Country Profile: Ukraine
The following post is meant to provide a brief overview of a country where many resettled individuals used to refer to as “home.” While we aim to present information accurately and objectively, we want to be sensitive to the various struggles and traumas that have led people to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. We recognize that territorial borders often encapsulate a multitude of cultures and ethnic groups, and that multiple perspectives to events can simultaneously be true. For community members who are Ukrainian, we are glad you are part of our community and welcome your feedback.
The war in Ukraine has led to the largest refugee crisis in Europe since War World II, and continues on with no end in sight. According to the United Nations, as of September 2023, there are over 6.2 million Ukrainian refugees* globally, with another 5.6 million citizens internally displaced. Of those who have fled the country due to the war, the UN estimates that nearly 90% are women and children. Around 5.8 million refugees remain within Europe, with a majority residing in Poland, Russia, and Germany.
Oregon has a history of welcoming Ukrainians. According to research from Portland State University, around 9,000 residents of Multnomah County claim to have been born in Ukraine, and over 20,000 have Ukrainian heritage. Another finding from the Oregon State Senate explains that Oregon has resettled well over 4,500 Ukrainian since the war began.
We asked Ukrainian community members living in the Portland Metro area what they wish people knew about their homeland and culture, and this is what they shared:
- “Ukraine is rich in its natural resources and fertile soil. However, the main wealth of this country is the Ukrainian people.”
- “There are many historical, cultural, and architectural monuments and structures located on the territory of Ukraine.“
- “Ukraine has very beautiful nature.”
- “The warm, calm, and friendly atmosphere on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, in Kiev attracts both Ukrainians and tourists. People love to walk along Khreshchatyk Street and Independence Square and spend time with their families and friends.”
What do you love about Ukrainian culture?
- “Hospitality is huge for Ukrainians. There is always plenty of food and tea. It is shameful if there is not enough for guests.”
- “Ukrainians have carried their culture through the centuries, despite the fact that throughout the entire historical period, Ukraine fought for its independence.”
- “I hold dear how much of a focus there is on family.”
Are there things you see as being distinctly Ukrainian?
- “The Ukrainian language is melodic, and Ukrainian folklore is unique.”
- “Ukraine is famous for its embroidered shirts, and people are reviving the tradition of wearing embroidered shirts.”
What is your favorite food from Ukraine?
- “The most famous dish of Ukrainian cuisine is borscht. This is a Ukrainian beet soup prepared according to a special recipe and you will not find a single Ukrainian who does not like this dish.”
- “Pelmeni/varenyky are popular. These are dumplings stuffed with meat or potatoes, but there is also a sweet version that has a fresh fruit filling or jam.”
- “Golubtsi are delicious cabbage rolls, stuffed with rice and meat, baked in a tomato sauce.”
- “We love dishes with potatoes.”
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Ukraine is the third largest country in Europe, bordering eight other countries (Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova), as well as the Black Sea. Kyiv, the nation’s largest city, is also its capital. Ukrainian is the only official language, yet Russian is spoken in many places around the country, in addition to other languages. In terms of religion, the Ukrainian population is overwhelmingly Christian; the vast majority – up to two-thirds – identify themselves as a part of the Orthodox branch of the faith.
Considering the last census was held in 2001, official statistics are hard to determine, but it was believed that the population was around 44 million in 2020. With the Ukrainian war, the refugee crisis, and the loss of territory, Ukraine’s population is difficult to determine, but the United Nations estimates that there are around 36.5 million people. Three quarters of the population identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainian, over 17% identify as Russian, and the remainder of the population come from minority groups (Belarusian, Moldovan, Tatar, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Jewish). According to numbers from 2001, 60% of citizens living in Crimea identified as Russian.
In February of 2014, soldiers without insignias began appearing on the Peninsula of Crimea, forcing Ukrainian troops off of military bases, and claiming control of major portions of the region. By March 16th of that year, a referendum was held to determine whether Crimea should remain a part of Ukraine or should rejoin the Russian Federation. The results claimed that 97% of those who voted wished to rejoin Russia. Two days later, the President of Russia announced an official annexation of the territory. While the government of Ukraine condemned the move, no military response was taken against Russia.
In the months that followed, pro-Russian separatists employed similar tactics in the easternmost provinces known as the Donbas. With the backing of Russia, they stormed government buildings and claimed independence from Ukraine. Ukrainian forces responded in an attempt to regain control over the territory. In the end, war spread throughout the area, as Ukraine and Russia sought full control of the region.
In February 2022, Russian forces began to build up on the border between the two neighbors. With a full scale assault about to begin, Ukrainians began to flee to Western provinces and the borders. On the 24th of that month, Russia invaded Ukraine, captured the Southeastern and Eastern provinces, and marched toward Kyiv. While Ukraine fought hard to regain lost land, by the end of September, Russia announced that they would officially annex four new territories.
This war currently has no end and will continue to cause displacement and devastation for Ukrainian communities as long as it continues. In Oregon, Refugee Care Collective has served hundreds of Ukrainian families rebuilding their lives through our Immediate Assistance Programs.
While this article only scratches the surface when it comes to the rich history and culture of Ukraine, we hope you have a better understanding of the events that caused Ukrainians to flee their home and how fondly our resettled neighbors view their homeland.
* The United Nations included individuals granted refugee status, temporary asylum status, temporary protection, or statuses through similar national protections in this total.
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