Ukraine, a country on the brink

19th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Here are key facts about ex-Soviet Ukraine, which votes in snap parliamentary polls next Sunday in the grip of its worst crisis since independence 23 years ago.

There are fears Ukraine could collapse after its former masters in Moscow annexed Crimea in March and pro-Russian rebels a month later launched a devastating insurgency against Kiev in the industrial east.

The latest crisis erupted almost a year ago when the pro-EU opposition began protests in Kiev against Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

- 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 Soviet Union.

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 power plant. Thirty people were killed in an explosion and a further 2,500 died of related illnesses. The reactor was closed in 2000.

- Politics -

In 2004, a fraud-tainted presidential poll victory by Yanukovych over pro-Western politician Viktor Yushchenko sparked mass protests that became known as the Orange Revolution and resulted in a re-run in early 2005.

But Yushchenko's subsequent victory was followed by disappointment over his inability to bring real change, and he was elbowed aside by his one-time ally, then-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In 2010, Yanukovych staged a comeback to beat Tymoshenko, who was then controversially jailed for abuse of power.

In November 2013, the pro-West opposition, angered by Yanukovych's rejection of a deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia, launched protests which culminated in February 2014 with the ouster of Yanukovych after days of bloodshed.

In the turmoil after Yanukovych fled, Russian troops occupied the Crimea peninsula before Moscow officially annexed the Black Sea region in March.

In April, pro-Russian separatists launched a rebellion in the industrial east, seizing a string of towns and cities. Kiev launched a military campaign in the east later that month, but has failed stamp out the insurgency, accusing Moscow of sending in troops to assist the separatists.

In May, pro-Western billionaire confectionary tycoon Petro Poroshenko was elected president with 55 percent of the vote and went on to seal the landmark pact with the EU in June. It was ratified by both parliaments in September.

- Economy -

Ukraine's recession-prone economy has been dealt a hammer blow by the insurgency in its industrial heartland and is expected to shrink by up to nine percent this year.

Kiev is desperately reliant on a $27-billion (21-billion-euro) bailout from the West to avoid bankruptcy, although the IMF has warned Ukranine may need an additional $19 billion if hostilities do not subside by the end of next year.

Gas is a major bone of contention with Russia, which had provides about half of Ukraine's needs. Around 15 percent of all gas consumed in Europe is also delivered from Russia via its western neighbour.

Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June over a pricing dispute, with Moscow and Kiev now hoping to finalise an interim deal in the coming days that could resume shipments for the winter period.

- GDP: $177 billion in 2013 (World Bank)

- GDP per capita: $3,900 in 2013 (World Bank)

- Unemployment: 7.4 percent in 2013 (IMF)

- Key facts and figures -

Geography: Ukraine lies in eastern Europe 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.

Defence: Around 130,000 active personnel plus 85,000 paramilitary (International Institute for Strategic Studies 2014)

Religion: Overwhelmingly Christian, with about two-thirds Orthodox

Currency: The hryvnia, which has lost nearly its value against the dollar since the start of 2014.

© 2014 AFP

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