Ukraine country brief

Overview

Ukraine is a large country, covering over 603,000 square kilometres. It borders Russia to the east, Belarus to the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south. Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine. Ukraine’s population is  42.4 million (2017 estimate). It celebrates its National Day on 24 August.

Ukraine is a unitary state composed of 24 oblasts (provinces), the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and two cities with special status (Kyiv and Sevastopol). In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, including the city of Sevastopol. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine on 27 March 2014, emphasising that Russia’s de facto annexation had no validity under international law. Australia condemns Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and fully supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Political overview

Ukraine declared independence from the former Soviet Union on 24 August 1991. Ukraine is a republic under a semi-presidential system with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The President, elected for a five-year term, is the Head of State and holds power over the state’s security structures. The current President is Petro Poroshenko and the Prime Minister is Volodymyr Groysman.

The parliament, Rada has 450 seats, with members serving five-year terms. The Rada adopts legislation, ratifies international agreements and approves the budget. The Rada also approves the President’s nominations for Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, and the Prime Minister’s nominations for the rest of Cabinet. The current speaker is Andriy Parubiy.

On 21 November 2013, then-President Viktor Yanukovych announced the Ukrainian Government had abandoned negotiations for an EU–Ukraine Association Agreement and would instead pursue closer ties with Russia. The announcement sparked major anti-government demonstrations that ultimately led to the fall of the Yanukovych government.

Following these events, on 26 February 2014, unmarked Russian military and other separatist forces occupied the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which has a high proportion of ethnic-Russians and is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. On 16 March 2014, an internationally-unrecognised snap referendum was held in Crimea, and on 21 March 2014 Russia annexed Crimea in contravention of international law.

Separately, in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, armed forces purporting to be local militia seized government and police stations in several cities. These groups held referendums — near-universally condemned as illegitimate — to establish Donetsk and Luhansk as republics independent of Ukraine. Donetsk and Luhansk have since suffered severe military conflict, which has killed over 10,000 people and forced more than a million others to seek refuge in other parts of Ukraine or in neighbouring countries.

Russia stands accused of providing significant military equipment, personnel, command and other support to ‘separatist’ groups in eastern Ukraine.

On 27 June 2014, President Poroshenko signed the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement, which serves to deepen political, economic and trade relations between Ukraine and the EU. The Agreement came into force on 1 September 2017 following ratification by all EU members.

On 17 July 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, including 38 people who called Australia home. An initial investigation under International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements, led by the Dutch Safety Board, concluded on 13 October 2015 that flight MH17 had been downed by a BUK surface-to-air missile. An international criminal investigation, conducted by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising the Netherlands, Malaysia, Ukraine, Belgium and Australia, is ongoing.

Economic overview

The transition to a market economy has been difficult for Ukraine. Eight consecutive years of economic decline followed its independence from the Soviet UnionFollowing a brief period of economic growth in 2010–11, Ukraine’s economy stagnated under President Yanukovich then collapsed as war diverted resources and damaged key industries. Having contracted by 6.5% and 9.8% in 2014 and 2015 respectively, Ukraine’s economy grew just over 2% in 2016. Growth is expected to continue through 2017–18. In March 2015, Ukraine reached an agreement with the IMF for US$17.5 billion based on reforms to support economic growth, restore external financial stability and strengthen public finances and governance.

Entry into force of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on 1 September 2017 and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) on 1 January 2016 open further opportunities for Ukraine to increase and diversify its trade.

Bilateral relationship

Ukraine opened an Embassy in Canberra in March 2003. In November 2014, Australia established an interim Embassy in Kyiv and appointed Australia’s first resident Ambassador to Ukraine in January 2015.  Australia also has an Honorary Consul in Kyiv.

The 2016 Census recorded 46,186 people in Australia who identify as having Ukrainian ancestry. The active Ukrainian community in Australia plays an important role in developing bilateral relations. The Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations continues to provide a focus for the Ukrainian community in Australia, and an Australia–Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group fosters links between the Australian parliament and the Ukrainian Rada.

Then-President of the Senate Mr Stephen Parry visited Ukraine in October 2017. Foreign Minister Bishop visited Ukraine in July 2014 and Ukrainian President Poroshenko visited Australia in December 2014. Justice Minister Keenan visited Ukraine in November 2014.

In June 2012, Australia donated €1 million to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund to help transform Chernobyl into a safe and secure site. In May 2014, Australia donated A$300,000 for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, aimed at reducing tension and fostering stability and security in Ukraine.

On 3 September 2014, then Prime Minister Abbott announced a package of assistance to Ukraine. As part of that package, Australia provided A$1 million in humanitarian aid to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and over A$4 million worth of support in the form of cold-weather clothing to Ukraine’s military. Australia has also provided loans under Australia’s commitments to the IMF as part of the IMF assistance package linked to economic reform in Ukraine, and funding for World Food Program relief activities in the conflict zones in eastern Ukraine.

On 19 June 2014 and 1 September 2014, Australia imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on individuals who have been instrumental in the Russian threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On 31 March 2015, Australia implemented expanded sanctions against Russia, which parallel those implemented by the EU.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australia’s trade relationship with Ukraine is modest. Merchandise exports from Australia were valued at A$71 million in 2016–17 and consisted mainly of coal. In the same period, Australia imported A$35 million worth of products from Ukraine, mainly vegetable oils and fats. Australia invested $105 million in Ukraine in 2016, while Ukraine invested $49 million in Australia in the same period.

On 1 April 2016, Australia and Ukraine signed a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which would enable Australia to export uranium to Ukraine – one of the world’s top ten generators of nuclear power. This agreement entered into force in June 2017. The Agreement will allow Australia to help Ukraine diversify its energy supply, and will enhance bilateral cooperation between Australia and Ukraine on nuclear-related activities, including nuclear safeguards, security, safety and science.

Updated March 2018

Last Updated: 7 March 2018