A NewsHour Special: A Closer Look at Ukraine


Ukraine has experienced some of the most dramatic political changes of our generation. It’s a country of rich traditions and unique culture, and its people have never been more divided politically than they are now. In this NewsHour special, Ali Rogin takes a closer look at what’s happening in Ukraine and how we got here.

In the 1st millennium bce, different parts of the area that makes up Ukraine were occupied by Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, and Bulgars; in the 1st century ad by Avars, Khazars, and Magyars (Hungarians). After the death of the founder of the Kievan Rus’ state, the hetmanate fell to Poland, Lithuania, and the Mongols. It wasn’t until the collapse of the Soviet Union that Ukraine gained lasting independent statehood – but Ukrainian de facto political entities struggling for autonomy or independence had existed long before that.

The most significant turning point in Ukraine’s modern history came in the closing months of 2004 and early 2005 when a peaceful mass protest called the “Orange Revolution” forced the authorities to overturn rigged presidential elections, ushering in a reformist slate led by Viktor YUSHCHENKO and paving the way for internationally monitored legislative (Rada) elections and economic reforms. However, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s western regions and ongoing aggression have undermined those gains.

As for cuisine, Ukraine is well-known as one of the world’s breadbaskets and has many famous dishes. Kutia is a grain pudding that’s traditionally served at Christmas Eve dinner — it’s sweetened with honey or sugar and often elevated with toppings like fried bacon pieces, crispy cracklings, mushroom sauce, and crumbled bryndza.

Another well-known dish is blintzes, which are like thin crepes with fillings like mashed potatoes, cheese, and fruit. They’re often served at weddings and other celebrations. And no visit to Ukraine is complete without trying the ubiquitous Borscht. This incredibly nutritious first course varies widely, with more than 50 traditional recipes and over a dozen shades of color ranging from greenish-yellow to orange, bright red, burgundy, beet-red, or deep crimson.

Ukraine has a diverse population and is home to religiously observant Orthodox Christians and Eastern rite Catholics as well as Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. A majority of the country’s citizens are secular.

Ukraine’s most important industry is energy, especially natural gas and oil. It is also a major producer of food and beverages, including beers. The popular lager Chernigivske is now available internationally, thanks to the efforts of AB InBev, with proceeds from sales going towards relief efforts in Ukraine. Look for it at your local store or craft hang-out bar. Other beers from Obolon include Obolon White, an Obolon Extra Strong, and a Zhygulivske Svitle range that harks back to the Soviet era and features malts with a more complex flavor profile.