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Date: 2017
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life
From: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life(Vol. 5: Europe. 3rd ed.)
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Culture overview
Pages: 9
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Page 527


PRONUNCIATION: U-kray-nee-uhns


POPULATION: 44,429,471 (2015 estimate)

LANGUAGE: Ukrainian

RELIGION: Christianity (Ukrainian Orthodox [Moscow Patriarchate], Ukrainian Orthodox [Kiev Patriarchate], Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant), Jewish, Muslim, others

RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 5: Russians


Ukraine has had three periods of national statehood. The first period existed from the ninth to the fourteenth century CE and was known as Kievan Rus’, with its capital in Kiev. The second was the Cossack period, lasting from the middle of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century. The third period began with the fall of tsarist Russia and the establishment of a sovereign Ukrainian state in the form of the Ukrainian National Republic on January 22, 1918; this state lasted only a few years before it was partitioned among Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania. During the German occupation in June 1941, the Ukrainian people made an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim their sovereignty in Lviv, the capital of Western Ukraine. As a result of peace treaties signed at the end of World War II, all the Ukrainian territories were integrated into the multinational Soviet Union in the form of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

With the spread of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (open government) policies across the Soviet Union in the 1980s, people in Ukraine and other republics began demanding more freedom and ultimately independence. In August 1991 Ukraine became independent, elected Leonid Kravchuk (a former Communist) as its president, and began implementing democratic, free enterprise policies as well as gradual economic reforms and nuclear disarmament. In 1994 Leonid D. Kuchma, former director of the world's largest rocket factory and prime minister under President Kravchuk was elected president. President Kuchma developed friendly political and economic relations with the West and enacted economic reforms to improve the country's growth prospects. On June 29, 1996, the Ukrainian parliament approved the first Constitution of Ukraine, just a few weeks before the fifth anniversary of its independence.

Tensions between ethnic Ukrainian and Russian populations in Ukraine compounded by political pressures from Russia and the United States reached a peak during the campaign leading up to the 2004 presidential elections. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, supported by Russia, and opposition leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, supported by the West, came out in a tie. The ensuing runoff election on November 21 designated Yanukovych as the winner. However, many Ukrainian citizens felt that this result was fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Kiev and other cities to protest the election of Yanukovych and to express their support for Yushchenko. As a result of these demonstrations, now called the Orange Revolution, a revote took place in which Yushchenko received a majority of votes and took presidential office on January 23, 2005.

Following his inauguration, the country's new president appointed Yulia Tymoshenko as his prime minister. One of the major figures in the Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko brought strong leadership into the heart of Ukrainian government. Opposed to some of the Yushchenko's reforms and incentives, Tymoshenko left the government. However, she returned for the 2006 parliamentary elections. Although the Party of Regions won a plurality of the vote, President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine—People's Self-Defense bloc and Tymoshenko's bloc formed a coalition and established a government with Tymoshenko as the prime minister.

Former Prime Minister Yanukovych was elected president in 2010. Although the few years of Yanukovych's term in office were relatively peaceful, his presidency ultimately came to a tumultuous end. After Yanukovych's government announced in November 2013 that it was suspending its ongoing efforts to sign an association agreement with the European Union in favor of strengthening its political and economic ties to Russia, pro-European protesters took to the streets of Kiev. Over the next several months, Kiev and other parts of Ukraine were rocked by deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. With the country seemingly on the brink of civil war, Yanukovych fled Ukraine on February 21, 2014, and eventually went into exile in Russia. He was formally removed from office the following day.


After Yanukovych's departure, Russian president Vladimir Putin immediately moved to seize control of Ukraine's Crimea region. On February 27, unmarked pro-Russian forces widely believed to be Russian military personnel, occupied the Crimean legislature and oversaw a controversial referendum that resulted in a decision to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Putin signed a bill that formally annexed Crimea on March 18. While the annexation of Crimea was condemned by Ukraine, the United Nations, and the European Union, Russia asserted its right to protect its national interests and the rights of Russian-speaking peoples in the region. The situation in Crimea quickly Page 528  |  Top of Articleturned violent as the Ukrainian military clashed with separatist forces. Thousands of lives were lost before a cease-fire agreement was reached in February 2015. In the end, Russia maintained control of Crimea despite the fact that most Western governments and international organizations still refuse to officially recognize the annexation.

In May 2014, in the midst of the Crimean crisis, Petro Poroshenko was elected president in Ukraine. Poroshenko played a critical role in resolving the crisis and negotiating the cease-fire that ended fighting in 2015. Poroshenko also moved to reopen negotiations between Ukraine and the European Union, overseeing the country's entry into the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union in early 2016 and outlining plans for Ukraine to apply for full membership in the European Union in 2020.


