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The Ukrainian people
Cultural Profile of their country of origin- Ukraine
Ethnic, Linguistic and Religious Identity
Major Ethnic Groups
Ukraine is a multi-ethnic, multi- language and multi-cultural country. Roughly 77.5% of Ukraine's population identify as ethnic Ukrainians. The second largest group are Russians, accounting for 17.2% of the population. Other minorities include Romanians, Belorussians, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Armenians, Roma (formerly referred to as Gypsies, which is now considered incorrect), and other groups.
Since the first day of its independence, the leadership of Ukraine faced a challenging task of building a national identity that would unite various regions with ethnically diverse populations. These divisions go back several centuries, and are a result of imperial fighting between Russia, Austro-Hungary and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The southern and eastern parts of the country were part of the Russian Empire, and as a result mostly populated by ethnic Russians and predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainians and have a very close cultural and economic relationship with Russia. Some of the western areas were part of Habsburg Austria until 1918, others were added after the Second World War. The west has always been the land of Ukrainian nationalism with strong pro-European feelings.
When Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, a policy of Russian immigration and Ukrainian out-migration was in effect, and ethnic Ukrainians’ population declined from 77% in 1959 to 73% in 1991. But that trend reversed after the country gained independence. By the end of the last century, ethnic Ukrainians made up more than three-fourths of the population. Russians now constitute less than one-fifth of the population.
The Crimean Tatars were forcibly deported to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics in 1944, and began returning to the Crimea region in large numbers in 1989; by the early 2000s they constituted one of the largest non-Russian minority groups. In March 2014 Russia forcibly annexed Crimea, a move that was condemned by the international community, and human rights groups subsequently have documented a series of repressive measures that have been taken against the Crimean Tatars by Russian authorities. The war between the two countries is still ongoing.
Historically, Ukraine also has had large Jewish and Polish populations, especially in the Right Bank region (west of the Dnieper River). In the late 19th century, a bit more than one-fourth of the world’s Jewish population (estimated at 10 million) lived in the Ukrainian territory. This predominantly Yiddish-speaking population was greatly reduced by emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and by the devastation of the Holocaust. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, large numbers of Ukraine’s remaining Jews emigrated, mainly to Israel. At the turn of the 21st century, the several hundred thousand Jews left in Ukraine made up less than 1 percent of the population. Most of their large Polish minority was resettled in Poland after World War II as part of a Soviet plan to have ethnic settlement match territorial boundaries. Fewer than 150,000 ethnic Poles remained in Ukraine at the turn of the 21st century.
For a short history of Ukraine, visit this page.
Most people in Ukraine speak Ukrainian, which is written with a form of the Cyrillic alphabet. The language belongs, along with Russian and Belarusian, to the East Slavic branch of the Slavic language family and is closely related to them but also has distinct similarities to the Polish language. A lot of people in the country also speak Polish, Yiddish, Rusyn, Belarusian, Romanian or Moldovan, Bulgarian, Crimean Turkish, or Hungarian. Russian is the most important minority language.
During the Imperial Russian rule, and later under the Soviet Union, Russian was the common language of government administration and public life. Although Ukrainian had been afforded equal status with Russian in the decade following the revolution of 1917, by the 1930s there was a concerted attempt at Russification. In 1989 Ukrainian again became the country’s official language, and its status as the sole official language was confirmed in the 1996 Ukrainian constitution.
In 2012 a law granted local authorities the power to confer official status upon minority languages. Ukrainian was reaffirmed as the country’s official language, but regional administrators could decide to conduct official business in the prevailing language of the area. In Crimea, where there is a Russian-speaking majority, Russian and Crimean Tatar are the official languages. Primary and secondary schools using Russian as the language of instruction, still prevail in the Donets Basin and other areas with large Russian minorities. The Ukrainian parliament moved to rescind the minority language law in February 2014, after they deposed pro-Russian Pres. Viktor Yanukovych, but interim Pres. Oleksandr Turchynov declined to sign the bill into law.
The main religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodoxy, practiced by almost half of the population. Historically, most adherents have belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate was important as well. A smaller number of Orthodox Christians belonged to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
In January 2019 the Kyiv Patriarchate and Autocephalous churches were merged into a single body as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In creating the new church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I formalized the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox community, which had been under the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Moscow since 1686. In western Ukraine the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church prevails.
Minority religions include Christian Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Islam (practiced primarily by the Crimean Tatars), and Judaism. More than two-fifths of Ukrainians are not religious.
For more information on the country's demographics, visit their Wiki page here.
NOTE- With this installment of our culture series, we talk about the culture of the country of Ukraine- a place that right now is fighting for their right to freedom and independence. Since that part is being covered by regular media, we will focus on portraying their culture, their people, and other notable details- and not delve into the tragedy they are currently living.