Сучасна адміністративна карта України (Modern administrative map of Ukraine)

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Ukraine, as an independent sovereign state, was proclaimed on August 24th, 1991, within the boundaries of the former Ukrainian SSR, which ceased to exist with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has common borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Belarus and the Russian Federation.

Most of Ukraine’s territory lies on the Eastern-European Plain in a lace-work of river valleys. In the west and south the plains are gracefully outlined by the Ukrainian Carpathians and the Crimean Mountain Ridge, which make up to 5 per cent of the country’s territory.

Among European countries Ukraine is singled out by as many as 400 rivers, most of which flow into the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The main and the largest waterway of the country is the Dnipro River, which divides the country into the Right-bank and the Left-bank Ukraine.

A lucky combination of soils, including chernozem, damp forest, turf-podzolic, and meadow-marsh, accounts for the fertility of Ukraine’s arable lands, as well as the diversity of natural vegetation.

The earliest settlements in Ukraine’s territory date back to the Upper Paleolithic Era (ca 500,000— 300,000 years ago), to which there is ample archeological evidence in Zakarpattia, Naddnistrianschyna and the Crimea. The remains of the Lower Paleolithic settlements (35,000—10,000 years ago) can be found throughout the country. The Neolithic Age saw the arrival the Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture, which thrived in the Pre-Dnipro area in 5,000—3,000 BC.

A breakthrough in the development of the region should be attributed to the early Greek colonies in the Prychornomorya and Crimea in the 5lh—7th c.c. BC. The early 1st millennium AD. saw the arrival of the Slavs, who by the 7th c. AD had formed such tribal units as the Polianians, Derevlianians, Syveryns, Yblynians, and others. Towards the end of the 9lh c. AD these principalities were united under Kyivan Rus, a mighty European power of the time, which stretched from the Baltic to the Black seas. Its capital, Kyiv, often referred to as the ‘the Mother of all Russian towns’, became the first Eastern-European city to adopt Orthodox Christianity as the state religion in 988.

Eventually, Kyi van Rus split up into several principalities, which were later absorbed by the Golden Horde in the 1239—41. The most powerful of them, Halych-Yblyn, did not cease to exist until the 14lh c., when it was partitioned between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The 1569 Lublin Unia brought these lands back together under the mighty Rzecz-pospolita. From the 16th c. and for many decades ahead the native Ukrainians found themselves divided by the three great powers of the time. By religion, these three belonged to either irreconcilable branches of the Christianity (Orthodox Muscovy in the east and Catholic Poland in the west), or the Islam with the Ottomans in the south.

The lands squeezed in between two great powers at a time, commonly referred to as Ukraine (borderland), were sometimes reduced to a narrow strip beyond the Dnipro Porohy (rapids). It was here that free Cossacks gave birth to what became known as the Cossatstvo (Cossackdom or Brotherhood of Cossacks), commonly regarded as ‘the cradle’ of the Ukrainian nation.

The Cossacks raised countless uprisings against Rzeczpospolita, one of which, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, grew into the Liberation War of 1648— 54. The war ended in the questionable Treaty of Pereyaslav with Muscovy. The freedom-loving Zaporozka Sich retained its independence until 1775, when it was disbanded by the Russian Crown.

During the 1917—20 Civil War Ukraine witnessed an array of short-lived independent states: the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the People’s Republic of West Ukraine, Hetmanate, the Derzhava (State) of Ukraine, and others. The longest-living of all happened to be the Ukrainian SSR (1922—91).

Today’s administrative and territorial division of Ukraine was completed by the 1950s, after the Western Ukraine entered the Ukrainian SSR in 1939—45, with the Southern Bessarabiya following suit in 1945. The Crimean peninsula was transferred to the Ukraine in 1954.

The major role in cultural development in Ukraine has always been played by the church. Old churches, cathedrals and temples, along with those newly built or restored, continue to delight the eye with their undying beauty.

The natural assets of Ukraine are varied and meet with an ever-growing conservation awareness, which results in opening new nature reserves, wild life sanctuaries, national parks, botanical gardens, and landscape parks.