Ukraine covers about 233,000 square miles (604,000 square kilometers) of land in Eastern Europe. Territorially, Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe after France. It is bordered by the Black Sea to the south; Moldova and Romania to the southwest; Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland to the west; Belarus to the north; and Russia to the north and northeast. Approximately 65 percent of the soil is chornozem (meaning fertile, black soil). Traditionally an agricultural area, Ukraine grows wheat, maize, and buckwheat, as well as vegetables, fruits, melons, and berries. Ukraine is also known for its plentiful mineral resources.

Almost the entire country of Ukraine is a vast flat plain, bounded by the Carpathian Mountains in the southwest, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in the south, and the Crimean Mountains on the southern end of the Crimean peninsula. The highest point in Ukraine is Mount Hoverla in the Carpathians, with an elevation of about 6,761 feet (2,061 meters). The Dnieper is the main river that runs through Ukraine. One of the longest European rivers, the Dnieper is the republic's most important source of hydroelectric power.

In general, the country's climate is temperate continental, except for southern Crimea, which has a subtropical climate. The typical Ukrainian winter is rather mild, with no severe frosts but with regular snowfalls everywhere except in the south. The average winter temperature reaches 4°F (–20°C) in the north and 26°F (–3°C) in the south. Summers tend to be hot and dry with occasional showers and thunderstorms.

Kiev, with more than 2.9 million inhabitants, is the capital of Ukraine. It boasts numerous beautiful churches and is known as the Golden Domed City. The Monastery of the Caves (Pech-erska Lavra) is one of the brightest of Kiev's gems. The Lavra was founded in 1051 and is now part museum and part functioning monastery. Its forty buildings represent eight centuries of art and architecture. Other major cities in Ukraine include Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk, Kamianske, Odessa, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Nickolayev.


Ukrainian is the official state language of Ukraine. Belonging to the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages, Ukrainian employs its version of the Cyrillic alphabet with thirty-three characters. It shares some vocabulary with the languages of the neighboring Slavic nations, including Russia, Belarus, and Poland. Ukrainian is the most ancient living Slavic language, as it is the most closely related to Old Slavonic, the common language of the ancestors of modern Slavs. It is also the language that was spoken in the medieval Kievan Rus' kingdom.

Ukrainian is the native language of more than thirty million people, which makes it one of the most widely spoken in the Slavic group of Indo-European languages. It is used particularly in central and western Ukraine. In cities such as Odessa and in eastern Ukraine, where there are large concentrations of ethnic Russians, both Ukrainian and Russian are widely spoken. In areas of eastern Ukraine located near the border with Russia, Russian often dominates.

Although during the Soviet regime the Ukrainian language underwent some Russification, there were no profound changes. Ukrainian is presently undergoing a revival and has become the language of choice for television shows, films, science, newspapers, computers, and the Internet in Ukraine.

At present, Ukrainian has nine distinct dialects: Volhynian, Podillya (Podole), Galician, Kiev-Poltava, Southern, two Carpathian dialects (Hursul and Boyko), and two Pokuttya (Bokovynian) dialects. Examples of everyday Ukrainian words include dobryj den (hello), tak (yes), nee (no), bood laska (please), dyakooyoo (I thank you), dyakooyemo (we thank you), and do pobachenya (goodbye). Other useful expressions of everyday speech are vybachte (excuse me), pereproshuyu (pardon me), neobkhid'no (it is necessary), skil'ky? (how many/much?), and pravyl'no (right).

Among the most commonly used exclamations (or vyhuky) by Ukrainians are the following:

Os’!—Here you are!
Hayda’!—Let's go! Come on!
Oy! Oy-yoy!—expression of surprise
Okh!—expression of being tired
Harazd'!—Okay! Deal!


Ukrainian culture is rich with beliefs and rituals stemming from pre-Christian times. Folk beliefs are primarily associated with major life events such as birth, marriage, and death and are also connected with nature (clouds, earth, fire, water, etc.). Through the centuries, these ritual and verbal customs have been incorporated into Christian rites.

Legends passed on from generation to generation include tales of the founding of the city of Kiev by the three brothers Kyi, Scheck, and Khoryv and their sister Lybed. A monument in their honor can be found in the capital city of Kiev. Other legends tell of the magical steppe plant called yevshan zillia that has the power of bringing lost souls back to their homeland. Children are often reminded of the mythical dragon-slayer Kyrylo Kozhumiaka, who was endowed with tremendous strength and ultimately freed the people of Kiev from the vicious grasp of a dragon. There is also the tale of Oleksa Dovbush. This Ukrainian Robin Hood lived in the Carpathian Mountains, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. A number of different sites in the Carpathians are named after him.

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A folk Ukrainian group celebrates Christmas near the Museum of Ukrainian Folk Architecture and Rural Life, Kiev, Ukraine. A folk Ukrainian group celebrates Christmas near the Museum of Ukrainian Folk Architecture and Rural Life, Kiev, Ukraine. © MIKHEYEV VIKTOR/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM. © MIKHEYEV VIKTOR/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM.

