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Year: 2015 Revision date: -- Revision type: --

Regional report: Eastern Europe

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Geography, climate and population


Ukraine, located in Eastern Europe, has a total area of 603 550 km². It is bordered in the southwest by Romania and the Republic of Moldova, in the west by Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, in the northwest by Belarus, in the northeast and east by the Russian Federation, and in the south by the Black Sea, where the Crimea peninsula is located. Administratively, Ukraine is divided into 24 provinces (oblasts), 1 Autonomous Republic (Crimea) and 2 municipalities with oblast status (Kiev and Sevastopol).

The predominant lowland is interrupted by several regions of modest elevation, such as the Volyn-Podolsk plateau (also called the Podolian plateau) in the west, the Dnipro (Dnieper) ridge in the centre, and the Donets ridge in the southeast. The Carpathian mountains (with their highest peak, Hoverla, at 2 061 m above sea level) and their foothills in the southwest, together with the Crimean mountains (1 545 m above sea level) along the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, constitute the only mountainous sections of Ukraine.

The agricultural area, which is the sum of arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows and pasture, is estimated at 41 million ha, which is 68 percent of the total area of the country. In 2014, the total physical cultivated area was estimated at 33.4 million ha, of which 97 percent (32.5 million ha) consisted of temporary crops and 3 percent (0.9 million ha) of permanent crops (Table 1).


There are four agro-climatological zones in Ukraine:

  • The humid zone covers 35 percent of the country in the northwest. It is moderately warm in summer and cold in winter. The average annual precipitation is 600 mm, concentrated between May and October, but can reach 1 600 mm in the highest part of the Carpathian mountains, with to up 300 mm falling as snow. In these areas, the snow cover generally lies for 70-90 days, from early or mid-December to the end of February, but can last until April and even mid-May. Average temperatures vary between -4°C in January and 17°C in July.
  • The warm zone covers 25 percent of the country and comprises the eastern and central forested steppe. The average annual precipitation is 500 mm, concentrated between February and April. Average temperatures vary between -6°C in January and 21°C in July.
  • The semi-arid zone covers 25 percent of the country and comprises the so-called northern steppe (central part of the country) and the far east of the country (Donets high plain). The average annual precipitation is 450 mm, concentrated between April and October. Average temperatures vary between -6°C in January and 21°C in July.
  • The arid zone in the south covers 15 percent of the country, including the Crimean peninsula. It is characterized by mild winters, with an average annual precipitation of about 360 mm, concentrated between December and May. Average temperature vary between 0°C in January and 23°C in July.

The average annual precipitation over the country is estimated at 565 mm. This figure includes snowfall, which is an important source of water, particularly in the west.


In 2015, the total population was about 45 million, of which around 31 percent was rural (Table 1). Average population density in the country is 74 inhabitants/km², varying from 164 inhabitants/km² in the Donetsk oblast to 33 inhabitants/km² in the Chernihiv oblast. The average annual population growth rate in the 2005-2015 period has been estimated at minus 0.4 percent.

In 2014, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Ukraine 81 among 188 countries, while the Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranks 57 among 155 countries, for which information was available. Life expectancy is 71 years and the under-five mortality is 10 per 1000 births, both progressing from 67 years and 20 per 1000 in the 1990s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, around 97 percent of the children in 2013 are enrolled in primary education, but only 87 percent for secondary education (WB, 2015). Adult literacy is 99.7 percent in 2012 (UNDP, 2015). In 2015, 96 percent of the total population had access to improved water sources (96 and 98 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) and 96 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation (97 and 93 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (JMP, 2015).

Economy, agriculture and food security

In 2014, the gross domestic product (GDP) was US$ 132 000 million and agriculture accounted for 12 percent of GDP, while in 1994 it accounted for 16 percent.

The potential for agricultural production is rather evenly spread throughout the country, with two distinguishable centres: the western region characterized by a moderate climate, and the southern region with its fertile black soils where irrigation plays an important role.

