The presidents of Ukraine and Romania, Leonid Kuchma and Emil Constantinescu, are meeting today on Romania’s Black Sea coast to sign a long-overdue treaty of good-neighborly relations and cooperation. Frustrated since 1992 by Bucharest’s territorial claims on Ukraine, the treaty was finalized only recently after pro-Western forces won Romania’s elections and dropped those claims. The treaty enshrines the existing Romanian-Ukrainian border and rules out territorial claims by one side against the other. At stake are for the most part historically Moldovan areas which had come to form part of modern Romania, were annexed by the USSR in the 1940s, and were subsequently inherited in 1991 by newly independent Ukraine. The areas in question are:
— Ukraine’s Chernivtsy (Cernauti) oblast, comprised in turn of three distinctive parts: northern Bukovina (Moldovan from the 14th century to 1776, Austrian 1776-1918, Romanian 1918-40 and 1941-44); the Hertsa district (Moldovan 14th century through 1859, Romanian 1859–1940 and 1941-44); and the Khotin (Hotin) district of northern Bessarabia (Moldovan through 1812, Russian 1812-1918, Romanian 1918-40 and 1941-44)
— The western part of Ukraine’s Odessa oblast, or southern Bessarabia (Moldovan and Turkish from the 15th century to 1812; Russian during most of the 1812-1918 period; Romanian 1918-1940 and 1941-1944)
–Serpents’ Island, the Black Sea’s sole island (Turkish through the 19th century, Romanian 1878-1948, then appropriated by the USSR)
The last census taken in Ukraine (1989) recorded 325,000 Moldovans and 135,000 Romanians. Were they to be counted together, the two groups would today form Ukraine’s largest ethnic minority after the Russians. However, each of the two groups retains its distinct ethnic identity — Romanian for those who once lived under Austrian rule, Moldovan for those who once lived under imperial Russian rule — although they both speak the Moldovan dialect of the Romanian language.
Romanians/Moldovans currently form the overwhelming majority of the population of Hertsa district, and are approximately equal in number to Ukrainians in an area between the Siret and Prut rivers in northern Bukovina, from which many Romanians were forced to flee in 1944. In northern Bukovina as a whole and also in Hotin district, Ukrainians were in the majority long before World War II. Southern Bessarabia has a heavily mixed Ukrainian-Moldovan-Bulgarian-Gagauz-Russian population, with Ukrainians by now the single largest group though short of a majority. Serpents’ Island is uninhabited.
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