revolution Belarus made Ukraine look positively cosmopolitan—the poorer region fared better in the forced crop seizures due to transfer of resources to rather than from as in Ukraine, since it was no breadbasket. It's also important to note that there was no Holodomor in Western Ukraine, since this part of the land was not yet under Soviet rule at that time.

This was a major factor in the Western Ukrainian population initially welcoming the Nazis, before realising that they weren't really distinguishing between Slavic groups. They then fought against them, with 16% of Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War being Ukrainian. The Ukrainian part in World War II is, in fact, a major Broken Base. What can be taken as hard fact is that the Eastern Ukrainians were more or less hardcore anti-Nazis. Of the Western part of this people, sources vary. Some claim that all Ukrainian nationalist organizations of World War II were Les Collaborateurs. Some claim that the Western Ukrainian leader Stepan Bandera opposed both the USSR and Nazi Germany. And some claim that the sources of disagreement between Nazis and Bandera's followers were the Nazis being horrified at the atrocities of Bandera's organization and putting the man to the camps as a common brigand kingpin.

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 neighbouring 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.

We mentioned earlier that most Ukrainians object to being called Russians. While only Russian nationalists and ignorant people try and claim that the Ukrainian nation isn't real, a big number of Ukrainians in the east and south of the country, especially the Crimea peninsula, are in fact Russian-speaking, Russophile, and many of them are, in short, Russian (the rest is happy to identify themselves as Eastern Ukrainians). Well, Crimea was only transferred under the administration of the USSR (Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic, not the Soviet Union itself) in 1961, and as such remained part of Ukraine, even though it's an autonomous republic nowadays. Russian naval bases are still there, in Sevastopol, which for decades invoked much controversy and general hate. Somewhat ironic is that foreign troops and ships participating in joint military exercises in Crimea (notably the U.S. ones) come into dock at Sevastopol. Cue pro-Russian, anti-NATO demonstrations. Also cue a major Broken Base, especially in the 2006/2010 elections, and especially in the 2014 revolution.

Ukraine has a law that prohibits its own citizens being extradited from the country to elsewhere - a fact that was used in a Trial And Retribution two-parter. Like other countries that do this (like France), however, this means that Ukrainian law applies to its citizens abroad.

In 2005, Ukraine loosened its border controls so that tourists from The European Union and Switzerland could visit the country without a visa. This was partly to make life easier for foreigners visiting Kiev (or Kyiv, as the locals spell it) for the Eurovision Song Contest that year, but is part of a general trend towards closer relations with the west. Recently, this got turned upside down, because of governmental wishes for tighter bonds to Russia. More recently still, the question of whether Ukraine should be closer to the west or Russia helped trigger a massive political shakeup, resulting in the President literally up and leaving in the dead of night, and then the aforementioned Russian invasion.

And despite what anyone might tell you, the best vodka does not come from Russia. It comes from Ukraine. But Ukrainian vodka is properly called horilka, not vodka. There's also the Polish wódka, which is pronounced vootka. It's like "whisky" (Scotch and Canadian) vs "whiskey" (Irish and American).

The area of Ukraine south of Lviv (part of Ukrainian Galicia) was transferred from Austria to Russia in the late 19th century, which prompted the emigration of well over 80% of the rural population of the area to North America. Most emigrants settled in Western Canada, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan (where by and large they became farmers), and eastern Pennsylvania, particularly the "coal country" (where by and large they became miners). To this day anything vaguely Central or Eastern European will be assumed in Canada to be Ukrainian.

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:

