Map Explainer: Key Facts About Ukraine
The modern state of Ukraine was formed nearly 30 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, the country has often made headlines due to political instability and the looming threat of a Russian invasion.
In the map graphic above, we examine Ukraine from a structural point of view. What’s the country’s population composition? What drives the country’s economy? And most importantly, why is the country important within a global context?
Where Do People Live in Ukraine?
With a population of nearly 44 million people, Ukraine is the eighth-most populous country in Europe. For perspective, that is slightly smaller than Spain, and four times larger than Greece.
As the cartogram below demonstrates, a large portion of the country’s population is located in and around the capital Kyiv, along with the Donetsk region—which is front and center in the current conflict with Russia.
Not surprisingly, many of the country’s Russian speaking citizens live on the eastern side of the country, near the Russian border.
Key Facts About Ukraine’s Demographics
Ukrainians make up almost 78% of the total population, while Russians represent around 17% of the population, making it the single-largest Russian diaspora in the world.
Other minorities include:
- Belarusians: 0.6%
- Bulgarians: 0.4%
- Hungarians: 0.3%
- Crimean Tatars: 0.5%
- Romanians: 0.3%
- Poles: 0.3%
- Jews: 0.2%
The country’s population has been declining since the 1990s because of a high emigration rate, and high death rates coupled with a low birth rate.
The majority of the population is Christian (80%), with 60% declaring adherence to one or another strand of the Orthodox Church.
Ukraine’s Economy: An Overview
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine turned over thousands of atomic weapons in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the United States, and other countries. However, the defense industry continues to be a strategically important sector and a large employer in Ukraine. The country exports weapons to countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Furthermore, Ukraine is rich in natural resources, particularly in mineral deposits. It possesses the world’s largest reserves of commercial-grade iron ore—30 billion tonnes of ore or around one-fifth of the global total. It’s also worth noting that Ukraine ranks second in terms of known natural gas reserves in Europe, which today remain largely untapped.
Ukraine’s mostly flat geography and high-quality soil composition make the country a big regional agricultural player. The country is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wheat and the world’s largest exporter of seed oils like sunflower and rapeseed.
Coal mining, chemicals, mechanical products (aircraft, turbines, locomotives and tractors) and shipbuilding are also important sectors of the Ukrainian economy.
The Bear in the Room
Given the country’s location and history, it’s nearly impossible to talk about Ukraine without mentioning nearby Russia.
The country shares borders with Russia both to the east and northeast. For context, a car trip from Moscow to one of the Ukrainian border cities, Shostka, takes around 8 hours. To the Northwest, Ukraine also shares borders with Belarus—a country that is closely aligned with the Kremlin.
To the southeast is Crimea, a peninsula entirely surrounded by both the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov. In 2014, Russia annexed the peninsula and established two federal subjects, the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. The annexation was widely condemned around the world, and the territories are recognized by most of the international community as being part of Ukraine.
The region was of particular interest to Russia since Moscow depends on the Black Sea for access to the Mediterranean. The Port of Sevastopol, on the southwest edge of Crimea, is one of the few ice-free deepwater ports available to Russia in the region.
Due to ongoing tensions between the two countries, Ukraine has been seeking to reduce Russia’s leverage over its economy. As a result, China and Poland have surpassed Russia as Ukraine’s largest country trading partners in recent years.
However, Ukraine still remains an important route for Russian gas that heats millions of homes, generates electricity, and powers factories in Europe. The continent gets nearly 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia.
Furthermore, Ukraine is connected to the same power grid as Russia, so it remains dependent on Moscow in the event of a shortfall. Even as conflict heats up, the two countries still share economic links, which will influence how the situation unfolds.
Conflict in the Donbas Region
Ukraine stands at the center of a geopolitical rivalry between western powers and Russia, and that rivalry is flaring up once again.
Two regions along the Russian border—Donetsk and Luhansk—have been a conflict zone since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists began clashing with government forces. The map below shows the relative contact zone between the two opposing forces.
Currently Russia has troops and military equipment amassed at various points along the border between the two countries, as well as in neighboring Belarus.