The sudden loss of state agricultural subsidies after independence in 1991 had an enormous effect on the agricultural sector: fertilizer use fell by 85 percent over a ten-year period and grain production by 50 percent; farms were forced to cope with inefficient machinery because no funds were available for capital investment. However, farmers’ decisions regarding crop selection and management became increasingly market-based, which contributed to increased efficiency in both the livestock and the crop production sectors (USDA, 2004).

State and collective farms were officially dismantled in 2000, and farm property was divided among the farm workers and most of the new shareholders leased their land back to newly formed private agricultural associations. In 2013, out of the total agricultural area of 41 million ha, 46.9 percent belongs to non-state agricultural enterprises, 2.3 percent to state agricultural enterprises, 38.4 percent are private lands and 12.4 percent correspond to other users (Ukrstat, 2014, USDA, 2004).

Water resources

Surface water and groundwater resources

The country can be divided into seven major river basins, all of them discharging into the Black Sea except the Western Bug which flows towards the Baltic Sea:

  • The Dnipro (called Dnieper in Belarus) basin, covering about 65 percent of the country. The Dnipro river rises in the Russian Federation, then flows into Belarus before entering Ukraine. Its main affluents in Ukraine are: on the left bank the Desna river, which rises in the Russian Federation; and on its right bank the Pripyat river, which comes from Belarus, and the Inhulets, which originates in Ukraine.
  • The Dniester (called Nistru in the Republic of Moldova) basin, covering 12 percent of the country. It flows into the Republic of Moldova before re-entering Ukraine some 50 km before its mouth in the Black Sea.
  • The Danube basin, covering 7 percent of the country. The final 120 km of the Danube river before it reaches the Black Sea form the border between Ukraine and Romania. The Danube is the river with the largest number of riparian countries in the world. Some affluents of the Danube rise in Ukraine in the Carpathian mountains, flow into neighbouring countries, and then join the mainstream of the Danube before its mouth in the Black Sea. In particular, the Cisa (Tisa) river flows out of Ukraine into Hungary, while the Prut river flows into Romania and the Republic of Moldova.
  • The coastal basin, covering 7 percent of the country. It groups all the small rivers that flow directly into the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, including all the Crimean rivers.
  • The Donets basin, covering 4 percent of the country. It rises in the Russian Federation, and flows through Ukraine for about 450 km in its eastern part before re-entering the Russian Federation.
  • The Southern Bug (Pivdennyi Buh in Ukrainian) basin, covering 3 percent of the country. It is an internal river basin.
  • The Western Bug (Zakhidnyi Buh in Ukrainian) and San basins, covering 2 percent of the country. The Western Bug river rises in Ukraine, flows to the north, forming the border with Poland and then the border between Poland and Belarus, and finally flows into the Narew river in Poland, a tributary of the Vistula river. Like the Western Bug, the San river rises in Ukraine before entering Poland where it joins the Vistula river.

IRSWR are estimated at 50 100 million m³/year (Table 2) and incoming RSWR at 120 180 million m³. Therefore, the total RSWR are estimated at 170 280 million m³/year.

The longest rivers within Ukraine are the Dnipro (1 121 km), Dniester (925 km), Southern Bug (806 km), Donets (700 km), Horyn (577 km), Desna (575 km), Inhulets (549 km), Psel (520 km), Sluch (451 km), Styr (424 km), Western Bug (401 km) and Orel (346 km) (Ukrstat, 2015a).

Internal renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 22 000 million m³/year. Artesian wells are found at an average depth of 100-150 m in the north of the country and at 500-600 m in the south. The overlap between surface and groundwater resources has been estimated at 17 000 million m³/year, which brings the total renewable water resources to 175 280 million m³ (170 280+22 000-17 000) (Table 3).

In 2005, produced municipal wastewater was estimated at 2 154 million m³. In 2011, treated municipal wastewater was estimated at 1 763 million m³.

