Ukraine has a population of 42.4 million excluding the territories of Crimea and Sevastopol with another 2.3 million people. The Russian Federation occupied and annexed Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014. Ukraine has a 1,426 mile border to its north and east with the Russian Federation.
The original meaning of “Ukraine” was “borderlands.” It also borders Belarus to its north; and Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary to the west. Romania, Moldova, and the Black Sea border it to the south. It is the largest country in Europe excluding the Russian Federation, being slightly larger than France. It is also the second poorest country in Europe, despite its vast farmlands that were once the breadbasket of Eastern Europe. Since February 2014, the Ukraine and Russia have been in a state of on-and- off military actions, often referred to as the Russia-Ukraine war.
The population of Ukraine is 78 percent Ukrainian and 17 percent Russian. About 5 percent belong to other ethnicities, particularly Polish and Hungarian in the western part of the country. A map of recent election results in Ukraine shows a clear divide between areas with large numbers of ethnic Russians in southeastern Ukraine and the rest of the country. In fact, pro-Russian troops in the Donbass region of southeastern Ukraine, backed by Russian arms and troops, hold effective control of about 7 percent of Ukrainian territory, including the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, which have formed separate “People’s Republics.”
The Ukrainian people have a long history, but not as an independent nation. Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union for much of recent history. Before that they were under the hegemony of Poland, Lithuania, East Slavic speaking Cossacks, and others.
Ukraine has had a tragic history since it became a Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919. In 1932 and 1933, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin tried to collectivize Ukraine’s prosperous farms. It was an economic disaster. Stalin had much of the Ukrainian resistance to collectivization murdered or sent to Siberia, but at least 2.5 million died of starvation during the resulting famine. A consensus estimate is actually 7.5 million, but population change statistics suggest a much lower number.
About 7.0 million Ukrainians died in the Second World War, about one-sixth of the population. The USSR collapsed in 1991, but due to continuing widespread poverty and low birth-rates, Ukraine’s population is declining. Ukraine has the highest crime rate in Europe and a reputation of having the most political corruption of any country in Europe.
The Ukrainian economy has been low-growth since its break away from the Soviet Union in 1991, but it has considerable potential in metal refining and products, including sophisticated transportation products. It has natural gas resources, and tourism and internet technology are growing. Yet except for Moldavia, it is the poorest country in Europe. It also has the most equal income distribution in Europe due to widespread poverty
According to Col. Douglas MacGregor, USA (ret.), author, Ph.D. in International Relations, and frequent Fox News military guest, Russia acted to annex formerly Soviet Crimea and Sevastopol,
because the Obama Administration was pushing for Ukraine to become a member of NATO. Putin and his military advisers feared having a hostile NATO member holding so much potential Naval and Air Power so close to Russia and her southern Black Sea coast. President Obama had also promised Ukraine military assistance, but only gave humanitarian assistance on a very low profile.
The two largest armies in Europe are those of the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Ukrainian active armed forces number slightly more than 200,000 Army, Air Force, Navy, and Special Forces troops, but there are approximately 75,000 additional Guard and Border troops.
They possess updated arms, aircraft, and ships supplied principally by the U.S., France, and UK. Moreover, they have approximately 1.0 million ready-reservists. The Russians left 7.0 million small arms including pistols, rifles, and machine-guns, and large stockpiles of ammunition, when they withdrew in 1991, which is stored in 180 military support stations.
The Russian Armed Forces, are, however, much larger and have over 1.0 million personnel and another 2.5 million reservists. The Russians have the most formidable armored forces in the world with over 2,500 active tanks and over 6,000 other fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. The Russians have more than 12,000 tanks and 23,000 other fighting vehicles and armored carriers in reserve units. Russian Aerospace Forces, including Air Force, and Aerospace and Missile Defense Forces numbered 490,000 in 2019.
