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Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has since veered between seeking closer integration with Western Europe and being drawn into the orbit of Russia
which sees its interests as threatened by a Western-leaning Ukraine. Europe's second largest country, Ukraine is a land of wide, fertile agricultural plains, with large pockets of heavy industry in the east.
While Ukraine and Russia share common historical origins, the west of the country has closer ties with its European neighbours, particularly Poland, and nationalist sentiment is strongest there.
Kyiv or Kiev is the capital and most populous city of Ukraine. It is in north-central Ukraine along the Dnieper River. Kiev was once a city known for its grandiose streets and omnipresent Soviet architecture, but now the city is becoming synonymous with startups and its innate creative side that was suppressed for too many years. The younger generations are brewing craft beer, opening up independent coffee shops and concept stores, and filling co-working spaces brimming with visionaries. Street art is ubiquitous and English is becoming more and more present in society. Kiev, Ukraine, is cool and will inevitably surprise visitors upon arrival.
Lviv is a city in western Ukraine, around 70 kilometers from the border with Poland. Traces of its Polish and Austro-Hungarian heritage are evident in its architecture, which blends Central and Eastern European styles with those of Italy and Germany. In High Castle Park, the mountaintop ruins of a 14th-century castle provide panoramic views of the city’s green-domed churches and the surrounding hills.
Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. It’s known for its beaches and 19th-century architecture, including the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater. The monumental Potemkin Stairs, immortalized in “The Battleship Potemkin,” lead down to the waterfront with its Vorontsov Lighthouse. Running parallel to the water, the grand Primorsky Boulevard is a popular promenade lined with mansions and monuments.
Kharkiv is a city in northeast Ukraine. Sprawling Freedom Square is home to the constructivist Derzhprom building. Shevchenko Park features botanic gardens and a zoo. Kharkiv State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre stages regular performances. Southwest is the huge Annunciation Cathedral, with 5 domes and a bell tower. Northeast, Maxim Gorky Central Park has a giant Ferris wheel and a cable car.
Chernivtsi is a city in western Ukraine. It’s known for the 1875-founded Chernivtsi National University, which features Romanesque and Byzantine architecture and the Chernivtsi University Botanical Garden. At the heart of the old town is Central Square, with the blue, neoclassical City Hall. Nearby, the Chernivtsi Museum of Art exhibits 17th- to 20th-century art from the historic region of Bukovina in a former bank.