Furthermore, Ukraine has a rich folk-music tradition. Ukrainian folk songs reflect its people's spirit, philosophy, perspective on life, historical events, and regional diversity. Some of the songs were created thousands of years ago. These ancient songs are often dedicated to peasant rituals and agricultural cycles.

Moreover, Ukrainians can boast their own musical instruments, including the bandura, tsymbaly (hammer dulcimer), and trembita. The bandura, a lute-like instrument with fifty or more strings, is Ukraine's national instrument. The origin of the bandura dates back to the seventh century, when it was used mainly to accompany epic ballads and folk dances. Beginning in the fifteenth century and lasting until the eighteenth century, Kobzars (traveling musicians) made the bandura into one of the most popular folk instruments. Wandering from village to village, Kobzars used the bandura to accompany their songs about Cossack (Ukrainian warrior) exploits. Over the centuries, the bandura acquired more and more strings and became a fully chromatic instrument with switches for changing tonalities. The tsymbaly is a Ukrainian hammer dulcimer that originated in the Middle East. It was first brought to Ukraine during the Crusades by wandering Roma and Jewish musicians. The earliest mention of the tsymbaly dates back to the seventeenth century.

Another folk instrument called the trembita is the Ukrainian version of the alpine horn. It is typically made of spruce that has been split, with a central bore dug out and then glued together and bound with birch bark. Its length ranges from 10 feet (3 meters) to 1.6 feet (half a meter). Traditionally, the trembita was used to signal events such as the coming of visitors, enemies, or death in the mountain regions of Ukraine. Consequently, a system of elaborate signals was devised. Over time, the trembita was adapted to play Christmas carols.

Modern Ukrainian music has come a long way since the Kobzars, and Kolomiya rap and Polissia pop enjoy great popularity among Ukrainian youth. Nevertheless, Ukrainian music embedded in ancient traditions is still appreciated. There also has been a revival of Cossack songs and poetry.

Ukrainians also have preserved various forms of folk dances and dancing games. Many dances originated in rural Cossack villages while some of them are rooted further back in ancient cults. In one of the most popular folk dances called the hopak, male dancers compete against each other in performing acrobatic leaps. Although initially many of the folk dances were performed solely by males or females, today more often than not men and women perform these dances together. It is customary for dancers to wear colorful costumes. Folk dancing is performed for special occasions, such as weddings, festivals, and other functions. Folk-dance ensembles can be found not just in Ukraine, but also in Ukrainian communities throughout the world.

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Because of the geographical proximity of Ukraine to the Black Sea and the Near East, Christianity was found in the present territory of Ukraine as early as the first century. The Primary Chronicles mention the missionary St. Andrew, who preached the gospel in Kievan Rus' and blessed the hills on which the Lavra Monastery was later built. In the ninth century, the missionary brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius came from the West and spread Christianity throughout the region. However, Ukrainian Orthodox Christianity came from Byzantium due to the strong ties between Kievan Rus' and Greece. In 954 Olga, the grand princess of Kievan Rus', was baptized, becoming the first Christian ruler of the region. Because of her efforts in spreading Christianity, she was canonized after her death. Her grandson, Prince Vladimir, believing that the new faith would strengthen the state and increase its prestige among its Christian neighbors, adopted Christianity and converted all of his people to the Christian faith in 988. Thereafter, Christian writings and culture spread throughout Kievan Rus'. Vladimir established religious schools and built churches, where the liturgy was given in the Slavonic tongue.

Ukraine's years spent under a Communist regime dealt a substantial blow to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In the 1930s, the Ukrainian church lost three metropolitans, more than thirty archbishops and bishops, and many thousands of priests due to imprisonment and persecution. Finally, the church was forcibly incorporated into the Russian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church met a similar fate soon after its abolition by the Soviet government in 1946. There were mass arrests and assassinations, and many priests were exiled to Siberia. Although in 1974 a Council on Religious Affairs was created by the Soviets to abolish religious activity, underground Catholic churches continued to operate. The future cardinal of the Vatican, Yosyf Slipyj, spent eighteen years incarcerated in Siberia. Because of the intervention of US president John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Slipyj was allowed to immigrate to the West. He died in Rome in 1984.

Despite such hardships, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church survived communism. In 1988 Ukrainians throughout the world celebrated the one-thousand-year anniversary of Ukrainian Christianity. Famous religious sites in Ukraine include the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, built in 1037 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise; the Pecherska Lavra Monastery, an underground labyrinth of monastic caves in Kiev dating back to the eleventh century; Saint George's Cathedral in Lviv, a notable baroque monument; a seventeenth-century wooden church in Yaremcha (Lviv district); and the Pochaiv Lavra Monastery in the Volyn district of western Ukraine, one of the most revered holy sites in Ukraine.

At present, the dominant religions in Ukraine are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (which practices Orthodox rites but recognizes the Roman Catholic pope as head of the church). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is further divided between a Moscow Patriarchate and an independent Kiev Patriarchate.


