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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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Politics

Map Explainer: The Caucasus Region

There has been intermittent fighting in the Caucasus region for decades. But what is the area like beyond the conflict? This map takes a look.

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Map Explainer: The Caucasus Region

The Caucasus Region has been engulfed in a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades now. Although flare-ups in the conflict have been recent, the root of the violence harkens back to the 1980s.

But this map allows us to step back and look at the region in its larger context.

While most media has focused on the tensions, this map breaks down the entire Caucasus region, providing key facts and information. What are the countries that comprise the region? What is the main economic activity in the area? How is the population distributed? Let’s begin.

The Basics

The Caucasus region is characterized by far-reaching mountain ranges, that have long separated people and created distinct ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities over thousands of years. Today, the region spans over three main countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and is bordered by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Focusing on the main three, here’s a look at some basic demographics:

  • 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan Population: 10.4 million
  • 🇦🇲 Armenia Population: 3.0 million
  • 🇬🇪 Georgia Population: 4.1 million

Home to around 20 million, the Caucasus region touches the Caspian Sea to the East and the Black Sea to the West. It is an area distinctly situated between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, but is defined by most categorizations as Central Asian.

🇦🇿 Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is the biggest country in the region, both in terms of land mass and population. The Nagorno-Karabakh region is located within the official borders of Azerbaijan, and is inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Armenians.

The majority of Azeris are Muslim, however, the country is considered one of the most secular Muslim countries in the world. Azerbaijani or Azeri is the most widely spoken language with more than 92% of people speaking it. Just over 1% in the country speak Russian as a first language and another 1% speak Armenian as a primary language. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, a similar percentage share defines the amount of ethnic Russians and Armenians in Azerbaijan, at 1.5% and 1.3% respectively.

🇦🇲 Armenia

Like both its neighbors, Armenia gained independence at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike its neighbors, however, it is entirely landlocked.

The country is a majority Christian nation, with an ethnic makeup of nearly 98% Armenians and the most widely spoken language being Armenian, according to the government. The population count has fallen since the collapse of the USSR, and has been relatively flat in more recent years.

🇬🇪 Georgia

Georgia is slightly smaller than Azerbaijan in size; the country shares a long border with Russia to its north and features a long coastline on the Black Sea.

Georgia’s population growth shares a similar story to many other former Soviet republics. While total population has decreased slightly over recent years, the growth in ethnic nationals (Georgians) has actually increased. The country is majority Christian and Georgian is the most popular language.

Where do People Live Across the Caucasus Region?

So how are these populations concentrated throughout the region? These cartograms from World Mapper, break it down by country:

Azerbaijan

caucus region

Most people live in and around the capital Baku, a port city on the Caspian Sea. However, a number of people also live inland closer to the Armenian and Georgian borders.

Armenia

caucus region

In Armenia the population heavily skews towards its capital city of Yerevan, which has a population of 1.1 million.

Georgia

caucus region

Georgia’s population distribution is slightly more even than its neighbors with a preference towards the capital Tbilisi.

The Economy of the Caucasus Region

Now let’s dive into the economic activity in the Caucasus. In some parts, the region is oil-rich with access to resources like the vast oil fields in the Caspian Sea off Azerbaijan’s coast. In fact, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline carries nearly 1 million barrels of oil from the oilfields to Turkey every day.

Stepping back, here’s a glance at regional GDPs:

  • 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan GDP: $42.6 billion
  • 🇬🇪 Georgia: $15.9 billion
  • 🇦🇲 Armenia GDP: $12.7 billion

Azerbaijan is the Caucasus region’s biggest economy. It is the most economically developed country of the three, having seen rapid GDP growth since its transition from a Soviet republic. At its height in the early 2000s, the national GDP was growing at yearly rates of 25%-35%. Today, its oil and gas exports are proving extremely lucrative given the European energy crisis due to the war in Ukraine. Fossil fuels make up about 95% of the country’s export revenue.

Both Armenia and Georgia’s economies are considered emerging/developing and are dependent on many different Russian imports. However, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development, both economies are expected to grow 8% this year.

Georgia’s economy has been recovering from the pandemic thanks to its burgeoning tourism industry, largely drawing Russian visitors. Additionally, in both Georgia and Armenia, the inflow of Russian businesses and tech professionals have boosted the economies.

A Brief Background

The three countries which encapsulate the region, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, were each republics under the Soviet Union until its fall in 1991. Additionally, the regions of Dagestan and Chechnya in Russia, also located in the geographic sphere of the Caucasus, each maintain a distinct identity from Russia. Both regions are majority ethnically non-Russian and still face regular violence over their power struggle with the regional heavyweight.

In fact, many of the tensions in the region can be linked to Russian oppression, according to experts.

“Russian suppression of national resistance in the Caucasus has encouraged fundamentalist movements.”
– Dr. James V. Wertsch (Caucasus Specialist, University of Washington, St. Louis)

In recent history, Russia invaded Georgia within hours of the kickoff of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, sparking conflict in the Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. The Russo–Georgian War is considered the first European war of the 21st century.

While the history of the Caucasus goes way back⁠—for instance, the kingdom of Armenia dates back to the 331 BC⁠—more recent events have been shaped by Cold War and subsequent fallout from the dissolution of the USSR.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

The tension over the Nagorno-Karabakh region began in the late 1980s and escalated into a full-scale war into the 1990s. In the early years of the conflict, approximately 30,000 people died. Since then, ceasefires and violence have arisen intermittently⁠—with the most recent end to the fighting in 2020. At least 243 people have been killed since then.

The conflict first began when newly independent Armenia demanded the region back from Azerbaijan, which was still a Soviet state at the time, as the population there was (and still is) mostly Armenian. Although not internationally recognized, a breakaway group has declared part of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state called the Republic of Artsakh.

Here’s a very brief timeline:

  • 1988-1994: First Nagorno-Karabakh War
  • April 2016: Four days of violence at the separation line
  • September-November 2020: War was reignited until Russia negotiated a ceasefire
  • September 2022: New clashes erupted resulting in hundreds of deaths

The conflict has bled out into the region—Russia is on Armenia’s side and Turkey on Azerbaijan’s. But new allies may be taking the stage as evidenced by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Armenia in mid-September. Today, the region is divided between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russian peacekeepers, but is still officially Azerbaijani.

Editor’s note: A prior version of this article said that Russia’s 2008 invasion took place during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. We have since adjusted this to “within hours of the kickoff” of the games, since the exact time varies according to sources.

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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?

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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.

CountryMilitary Spending (2017)Military Spending (2018)Military Spending (2019)Military Spending (2020)Military Spending (2021)
🇺🇸 U.S. $646.8B$682.5B$734.3B$778.4B$800.7B
🇨🇳 China$210.4B$232.5B$240.3B$258.0B$293.4B
🇮🇳 India$64.6B$66.3B$71.5B$72.9B$76.6B
🇬🇧 United Kingdom$51.6B$55.7B$56.9B$60.7B$68.4B
🇷🇺 Russia$66.9B$61.6B$65.2B$61.7B$65.9B

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.

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