Ukraine is a republic in eastern Europe, bounded by Belarus to the north; Russia to the north and east; the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in the south; on the southwest by Romania and Moldova; and on the west by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. Formerly the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Ukraine is a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which in December 1991 succeeded the USSR. Kyyiv (Kiev) is the capital and largest city.
Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe after Russia, with a total area of about 603,700 sq km. Almost the entire country of Ukraine is a vast flat plain, with elevations generally below 300 m. The Carpathian Mountains intrude at the extreme west, and on the southern coast of the Crimean Peninsula are the Crimean Mountains. The highest point in Ukraine is Mount Hoverla in the Carpathians, with an elevation of 2061 m.
The climate is temperate continental, with a subtropical Mediterranean climate in the southern portions of the Crimean Peninsula. The average monthly temperature in winter ranges from -8° to 2° C (17.6° to 35.6° F), while summer temperatures average 17° to 25° C (62.6° to 77° F).
Ukraine has extremely fertile black-earth soils in the central and southern portions, totaling nearly two-thirds of the territory. Mixed forest vegetation occupied the northern third of the country, forest-steppe the middle portion, and steppe the southern third of the country. Now, however, much of the original vegetation has been cleared and replaced by cultivated crops. Much of the original wildlife has also disappeared, but many animal species still remain.
The Ukraine has the second highest population of countries in the former USSR, with an estimated population of 51,867,828 in 1995. Only Russia has more people. Ethnic Ukrainians make up 73 percent of the population, while Russians have 22 percent of the population. Other minorities include Belarusians, Moldovans, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Poles, and Crimean Tatars. Ukrainian is a Slavic language closely related to Russian, and is the official language, although Russian is widely spoken.