The Ukrainians enjoy celebrating a number of holidays. Christmas, Easter, New Year's Day, and the festival of Ivan Kupala are among the favorite holidays. The most important holiday in the Ukrainian church is Easter, followed by Christmas. Easter Sunday does not have a set date but changes every year to fall on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or right after the spring equinox. Both Christmas and Easter are celebrated in accordance with the Julian (old style) calendar, resulting in Christmas Day being celebrated on January 7. Some Ukrainian communities abroad, however, celebrate these holidays according to the newer Gregorian calendar.

Many of the Ukrainian holiday traditions can be traced back thousands of years. New Year's carols (shchedrivky), spring songs and dances (vesnianky, hahilky), the old pagan midsummer festival of Ivana Kupala, marriage rites with their ritualized dramas, and celebrations of birth involving godparents and christening linen all stem from pagan beliefs, symbols, and images. Even the Easter egg dyeing that has its roots in Ukraine is a thousand-year-old tradition that predates the arrival of Christianity in the country.


Traditional Ukrainian rites of passage mark significant life transitions or celebrate milestones in the lives of a group of people. Marriage is one of the most important events in one's life and symbolizes a transition from one social status to the next. Rooted in folk customs, Ukrainian wedding traditions are rich and elaborate. An important component of the marriage ceremony is the special nuptial service in the church. Bearing a child (especially the first one) is another event that marks a significant change in a family's life. There are special puerperal ceremonies that accompany the delivery of a child. Families in some parts of Ukraine consider the one-year anniversary of a child's birth to be a rite of passage. This ancient custom, called postryshyny, revolves around cutting the child's hair. Family members and friends gather together to celebrate the child's life. This custom is primarily preserved and practiced in the territory of Ukraine's central lands.

Ukrainians also consider funerals to be important rites of passage. Funeral rites ensure not only the easy transition of the souls of deceased persons into the world of ancestors but also the protection of the living from the negative influences of dead spirits. These rituals include burial ceremonies and commemorative gatherings in honor of the deceased person.

One Ukrainian custom that celebrates young people's wish to find true love is the Ivan Kupala festival. In pagan mythology, Kupala was the god of love and fertility. In his honor, young men and women gather around streams and ponds, where they build fires and sing songs. Some of them jump over the fire and braid field flowers into wreaths that they send floating on the water. If the wreath floats, they will be lucky in love; if it sinks, they will be unhappy.


Ukrainians are very warm and affectionate people. It is common to greet visitors with three kisses on the cheek. Hugging is another way Ukrainians greet one another, often followed by a hearty handshake. During the early 1990s a popular salutation among Ukrainians was Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine). Toasting is also a popular custom among Ukrainians. Often in a group, one person will announce a toast, followed by the words na zdorovia (to your health), or day Bozhe (glory to God).

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Ukrainians often put their heart and soul into enjoying a hearty meal, a fine drink, and a good laugh. They love having company, often turning a simple visit into a large party, and even outsiders easily become part of the family. It is not unusual for friends at such gatherings to get into heated debates over politics and to openly express their feelings. Ukrainians are also known for their legendary hospitality. Ukrainian hosts will go out of their way to treat their guests to delicious and elaborate meals. When invited to a Ukrainian home, one must be prepared to stay for several courses. It is expected that the guest will at least try every dish offered. Refusing food is considered an insult to the host's generosity. It is common for guests to compliment food and the company. Oftentimes parties, celebrations, and other informal gatherings involve singing. Even in mixed company, there are a few songs that everyone knows how to sing.


Health is a major issue being discussed in Ukraine since its independence. It was always very difficult for people in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics to get proper medical care. Soviet-era hospitals lacked funding and equipment, and often even simple procedures such as cataract surgeries were impossible, and basic medicines such as aspirin were not available. Doctors would take bribes from families desperate to help their loved ones in the hospital. Today, the health industry is undergoing scrutiny in Ukraine. With the help of Western physicians and pharmaceutical companies, Ukrainians are learning about advanced medicine and surgical procedures.

Another great concern for many people in Ukraine is environmental pollution. Fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in conjunction with continuous industrial pollution has had a damaging effect on air quality and drinking water. During the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kiev, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries were saturated with radioactivity. Once known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” some of Ukraine's regions are still radioactive and will remain so for decades. At the same time, an environmental movement known as Green World has made major progress in fighting pollution and has spread awareness of the problem of Chernobyl throughout Europe. Furthermore, in accordance with its agreement with the Group of 7 (G7) and European Commission in 1995, Ukraine permanently closed the Chernobyl plant in 2000. Also, in 2007 Western nations provided the Ukrainian government with funds for construction of a new shelter to be built around the closed plant.

