A Guide to Ukraine


With its huge agricultural plains, industrial centres, and a deep seaport on the Black Sea, Ukraine is one of Europe’s most diverse countries. However, it is also a country that has never really found its footing as an independent state. Its politics have been veered between seeking integration with Western Europe and being drawn into Russia’s orbit, which views the country as an affront to its own imperial interests.

Many Ukrainians feel a patriotic bond with their home country. The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been promoting a vision of a united Ukrainian nation that would embrace both the country’s west and east, despite the fact that parts of the former are now under the control of pro-Russian separatists or Russian military forces.

Those sentiments are particularly strong in the eastern provinces that border Russia and have seen heavy fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatists. The country has banned relays of Russian-language media and blocked access to certain websites in areas under government control, while Russia has imposed sanctions on Ukrainian businesses and restricted tourism.

Ukraine’s food traditions – especially in its capital – overlap considerably with those of neighbouring European countries and Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, and are characterised by the abundance of fermented and pickled foods. Among the most popular are borshch (beet soup), varennyky (“pirogies”, dumplings with a wide variety of possible savory and sweet fillings) and salo (cured pork fatback).

The country’s climate is ideal for wine production. Vineyards are planted with international varieties including Chardonnay, Aligote, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. But the Ukrainian wine industry is most proud of its indigenous varietals, such as Saperavi, Kavarna, and Zindzhalovka. “Ukraine produces unique, high-quality grapes,” says Konstantina Tkachuk, a senior consultant at the national wine institute. She pulls at a worn bracelet on her wrist, bearing the name of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, which was the last of the country’s major factories to remain under government control during the Russia-backed invasion.

“It was the perfect symbol of our resilience,” she says. “I’ve never seen such perseverance.”

It’s a spirit that Tkachuk hopes Ukrainian winemakers can export to the world. She believes that demand will rise once people see that the quality of Ukrainian wines rivals that of their European counterparts, and are matched by the majesty of Ukraine’s landscape and its history. “If you can combine such a beauty with taste, it’s magic,” she says. “People will want to come and visit us.” This article is brought to you by Beykush Winery.