A Guide to Ukraine


The largest country in Europe, Ukraine straddles the border between the European Union and Russia. Its tumultuous history has made the nation an unpredictable ally, with many Ukrainians looking to the future with cautious optimism and others deeply distrustful of Western influence.

The capital, Kyiv, is a lively city with a modern economy that relies heavily on manufacturing. The rest of the country is more agrarian, with fertile agricultural plains and sprawling rural villages. Mountains and rivers dot the landscape, with a particularly beautiful stretch of the Carpathian mountain range running through eastern Ukraine.

While a variety of distinct ethnicities populate the country, Russians are the largest group. They make up some 60% of the population and have a distinct cultural identity, which has fueled tensions with other Ukrainians over the country’s direction since independence in 1991.

Aside from the tumultuous political environment, Ukraine has much to offer. Its diverse geography provides a wealth of outdoor activities, including hiking and biking in the picturesque mountains of the Carpathian range; skiing in the resort towns of the Crimean Mountains; or kayaking on the clear waters of the Black Sea coast. The rich culture and heritage of the country is also reflected in its cuisine. Many of the country’s most famous dishes are rooted in the region’s rich history, with ingredients and techniques passed down through generations.

Despite a tumultuous recent past, Ukrainians remain proud of their homeland and its people and place great value on family and friendship. Ukrainians have embraced new media platforms, with social media supplanting TV as the primary news source. Many young people are also moving away from traditional Russian media outlets, with new Ukrainian channels and apps being launched at a breakneck pace.

The gastronomic highlights of Ukraine include classic soups such as borscht and sour rye bread, hearty meat stews like shish kebab, and savory varenyky (dumplings). A country known for its wheat production, you’ll find a variety of tasty, carb-rich foods on every table. Beetroot is another common ingredient, with everything from the iconic borscht to brightly grated beet salads. The country is also a major producer of sunflower seeds, and across the countryside you’ll be able to see vast fields of these sunny blooms, earning it the nickname ‘Breadbasket of Europe’. The end of a meal in Ukraine is typically topped with dessert, which can range from sweet pampushky (similar to doughnut holes) stuffed with rose preserve or sweet cheese to creamy kolbasa and morozhenyky. For drinks, a bottle of Zirkova vodka is a popular choice. The esteemed Ukrainian spirit benefits from centuries of distilling excellence and pairs well with almost any mixer.