Ukraine is the largest country that lies wholly within Europe, and is home to about 46 million people who can trace their lineage back to a succession of diverse ethnic groups. The capital and largest city is Kiev, where minority Armenian, Jewish, Azeri, Russian, Polish, Georgian and Romanian groups add their diverse traditions to the colorful cultural scene. Odessa is Ukraine’s third most populous city and a major seaport located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. Among the folk arts Ukraine is famous for is the production of the intricately decorated Easter eggs known as pysanka, made using a wax-resist or batik process. The local cuisine is hearty; a well-known specialty is Chicken Kiev. Visitors enjoy seeing Ukraine’s historic cathedrals and monasteries, Soviet-era monuments, museums and displays of legendary traditional horsemanship, colorful folkloric costumes, and music and dance.

The country’s name derives from a Slavic word meaning “borderland,” but the region was originally populated by an Iranian tribe called the Scythians, who established a kingdom here from 700 BC to 200 BC. The region was then inhabited by a succession of groups including the Goths, the Bulgars and the Khazars. During the 10th and 11th centuries Ukraine became the center of a European state called the Kievan Rus, which prospered until it was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1240. The area fell under Lithuanian and then Polish rule after a royal marriage created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which in the 16th century underwent a series of Tatar invasions. In the mid-17th century a Cossack state was established, which was then split between Russia and Poland. Ukraine spent much of the 20th century attempting to reunite and become its own nation, but this did not come to pass until 1991. Ukraine is now in a state of political transition and the country is still challenged economically following the collapse of the Soviet Union.