Citation metadata

Editor: John F. McCoy
Date: 2003
Geo-Data: The World Geographical Encyclopedia
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Country overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 4)

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  • Area: 233,090 sq mi (603,700 sq km) / World Rank: 45
  • Location: Northern and Eastern Hemispheres, in Eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea to the south, Belarus to the north, Moldova and Romania to the south and west, Russia to the east, and Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia to the west.
  • Coordinates: 49°00′N, 32°00′E
  • Borders: 2,832 mi (4,558 km) / Belarus, 554 mi (891 km); Hungary, 64 mi (103 km); Moldova, 583 mi (939 km); Poland, 266 mi (428 km); Romania, 330 mi (531 km); Russia, 979 mi (1,576 km); Slovakia, 56 mi (90 km)
  • Coastline: 1,729 mi (2,782 km)
  • Territorial Seas: 12 NM
  • Highest Point: Hora Hoverlya, 6,762 ft (2,061 m)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level
  • Longest Distances: 818 mi (1316 km) E-W / 555 mi (893 km) N-S
  • Longest River: Danube, 1,771 mi (2,850 km)
  • Natural Hazards: None
  • Population: 48,760,474 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 24
  • Capital City: Kiev, on the Dnieper in north-central Ukraine
  • Largest City: Kiev, 2,932,000 (2002 est.)



Ukraine is the second largest country in Eastern Europe, after Russia. Due to its great size, Ukraine features a wide variety of terrain and climate conditions. The center of the country is predominantly a rolling upland plain, or steppe. This plain is crossed by many of Eastern Europe's major rivers, including the Dnieper (Dnipro), the Dniester, the Bug, the Donets, and the Tisza. Other, lower, plains are found along the Black Sea coast, and the southwestern corner of the country is part of the delta of the Danube. The Polesye (Polissya) Marshes are a lowland of swamps and wooded bogs in northern Ukraine, extending into Belarus. The Carpathian Mountains can be found in the west; other, lower, mountains are in the Crimean Peninsula (an autonomous republic considered part of Ukraine) and in the southeastern Donets region. Ukraine is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.


Ukraine has few mountains, they cover only about 5 percent of its total territory. The Carpathian Mountains in the extreme west are the highest in the country. It is here that Mount Hoverlya, the tallest in the country (6,762 ft / 2,061 m), can be found. The Crimean Mountains at the southern end of Crimea are also notable, reaching a height of 5,068 ft (1,545 m) at Mt. Roman-Kosh.

Outside of its mountains, Ukraine has several areas of hills and uplands. The most noteworthy are the Azov Upland north of the Sea of Azov, the Donets Hills, and the Dnieper Upland, which is the watershed between the Dnieper and the Southern Bug.



More than 20,000 small lakes dot the Ukraine landscape, covering a total area of about 7,000 sq mi (18,139 sq km). The largest lakes in the country are all artificial, as the many dams on the Dnieper have created huge reservoirs. The Kremenchuk Reservoir and the Kakhovka Reservoir are the largest; the Kiev, Kaniv, and Dniprodzerzhynsk Reservoirs are also noteworthy. The largest natural lake is Lake Yalpuh (136 sq mi / 220 sq km) in the Page 560  |  Top of Article Danube flood plain. Lake Svityaz (17 sq mi / 27 sq km) is a lake in Polesye Marshes of the northwest.


Ukraine's most important river is the Dnieper (Dnipro). It flows south across the middle of the country for about 610 mi (980 km), curving first east, then west, then finally south again before entering the Black Sea. It flows for a total of 1,420 mi (2,290 km) from its source in Russia, making it the third longest river in Europe—only the Volga and the Danube rivers are longer.

More than half of the country's rivers are part of the Dnieper system, draining a vast area of nearly 200,000 sq mi (518,000 sq km). At its greatest width in its middle and lower reaches (approximately 1 mi / 2 km), it passes through Ukraine's most agriculturally developed and industrialized areas, where the river is used to ship grain, lumber, and metals. In Ukraine the river is entirely navigable, although it freezes during the winter. The capital city of Kiev is located on the upper Dnieper. There are numerous hydroelectric dams and large reservoirs all along the Dnieper in Ukraine. Important tributary rivers include Berezina, Desna, and Pripyat' (Pripet).