Lakes, dams and canals

There are about 3 000 natural lakes in Ukraine, with a total area of 2 000 km². The largest freshwater lakes are located in the central and southern parts of the country. In addition to these lakes, there are about 12 000 km² of swamps (peat soils) in the north. The lakes with the largest surface areas in the country are Yalpuh (149 km²), Kagul (90 km²), Kugurluy (82 km²), Sasyk (75 km²) and Katlabug (68 km²) (Ukrstat, 2015a).

There are about 1 103 reservoirs with a total capacity of 55 500 million m³ (Guseva, 2012). Up to 43 700 million m³ are accumulated in the cascade of Dnipro water reservoirs: the Kremenchug (13 520 million m³), the Kakhovka (18 180 million m³), the Kiev (3 730 million m³), the Dnipro (3 320 million m³), the Kanev (2 480 million m³) and the Dniprod Zerzhinsk (2 460 km³). Other important dams are the Dniester dam in the Dniester river (3 000 million m³), the Krasno-Oskol dam in the Oskol river (474 million m³) and the Simferopol dam in the Samir river (36 million m³). These dams are used for hydropower production, for supplying electricity to the main cities and industrial centres; for flood protection; and for irrigation and fishery purposes.

From the dams the water is further redistributed by large canals, transporting water both within the same basin and from one basin to the other:

  • The Northern Crimean Canal, built in 1961-1971, starts from the Kakhovka reservoir near Nova Kakhovka and stretches for 400 km across the Northern Crimea and the Kerch Peninsula. It was built for irrigation of the Kherson Oblast steppe regions and Crimea and for water supply to Simferopol, Sevastopol, other populated places, and the Kerch Industrial District. The canal is designed to pass 380 m³/s of water. It provides irrigation to an area of more than 350 000 ha.
  • The Dnipro-Donbas Canal, built in 1969-1981, starts from the Dniprod Zerzhinsk reservoir and runs along the floodplains of the Orel and Orelka rivers to the Krasnopavlivka reservoir, further to the Donets river near Izium. It brings water from the Dnipro river to the Donbas region and the city of Kharkiv. In addition to municipal and industrial water supply, the canal provides water for irrigation. In 1979 it provided for the irrigation of 165 000 ha. The canal has a length of over 260 km.
  • The Donets - Donbas Canal, placed into service in 1958, was designed to supply 25 m³/s of water.
  • The Main Kakhovka Magistrale Canal, constructed in 1980, stretches from the Kakhovka reservoir across Pontic steppes almost to Molochna estuary. It has a length of 130 km. It was constructed for irrigation and it’s also used for water supply to populated places.
  • The Dnipro-Kryvyi Rih Canal, built in 1957-1961 and reconstructed in 1975-79, provides water for the industrial region of Kryvyi Rih. Water for the canal is collected at the Kakhovka reservoir and raised by a set of three pumping stations in order to reach the Pivdenne reservoir (capacity, 57.3 million m³). The main canal is 41.3 km in length; it has a winter capacity of 27 m3/s and a summer capacity of 44 m³/s. The canal is used primarily for municipal and industrial water supply and also for irrigation (in 1977 this canal supplied water to irrigate 26 000 ha).
  • The Dnipro-Inhulets Canal runs from the Kremenchug reservoir to the Inhulets river. It has a length of 40 km and is used for irrigation and water supply.

International water issues

After the break-up of the former Soviet Union many transboundary water resources problems appeared. Since the early 1990s, to a greater or lesser extent all countries in Eastern Europe, have taken measures to establish transboundary cooperation in use and protection of water resources. Ukraine has joined the following agreements or projects (ECE, 2009, Gabor, 2008, Nalecz, 2010):

  • Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation Concerning Joint Use and Protection of Transboundary Waters (1992)
  • Agreement between Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova on Joint Use and Protection of Transboundary Waters (1994)
  • Agreement between Ukraine and Belarus on the Cooperation on Environmental Protection (1994)
  • Agreement between the Ukraine and the Slovakia on Questions of Water Management in Frontier Waters (1994)
  • Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River (1994). The Parties to the Convention are Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the European Community. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) was established in accordance with the Convention.
  • Agreement between Ukraine and Poland on Cooperation in the Field of Water Management in Frontier Waters (1996)
  • Agreement between Ukraine and Hungary on the Questions of Water Management in Frontier Waters (1997)
  • Agreement between Ukraine and Romania on Cooperation in the Field of Transboundary Water Management (1997)
  • The Bug river pilot project on monitoring and assessment of transboundary rivers, established under the UNECE Water Convention (1998-2003)
  • Agreement between Ukraine and Belarus on Joint Use and Protection of Transboundary Waters (2001)
  • The Science for Peace and Security NATO pilot study project “Sustainable Use and Protection of Groundwater Resources – Transboundary Water Management”, launched in 2006. It focuses on development of international cooperation on implementation of water quality monitoring and assessment. It is also a scientific platform for experts from Belarus, Poland and Ukraine to exchange ideas about water management, with special emphasis on groundwater. The Bug river basin is one of the main interests of the project
  • Creation of the Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian Water Policy in the Bug basin – the Neighbourhood Programme Poland-Belarus-Ukraine INTERREG III A – TACIS CBC (2007-2009).
  • The project “Transboundary cooperation and sustainable management in the Dniester river basin: Phase III – Implementation of the Action Programme” (Dniester-III) started in 2009 with the support of the Swedish and Finnish governments. It’s implemented by OSCE, UNECE and UNEP in close collaboration with authorities and NGOs from the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

Water use

In 2010, total water withdrawal was estimated at 14 846 million m³ of which 7 126 million m³ (48 percent) for industry, 4 454 million m³ (30 percent) for agriculture – including irrigation, livestock watering and cleaning, and aquaculture – and 3 266 million m³ (22 percent) for municipalities (Figure 1 and Table 4). Compared to 1992, the total withdrawal decreased by more than 40 percent (Ukrstat, 2011).

Around 80 percent of total water withdrawal is withdrawn from surface water (Figure 2).

Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Irrigation in Ukraine has a long tradition, particularly in Crimea, where it dates back to the early centuries of the modern era. Major irrigation development also took place in the Middle Ages, during the Tatar Empire (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), and again in the nineteenth century, when it expanded from Crimea to the steppes in the south of the country. Large irrigation schemes were built in the 1930s in eastern Soviet Ukraine, as part of the ‘electrification of the socialist state’ project. In 1967, the area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 667 000 ha.

The irrigation potential has been estimated at 5.5 million ha. The most suitable areas for irrigation development, from a technical and economic point of view, are: the coastal plain along the Black Sea coast between Odessa and the Danube Delta; the area between Odessa and the Southern Bug valley; central Crimea; and the coastal areas along the Sea of Azov.

In 1984, the irrigated areas in Ukraine amounted to 2.4 million ha. More than 50 percent of this total was concentrated in the four districts that border the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Other important regions for irrigation are the valleys of the Donets and of the Dnipro where supplementary irrigation is practiced in summer.

In 1992, the area equipped for irrigation covered about 2.6 million ha of which 0.5 million ha surface irrigation and 2.1 million ha sprinkler irrigation (Figure 3). Surface water was the only source of irrigation water and the reservoirs built on the main rivers, and particularly on the Dnipro river, provided water to the irrigated areas downstream through canals up to 500 km long. These canals also provided water to cities and industrial complexes in Crimea and in the far southwest of the country.

