Although Ukraine introduced Christianity as well as organized government to Russia, outsiders have often viewed it as a nation on the periphery. The name itself conveys that sentiment: Ukraina means "outskirts" (or "vastness"). English-speakers have only added to that sense of marginality by referring to it as the Ukraine.
For the past four centuries, Ukraine has been dominated by a succession of foreign usurpers -- Russians, Poles and Germans. As a result of Sunday's referendum, a seemingly impossible change in political geography has occurred: Ukrainians have given birth to a major new nation in Europe. With a population of 52 million, it is nearly equal to France, Italy or Britain. And not only is Ukraine a legendary breadbasket. Its location on the Black Sea, bordering Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, gives it a strategic value which is underscored by its long border with Russia.
We welcome Ukraine to the family of independent nations with hope but also with trepidation.
Ukraine has many of the basic ingredients for success. At the same time, its inheritance from seven decades of Communist mismanagement is a heavy one. One word -- Chernobyl -- symbolizes that burden. Communists gave Ukraine not only a serious nuclear radiation problem but also begot an ecological catastrophe. Ukraine's rivers are poisoned, its once-fertile black earth zone is exhausted because of erosion and over-fertilization.