The Food, Culture, and Traditions of Ukraine

Ukraine shares borders with Russia to the north, Belarus to the east, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary to the west, and Romania and Moldova to the south; it is also home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has long played a key role in Europe’s security, but it is now in the crosshairs of renewed great-power rivalry and faces deep economic, social, and political challenges.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Ukrainians have had to adjust their lives and make new choices as they struggle to preserve their sense of identity. Many have embraced alternative media and social networking, and have stopped tuning into Russian-speaking TV channels. Others have rediscovered family traditions, and are cooking at home more than ever before.

The cuisine of Ukraine reflects its rich history and diverse heritage. Although the country has been occupied and ruled by different powers over the centuries, its dishes remain rooted in ancient peasant techniques that emphasize wheat (the breadbasket of Europe) and vegetables. As a result, the national cuisine blends traditional Slavic ingredients with European ones.

Known for its distinctive red color, borscht is perhaps the most famous dish in Ukrainian cuisine. Originally made with meat broth, cabbage, and a selection of other vegetables—including beets (which give it its trademark red color), tomatoes, and carrots—every region and every family has a unique take on this classic.

One of the most popular snacks is pampushki, a pastry that is similar to a pancake. It is stuffed with a variety of fillings, but walnuts are most commonly used. The dessert is served with sour cream and often covered in crushed walnuts or chocolate.

Another common snack is deruny, which are savory potato pancakes. Unlike their Polish counterparts latkes, these are not fried in oil and are instead grated, mixed with eggs and flour, and topped with sour cream accented with dill. They can be eaten as a meal or on their own and are especially tasty when served warm.

Throughout the country, families are busy baking fresh bread to celebrate holidays and special occasions. The most cherished bread is paska, which can be found in every kitchen before Easter and at other times of the year. During the production of this bread, the cook is believed to whisper positive thoughts into the dough, ensuring its success.