In addition to challenges in the environmental arena, Ukraine since independence has faced major problems with its transportation system. The lack of diversified energy sources, due partly to Ukraine's disagreements with Russia over oil, has caused numerous delays and inconveniences. Ukraine's highways consist of more than 103,000 miles (166,000 kilometers) of paved road; however, many roads, especially in rural areas, are unpaved or in need of repairs. Buses and trolleys can be seen in cities, but they are not very punctual. However, the subway systems in Kiev, Kharkiv, and other cities are relatively good, and major cities and industrial centers are well connected by railway. Ukraine's major ports—Kerch, Kherson, Lviv, Odessa, Sevastopil, and Yalta—are also connected by water.

Approximately two-thirds of Ukraine's population (69.7 percent) lives in cities, where high-rise apartments built during the Soviet era are dominant. Many of these buildings are poorly constructed and overcrowded. About one-third of Ukraine's population (30.3 percent) still lives in rural areas, where there are small villages and homesteads, and the primary occupation is farming. Here the standard of living is lower than in the cities, which is why Ukrainians from rural areas continue to leave their villages to go to the cities.

Due to political instability and the violence related to the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine's economy experienced a noted downturn. The country experienced negative economic growth in both 2014 and 2015, and its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) declined from $9,400 in 2013 to $7,500 in 2015.


Matriarchy was dominant in prehistoric times in the territory of Ukraine, and women enjoyed full authority in historic times during the rule of Ukrainian princes and Cossacks. Over the centuries, the position of women deteriorated, with women becoming inferior to men. However, this trend is gradually changing.

Traditional Ukrainian families are large and familial ties are strong, although now most urban families can only afford to support one or two children. It is common for family members to help each other, and people place great value in family networks. Young people generally respect their parents and grandparents and are expected to take care of the older folk in the family. Weddings are grand affairs in Ukrainian society, with many associated customs and beliefs. Even though many marriages in recent years have ended in divorce, family remains the most important unit in Ukrainian society.


Ukrainians generally wear Western-style clothing. Young Ukrainians enjoy following Western trends and fashions and especially like to wear clothing with popular labels such as Nike, Levi's, Guess, Reebok, and Adidas. However, on special occasions or holidays, many people dress in national costume.

The earliest known dress worn in the territory of Ukraine dates back to the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes, with men wearing cloth or fur trousers, jackets, and pointed caps. Women dressed in loose shirts, coats with armhole slits, and caps similar to men's caps but covered by wraps. As evidenced by archaeological finds, embroidery was used as a Scythian art as far back as the fifth century BCE. Learning the art of embroidery from Scythians, Ukrainians made it into a fundamental element of folk costume.

Today, Ukrainian folk costumes come in many varieties depending on the region of Ukraine and could be roughly divided into five regional styles: that of the Middle Dnieper Region, originating in the Hetman period; Polisia; Podilia; central Galicia and Volhynia; and the Carpathian Mountains and Subcarpathia, including Pokutia, Bukovyna, Hutsul, Boiko, and Lemko. In addition to regional differences, costumes differ according to sex, with women's dress more elaborate and colorful than men's dress. Time of the year also influences the dress. Despite these differences, each costume demonstrates a high degree of sophistication, elegance, and artistry.

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Ukrainian cuisine is varied and rich in taste and is an integral part of Ukrainian customs and religious rituals. The ritual breads baked for Christmas and Easter, weddings, and funerals have special meanings and uses. The Easter paska bread, wedding korovai, delicious pyrohy (baked pies with fillings), and intricate holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls) are all part of the Ukrainian cuisine. Varenyky (dumplings) is another quintessential Ukrainian food. They are considered a Ukrainian specialty and have many fillings such as potatoes, meat, cottage cheese, and berries.

Among everyday dishes are soups, stews, sausages, smoked meats, and rye bread. Meals made with beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish dishes are usually eaten with vegetables and salads. One of the most preferred Ukrainian soups is borsch. This red beet soup made with vegetables and meat is usually served for lunch. Ukrainians also eat large amounts of potatoes, cooked buckwheat (kasha), and varieties of rye and wheat bread. Dairy products, such as cream, cottage cheese, and eggs, have their prominent place in the Ukrainian diet as well.

The most popular meat is pork and its products, such as ham, sausage (kovbasa), and blood sausage (kyshka). Salo, salted pig's fat, is a traditional food and is used in Ukrainian cooking in a variety of ways. Other authentic Ukrainian dishes include herring a la Kiev and jellied veal roll.

Some popular drinks are tea, coffee, honey liqueur, kvass, and vodka, or horilka in Ukrainian. Favorite desserts include pancakes, cakes, and fruit dishes with blueberries, cherries, plums, and strawberries. More elaborate desserts that are typically prepared for festive occasions include tortes (such as Kyivsky torte), and all sorts of sweet rolls. Ukraine is also known for its high-quality honey.

Ukrainians abroad have preserved Ukrainian cooking as part of their cultural heritage. This is particularly true of their festive or ritual foods.


