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Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential system of government with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The president nominates the defense and foreign ministers, and the Prosecutor General and chief of the State Security Service each of whom must be confirmed by the parliament. The Supreme Rada initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget. Its members are elected to five-year terms. Following free elections held on December 1, 1991, Leonid M. Kravchuk, former chairman of the Ukrainian Rada, was elected to a five-year term, and became Ukraine's first president. At the same time, a referendum on independence was approved by more than 90% of the voters. Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, which mandates a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties. Amendments that took affect January 1, 2006, shifted significant powers from the president to the prime minister and Supreme Rada. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, although religious organizations are required to register with local authorities and with the central government. Minority rights are respected in accordance with a 1991 law guaranteeing ethnic minorities the right to schools and cultural facilities and the use of national languages in conducting personal business. According to the constitution, Ukrainian is the only official state language. In Crimea and some parts of eastern Ukraine--areas with substantial ethnic Russian minorities--local and regional governments permit Russian as a language for local official correspondence. Freedom of speech and press are guaranteed by law and by the constitution, and authorities generally respect these rights. Prior to the "Orange Revolution," however, authorities sometimes interfered with the news media through intimidation and other forms of pressure. In particular, the failure of the government to conduct a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into the 2000 disappearance and murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, in which then-government officials have been credibly implicated, negatively affected Ukraine's international image. Freedom of the media and respect for citizens' rights have increased markedly since the government of President Yushchenko took office in January 2005. Ukraine is undergoing profound political and economic change as it moves from its Soviet past toward a market economy, multi-party democracy, and integration into Euro-Atlantic and other international institutions. In recent years, the availability of goods and services has increased along with increased rates of growth in Ukraine's economy, and facilities for travelers have improved somewhat. Nonetheless, the availability of travel and tourist services remains uneven throughout the country, and Ukraine still lacks the abundance of many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries
The economy of Ukraine is an emerging free market, with a gross domestic product that has experienced rapid growth in recent years. Ukraine's economy is ranked 29th in the world according to 2007 GDP. Ukraine has many of the components of a major European economy - rich farmlands, a well-developed industrial base, highly trained labor, and a good education system. At present, however, the economy remains in poor condition. While Ukraine registered positive economic growth starting from 2000, this came on the heels of eight straight years of sharp economic decline. The economy continued to expand in 2001 as the real GDP rose 9% and industrial output grew by over 14%. Growth of 4.6% in 2002 was more moderate, in part a reflection of faltering growth in the developed world. In general, growth has been undergirded by strong domestic demand, low inflation, and solid consumer and investor confidence. Growth was a sturdy 9.3% in 2003 and a remarkable 12% in 2004, despite a loss of momentum in needed economic reforms.
Ukraine is relatively rich in natural resources, particularly in mineral deposits. Although oil reserves in the country are largely exhausted, it has other important energy sources, such as coal, natural gas, hydroelectricity and nuclear fuel raw materials. Ukraine has a major ferrous metal industry, producing cast iron, steel and pipes. As of 2005, Ukraine was the world's seventh largest steel producer. Another important branch is the country's chemical industry which includes the production of coke, mineral fertilizers and sulfuric acid. Manufactured goods include metallurgical equipment, diesel locomotives, tractors, automobiles, the country possesses a massive high-tech industrial base, including much of the former USSR's electronics, arms industry and space program. However, these fields are state-owned and underdeveloped in terms of business management.
