Ukraine: History, Government & the Peace Corps

This will be my first installment about Ukraine as a country — as I learn new things I will pass them along to you!

History of Ukraine
From 1923-1991 most of the country was a constituent republic within the USSR. Now, Ukraine is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In 1932-33 Joseph Stalin, in an effort to weaken Ukraine, induced a famine by forcibly collecting grain and deliberately starving to death as many as 10 million Ukrainians. In September 1941, Ukraine became one of the theaters of World War II when Nazi forces entered Kyiv. In November 1943, Soviet forces recaptured the city, retaining subsequent control of the Ukraine republic for almost 50 years.
Ukraine caught the world’s attention in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in April 1986. This incident, coupled with changes in the political philosophy of Soviet leaders, spurred Ukraine to proclaim its sovereignty in July 1990. Ukrainians formally realized their dream of independence in a national referendum on December 1, 1991, endorsing independence and choosing Leonid Kravchuk as the country’s first democratically elected president.

Government
Ukraine is governed by a constitution adopted in 1996. Under it, executive power is vested in the president (currently Victor Yanukovych) and the prime minister (Mykola Azarov), while legislative power is held in the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council). The president is elected by direct, popular vote for a 5-year term. Since the constitutional reform of 2006, the president maintains power as commander-in-chief and has an advisory role to the government — similar to many European countries. The Parliament now has exclusive power in appointing the Prime Minister and most members of the Cabinet of Ministers. The Verkhovna Rada is a unicameral body of 450 members. The seats are allocated on a proportional basis to those parties that gain 3% or more of the national electoral vote. All citizens 18 years or older can vote.
Ukraine is divided into 24 oblasts (provinces), one autonomous republic (Crimea), and two cities with special administrative status (Kyiv and Sevastopol). The oblasts are divided into 479 raions (divisions) and 415 cities. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea (on the Black Sea) is governed by a Prime Minister who heads a Cabinet of Ministers with considerable autonomy in its internal affairs.

The Peace Corps in Ukraine
Ukraine was the first successor nation of the Soviet Union to invite the Peace Corps to establish a program on its territory. Volunteers in Ukraine work throughout the country to help Ukrainians develop approaches to effecting positive change and skills necessary for communication in the global community. Ambiguity and economic instability (more on the economy later) have been prevalent in Ukraine during the difficult transition to integration with the West. The formal agreement establishing Peace Corps/Ukraine was signed in May 1992. Since the first group of Volunteers arrived in Ukraine in 1992, more than 1,800 Volunteers have worked in the areas of business development, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL — this is what I’ll be doing!), environmental protection, youth development, and community development. Currently, more than 300 Volunteers work in more than 100 cities and towns throughout the country.

(This information comes from my 111-page Peace Corps/Ukraine Welcome Book, the Ukraine page on the Peace Corps website, and the Ukraine Wikipedia site.)

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