Ukrainian children are required to attend school for eleven years, from about the age of six to the age of sixteen. After grade nine, students can continue a general academic program, or they can enroll in technical or trade schools to further their education. In Ukraine, there are around 150 schools of higher education, including multiple universities. There are also many research institutes. The largest and most popular universities are the Kiev State University, Lviv State University, and Kharkiv State University. Ukrainian parental expectations are no different from those of parents in the West. Education was always considered a vital part of Ukrainian life, and children are encouraged to excel and achieve a higher education. Many young people in Ukraine enroll in medical universities, while other popular practices are law, engineering, and communications. In 2014 the average school life expectancy for Ukrainian students was about 15.3 years.

Education is free and universal; however, the public education system continues to suffer from chronic underfunding. Teachers are paid relatively low salaries. Children from poor families tend to drop out of school. More than 3 percent of school-aged children are not able to attend school for various reasons. Additionally, a lack of schooling remains a significant problem among the rural population.


Ukrainian music is firmly rooted in the rich, mystical folklore of the country. Of the prominent composers of classical music, Mykola Lysenko is regarded as the first to infuse the genre with a distinct national character. During the 1860s, Lysenko collected an impressive assortment of Ukrainian folk songs, many of which he later arranged and published. His original classical compositions are instilled with Ukrainian folk themes and motifs. Although Lysenko introduced a Ukrainian flavor in classical compositions, it is Borys Lyatoshynsky who is considered to be the “father” of modern Ukrainian classical music. His works are strikingly original, conceptually profound, and technically sophisticated. A highly regarded professor at the Kiev and Moscow Conservatories, Lyatoshynsky taught some of the leading Ukrainian composers of his time. His influence stimulated a progressivism in Ukrainian music, which culminated in the early 1960s with the “Kiev avant-garde,” a movement spearheaded by Valentin Silvestrov and Leonid Hrabovsky. Today, Ukraine is blessed with a sizable group of first-rate composers, including (along with Silvestrov and Hrabovsky) Volodymyr Huba, Ivan Karabyts, Oleh Kyva, Myroslav Skoryk, and Yevhen Stankovych.

Ukrainian pop music also traces its origins to folk music. In particular, its folklore roots are evident in the predominantly strophic structure and propensity of minor mode in pop melodies. The most important Ukrainian pop composer of the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s was Volodymyr Ivasiuk, whose songs were characterized by impulsive rhythmic patterns, rapidly changing harmonies, and sweeping vocal lines tinged with Bukovinian folk motifs. Ivasiuk's compositions were recorded and performed by leading Ukrainian pop artists such as Sofia Rotaru.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainian pop songs became one of the primary vehicles of social consciousness and expression. Independence spawned a number of new pop genres in Ukraine, ranging from rap to jazz and beyond, many of them highly imitative of Western models. At present, the freeing of the Communist grip on the popular music industry has been something of a double-edged sword. What has been gained from the resulting freedom of expression has been offset by lower production standards, the disintegration of marketing mechanisms for recorded music, piracy, and rampant copyright violation.

Beside rich musical traditions, Ukrainians take pride in their literature. The earliest Ukrainian literature was composed in Church Slavonic and dates back to Kievan Rus' (eleventh through thirteenth centuries). After the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century, Ukrainian literature was in decline until the sixteenth century, when it experienced a revival. Ukrainian literature in the nineteenth century reflected the rapid development of national consciousness under Russian rule.

At the heart of modern Ukrainian literature lies Ivan Kotliarevsky. His creative Eneida (1798), a travesty of Virgil's Aeneid, transformed the Aeneid's heroes into Ukrainian Cossacks. Following Kotliarevsky's lead, in 1830 the city of Kharkiv became the center of Ukrainian Romanticism. Meanwhile, western Ukraine gave birth to the “Ruthenian Triad” of Markiyan Shashkevych, Yakiv Holovatsky, and Ivan Vahylevych, who became the leading writers of Kiev Romanticism. Romanticism found its highest expression among the literary circle, the Writers' Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

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Without a doubt, the most famous Ukrainian poet was Taras Shevchenko. A bard of Ukrainian literature, this nineteenth-century poet portrayed in his works Ukraine's history and satirized Russia's oppression of Ukraine. Next to Shevchenko stands the greatest realist of the late 1800s, Ivan Franko. A poet and novelist whose naturalistic novels chronicled contemporary Galician society, Franko is particularly appreciated for his long narrative poem “Moses,” which marked the height of his literary achievement. Lesia Ukrainka was a female poet and dramatist who made her unique imprint on Ukrainian literature of the late nineteenth century, with her poetic dramas and dialogues.