In recent days, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, recognizing them as independent states. This recognition serves as a definitive end point to the seven-year peace deal known as the Minsk agreement.
As this conflict heats up, it remains to be seen what will happen to the roughly 5 million people who live in the Donbas region.
Note: As of February 23rd, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale military operation into Ukraine. The situation is still evolving rapidly.
Ranked: Top 10 Countries by Military Spending
As geopolitical tensions began to heat up around the world, which nations were the top military spenders in 2021?
The Top 10 Countries by Military Spending in 2021
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued, military spending and technology has come under the spotlight as the world tracked Western arms shipments and watched how HIMAR rocket launchers and other weaponry affected the conflict.
But developing, exporting, and deploying military personnel and weaponry costs nations hundreds of billions every year. In 2021, global military spending reached $2.1 trillion, rising for its seventh year in a row.
Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), this visualization shows which countries spent the most on their military in 2021, along with their overall share of global military spending.
Which Countries Spend the Most on Military?
The United States was the top nation in terms of military expenditure, spending $801 billion to make up almost 38% of global military spending in 2021. America has been the top military spending nation since SIPRI began tracking in 1949, making up more than 30% of the world’s military spending for the last two decades.
U.S. military spending increased year-over-year by $22.3 billion, and the country’s total for 2021 was more than every other country in the top 10 combined.
|Country||Military Spending (2017)||Military Spending (2018)||Military Spending (2019)||Military Spending (2020)||Military Spending (2021)|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$51.6B||$55.7B||$56.9B||$60.7B||$68.4B|
The next top military spender in 2021 was China, which spent $293.4 billion and made up nearly 14% of global military spend. While China’s expenditure is still less than half of America’s, the country has increased its military spending for 27 years in a row.
In fact, China has the largest total of active military personnel, and the country’s military spending has more than doubled over the last decade.
While Russia was only the fifth top nation by military spending at $65.9 billion in 2021, it was among the higher ranking nations in terms of military spending as a share of GDP. Russia military expenditures amounted to 4.1% of its GDP, and among the top 10 spending nations, was only beaten by Saudi Arabia whose spending was 6.6% of its GDP.
Military Collaboration Since the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has resulted in seismic geopolitical shifts, kicking off a cascade of international military shipments and collaboration between nations. The security assistance just sent by the U.S. to Ukraine has totaled $8.2 billion since the start of the war, and has shown how alliances can help make up for some domestic military spending in times of conflict.
Similarly, Russia and China have deepened their relationship, sharing military intelligence and technology along with beginning joint military exercises at the end of August, alongside other nations like India, Belarus, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.
Since China’s breakthrough in hypersonic missile flight a year ago, Russia has now been testing its own versions of the technology, with Putin mentioning Russia’s readiness to export weaponry he described as, “years, or maybe even decades ahead of their foreign counterparts”.
Sanctions and Energy Exports: New Weapons in Modern Warfare
Along with advanced weaponry, sanctions and energy commodities have become new tools of modern cold warfare. As Western economic sanctions attempted to cripple Russia’s economy following its invasion, Russian gas and oil supplies have been limited and forced to be paid in rubles in retaliation.
Global trade has been turned into a new battlefield with offshore assets and import dependencies as the attack vectors. Along with these, cyberattacks and cybersecurity are an increasingly complex, obscure, and important part of national military and security.
Whether or not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ends in 2022, the rise in geopolitical tensions and conflict this year will almost certainly result in a global increase in military spending.
A Century of Unions in Europe (1920-2022)
This year marks 100 years since the birth of the Soviet Union. How have countries in and near Europe aligned themselves over the last century?
Timeline: A Century of Unions in Europe (1920-2022)
On February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine launching one of the biggest wars on European soil since World War II. The invasion reflects a longstanding belief of Russia’s that Ukraine—and much of the Soviet Union’s former republics and satellite states—is still their territory to claim. But what is the “former glory” of Russia?
