Regions of Ukraine

Regions of Ukraine. The regions of Ukraine derive their characteristics from a diverse complex of physical-geographic and human factors, including natural phenomena (topography, vegetation, climate) and human characteristics (population, political-administrative borders, economic indicators). The most permanent features over the centuries of human record are landforms. They influence the drainage patterns, the climate, the flora, the density of population, and the economy. The most noticeable feature, difference in altitude, is pronounced only where the mountains begin, or where the uplands are marked off by deep valleys or escarpments. In some places, as in the northern lowland, the swamps of Polisia become the prevalent feature; in others, as in the southern plains of Ukraine, the transition from the forest-steppe to the steppe vegetation and a drier climate become the main factors of regional differentiation. Ukraine can thus be divided into four major natural units: the northern, the middle, the southern, and the mountainous. The northern belt, commonly known as Polisia, is a sparsely populated territory of postglacial landscapes, forests, and swamps. The middle belt is a territory of erosive loess landscapes. It has a temperate, subhumid climate and degraded chernozem and chernozem soils that developed under a natural forest-steppe vegetation. Possessing excellent conditions for agriculture, the middle belt supports arable farmland and is densely populated. The southern belt differs from the middle belt in its warmer, semiarid climate. Its chernozem and chestnut soils developed under the steppe flora, which until recently was grazed by herds of wild or domesticated ungulates. At present it is largely plowed where some crops enjoy supplemental irrigation, but it is less densely peopled than the middle belt, except in the industrial areas. The Carpathian Mountains, the Crimean Mountains, and the Caucasus Mountains, along with their respective foothills and submontane depressions, constitute separate small units.

The differentiation of Ukrainian national territory on the basis of human characteristics can involve matters of ethnography. The cultural attributes of Ukrainians, which have evolved in conjunction with their use of the environment and interrelations with their neighbours, include subtle differences in language (dialects), music, beliefs, and social behaviour, as well as in elements of material culture, such as house types and styles in clothing, embroidery, pottery, and the like. Such characteristics are best preserved in isolated locations with minimum immigration, such as swampy Polisia or the secluded valleys of the Carpathian Mountains. Vasyl Horlenko recognized six ethnographic regions and several subregions of Ukraine. The Polisia or northern region (which corresponds closely to the physical-geographic region of Polisia) possesses autochthons with archaic cultural traits. It may be subdivided into three subregions, the left-bank region or Chernihiv Polisia, the central region or Kyivan Polisia (northwest of Kyiv), and the western region or Volhynian Polisia. The Carpathian ethnographic region is the most complex region of all. It includes not only the Carpathian Mountains but also the Tysa Lowland in Transcarpathia and the Dnister Lowland in Subcarpathia, extends northward to Roztochia, and includes the western end of the Podolian Upland. The region shares borders with the Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Romanians, peoples with whom the Ukrainians of the region have had lengthy interactions. In the mountains there still exist three distinct Ukrainian ethnographic groups (from the southeast to the west, respectively), the Hutsuls, the Boikos, and the Lemkos. The remaining regions, by contrast, are more homogeneous and similar to one another. The Podolian ethnographic region corresponds to the central and eastern parts of the Podolian Upland. The central or Dnieper ethnographic region extends south of Kyiv along both sides of the Dnieper River to Kirovohrad in the south and Poltava in the east. It is the Ukrainian heartland and was the locus of the most vigorous development of the Ukrainian nationality from the 15th and 16th centuries. Slobidska Ukraine, the fifth major ethnographic region, was settled in the 17th century by Ukrainian Cossacks as military servitors on the Muscovite steppe frontier, and thus experienced a long period of Russian-Ukrainian interaction. The territory extends in an arc from Sumy through Kharkiv and eastward, with a strip in the Russian Federation south of Lgov and Belgorod that broadens into a wedge south of Voronezh to Novokhopersk and south to Morozovsk in Rostov oblast. Finally, the southern or steppe ethnographic region is large and not clearly differentiated. It corresponds approximately to the steppe belt. The region was settled only in the 18th century, by Ukrainian farmers who, more than in other regions, were influenced by the commerce and urban way of life of the Russians (throughout the belt), and by interaction with them and with the Germans (in the west, center, and east), the Romanians (in the west), the Bulgarians (in the west and center), the Greeks (in the east), and the Caucasian peoples (in the Kuban).

Distinct regional Ukrainian identities have developed among segments of the population that have been isolated from the mass of the Ukrainian people by historical circumstance. The most obvious examples are the populations of Transcarpathia (which existed as a unit under the Kingdom of Hungary, Transylvania, Hungary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Czechoslovakia), Galicia (under the Kingdom of Poland, Austria, and then Poland again), Bukovyna (under Romania), the Kholm region and Podlachia (both mostly under Poland), Polisia (under Lithuania and then Russia, Poland, and Belarus), Slobidska Ukraine (under Muscovy, the Russian Empire, the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, and the Russian Federation), and the Kuban and the eastern Subcaucasus (under the Russian Empire, the RSFSR, and the Russian Federation). The groups affected by regionalism constitute approximately one-fifth of the Ukrainian population; the rather undifferentiated mass of Central Ukrainians form the remaining four-fifths.

Taking into consideration the historical past of Ukraine, the regional differences of the population, its present distribution, and economic conditions, Volodymyr Kubijovyč divided Ukraine into 14 historical-geographic regions. Although Transcarpathia and the Crimea are smaller, they are singled out as separate regions because of their historical and geographical individuality. Similarly, the Kholm region and Podlachia and Bukovyna are regarded as separate regions. Polisia is divided among Volhynia, the Kyiv region, and the Chernihiv region, because its residents tended to interact (culturally and economically) with the more densely populated and more economically developed centers. The center of each region is based on the potential possibilities of development. (See also Administrative territorial division.)

Tutkovs'kyi, P. Pryrodne raionuvannia Ukraïny (Kyiv 1922)
Rudnyts'kyi, S. Osnovy zemleznannia Ukraïny, 1 (Lviv 1924)
Kubiiovych, V. Heohrafiia ukraïns'kykh i sumezhnykh zemel' (Cracow–Lviv 1943)
Tsys', P. Heomorfolohiia URSR (Lviv 1962)
Pistun, M.; Shypovych, Ye. (eds). Heohrafiia Ukraïns'koï RSR (Kyiv 1982)
Horlenko, V. ‘Etnohrafichne raionuvannia,’ in Heohrafichna entsyklopediia Ukraïny, vol 1 (Kyiv 1989)

Ihor Stebelsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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