Ukraine's southwestern border with Romania is marked by the northernmost channel of the Danube. At 1,771 mi (2,850 km), it is the second longest river in Europe. Thus, while it flows through Ukraine only for a short distance before emptying into the Black Sea, the Danube is the longest river to pass through the country. The Danube has been a vital commercial and communications link since ancient times, connecting the interior of Eastern and Central Europe to the Black Sea.

The Dniester (Dnister) River originates in the Carpathian Mountains near Drohobych in western Ukraine. It then flows southeast for 870 mi (1,400 km) through western Ukraine and eastern Moldova (forming part of the border with that country), before emptying into the Black Sea southwest of Odessa. Its average width is 500 to 750 ft (152 to 229 m); near the mouth it reaches a maximum width of 1,400 ft (427 m) and also forms a broad, marshy lagoon, the Dnistrovskyy Lyman. For most of the year grain, vegetables, sunflower seeds, cattle, and lumber—all products of the Dniester River Basin—are shipped to the Black Sea and on to European and Asian markets. The Dniester Basin encompasses some 30,000 sq mi (77,700 sq km). In winter the river remains largely frozen.

The Donets River (631 mi / 1,015 km) has its source in Russia and flows south into Ukraine, then curves east across the easternmost part of the country and re-enters Russia. It is a tributary of Russia's Don River, which empties into the Sea of Azov. It has long been used as a transportation artery, and the Donets Basin is an important center of industry and population in Ukraine.

The Bug River (Western Bug) originates in western Ukraine and flows north, forming part of the border with Poland. Another river of the same name, the Southern Bug, rises in northwestern Ukraine and flows southeast, eventually emptying into the Black Sea near the mouth of the Dneiper. Navigation is limited to 100 mi (160 km) by shallow conditions and rough water. At 532 mi (856 km) in length, the Southern Bug is the longest river found entirely within Ukraine.

The Tisza river, noted for its abundance of fish, is formed by the confluence of the Black Tisza and the White Tisza rivers in the Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains. It then flows northeast into Romania before curving southwest, then south, running for a total of some 600 mi (970 km) before finally entering the Danube in northern Yugoslavia.


The Polesye (Polissya, Pripet) Marshes are a lowland in northern Ukraine and southern Belarus, located along the Pripyat' (Pripet) River and covering about 105 sq mi (270 sq km), making them the largest wetland in Europe. The land is mostly flat, sandy, bog soils, with a few low hills. Forests cover about a third of the marshes. The marshes range in elevation from 328 ft (100 m) above sea level in the northeast to 820 ft (250 m) above sea level in the south.


The Black Sea and the Sea of Azov

All of Ukraine's coastline is on the Black Sea in the south. However, only the southwestern coast is on the Black Sea proper, The rest is on the Sea of Azov, an arm of the Black Sea that is formed by Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The coast on the Black Sea itself is a lowland area, with clayey soils. It is marked by the estuaries of the Page 561  |  Top of Article Dnieper, Southern Bug, and Dniester Rivers, as well as the delta of the Danube in the southwest. Karkinit Bay indents the coast deeply, nearly separating the Crimean Peninsula from the mainland. On the far side of the Peninsula, the Kerch Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. The Sea of Azov is otherwise completely enclosed by Ukraine in the west and Russia in the east. It has an area of 14,517 sq mi (37,599 sq km). Its coastline in Ukraine consists of uplands and steppes. In the northeast it extends deeply into Russia in the form of the Gulf of Taganrog. In the west, the Sivash Lagoon nearly reaches Karkinit Bay in the Black Sea, separated only by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop.

The Crimean Peninsula

The Crimean Peninsula, also known as the Crimea, is an autonomous republic in southeastern Ukraine. The peninsula extends well into the Black Sea, measuring 110 mi (175 km ) from north to south and 200 mi (320 km) east to west with a total area of 10,036 sq mi (25,993 sq km). The narrow Isthmus of Perekop joins it to the mainland in the north, and the Kerch Peninsula extends to the east, almost linking it with Russia. The Arabat Spit is a long spit of sand along the northeast coast of Crimea, helping to form the Sivash Lagoon.

