KEY FACTS: Ukraine

Agence France-Presse
Here are key facts about the former Soviet republic of Ukraine

UNREST. A general view of Independence Square during protests in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, 18 February 2014. Photo Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

KIEV, Ukraine – Here are key facts about the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, where around 60 people have died in bloody clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in Kiev.

Demonstrations started three months ago when Ukrainian authorities suspended talks on an Association Agreement with the European Union in favour of closer economic relations with Russia.

GEOGRAPHY: Ukraine lies in eastern Europe and is sandwiched between ex-Soviet Belarus, Moldova and Russia and EU members Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

It covers 603,700 square kilometres (241,500 square miles), and is the second largest country in Europe after Russia.

POPULATION: 45.6 million in 2012 (World Bank). Russians make up the largest minority.

HISTORY: Much of modern-day Ukraine was part of the former Russian empire although its northwest belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire. After the Russian revolution, Ukraine became part of the USSR.

Growing opposition to Soviet rule culminated in the declaration of independence on August 24, 1991, confirmed by referendum on December 1.

The world’s worst civilian nuclear accident took place in Ukraine on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Thirty people were killed in an explosion and a further 2,500 died of related illnesses. The reactor was closed in 2000.

POLITICAL SITUATION: A 2004 election pitted pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko against pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich. After official results showed Yanukovych had won, Yushchenko launched mass protests, claiming the election was rigged.

The supreme court agreed and ordered a re-run ballot on December 26, 2004, which Yushchenko won amidst what became known as the Orange Revolution.

But amid huge disappointment with the results of the revolution, Yushchenko was bundled out of the 2010 vote in the first round by Yanukovych, who then went on to win against prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power in connection with Russian gas contracts. The EU has called for her release.

ECONOMY: In 2013 Ukraine faced an economic crisis, and is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, according to analysts. In December Yanukovych secured a $15-billion bailout deal from Moscow, and a huge price cut for Russian gas. Gas has been a bone of contention between Russia, which provides 60 percent of Ukraine’s needs, and Ukraine which is the main transit country for gas exported to the EU. –

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