Introduction

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Ukraine is a middle-income country with a strong industrial base, and a significant producer of agriculture and food products. It is an independent country since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is nearly twice the size of Germany, and the largest country contained entirely within Europe.

According to the last (2011) census, 77.8% of the population is composed by ethnic Ukrainians, with minorities of Russians (17%), Romanians and Moldovans, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars, and Hungarians. Ukrainian is the official language; Russian remains widely spoken.

 

History

With roots of ancient statehood reaching back to the medieval Kievan Rus period, much of present-day Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire since the 17/18th century, with parts also belonging to Poland or the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman Empires for extended periods. Following World War I, Ukraine was briefly independent but became a Soviet republic in the early 1920s. Its territorial boundaries within the Soviet Union have undergone a number of changes over the decades.

Acceding on 24 October 1945, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was among the founding members of the United Nations along with the Soviet Union as a whole. Despite not being an independent country, Ukraine has thus been represented in the UN General Assembly throughout the history of the organization.

During the Soviet period, Ukraine’s history was characterized by modernization and industrialization, but also great suffering. The Holodomor was an artificially created famine in the early 1930s; in World War II, millions of combatants and civilians perished on Ukraine’s soil. The wholesale deportation of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia also left long term scars and shifted the demographic make-up of the peninsula. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ukraine’s infrastructure was significantly re-developed and modernized, and by the 1970s it had become the heartland of Soviet industrial and agricultural production, competing at a global level.

Its urban centres grew fast and attracted migrants from other parts of the Soviet Union. Its social services, educational and cultural achievements were among the most advanced in the country. However, in the 1980s economic growth and development had begun to stall. On 26 April 1986, the worst nuclear power plant accident in history took place in Ukraine, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, just an hour drive north of the capital Kyiv. The long-term impacts of the disaster are felt to this day.

In the late 1980s the Soviet government implemented a programme of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), which ultimately led to free elections in its republics and the end of the monopolization of power.

Ukraine became independent in December 1991, following a referendum in which more than 92 percent of voters supported the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament.

The economy experienced a deep recession during the 1990s, with hyperinflation, a drastic fall in economic output, a high degree of state capture and oligopolistic control of resources. In 1999, Ukraine’s per capita GDP was less than half of what it had been before independence.[IG2]

In the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, nationwide protests followed the uncovering of widespread fraud during the presidential election. The subsequent ballot - deemed free and fair - showing a clear victory for Viktor Yushchenko over Viktor Yanukovych. However, the government coalition led by President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko soon lost momentum due to internal differences and broke up amid corruption allegations and disputes over constitutional powers. In 2010, Yanukovych, who had served as Prime Minister from 2006-2007, succeeded Yushchenko as President of Ukraine.

In 2013-2014, large-scale demonstrations in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and other cities (the so-called “Euromaidan” or “Revolution of Dignity”) demanded a break with endemic corruption, and called for the adherence to European standards of governance. These protests ultimately precipitated a change in government. In May 2014, Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election on a pro-reform and peace platform. One month later, Ukraine signed the European Union Association Agreement.

In the wake of the protests, in March 2014, an independence referendum was organized in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was subsequently incorporated as a subject of the Russian Federation. The legality of this move was rejected on 27 March 2014 by UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262, which re-affirmed Ukrainian territorial integrity.

In April 2014, anti-government armed groups seized some parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, prompting the government to launch an Anti-Terrorist Operation, which escalated into large-scale military operations and remains ongoing, with both Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts in effect divided into a government-controlled and a non-government controlled areas.

To halt the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Minsk Protocol was signed on 5 September 2014 launching the Minsk process of negotiations, however fighting continued despite various ceasefire agreements. A large OSCE Monitoring Mission has been put in place to monitor and report on its implementation.

The October 2014 Parliamentary elections further confirmed Ukraine’s pro-reform orientation. As fighting in eastern Ukraine continued, in February 2015 a new agreement (Minsk-2) was reached, which included detailed security and political arrangements, the latter being linked to Ukraine’s domestic political processes (e.g. constitutional reforms).

Since 2015, a constitutional reform process is underway, focusing on decentralization, justice sector reforms and human rights.

Challenges

Political instability and the ongoing conflict continue to cast a shadow over the prospects for lasting improvements of living standards and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals in Ukraine.

The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine has had a severe impact on the national economy and social capital – some 10,000 people have been killed, and over two million displaced inside and outside Ukraine. The financial and social strain of supporting the large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) has further exacerbated the strain on authorities and communities alike.

Studies have highlighted women’s disproportionate vulnerabilities in conflict-affected areas, and the need to recognize and support women’s central role in conflict prevention, resolution and reconciliation.

The Euromaidan protests clearly marked the start of a new wave of civic enthusiasm for change, with a demand for more meaningful participation and accountability.  The call for good governance was also overwhelmingly featured in responses to the “World We Want” survey as the key expectation of Ukrainian citizens of their government. In July 2014, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights commented on the need for the government of Ukraine “to address the wider systemic problems facing the country with respect to good governance, rule of law and human rights. This requires deep and badly needed reforms, especially as Ukraine seeks to fulfil its EU aspirations and establish a democratic and pluralistic society”.

Soviet policies of raising industrial and agricultural productivity with little regard to environmental considerations have had a devastating effect. Ukraine is home to some of the richest natural environments and resources in Europe while at the same time being one of the most heavily polluted countries in the region.

Poor environmental management in the past has resulted in an increased number of natural and man-made disasters, and worsened the health of the population. At present, 40% of the total territory of Ukraine is considered eroded land, an area growing at approximately 80,000 hectares annually. At the same time, it has many natural assets in biodiversity and international waters of global importance and its industrial activities and energy consumption practices have important implications for global climate change.

Ukraine has long been one of the least energy efficient countries in the world. It has one of the highest greenhouse gas emission intensity amongst CIS countries, and the 24th in the world. The reduction of greenhouse gases over the past two decades resulted mainly from a GDP decrease and a decline in the population and social living standards.

Successes

Since 2014, the international community has scaled up its assistance to support Ukraine’s reform and recovery process with political support, investments, financial resources, access to markets, advice, capacity building, etc.

The Government of Ukraine has recognized that new sustainable and inclusive development pathways are urgently needed to address economic decline, natural resource degradation, instability and conflict. Eight governance reforms are prioritized in the Strategy of Ukraine 2020: anti-corruption, justice sector, decentralization, law enforcement, defense and security, health care and tax. The EU Association Agreement and the IMF Memorandum on Reform outline further reform commitments, as does the Sustainable Development agenda which has been identified as the common foundation for further reforms in Ukraine.

In recent years, UNDP has supported several bold reform initiatives. The newly created online, searchable asset register for public officials is a major victory for transparency. The new medicine procurement system now serves as a model of international best practice for procuring public goods. In 2016, Ukraine took bold steps towards legislative openness and became the third country in the world to adopt an Open Parliament Action Plan.

Ukraine has signed and ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, and is a party to many international treaties and conventions in the field of environmental protection. Taking into consideration the socio-economic conditions of the country, Ukraine has committed to implement policies and measures aimed at combating climate change, to cover all sources and sinks of greenhouse gases as well as related economy sectors. In 2015 Ukraine has defined an ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction target: 60% of 1990 levels by 2030.