History and Culture of Ukraine

Ukraine has a surprisingly varied landscape, with high mountains and rocky coasts (Kharkiv) as well as rolling plains and fertile steppes. It is the largest country in Europe that lies entirely within the European continent, covering a territory bigger than France or Germany. Ukraine is also home to many historic and cultural sites of extraordinary interest.

Ethnic Ukrainians comprise the vast majority of the population, but the country has for centuries been a multicultural and multilingual society, with significant populations of Jews, Russians, Poles, Belarusians, Tatars, Romani, Bulgarians, Armenians, and other minorities. These communities are reflected in regional differences in language, folk arts, and cuisine.

The national language is Ukrainian, which is written using the Cyrillic alphabet like Russian and other Slavic languages. During centuries of intense Russification, most urban Ukrainians became bilingual in Russian and Ukrainian, while some in rural areas still speak only Russian or “siurzhyk”, a distinctive mix of Russian and Ukrainian. Today, Ukraine is a predominantly European democracy and its citizens are united by common goals of ending Russia’s full-scale invasion, strengthening democratic institutions, and advancing Ukraine’s candidacy for EU and NATO membership.

President Petro POROSHENKO’s backtracking on a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU, his reversal of a promise to allow Ukrainians more freedom to travel abroad, and widespread corruption led to the protest occupation of Kyiv’s central square in February 2014 that eventually ousted him. His pro-West successor, Volodymyr ZELENSKY, has built on this momentum to unite the country around the cause of Ukraine’s independence and prosperity.

As one of the world’s major oil and natural gas exporters, Ukraine’s economy has been growing rapidly since the end of the Cold War. The country also has substantial potential for renewable energy and has a well-developed infrastructure. However, serious problems persist, including widespread corruption, low productivity, and underdevelopment of the industrial sector.

Borscht is a classic Ukrainian dish, with more than 50 traditional recipes and more than 10 shades of color — from greenish-yellow to orange to pale pink to deep red, burgundy or beet-red. It may be meatless or with meat, or it may contain cabbage, dill, mushrooms, beans, or other vegetables.

Solyanka is a sour, meaty soup that can soothe a hangover like nothing else. It’s popular in the west of Ukraine, where it’s often served after a night of drinking horilka, and is especially appreciated when the weather turns frosty. It’s a popular hangover cure for good reason — the combination of hot, sour, and salty flavors is a surefire way to clear out your sinuses. If you can’t find the vodka, this savory dish can also be made with beer. The result is equally delicious. The recipe calls for pork shanks, but it can be made with chicken or beef if you prefer. The ingredients are cooked in a tomato sauce, then stuffed inside of bell peppers. The resulting dish is rich with vitamins and minerals, and it is an excellent source of protein.