The Russian Air Force is second only to the United States and has substantial numbers of high technology aircraft (4,100) and missiles. The Russian Navy has 148,000 personnel and is the 5th largest in the world. Among its many modern combatant ships are an aircraft carrier, at least 200 aircraft, and 56 mostly nuclear submarines.
In total global firepower, the U.S. ranks first, Russia second, China third, and Ukraine 29th.
In terms of culture and ethnic genetic heritage, the Ukraine and Russian Federation are close. Approximately 68 percent of the population of Ukraine declares Ukrainian as their native language, and almost 30 percent declare Russian as their native language. Both Ukrainian and Russian are East Slavic languages, and most Ukrainians know Russian as a second language. The Ukrainian and Russian languages share 61 percent common vocabulary roots. This is roughly equivalent to the similarity in vocabulary between French and Portuguese. The vocabulary of Ukrainian is closest to Belarusian to the north and actually closer to Polish and Slovak, West Slavic languages, than Russian.
In terms of the genetic relationship of male Y-DNA (Europedia DNA statistics) Ukrainians are closest to Slovaks and Russians and not far from Poles.
Religion—Both Ukraine and Russia share an exceptionally strong resurgence of Eastern Orthodox Christian identity.
Surveys show Christian identification is growing rapidly in Ukraine. Apparently there has been an immense increase in the number of Ukrainians who identify with Christianity in the last ten years. In a Razumkov Center survey in 2006, only 34 percent claimed to be Christians, and 63 percent claimed to be non-religious. The Razumkov survey of 2016 found that nearly 82 percent claimed to be Christians. This is greatest in Western Ukraine, which has a large population of ethnic Poles and Hungarians, with 91 percent and is lowest in the Eastern Ukraine bordering Russia with 56 percent. Ukrainian Christianity is predominantly Orthodox with 65 percent identifying with one of the Orthodox churches. About 38 percent belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate, and 23 percent belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate. About 4 percent belong to smaller autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarchates. Besides the Orthodox churches, 6.5 percent of Ukrainians belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Protestants make up slightly over 2 percent of the population and Roman Catholics about one percent. Another 7 percent of the population identifies as simply Christian. A new Razumkov survey in 2018 found that the total Orthodox have risen to 67 percent and the total Catholic to nearly 11 percent.
A similar increase in Christian identification seems to be occurring in the Russian Federation with only 47 percent identifying as Christian in the Sreda study of the 2010 census, and much higher figures ranging from 65 to 77 percent since then. A Pew survey had nearly 74 percent in 2011. Wikipedia seems to be averaging these surveys at 71 percent. Every indication shows that the growth of Russian Orthodoxy has been rapid in the last several years. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin was allegedly secretly baptized during the atheistic Stalin era in a Russian Orthodox Church and now identifies with and supports the rapid growth of the Russian Orthodox Church. The atheism of the Communist Stalinist regime is falling rapidly in both countries.
Recent political developments.
There is now strong evidence, admitted by present Ukrainian leaders that key government and diplomatic personnel in Ukraine attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. elections in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump. However, 2019 elections in Ukraine saw a landslide election victory for anti-corruption, pro-Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky and his Servant of the People Party, which has won 254 of 368 seats in the Ukrainian Parliament. The pro-Russian Opposition—For Life Party won only 26 seats. President Zelensky appears to have improved relationships with President Donald Trump and the U.S. and intends to clean up corruption.
Since April 2014, about 13,000 people have been killed in the Russia-Ukraine war in the Donbass region, of which about 3,400 were civilians. About 4,300 were Ukrainian regular or volunteer forces. About 5,800 were pro-Russian rebel forces, and nearly 500 were Russian military personnel.
Ukraine is a dangerous diplomatic minefield, but U.S. isolationism is inconsistent with peace and our own vital national interests. Keeping Eastern Europe stable and prosperous is essential to our own wellbeing and that of our European allies. That is going to take honest and tough-minded strategic thinking and diplomacy of the highest intellectual and ethical caliber.