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Ukraine ( ; , transliterated: , ) is a country in Eastern Europe. Ukraine borders the Russian Federation to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively. It has an area of , making it the largest country entirely within Europe.
According to a popular and well established theory, the medieval state of Kievan Rus was established by the Varangians in the 9th century as the first historically recorded East Slavic state. It emerged as a powerful nation in the Middle Ages but disintegrated in the 12th century. By the middle of the 14th century, present Ukrainian territories were under the rule of three external powers: the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Kingdom of Poland, during the 15th century these lands came under the rule Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth (since 1569), and Crimean Khanate. After After the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795) and conquest of Crimean Khanate, Ukraine was divided between Russia and Austria, thus the largest part of Ukraine was integrated into the Russian Empire, with the rest under Austrian (known as Austro-Hungarian since 1849) control.
A chaotic period of incessant warfare ensued, with internationally recognized establishment of independent Ukrainian People's Republic. Independent Ukraine emerged from its own civil war. Then Soviet aggression and the Ukrainian–Soviet War followed, which resulted in Soviet victory. Ukrainian People's Republic was occupied and a puppet state called Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was created. On December 30, 1922 it became one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union. The Soviet government was hostile to Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture; there were mass repressions of Ukrainian poets, historians and linguists. Then there was a genocide of Ukrainians: millions of people starved to death in 1932 and 1933 in the Holodomor. After the 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and Soviet Union, the Ukrainian SSR's territory was enlarged westward. During World War II the Ukrainian Insurgent Army tried to reestablish Ukrainian independence and fought against both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But in 1941 Ukraine was occupied by Nazi Germany, being liberated in 1944. In 1945, the Ukrainian SSR became one of the founding members of the United Nations. In 1954 it expanded to the south with the transfer of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine became independent again when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. This dissolution started a period of transition to a market economy, in which Ukraine suffered an eight-year recession. Since then, however, the economy has experienced a high increase in GDP growth. Ukraine was caught up in the worldwide economic crisis in 2008 and the economy plunged. GDP fell 20% from spring 2008 to spring 2009, then leveled off as analysts compared the magnitude of the downturn to the worst years of economic depression during the early 1990s.
Throughout its history, Ukraine has been one of the powerhouses of world agriculture due to its fertile conditions. The country, as of 2011, was the world's third-largest grain exporter and is one of ten most attractive agricultural land acquisition regions.
Ukraine is a unitary state composed of 24 oblasts (provinces), one autonomous republic (Crimea), and two cities with special status: Kiev, its capital and largest city, and Sevastopol, which houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet under a leasing agreement. Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine continues to maintain the second-largest military in Europe, after that of Russia. The country is home to 46 million people, 77.8 percent of whom are ethnic Ukrainians, with sizable minorities of Russians (17%), Belarusians and Romanians. Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine. Russian is also widely spoken. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has strongly influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.