In the first three decades of the twentieth century, Ukrainian literature experienced such literary movements as realism, symbolism, neoclassicism, and futurism. After the Russian Revolution, during a short period of relative freedom, a host of talented writers became critical of Soviet policies, but in 1932 the Communist Party began enforcing socialist realism as the required literary style. During Joseph Stalin's great purges of 1933–38, many talented writers were imprisoned or executed, or fled into exile. The post-Stalinist period saw the emergence of a new generation that rejected socialist realism, but they were silenced in the 1970s by repressive measures from the Soviet government. With Ukraine's independence in 1991, many young, talented writers have emerged, beginning a new chapter in the history of Ukrainian literature.


Ukraine is now in the process of transitioning to a market economy, a move that has been socially and politically difficult due to inflation, unemployment, and general economic uncertainty. Most of Ukraine's population is employed in the agricultural and food industries; machine building and construction; and chemical, metalwork, and light industries.

Typically Ukrainians work forty hours per week and enjoy at least twenty-four days of paid vacation per year. There are also ten official holidays in Ukraine. That means that each employee has a minimum of thirty-one days of paid holidays per year. In accordance with the Labor Law, the minimum employment age is seventeen years. The minimum wage in Ukraine does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and his or her family. Consequently, many people have a second job or are engaged in some kind of entrepreneurial activity, such as a small family business. This is where family networking and family support play an important role.

The Constitution of Ukraine in conjunction with the Labor Law both preclude discrimination based on race; color of skin; political, religious, and other beliefs; sex; ethnic and social origin; property status; place of residence; or other characteristics. In practice, however, men do have more opportunities than women do. Very few women in Ukraine hold top managerial positions in the government or private industry. Ukraine has only 12.1 percent female representation in parliament. Yet, Ukrainian women are present in politics, and these female politicians are often extremely powerful.

Additionally, women are granted generous maternity leave. Women enjoy up to seventy calendar days of paid leave before childbirth and up to fifty-six calendar days after. The payment is provided by the Social Security Fund and is based on levels of income used for social security contribution purposes. To encourage families to have more children, additional paid leaves are granted to women who have two or more children under the age of fifteen or a disabled or adopted child and to single parents. Workers who are engaged in part-time studies may also be considered for additional vacation leave.


Ukrainians play many sports, including football (American soccer), volleyball, track and field, hockey, skating, and swimming. Football is undeniably the most popular sport in Ukraine, with the most popular team being Dynamo Kiev. It is common to see youngsters playing football and rugby in the streets of Ukraine. Impressively, the Ukrainian team was the first football team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. In addition to football and rugby, many Ukrainians play cricket. Numerous cricket clubs exist throughout the country.

Another sport that is growing in popularity in Ukraine is basketball. In 2013 the Ukrainian national basketball team played for the World Cup for the first time.

Ukrainian athletes do very well in the Summer and Winter Olympics and have participated in the games since the 1950s. Famous Ukrainian medalists include Larysa Latynina, the gymnast awarded a record eighteen medals (nine gold); swimmer Yana Klochkova (two gold medals, 2000); and pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka (gold, 1988). At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Ukrainian competitors won a total of twenty-three medals (nine gold, five silver, and nine bronze), finishing twelfth in overall team standings. Ukrainian athletes also compete in the Winter Olympics. The 1994 Winter Olympics brought Ukraine two medals; in the 1998 winter games, Ukrainians won one medal; and in the 2006 Winter Olympics Ukrainian athletes took bronze medals in ice dancing and the women's 7.5kilometer biathlon sprint. At both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, Ukrainians won gold in a variety of sports, including boxing and fencing. At the 2014 winter games, Ukrainians Vita Semerenko, Juliya Dzhyma, Valj Semerenko, and Olena Pidhrushna won gold in the women's relay biathlon.

Recently, outdoor sports and activities such as diving, mountain climbing, mountain biking, swimming, trekking, and horseback riding have become increasingly popular. Skiing is another sport enjoyed by many. Mountain skiing and snowboarding are rapidly gaining popularity among young people. The Carpathian Mountains are especially good for winter sports. Spectacular all year-round, the Carpathians are particularly picturesque in winter, offering families and professional athletes a range of winter sports facilities.

Chess is another popular sport in Ukraine. The 2002 World Chess Championship tournament in Moscow started with 128 of the best chess players in the world and came down to a head-to-head eight-game match between two Ukrainians, Vasily Ivanchuk and Ruslan Ponomariov. Ponomariov (who at fourteen had become the youngest grandmaster in history, although the record is now held by Bu Xiangzi of China) won the title in seven games, winning two games and drawing the other five. On his way to victory, Ponomariov defeated a chess player from China, one from Bulgaria, one from the Netherlands, and three from Russia.


The liberating policies of perestroika and glasnost relieved previously existing constraints. Since then, the arts movement gained momentum. However, the new democratic government lacks funds to support the arts, and many well-known artists, Page 534  |  Top of Articleperformers, and composers are trying their luck in the West, where they continue to perform and gain prominence. Nevertheless, in spite of these difficulties, one can find numerous art exhibits, concerts, and plays being performed in most Ukrainian cities.

