The central Ukrainian soils, known as the chernozems, are among the world’s most fertile. These occupy about two-thirds of the country’s land mass and may be divided into three broad groups. The north consists of a belt of deep chernozems, about 5 feet (1.5 metres) thick and extremely rich in humus; south and east of the former are zones of prairie or ordinary chernozems, thin and less rich; and in the west, a band of alluvial and calcareous chernozems with low humus content.
In the 16th through 18th centuries, Orthodox East Slavs in Ukraine began forming semi-autonomous host communities of peasant warriors called Cossacks. Despite their cultural affinity for Muscovite Russia, these independent statelets were often at odds with their Polish-Lithuanian overlords. They were also subject to regular raids by Russian and other forces.
After a brief period of independence following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine came under Soviet rule and suffered the brutal rigours of two forced famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) that killed millions. The ill-effects of this period were compounded by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant, which caused widespread radiation exposure and is still being cleaned up today.
Since independence, Ukraine has struggled to regain political stability, prosperity, and democracy. Its economy lags behind most other former Soviet republics and corruption is widespread. The current president, Petro POROSHENKO, won the election in 2014 with an explicit promise to strengthen Ukraine’s ties with the West and democratize the country. He was reelected in 2019 with even more votes.
One of the most traditional dishes in Ukraine is borscht, a classic beetroot soup made with tender beef chunks, lots of beets, carrots, cabbage and onions. It is a comforting and delicious meal for any day of the week, but it’s especially popular at weddings or festivals. Another favourite is nakisniki, which are pancakes that are filled with canned berries and sweet cottage cheese. They’re similar to blintzes, which have Eastern European Jewish origins, and are eaten for breakfast or dinner with sour cream on top. Garlic and dill are other essentials for Ukrainian cuisine. Like many other Slavic countries, Ukraine’s cuisine blends into those of its neighbouring nations and can be found in Poland, Belarus, Romania and Russia with slight tweaks and variations.