The Food and Culture of Ukraine


In the winter of 2013, Ukraine’s people took to the streets to protest the corrupt, pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych. They gathered on Kyiv’s central Independence Square to form a self-contained city-within-a-city, bravely facing cold weather, the brutality of police and regime-sponsored thugs, and even snipers, until they succeeded in toppling the government. As a result of the Maidan protests, Ukraine reclaimed its sense of national identity and a sense of democracy. The United States remains committed to supporting a Ukrainian path to prosperity, security and Euro-Atlantic integration.

During the Cold War, Ukraine was the second-most populous and powerful of the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics, home to a large share of the Union’s agricultural production and defense industries. When the country reclaimed its sovereignty in 1991, it did so with a new commitment to democracy and freedom. This newfound sense of independence spurred a revival of Ukrainian culture and a rebirth of Ukraine’s language. It also led to the loosening of restrictions on publications in Ukrainian, allowing Ukraine to become a major source of news and entertainment for people in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe.

The heart of Ukrainian cuisine lies in its vegetables and grains, thanks to the country’s fertile soil. More than 50% of its land is suited for agriculture, and wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and mushrooms are staples. The Carpathian Mountains provide ample meadows for cattle to graze, leading to high-quality beef products. Many traditional recipes incorporate herbs, as well.

One of the most iconic foods in Ukraine is vareniki, or dumplings. They can be found in many variations around the world, but the best ones are those made with sour cherry filling. In Ukraine, the dish is so popular that it’s almost considered a must-have at all occasions, from weddings to funerals.

Another of the most beloved dishes in Ukraine is solyanka, a meat-based soup. The recipe differs from region to region, but most versions include a variety of spices and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and garlic. It’s a classic hangover cure and can be enjoyed at any time of day, but is especially suited for a chilly Kiev night.

Embroidery and pysanky (wax-resist decorated Easter eggs) are among Ukraine’s most famous artistic traditions, but the country has other, lesser-known, fine arts as well. Ceramics, wood carving, and weaving are some of the other crafts that have long been a part of the Ukrainian cultural landscape. The art of embroidery is particularly renowned, with regional variations in the style that range from the bold patterns and bright colors of the west to the more subtle designs of the Poltava region.