Ukraine (i/juːˈkreɪn/ yew-KRAYN; Ukrainian: Україна, transliterated: Ukrayina, ) is a country in Eastern Europe. Ukraine borders the Russian Federation to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after the Russian Federation.
According to a popular and well established theory, the medieval state of Kievan Rus was established by the Varangians in the 9th century as the first historically recorded East Slavic state which emerged as a powerful nation in the Middle Ages until it disintegrated in the 12th century. By the middle of the 14th century, Ukrainian territories were under the rule of three external powers—the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Kingdom of Poland. After the Great Northern War (1700–1721) Ukraine was divided between a number of regional powers and, by the 19th century, the largest part of Ukraine was integrated into the Russian Empire with the rest under Austro-Hungarian control. A chaotic period of incessant warfare ensued, with several internationally recognized attempts at independence from 1917 to 1921, following World War I and the Russian Civil War. Ukraine emerged from its own civil war, and on December 30, 1922 Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic became one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian SSR's territory was enlarged westward during the civil war shortly before, and after World War II, and further south in 1954 with the Crimea transfer. In 1945, the Ukrainian SSR became one of the founding members of the United Nations.
Ukraine became independent again when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. This dissolution started a period of transition to a market economy, in which Ukraine was stricken with an eight-year recession. Since then, however, the economy has experienced a high increase in GDP growth. Ukraine was caught up in the worldwide economic crisis in 2008 and the economy plunged. GDP fell 20% from spring 2008 to spring 2009, then leveled off as analysts compared the magnitude of the downturn to the worst years of economic depression during the early 1990s. However, the country remains a globally important market and, as of 2011, is the world's third largest grain exporter.
Ukraine is a unitary state composed of 24 oblasts (provinces), one autonomous republic (Crimea), and two cities with special status: Kiev, its capital and largest city, and Sevastopol, which houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet under a leasing agreement. Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine continues to maintain the second largest military in Europe, after that of Russia. The country is home to 46 million people, 77.8 percent of whom are ethnic Ukrainians, with sizable minorities of Russians (17%), Belarusians and Romanians. Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine. Russian is also widely spoken. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has heavily influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music.