Ukraine is a nation divided between those who support greater integration with Western political institutions, including the EU and NATO, and those who want to maintain close economic and political ties with Russia. During its three decades of independence, Kyiv has sought to balance its foreign relations and bridge deep internal divisions. In the wake of Russia’s invasion in 2022, Ukrainians have renewed their commitment to defending their sovereign state and are determined to prevent further escalation that could include a Russian nuclear strike.
The majority of the country’s population is Orthodox Christian or Eastern rite Catholic, but there are also Roman rite Catholics, Protestants, Jews and followers of other religions. The language spoken is Ukrainian, which is part of the Slavic family of languages and is written using the Cyrillic alphabet (as are Russian and Belarusian). Due to centuries of intense Russification, many people are bilingual in both Russian and Ukrainian. Some, particularly in the eastern parts of the country, consider themselves ethnically Russian and identify with the Russian Federation rather than Ukraine, although this is not necessarily a sign of loyalty.
During the winter months, it is common to eat hearty stews and soups like okroshka and borscht. Both are based on the same base: a combination of beets (sour or sweet) with a meat or vegetable stock and other vegetables. The beets give the dish its signature color and a tang that can be enhanced by adding some caraway or other spices to the preparation. The stews and soups are often served with a dollop of soured cream.
Other traditional dishes include holubtsi, which are dumplings that can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients from mashed potatoes and sauerkraut to raw minced pork or even boiled crayfish. Another comfort food is oladky, which are light, fluffy pancakes made from flour and water with or without egg. The addition of beetroot lends them a distinct and pleasing flavor that would appeal to any Eastern European palate.
Wine is an integral part of the Ukrainian diet, and a growing number of wineries are producing world-class varietals and blends. I’m thrilled to be importing my first and currently only shipment of Ukrainian wines from one of my fantastic importers, with bottles coming in from Beykush, Stakhovsky and Villa Tinta! I have a beautiful, easy drinking rose from Beykush with notes of strawberries, barberries and duchesse, as well as a dry red made from the South African variety of Pinotage.