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Map Explainer: Key Facts About Ukraine

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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.

Ukraine population cartogram

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.

donbas region conflict zone

ZomBear, Marktaff, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Visualizing the World’s Top 25 Fleets of Combat Tanks

The tank remains the backbone of modern twenty-first century armies. This infographic shows what countries have the largest combat fleets.

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Top 25 Fleets of Combat Tanks

Visualizing the World’s Top 25 Fleets of Combat Tanks

The tank, an armored all-terrain fighting vehicle, revolutionized the way we fight when introduced during the First World War. Since then, despite some commentators predicting the end of the tank era, they remain a cornerstone of 21st century armies.

Global Firepower has released their ranking of combat tank fleet sizes for 2023, which we’ve visualized in this infographic.

The ranking includes main battle tanks, like the U.S. M1A2 Abrams or the German Leopard 2, but also more lightly-armed medium and light tanks, like Thailand’s Stingray. The numbers do not include armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles.

Russia

Numbering 12,556 tanks, the Russian Federation has the largest fleet in their arsenal by far, from the workhorse T-72 series to the ultra-advanced T-14 Armata. This is more than the combined total of the number two and three spots, North Korea (6,645) and the U.S. (5,500).

Russia's T-14 Armata main battle tank

But the headline number misses nuances in the composition of the Russian tank fleet.

Of Russia’s nearly 13,000 active combat tanks, only a fraction are main battle tanks. A 2021 Russian source estimated that their operational main battle fleet was closer to 2,600 tanks, made up of T-72s, T-80s, and T-90s, with another 400 T-72 variants used as range tanks.

On top of that, only one-quarter of those are considered modern tanks—T-72B3/B3M, T-80-BVM, and T-90A/M—that is, fitted with up-to-date fire control systems and sighting. That’s why, on top of poor morale, inadequate logistics, and inflexible tactics, Russia has struggled to perform on the Ukrainian battlefield despite having more than six times the number of tanks (12,556 vs. 1,890).

According to a Pentagon official speaking in early November 2022, Russia has lost half of their tanks since their “special military operation” began on February 24, 2022. The conflict has also injured or killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and upended the post-Cold War security architecture.

North Korea

The world’s second-largest tank fleet belongs to North Korea, with a combat fleet of 6,645 tanks.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has maintained armored capabilities since the Korean War (1950-1953) when their first armored unit, the 105th Armored Brigade, participated in the invasion of South Korea armed with 120 Soviet-made T-34/85 tanks.

After the war, the North Korean army rearmed with Soviet T-34/85s, and later with T-55s and Chinese-variant Type 59 tanks. Despite now being decades-old, these are likely still in service, alongside indigenous designs such as the Chonma-ho “Flying Horse” and the Pokpung-ho “Storm.”

Ultimately, these tank forces are considered to be no match for modern main battle tanks despite their numbers. One military blogger called them “weak and pathetic”—especially when compared to South Korea’s fourth-generation K2 Black Panther, considered one of the most advanced tanks in the world.

China

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently accelerated fleet modernization plans at the 20th Party Congress, in anticipation of the army’s centenary in 2027, but they still have a ways to go.

Their fourth-place 4,950 combat tank fleet contains a mix of modern and obsolete tanks.

China’s most modern main battle tank, the third-generation Type 99, is a domestic design. Armed with a 125mm diameter main gun—slightly larger than the NATO standard 120mm—and 1,500hp diesel engine, it is tough and maneuverable. An upgraded variant, the Type 99A, debuted in the mid-2000s.

China's Type 99 main battle tank

There is some speculation that the Type 99/99A could rival the U.S. M1 Abrams. However, it still falls short of fourth-generation designs, such as Russia’s T-14 Armata, South Korea’s K2 Black Panther, or Japan’s Type 10.

But thanks to a whopping $293 billion military budget, and significant industrial espionage, China’s defense industry is capable of producing military equipment at or near world-class standards, including tanks. The country even began testing unmanned tanks, including the Type 59 in 2018 and lightweight Type 15 in 2019.

Ukraine

Despite coming in at #13 with 1,890 tanks and initial predictions of a quick victory for Russian invaders, Ukrainian forces have successfully halted and then turned back their numerically superior foes.

Originally armed with upgraded Soviet-era T-64s, as well as donations of T-72s from Poland and Czechia, Ukraine’s tank forces have swelled thanks to captured military equipment left behind by fleeing Russian soldiers.

Oryx, a Dutch defense analysis website that has been tracking battlefield progress in Ukraine using open-source intelligence, estimates that 533 tanks, including several top-of-the-line T-90s, have been captured as of early 2023. According to a U.S. defense official, Ukraine may now have “more tanks in the battlefield than the Russians do.”

Arsenal of Democracy?

Looking ahead, Ukraine is asking for advanced Western main battle tanks, as it seeks to liberate the rest of its territory from Russia, including the Donbas and Crimea. NATO nations had been reluctant to take that step, as they were wary of further antagonizing Russia, but resistance seems to be diminishing.

On January 4, 2023, France agreed to deliver AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine, the first Western country to do so. On January 6, the U.S. and Germany each agreed to deliver armored vehicles of their own, the Bradley and Marder, respectively.

And as another possible sign that sentiment has shifted, the UK has also said that it plans to donate a small number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, while Poland has signaled their intention to donate Leopard 2 tanks (though the latter will need Germany’s permission to export).

As the spring campaign season approaches, we will see how these new weapons affect the balance of tank fleets both on and off the battlefield.

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