Ukraine encourages foreign trade and investment. The Parliament of Ukraine has approved a foreign investment law allowing Westerners to purchase businesses and property, to repatriate revenue and profits, and to receive compensation if the property is nationalized by a future government. However, complex laws and regulations, poor corporate governance, weak enforcement of contract law by courts, and corruption all continue to stymie direct large-scale foreign investment in Ukraine. While there is a functioning stock market, the lack of protection for shareholders' rights severely restricts portfolio investment activities. Total foreign direct investment in Ukraine is approximately $17.4 billion (17.4 G$) as of April 2006, which, at $371 per capita. Much reform is still needed, in order to stabilize the investment climate. Most of Ukrainian trade is conducted with Russia and the European Union. An overcrowded world steel market threatens prospects for Ukraine's principal exports of non-agricultural goods such as ferrous metals and other steel products. Although exports of machinery and machine tools are on the rise, it is not clear if the rate of increase is large enough to make up for probable declines in steel exports, which today account for 46% of the country's overall exports. Ukraine imports 90% of its oil and most of its natural gas. Russia ranks as Ukraine's principal supplier of oil, and Russian firms now own and/or operate the majority of Ukraine's refining capacity. Natural gas imports come from Russia - which delivers its own gas, as well as the gas from Turkmenistan. Instead, Ukraine is transporting Russian gas to EU through its well-developed gas pipelines system, being Europe's vitally important connection.
Ukraine's military consists of Armed Forces of Ukraine and few other independent militarized institutions. The Ukrainian military is equipped almost exclusively with Cold War equipment of Soviet design. Armored fighting vehicles. Plagued at times by hostile relations with Russia following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been steadfastly trying to develop its own independent military industry. Notable results of this effort are the Ukrainian-built T-84 main battle tank, currently in service, and the aircraft manufacturer Antonov. Ukraine's stated national policy is Euro-Atlantic integration, including with both NATO and the European Union. Ukraine has a "Distinctive Partnership" with NATO and has been an active participant in Partnership for Peace exercises and in Balkans peacekeeping. This close relationship with NATO has been most apparent with Ukrainian cooperation and combined peacekeeping operations with its neighbor Poland, in places such as Kosovo and Iraq.
Since Ukraine is geographically located between Europe and Asia, much of its culture exhibits both Eastern and Western influences. Over the years it has been invariably influenced by movements such as those brought about during the Byzantine Empire and the Renaissance. Today, the country is somewhat culturally divided with the western regions bearing a stronger European influence and the eastern regions showing a strong Russian influence. Ukrainian Orthodox Christianity remains the main religion of Ukraine today, with some 70% of Ukrainians still claiming to belong to this faith. However, there are a number of other religions in Ukraine. Besides Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, there are Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Christians, Ukrainian Catholics, Protestants and Jews as well as a number of minority religious groups. The Orthodox Church does not see as much dominance as it may see in other countries in Europe, such as Russia. As a result there is religious stability and minor religious groups seldom experience persecution.
The country of Ukraine is located in the eastern region of the continent of Europe. Ukraine is bordered by Russia in the East, the Black Sea in the south, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland in the west and Belarus in the north. the landscape of the Ukraine mostly comprises of flats criss-crossed by the Dniester, Dnieper, Southern Buh and the Seversky Donets rivers. Large sections of the country are stretches of plain land without a single tree around. If the land at all rises, it only does so to form plateaus. There are mountains in the land too, Mount Carpathian being the highest. Ukraine is also full of fertile plains. All the rivers in the country flow into the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Fauna of the land of Ukraine is an exotic collection too. Ukraine enjoys some 2 782 km of varied coastline - from stunning white beaches to rocky shores. It has no inland bodies of water but enjoys a large number of fertile plains or steppes nonetheless. The vast majority of the country consists of grassy, fertile plains and plateaus. The only mountains in Ukraine can be found in the west and extreme south of the country. The Carpathian Mountains are in the west and the Crimean Peninsula is in the south. Generally speaking, Ukraine enjoys a temperate continental climate. On the southern Crimean coast it becomes somewhat Mediterranean. Winters along the coast may be cool and temperatures drop the further inland you go. Summers are warm to hot depending on what part of the country you are visiting. Ukraine enjoys a large variety of natural resources which are constantly mined and sourced for both local use and exporting. Some 57.1% of the country's landmass is considered to be very arable and a large portion of this is already being farmed. There are almost 23 000 rivers within the borders of Ukraine. Its longest river is the Dnieper which is some 966 kilometers long. Other notable rivers include the Dniester, Donets Danube and Southern Buh. Lake Svityaz is one of the largest natural lakes in the country. Water is used for drinking, transportation and hydroelectricity and is considered to be a very important natural resource in the country. As the second largest country in Europe
