The Food and Culture of Ukraine

A nation in Europe, Ukraine is home to a rich cultural heritage that dates back centuries. From golden-domed churches to underground catacombs, the country’s historical landmarks and rich architectural tradition captivate visitors. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lviv’s Old Town and Kyiv’s historic Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery are both must-see destinations.

With more than half of its land suitable for agricultural crops, Ukraine is a major breadbasket. Its cuisine reflects this fact and also takes inspiration from neighboring culinary traditions, with dishes ranging from hearty to sweet. Borscht, a vibrant beet soup often served with sour cream, is one of the nation’s most beloved staples; varenyky, dumplings filled with a range of ingredients from mashed potatoes and sauerkraut to sweet curd cheese and fresh berries, are another popular choice. Holubtsi, cabbage rolls filled with a mixture of rice and ground meat, are also a beloved dish.

Other traditional favorites include salo (salted pork fat), kovbasa (Ukrainian sausage), and deruny (potato pancakes). Bread is particularly important in Ukrainian cooking, as the nation has long been considered one of the world’s great wheat-producing countries. It is often enriched with raisins and other dried fruit, and decorated for special occasions like Easter.

Fermented vegetables are a common feature in Ukrainian dishes as well. The country boasts a plentiful harvest each year, which can be preserved and enjoyed for months to come. The result is a unique tang that permeates many of Ukraine’s dishes and is especially prevalent in fermented cabbage, aka sauerkraut.

While Ukraine’s tumultuous history has led to a sometimes fractious society, the determination of the people to achieve democracy and prosperity has remained unwavering. In the wake of czarist Russia’s collapse in 1917, Ukraine briefly gained independence, only to be reconquered by a brutal Soviet regime that engineered two forced famines, killing 8 million people. The end of the USSR in 1991 marked a new chapter for the nation, but the legacy of patronage politics and endemic corruption continue to hold Ukraine back from fully realizing its potential.

The government is focusing on fostering civic identity by uniting the nation behind its goals of ending Russia’s full-scale invasion, regaining territory lost to separatist forces, and moving ahead with reforms needed for EU and NATO membership. The tense situation continues to strain relations with Russia, but Ukraine remains confident in its national identity and will not be intimidated by Russia’s efforts to destabilize the country.