  • Viktor Yushchenko, the country's former President until his epic defeat in the 2010 election. Him of the pockmarked face, which was the result of attempted poisoning.
  • Viktor Yanukovych, the country's President from 2010 until forced out of the office in 2014 by the events dubbed Euromaidan. He has since fled to Russia and hasn't been heard since, after a single press-conference. His opulent mansion was opened to the public, revealing just how much money he was embezzling from his office, including a toilet made of solid gold and a private restaurant aboard a ship on his lake.
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, the country's former PM. Considered one of the sexiest female politicians in the world, a fact she uses, she once posed in designer dresses for the local version of Elle magazine (during her first premiership) and commented that she'd like to pose for Playboy. You may know her best from her role as Token Evil Teammate in The Legend of Koizumi.
    • Oh and she's an important opposition figure and a powerful woman in her own right, but let's just concentrate on her looks.
    • She is currently serving yet another term... this time in prison for abuse of power.
  • Olga Kurylenko. Actress from films like Quantum of Solace.
  • Milla Jovovich. Resident Evil and The Fifth Element. Her. Born in the country (to a Russian mother and Montenegrin father), but moved to the US.
  • Mila Kunis. That 70s Show and Family Guy. Born there, moved to the US.
  • Vera Farmiga. The Departed, Up in the Air, The Conjuring.
  • Speaking of Soviet leaders, one shouldn't forget Leonid Brezhnev, architect of zastoi, peaceful co-existence and resource economics, came from Dnepropetrovsk. He was also totally bros with Nixon.
  • A small-time politician who worked under Lenin during Red October, Lev Davidovich Bronstein.
  • Vadim Pruzhanov, keyboard player for the power metal band DragonForce.
  • Andriy Schevchenko, football striker.
  • Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight boxers and very well known ones in that sport- Vitali currently holds the WBC belt, Wladmir the IBF, WBO, IBO and Ring Magazine ones. Vitali became a politician, taking a seat in Parliament, and was a major leader of the Euromaidan, and briefly ran for president in 2014 before withdrawing and endorsing chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko for the post.
  • The female singer Ruslana.
  • The classic 19th century writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (though he's often lumped together with Russian-born writers like Tolstoy and Chekhov).
  • Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, which is named for the writer Gogol. Hutz often refers to himself as Russian.
  • And lest we forget the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, of 3Guys1Hammer infamy.
  • Also the sweet and tearful Moe Anthropomorphism of Ukraine in Axis Powers Hetalia.
  • Yakov Smirnoff (he of the Russian Reversal fame), though he usually identifies as Russian, probably because it was still part of the USSR when he left and everybody in America called the USSR "Russia" at the time.
  • Sergei Korolev, the father of the Soviet space program.

Some trivia

  • Ukrainians (especially those from west of the Dnipro River) will object to being called Russian because of a lot of horrid stuff done to them by the Russians, including purges, being sent to Siberia, suppressing Ukrainian language, culture, and identity (though only Tsarists did that, Soviet Russians actually encouraged Ukrainians to develop their own national identity) and, worst of all, engineering a famine under Stalin that killed between 7-10 million Ukrainians in one year. The Germans are still generally remembered fondly by the older generations who lived through World War II.
  • The reason the debate between the spelling of the capital is Kiev/Kyiv mainly has to do with the languages used. During Soviet times, the official language was Russian. English translated the capital from the Russian spelling, which is Киев (pronounced "KEY-ehv"). After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the capital reverted back to its original Ukrainian spelling, which is Київ (pronounced "KEY-eve"). Because of the Western stereotype that everyone in Eastern Europe speaks Russian, the Russian-translated spelling is still generally used, but that is changing.
  • The popular "Carol of the Bells" originated in Ukraine. As a New Year's Carol. In fact, Christmas is a very strict religious holiday in Ukraine, and all merriment happens on Saint Nicholas Day, which falls on either December 6 or 19 (depending on which calendar you use), and on New Year's, which is celebrated on January 14th thanks to the Ukrainian Orthodox Calendar being chronically behind. Also, the translation is horribly, horribly wrong. It's not about bells at all. It's about a swallow flying into people's homes to signal the coming of Spring.
  • Contrary to what most Russians will tell you, Borscht originated in Ukraine. So did vodka (Poles and Russians, not unexpectedly, claim otherwise), but it's called Horilka.
  • 1929 experimental Soviet film Man with a Movie Camera, a visual collage of urban life in Stalin's Soviet Union, was shot exclusively in Ukraine. Footage was taken in Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa.
  • Right now (late 2014) Ukraine is a volatile country prone to political upheavals and internal conflicts. So don't be surprised if everything you know about this country will be proven wrong next year.

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.

UgandaImageSource/MapsUnited Arab Emirates

alternative title(s): Ukraine
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