While in the Tsarist Empire and then in the USSR after the Second World War, Ukraine boasted one of the most prosperous and developed economies, with agricultural production that served the entire Soviet Union and one of the most important heavy industry in the world, after the independence the situation has seriously worsened. The market and price liberalization measures introduced by the government led to the collapse of agricultural and industrial production (reduced in 1999 to just over half of what they were ten years earlier) and the decline in GDP, while inflation recorded a violent surge. As with most of the other states that became independent after the dissolution of the USSR, the disappearance of the traditional Soviet planned market, international competition and the need to reform the ownership structure of companies as well as their plants have produced serious difficulties (in particular, rampant corruption) and a slowdown in the economy, accompanied by a significant impoverishment of the population. It wasn’t until around 2000 that improvements began and development resumed. GDP in 2008 was US $ 179,725 million ($ 3,920 per capita) with 2.6% growth on the previous year; growth accelerated (over 12%) in 2004, while in 2005 there was a new slowdown. The liberal-oriented reforms, urged by the international financial institutions, the USA and the European Union and repeatedly announced by the various governments that succeeded each other in Kijev, have had a fluctuating trend, with continuous setbacks; and the attempts to link the Ukrainian economy to the Western ones collide with the reality of a massive dependence on Russia for energy needs (gas and oil), despite the presence of numerous nuclear power plants and massive coal reserves, the exploitation of which is however not very convenient. Russia remains by far the largest outlet market for Ukrainian agricultural and industrial production. Today the agricultural sector occupies approx. 21.8% of the active population and mainly produces wheat, barley, maize, sugar beets, potatoes and sunflower seeds, plus a significant amount of vegetables; Up to now, measures aimed at favoring the birth of private companies by dismembering collective ones have had little success.
According to businesscarriers, the secondary sector in turn employs 27.7% of the workforce, but is affected by serious structural problems, starting with the age of the plants: the steel industry is fueled by large iron ore deposits and coal deposits, which nevertheless record a decline in production, while the mechanical and consumer goods industries encounter difficulties in competing on international markets; better trends were recorded in metallurgy, the chemical and food industries. The nuclear industry is of great importance, which satisfies approx. a quarter of the national energy needs and which, despite the Chernobyl disaster and the reservations made by the international community on the reliability of Ukrainian power plants, is aiming to expand further. In any case, Western countries have promised Ukraine funding for 2 billion dollars to permanently close the disrupted plant. The tertiary sector, which employs 50.5% of the active population, sees a trade balance in slight surplus but a serious shortage of investments, especially foreign ones; as far as trade is concerned, the largest partner is by far the Russian Federation, both for import and export, followed by Germany, Turkey and Italy. The real unemployment rate was estimated, in 2008, to be 6.4%; emigration in search of work is not quantified with precision but nevertheless represents a phenomenon of great importance.
CULTURE: GENERAL INFORMATION
A strong duality, legacy of the journey of history and of the western and eastern matrices of its people, characterizes the Ukrainian culture, rich in secular customs and traditions. The linguistic lexicon is a metaphor for this, a perfect combination of Western Slavic and Eastern Slavic, with many words similar to Russian and just as many equal to Polish. The link with Moscow appears as a watershed at the extremity of which is eastern Ukraine, more modern and industrialized, with a Russian national and cultural “instinct”. Here the population is bilingual or speaks only Russian and the most widespread religion is the Orthodox one. On the other hand are western Ukraine and the former Galicia, in the past less linked to Moscow, where a strong anti-Soviet nationalism circulates, where Ukrainian is spoken above all, where the Uniate religion is practiced, where one lives all of an economic and productive dimension more closely linked to the cultivation of the land. But in every home in Ukraine, guests have always been given, upon arrival and departure, a loaf of bread and salt, a sign of their passage in a country that provides for the exchange of bread in all ceremonies, which keeps alive the strength of the past with its articulated rituals, which hides under the religious officiality of its celebrations ancient agricultural rites of a pagan nature deeply rooted in the people. An important center of humanist and scientific culture is the capital, UNESCO in 1990.