A Brief History of Ukraine


Throughout its history, Ukraine has been a land of shifting borders and competing ambitions. Czarist Russia lost control of the western part of Ukraine in the 1917 revolution; the new Soviet government claimed the rest of the country in 1921 and ruled for three decades, during which time nationalist sentiment was repressed and the people suffered through a series of man-made famines engineered by Stalin – including the horrific Holodomor of 1932-33, which killed between 3 and 5 million people. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine pursued its first period of lasting independence as a sovereign state. Since then, it has teetered on a path between seeking closer integration with Europe and being drawn into the orbit of Russia, which views Ukraine as a threat to its own interests.

Amid economic and political upheaval, Ukraine has also struggled with endemic corruption and patronage politics. Its rich natural resources have made it a target for numerous foreign investors and the government has taken steps to improve transparency in the country’s finances, although significant challenges remain.

In the years leading up to the Russian invasion of 2022, Ukraine strengthened ties with NATO and became one of only six enhanced opportunity partners, a special status for the alliance’s closest non-member allies. It held annual military exercises with the alliance and reaffirmed its goal of eventually becoming a full member. Meanwhile, Russia grew more hostile toward Ukraine, withholding economic support, imposing sanctions, and supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s eastern regions are characterized by fertile agricultural plains that are dotted with large industrial centers. The western part of the country has a comparatively higher level of prosperity and closer ties with Poland and other European nations. Most of the population speaks Ukrainian as their primary language; the eastern half, conversely, has a larger proportion of Russian speakers and more nationalist sentiments.

During the 16th through 18th centuries, Orthodox East Slavs living in present-day Ukraine formed semi-autonomous hosts of peasant warriors – the Cossacks – who felt a cultural affinity with Muscovite Russia but rejected Moscow’s claim to sovereignty over their lands. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimea peninsula to Ukraine as a way of strengthening “brotherly” ties between the two countries.

One of the best known foods in Ukraine is lard spread, or pyshny – it’s basically a paste (or spread) that consists of smoked pork fat, garlic, pepper, and sometimes dill and it is a popular snack food. It is usually eaten with a piece of bread or on top of other foods. It is often sold in destination-restaurants and full-service restaurants. You can also find it in local grocery stores or traditional fast food places. It’s a great appetizer or snack to try during your trip in Ukraine!