United Nations Policy
From the moment of achieving independence, Ukraine has shown itself as a predictable and peace-loving member of the international community. Having clearly defined its priorities in foreign policy, Ukraine continues to adhere to them purposefully and unswervingly. The main strategic directions of its foreign policy are integration in the European Union (EU) and strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, the United States and Poland. These directions - in conjunction with its friendly relations with neighbouring States, its activity on regional and subregional levels, and its participation in multilateral diplomacy and peacekeeping - became the basic elements that determine Ukraine's foreign policy today. Its strategic aim to become a full-rights member of the European Union is to ensure the country's stable economic growth, social harmony, political stability and state independence and security. The European Parliament supported the entry of Ukraine into th! e Union. The EU Summit, held in Goteborg in June 2001, decided to invite Ukraine to participate in the Conference, which unites member States and countries that are candidates for membership in the European Union.
Atop priority step to get into the Union is membership in the World Trade Organization. In 1997, Ukraine started bilateral negotiations with the WTO member States as to access to the market of goods and services. Presently, it holds negotiations with 39 countries, among which are members of EU, the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and countries of the Central European Free Trade Association.
As one of the founding members of the United Nations, Ukraine has always regarded the Organization as a universal mechanism for resolving global problems and for building close cooperation among its members. Its participation in the United Nations activities during the last ten years has been extremely productive. Ukraine's active and well-considered position on numerous issues on the UN agenda has been widely recognized by UN Member States, vividly demonstrated by the election of its Minister of Foreign Affairs as President of the fifty-second session of the General Assembly. Its election to the Security Council as a non-permanent member for the period 2000-2001 has become one of the most important achievements of Ukraine's foreign policy since its independence.
During two years of work in the Security Council, Ukraine has proven to be an active member, whose position is taken into account by all Council members. It not only effectively influences the process of decision-making but also contributes in the practical realization of Security Council decisions. For ten years, Ukraine has turned into a reliable partner of the United Nations in carrying out its peacekeeping operations. Nearly 12,000 peacekeepers from Ukraine have fulfilled their mission under the UN flag in many parts of the world-the Balkans, the Middle East, Asia, Central America and Africa. In 1994, it initiated the adoption by the General Assembly of the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.
Ukraine also actively cooperates with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on issues of peacekeeping and other measures for maintaining peace. Presently, 14 Ukrainian representatives work in the missions of OSCE in Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, as assistants of the Personal Representative of the Acting President of OSCE in Nagorny Karabakh, in the Mission of OSCE in Tajikistan and in the centre of OSCE in Bishkek. Ukraine continuously supports a more active role of OSCE in the settlement of "frozen conflicts". Ukraine is developing cooperation with the Council of Europe. During its membership in the Council, it has become party to 33 European Conventions and Agreements of the Council, and signed and ratified the greater part of the international and legal documents to which it had to accede and meet the obligations undertaken upon joining the Organization. Ukraine's membership promotes development of "European thinking", and directs the State power and the public thought at high democratic and humanitarian standards, which are the foundations of the contemporary European civilization. By its foreign policy and constructive position with regard to the numerous items on the international agenda, Ukraine presents itself as a predictable, balanced and reliable partner, which conducts understandable policy. Its voluntary renunciation of the third most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world for the sake of strengthening stability and security on the planet is the most vivid evidence of such policy.
Ukraine still has a long way to go. However, democratic choice will remain invariable. Having started the construction of a democratic European State, it will pursue this course in the future.