In 2013, total area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 2 169 000 ha (Ukrstat, 2014). In 1992, almost 80 percent used sprinkler irrigation technology. In 2003 actually irrigated area accounted for 731 400 ha, which was only about one third of the area equipped for irrigation in that year.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

In 2003, the area equipped for irrigation was 731 400 ha, of which 25 percent were permanent grass and fodder, 14 percent cereals, 14 percent annual fodder, 10 percent fruit trees, 10 percent vegetables, 8 percent potatoes, 7 percent pulses, 6 percent sunflowers, 3 percent sugar beet and 3 percent rice (Table 5 and Figure 4).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

The first drainage works were introduced at the end of the eighteenth century in northwest Ukraine, then part of Poland. At that time, major canals were built mainly for communication and transport purposes, and the swamps were drained for cultivation. Drainage development has continued in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In 1994, the drained area was estimated at 3.3 million ha, of which 63 percent was equipped with subsurface drains, mainly pipes (Table 5). About 1.8 million ha of irrigated land were equipped with drainage facilities to prevent salinization. In these areas, the groundwater level is kept at 1.5-3.0 m below the soil surface. In 2013, the total drained cultivated area is also estimated at 3.3 million ha.

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The most important authorized bodies in the field of water resources management, use, protection and restoration are:

  • The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine (MENRU): responsible for environmental protection, restoration, protection and efficient use of water resources. The Ministry ensures legal and regulatory governing of water management and land reclamation.
  • The State Agency of Water Resources, supervised by the MENRU: in charge of the implementation of government policies on water management and responsible for the management and use of surface water resources and for the off-farm irrigation and drainage systems.
  • The State Committee for Water Management: recognized in 1998 as a specially empowered central executive body in the field of water management and implementation of the state policy on land-reclamation.
  • Basin administrations: in charge of water resources management in the basin, design of political principles and plans for usage of water resources in the basin; and solution of conflicts between users of water.
  • The State Hydrometeorological Service: the main organization on issues of weather conditions forecasting, agrometeorological works and supervision, processing and distribution of hydrometeorological information. It is under the auspices of the Ministry of Emergencies and Affairs of Population Protection from the Consequences of Chernobyl Catastrophe.

Other public institutions connected to water use are: the Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining Industry, the Ukrainian State Service of Sea and River Transportation, Ministry of Infrastructure, the State Agency of Fishing Management, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food and the Ministry of Regional Development, Construction and Communal Living.

Water management

Decentralization of water management is an attempt to address environmental challenges and make the water management system more responsive to citizen’s concerns, transparent in its decision-making process and capable of addressing pressing environmental issues effectively. These decentralization policies give more discretion to local government and local communities. In addition, more responsibility has been placed on large industrial enterprises and factories, which are directly responsible for water and air pollution (Khmelko, 2012).

The implementation of river basin management based on integrity, interrelationship and consistency with economic development, has been under discussion for a long time. However, principles of interaction between basin management administration and national institutions remain vague (Rubel, 2012).


Water charge was introduced in the 1980s. Ukraine has a well-developed system of charges for water use, including direct charges for the water withdrawal and a system of tariffs for secondary water users. Since 2011, an environmental tax on discharges of pollutants into water resources is operational. There is also a system of fines (Rugel, 2012).

Policies and legislation

The environmental legislation of post-Soviet Ukraine includes over 200 laws and by-laws (normative acts). The adoption of the New Constitution of Ukraine in 1996: (i) proclaimed the responsibility of the State to ensure ecological safety and to maintain ecological stability in Ukraine, (ii) confirmed the right of free and unrestricted access to information on environmental issues, and (iii) assigned the responsibility to all citizens to cause no harm to nature and to compensate for any harm caused by their actions.

Water resources are regulated by (Rubel, 2012; Guseva, 2012; Khmelko, 2012):

  • The Law on the Environmental Protection (1991), which is the basis of the legal relations in the field of water resources management and protection.
  • The Water Code of Ukraine (1995), which is the basic document regulating the legal relations in the field of water use.
  • The Law on Amendments and Additions to Certain Legislative Acts on Natural Environment Protection (1996), which increased the powers of MENRU on environmental management, outlined the basics of the distribution of power among the different levels of government, and initiated the process of change from a highly centralized Soviet-type administrative system to a more decentralized administrative system where also local governments are entrusted with some responsibilities.
  • The Law on Potable Water and Potable Water Supply (2004).
  • Other legal acts regulating relations in this area of activity

Environment and health

Drinking water quality is an important environmental health problem in the country, both in urban and in rural areas. In towns, the main drinking water problems are low water quality and limited water supply. In rural areas, where wells provide a more substantial source of water, the problems include water shortages and contamination of drinking water sources with chemicals such as manganese, iron, hydrogen sulfide and nitrates. There is also extensive leakage into the underground pipes of chemicals from pesticides. On average, 25 percent of the samples of drinking water taken from piped water supply systems and private wells in the country do not meet the European Union quality standards.