Of the USSR’s former republics and satellite states, many have moved on to join the European Union, and in Putin’s eyes have become more “Westernized” and further from Russian values. In fact, Ukraine recently had its candidacy status approved with the EU.
It’s now been a full century since the formation of the USSR. Much has changed since then, and this visual timeline breaks down how countries within and near Europe have aligned themselves over those 100 years.
The USSR / Soviet Union
The Soviet Union—officially titled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—was formed 100 years ago in 1922 and was dissolved in 1991 almost 70 years later. At its height it was home to 15 republics, over 286 million people, and stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Ukraine, with virtual control and influence in countries as far west as East Germany.
Notable leaders characterized both the rise and fall of the USSR, starting with its establishment under Vladimir Lenin until the union’s dissolution under Mikhail Gorbachev. Latvia and Lithuania were among the first republics to make the move for sovereignty, beginning the demise of the Soviet Union.
Here’s a look at which modern day countries were a part of the USSR.
|Modern Day Country||Name Under USSR||Date Joined||Date Gained Independence|
|🇬🇪 Georgia||Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇺🇦 Ukraine||Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇦🇲 Armenia||Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇦🇿 Azerbaijan||Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇧🇾 Belarus||Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇷🇺 Russia||Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇺🇿 Uzbekistan||Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic||1924||1991|
|🇹🇲 Turkmenistan||Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic||1924||1991|
|🇹🇯 Tajikistan||Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic||1929||1991|
|🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan||Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic||1936||1991|
|🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic||1936||1991|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1990|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1991|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1990|
|🇲🇩 Moldova||Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1991|
Additionally, there were multiple satellite states, which were not formally joined with the USSR, but operated under intense Soviet influence.
|Modern Day Country||Country Name at the Time|
|🇦🇱 Albania||People's Republic of Albania|
|🇵🇱 Poland||Polish People's Republic|
|🇧🇬 Bulgaria||People's Republic of Bulgaria|
|🇷🇴 Romania||Romanian People's Republic|
|🇨🇿 Czechia||Czechoslovak Socialist Republic|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||Czechoslovak Socialist Republic|
|🇩🇪 Germany||East Germany (German Democratic Republic)|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||Hungarian People's Republic|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇭🇷 Croatia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇷🇸 Serbia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇪 Montenegro||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇳 Mongolia||Mongolian People's Republic|
Today, there are still some countries that align themselves with Putin and Russia over the EU.
Belarus, sometimes called Europe’s “last dictatorship”, shares a border with both Ukraine and Russia and facilitated the entry of Russian soldiers into Ukraine. Furthermore, according to the Pentagon, Russian missiles have been launched from Belarus.
The European Union
The European Union was officially formed in 1993 and has 27 member states. Some former USSR republics are now a part of the union including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The most recent member to join was Croatia in 2013.
The EU has its roots in the European Coal & Steel Community which was formed in 1952 with Italy, France, West Germany and a few other countries comprising its first members. There are currently six candidate countries on track to join the EU — all but one were either former Soviet satellite states or formal republics:
- 🇦🇱 Albania
- 🇲🇪 Montenegro
- 🇲🇰 North Macedonia
- 🇷🇸 Serbia
- 🇹🇷 Turkey
- 🇺🇦 Ukraine
- 🇲🇩 Moldova
There are many reasons countries opt to join the EU: a common currency, easier movement of goods and people between national borders, and, of course, military protection.
However, in 2020 the UK formally left the union, making it the first country in history to do so. Here’s a look at every EU member state.
|EU Member States||Year Joined||Former USSR Republic?||Former USSR Satellite State?|
|🇩🇪 Germany||1952||No||Yes (East Germany)|
The iron curtain that was draped across Europe, which used to divide the continent politically and ideologically, has since been drawn back. But the war in Ukraine is a threat to many in Europe, and countries such as Poland have voiced fears about the spillover of conflict.
In late June, the European Council approved Ukraine’s bid for expedited candidacy to the EU, but the process will still likely be lengthy—for example, it took Croatia 10 years to formally join at the normal pace.
Beyond other needs such as military support, joining the union would allow refugees from Ukraine the freedom to migrate and work in other EU countries with ease.
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