Ukraine Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despite the fact that ethnicity has long been a hotly debated issue in the country, more recent events have reinforced the fact that Ukraine's ethnic groups still greatly matter.

Historically More Diverse

For centuries, the plains of what is now Ukraine acted as a natural mixing ground for people of various ethnicities. Its flat land offered a highway of sorts for migrants and conquerors moving from Asia to Europe. Meanwhile, its strategic position between Russia and the Black Sea often meant that it was traversed by armies and merchants moving north and south as well. However, the years of World War II and the Soviet occupation cleared much of the resulting diversity. Populations of Germans were relocated, while the Jewish population was the victim of some of the worst crimes in history. That said, there are still many ethnic groups in Ukraine, and now as much as ever, understanding them is important.

Map of Ukraine
Ukraine

Ukrainians

The majority of the people in Ukraine are Ukrainians. More than 70% of Ukrainians identify as ethnically Ukrainian. This ethnic group has been recognized since the days of the Russian Empire, where the people had a turbulent relationship with the majority of Russians. After World War I, the Ukrainians temporary gained some level of independence before being absorbed back into the USSR. Today, Ukrainians make up the majority of all provinces of an independent Ukraine, except for those in the northeast of the country, as well as the contested peninsula of Crimea.

Flag of Ukraine
Flag

Russians

The next largest ethnic group in Ukraine are the Russians. Historically, they have been a very powerful group - after all, Russia ruled Ukraine for hundreds of years. Today they make up around 20% of the population and are concentrated along the northeastern border and in Crimea.

There has been a recent conflict between Russia and the Ukrainian government about protecting the rights of this Russian minority population, including both ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Russian-speaking populations in Ukraine are more abundant than those with Russian ancestry.

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