The poor drinking water quality causes several diseases as cholera, hepatitis A, ontological illness, metabolic disorder, endocrine dysfunction, allergies and skin diseases (Khmelko, 2012; Kuzneyetsov, 2006).

Salinity problems are concentrated mostly in the southern region.

The Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 contaminated about 4.1 million ha. About 92 settlements around Chernobyl were evacuated. A strict radiological control has been applied over a larger zone. Due to the prevailing winds, most of the radioactivity fell on Belarus. At present, resettlement of areas from which people were relocated is ongoing.

Environmental damage following the accident affected fauna, vegetation, rivers, lakes and groundwater. The extent of the damage led scientists and government officials to the conclusion that the Chernobyl exclusion zone had been subjected to enough radioactive fallout to severely alter the ecological balance of the region for decades (Flanary, 2013).

Prospects for agricultural water management

Changing rainfall patterns and runoff due to climate change indicate that future summer river flows are likely to decrease substantially, by as much as 50 percent in Ukraine. It is expected that the country will suffer increased water stress over the 21st Century as severe droughts, classified today as one in 100 year events, are projected to become twice as likely by 2070. The sectors that are most vulnerable to these changes are agriculture in the south and industry and households in the south and southeast. In the south and southeast, surface water quality will deteriorate (Climate Adaptation, 2015).

Main Sources of Information

Climate Adaptation. 2015. Freshwater resources Ukraine

ECE. 2009. Capacity for water cooperation in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. Economic Commission for Europe

EPIRB. 2015. Ukraine. Environmental Protection of International River Basins Project

Flanary, W. 2013. Environmental effects of the Chernobyl accident

Gabor, O. 2008. Hydrosolidarity in the Prut river basin – key element in transboundary flood management-

Guseva, N. 2012. Water resources and its accounting in Ukraine. State Statistics Service of Ukraine

ICID. Ukraine. International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage

JMP. 2015. Progress on drinking water and sanitation – 2015 Update and MDG Assessment. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

Khmelko I. 2012. Administrative decentralization in post communist countries: The case of water management in Ukraine

Kovalenko, P. Water resources of Ukraine. State and perspects of use.

Kuzneyetsov V. 2006. Urban water resources management in Ukraine

Nalecz, T. 2010. Sustainable use and protection of groundwater resources- transboundary water management- Belarus, Poland, Ukraine

Rubel, 0. 2012. Economic and institutional analysis of the feasibility of payments for ecosystem services in Ukraine.

Stebelsky I. 1984. Dnieper-Donbas Canal

Stebelsky I. 1984. Dnieper-Kryvyi Rih Canal

Ukrstat. 2011. Statistical yearbook 2010. Kiev 2011. State Statistics Service of Ukraine.

Ukrstat. 2014. Statistical Yearbook of Ukraine for 2013. State Statistics Service of Ukraine

Ukrstat. 2015a. Ukrain 2014. Statistical publication. State Statistics Service of Ukraine

Ukrstat. 2015b. Ukrain in figures 2014. State Statistics Service of Ukraine

UNDP. 2015. Human Development Reports: Data. United Nations Development Programme. New York.

USDA. 2004. Ukraine: Agricultural Overview. United States Department of Agriculture

WNA. 2015. Chernobyl Accident 1986. World Nuclear Association

World Bank. 2015. World Development Indicators. World DataBank. World Bank. Washington.

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