Known as the ‘Empire’s breadbasket’ during Tsarist times, Ukraine with its rich black soil went on to be a major agricultural provider during the Soviet era. Stalin’s disastrous collectivisation of agriculture led to the Great Famine of 1932-33, which is officially classed as genocide by the Ukrainian parliament.
Despite its professed Euro-Atlantic leanings, Ukraine remains on good neighbourly terms with Russia, though its dependence on increasingly expensive Russian gas supplies has caused friction.
Russian is widely spoken, but the prestige of the Ukrainian language has been boosted by the official post-independence policy of ‘Ukrainisation’ – the same term used by the Bolsheviks for their revival of ‘indigenous’ cultural life in early Soviet days.
Though the country’s recent change in status from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ (Freedom House) has caused dismay, Ukraine’s nonviolent ‘Orange Revolution’ grabbed the world’s attention and inspired many.
Those were the early days of internet-influenced protest. Today, a third of Ukrainians are online, with news sites offering the plurality that is under strain elsewhere in the country’s media.
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