Ukraine is bordered by Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and
Romania to the west, the Black Sea to the south, and Russia and Belarus to the
east and north. Ukraine is divided into 24 areas called oblasts and one autonomous
Much of the country is fertile agricultural land, covered by vast plains and plateaus called steppes. To the west are the Carpathian mountains. The Crimean peninsula, which juts out into the Black Sea, is also mountainous.
Several major rivers, including the Dnestr and the Dnipro,
cross the steppes and water Ukraine's rich black earth. The land was once called
"The Breadbasket of Europe" because of the quantity and quality of grain grown.
Ukraine also has deposits of coal and iron, and the Dnipro river has been dammed to
generate hydroelectric power, making it an important industrial centre.
In Ukraine summers are warm, and the average July temperature in Kyiv is about 19°C. Hot, dry winds from the desert steppes to the east sometimes cause summer droughts. Winters are snowy in Kiev where the average January temperature is -6°C. On the Crimean peninsula in the south, the climate is mild.
Ukraine's environment was disastrously affected by the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The soil and vegetation in the region are contaminated. Air and water pollution went largely unchecked during the Soviet era. Environmental concerns formed part of the Ukraine's drive for independence from the Soviet Union, and current policies include environmental protection measures.