The climate along the southern Crimean coast is mild and the land is scenic, with an abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards, and resorts. Although the southeastern section of the peninsula is mountainous, most of the interior is a flat plain or steppe. In contrast to the Mediteranian-like southern coast, the Crimean plains experience cold, windy winters and arid summers.



The climate of Ukraine is considered moderate and continental, with warm summers and cold winters. Along the southern Crimean coast the climate is Mediterranean—winters are more mild and wet while summers are hot and dry. In Kiev the July temperature averages 69°F (20°C); in January the average is 21°F (-6°C). Summers are warmer and winters are colder in eastern Ukraine, whose weather is influenced by large air masses from the steppes of Central Asia.


Ukraine's mild-to-moderate climate includes moderate levels of precipitation, with levels that average around 20 in (50 cm) per year, although the number varies by region. Rainfall is most frequent in summer; but it is highest in the Carpathian Mountains and lowest on the Black Sea coast, which proves favorable for the Crimean tourism industry.


Population Centers – Ukraine
Name Population Name Population
Kiev (capital) 2,646,100 Odessa 1,086,700
Kharkiv (Kharkov) 1,615,000 Zaporozhye 899,500
Dnipropetrovs'k (Dnepropetrovsk) 1,185,500 Lvov 810,000
    Krivoi Rog 737,300
Donetsk 1,121,200 Lugansk 503,800
SOURCE: ``Population of Capital Cities and Cities of 100,000 and More Inhabitants.'' United States Statistics Division.


Central Ukraine is characterized by mixed forest-steppe, with grasslands interspersed with deciduous trees, primarily oak. A true steppe zone (grassy plains) covers the lower third of the country, thinning out in the drier, more arid south. Along the southern Crimean coast lies a narrow Mediterranean zone of mixed shrubs, grasses, and evergreens.


Ukraine has well defined forest zones, with beech trees in the west; linden, oak, and pine in the north and northwestern swamps and meadows; and spruce in the northeast. About 18 percent of the country is forested, with tree cover most dense in the Carpathians and in the Polesye Marshes.


With a population of 48,760,474 (July 2001 estimate), Ukraine has a population density of 209 persons per sq mi (81 persons per sq km). The population of Ukraine has been steadily declining over the last decade, with a loss nearing 1.7 million alone in the five-year period between 1997 and 2002. Approximately 68 percent of Ukrainians live in urban areas. The areas of densest settlement are in the Dnieper Lowlands of central Ukraine and the Donets Basin of the east, although large cities can be found throughout the country.


Ukraine is rich in both mineral resources and highly fertile agricultural land. Salt, sulfur, brimstone, ozocerite, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, and mercury are among its varied mineral deposits. In the southeast, the Donets Basin yields coal in abundance, while rich iron ore deposits are mined in the east central Kryvyy Rih area. In south central Ukraine, Nikopol on the Dnieper River has some of the world's largest deposits of manganese. Considerable oil and natural gas reserves Page 562  |  Top of Article have been found in the Carpathian foothills, the Donets Basin, and along the Crimean coast. Some 58 percent of Ukraine is arable land that supports a viable agricultural economy, with exceptionally fertile, black chernozem soils predominating in the central and southern regions.


Embassy of Ukraine. (accessed July 9, 2002).

Frydman, Roman, Andrzej Rapaczynski, John S. Earle, et al., eds. The Privatization Process in Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. New York: Central European University Press, 1993.

Magocsi, Paul Robert. Ukraine: A Historical Atlas. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

United States. U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Ukraine. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2001.

Welcome to Ukraine. (accessed July 9, 2002).

Sidebar: HideShow


In April, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine experienced an explosion and core meltdown. Radioactive contamination spread through the air over northern Ukraine and southern Belarus and seeped into the ground, poisoning the water supply and making farmland toxic. The devastating effects of this accident on human health and the environment continue into the 21st century.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3406600199