Since independence in 1991, the country’s education system has gained a stronger Ukrainian character. The proportion of pupils with Ukrainian as a language of instruction has increased at the expense of the proportion with Russian. Private and confessional schools have also been established since 1991. There are also schools and classes teaching Polish, Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian. School is compulsory and free for children ages 7 to 15. The primary school is 4-years old, followed by a 5-year secondary school. The voluntary secondary school is 3 years old. In 2003, 92% of children started in the relevant age group in primary school. Ukraine has 106 universities. Among the oldest universities are the universities of Kiev (founded 1834), Lviv (1661) and Kharkiv (1805). According to UNESCO (2003), less than 1% of the adult population is illiterate.
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|Land area||603,550 km²|
|Residents per km²||72.8|
|Income per capita||$ 8,800|
|ISO 3166 code||UA|
|Time zone UTC||+2|
|Geographic coordinates||49 00 N, 32 00 O|
In 1954, the Soviet Central Power (led by Nikita Khrushchev) handed over the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine. It had until then been part of the Russian Federation. Khrushchev had previously been the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party and was now Secretary General of the Soviet Union Communist Party. The Ukrainian economy consolidated in the following years as the second most important Soviet in the Soviet Union – after Russia.
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On April 26, 1986, history’s worst nuclear accident ever occurred at the Chernobyl plant, 130 km north of the capital Kiev. The reactor explosion affected an area where 600,000 people lived. Among them, 7,000 had died in 1993 as a result of the radiation and 135,000 had been evacuated. Six days after the explosion, military helicopters bombarded the reactor with 6,000 tons sand and drill to put out the fire and stop the meltdown. Subsequently, it was all cast into an up to 8 m thick concrete sheath, dubbed the “sarcophagus”. The radioactive cloud did not only affect Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Areas in especially Northern Sweden but also in other parts of Western Europe were also contaminated by radioactive fallout. In the following years, Russian and international researchers could see an increase in the number of cancer cases and diseases related to radioactivity.
Within the framework of the reforms of President Mikhail Gorbachov from 1985, set in motion in the Soviet Union, Ukrainian Communists and Nationalists founded the Popular Ukrainian Movement for Perestroika (RUKH), demanding greater political and economic autonomy. At the March 1990 parliamentary elections, RUKH’s candidates received widespread support in the population. On July 16, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine proclaimed the sovereign sovereignty of the Republic. On August 24, 1991, the Declaration on the Independence of Ukraine was adopted, and at the same time a referendum was printed to reject or confirm this resolution. In December, 90% of Ukrainians confirmed the decision. On the same occasion, former Secretary General of Ukraine Communist Party, Leonid Kravchuk was elected President with 60% of the vote. Russia, Canada, Poland and Hungary immediately recognized Ukraine’s independence.
At a meeting on December 8, 1991, the Presidents of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Belarus, the Soviet Union declared dissolution, forming in its stead the State Society of Independent States (CIS). Ukraine declared itself nuclear-free and neutral, and was willing to allow itself to be integrated into Europe. A few days later, 7 other former Soviet republics joined the state community, but due to the discrepancies in particular in the economic and military spheres, it was difficult to define the scope of the new alliance.
Nationalist enthusiasm led Ukraine to take a stand against Russian politics in a number of strategic areas. At the end of 1991, the country declared that it had supremacy over the nuclear weapons installed on its territory, while committing, in accordance with the START agreement, to destroy these weapons within a period of 7 years. Subsequently, however, Kiev accepted that the weapons were handed over to Russia for a guarantee of their destruction.
In the first months of 1992, the Ukrainian government released the prices, introduced its own currency «karbovanets», legalized the production of military equipment and created foreign investment initiatives.
On May 5, Crimea declared itself independent, which, however, encountered opposition in the Ukrainian parliament. Crimea bowed and canceled the statement. But in June, Russia reacted, annulled the 1954 decree transferring Crimea to Ukraine, demanding the area returned. The reason for these steps was that Crimea was the center of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and Russia wanted to maintain control over it. Kiev, however, resisted Russian pressure and gave Crimea some form of economic autonomy.