Kiev is the vibrant national and cultural capital of Ukraine and boasts the National Fine Arts Museum, Taras Shevchenko Museum, National Museum of Decorative Arts, and other galleries that host new and exciting exhibitions. Life in large cities and smaller towns bustles with opera and ballet performances, philharmonic concerts, and other cultural events. Lviv's Ivan Franko Opera and Ballet Theater, Ukrainian Drama Theater, the Kharkiv Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Odessa State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine, and scores of anthropological and history museums ensure that Ukrainian culture continues to flourish.

In terms of home entertainment, Ukrainians may choose to watch the state-controlled nationwide TV broadcast channel (UT1) or one of several other privately owned and operated television networks. Cable and satellite television services are also available. In addition, many Ukrainians turn to the Internet for entertainment purposes. In 2015 Ukraine boasted approximately 2.1 million active Internet users.


Ukrainian folk art is an integral part of Ukrainian culture, reflecting the spiritual and artistic values of Ukrainians. The art forms that were developed in ancient times still exist today, both in Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities around the world. Ukrainian folk art is primarily known for its ceramics, decorated Easter eggs (pysanky), embroidery, woodcarving, weaving, tapestry, carpeting, and leatherwork. Pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter eggs, date back to pre-Christian times, when they were believed to have magical powers. With Christianity, the pysanka took on a spiritual, religious meaning, and the eggs began to be decorated with crosses, geometric designs, and miniature churches.

Over the centuries, Ukrainians have developed a unique pottery tradition. Pottery flourished in all regions of Ukraine, utilizing plant and animal designs and other patterns. The Hutsul region of the Carpathians is particularly known for its ceramics. In this region, ceramic decoration took a variety of forms, including plates, pitchers, pots, and toys.

The art of embroidery (vyshyvannia) is yet another popular Ukrainian folk art and hobby. Through a variety of thread colors, complex stitches, and design intricacies, the Ukrainian vyshyvka is applied to all items of folk dress as well as to pillows, aprons, towels, and other household articles. Many of the oldest vyshyvkas can be viewed in museums around Ukraine.


As a newly independent country, Ukraine faces a number of growing social problems including alcoholism, unemployment, prostitution, and negative population growth. A growing crime rate also adds to Ukraine's woes.

Deaths caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are another grave problem confronting the Ukrainian population. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection was estimated to be at 0.83 percent in 2013. Sadly, the scale of the crisis is so extensive that the current budget of both domestic and international donor-supported programs is not sufficient to reverse the present trend. The Ukrainian government is well aware of the situation but is concentrating on economic transformation and has not allocated enough attention and funds to the sociodemo-graphic sphere. As a result, the HIV/AIDS problem becomes increasingly daunting every day.

To exacerbate these social problems even further, a great number of Ukrainian women have recently fallen victim to international sex traders. A chain of “employment” and “marriage” agencies recruit young women and girls for work abroad in photo modeling or domestic service. “Marriage,” “employment,” and “visa” agencies capitalizing on the difficult economic situation in Ukraine promise their recruits secure employment, good working conditions, and reasonable benefits. Often women who struggle to find an adequate job in Ukraine are attracted to newspaper ads advertising jobs in foreign countries. However, once these women accept the jobs and arrive in the foreign countries, they are often forced to work in the local sex industry. The United Nations office in Ukraine has been publishing these findings, attempting to draw the attention of the country's policy makers and civil society to the issue.

According to the US State Department's 2015 human rights report on the region, some of Ukraine's most pressing social issues include instability and violence related to border disputes with Russia, human rights abuses committed by occupation authorities, deficiencies in the administration of justice, poor treatment of detainees, discrimination, and political impunity.


Today Ukraine is a modern nation that strives for gender equity. Yet gender relations in Ukraine are complex. Historically, during the Soviet period, Ukrainian men and women enjoyed equal access to education and employment. Women were granted generous maternity leave and other child-related benefits and rights to early retirement and pension. For the most part, legislation treated women and men equally; however, protective labor legislation excluded women from “dangerous” but also highly paid positions with good benefits, and widespread conservatism pressured women to continue to bear primary responsibility for the family and housework. A number of women took high positions in government, but their representation in politics remained limited, with men clearly dominating in the higher echelons of power.

Although since 2000 there has been some improvement in gender issues, strongly entrenched stereotypes of men as leaders, managers, and primary breadwinners, and stereotypes of women as wives and mothers first, workers second, continue to limit actual gender equality in Ukrainian society. Women still face gender-based job discrimination in certain areas of employment. Some employers flatly refuse to hire younger women likely to become pregnant or women over thirty-five. Loss of state support for child care, poor maternal health, limited political representation, gender-based violence, incidents of rape, and a dramatic increase in prostitution and trafficking have also emerged as serious issues. According to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, spousal abuse is illegal but common. To deal with this problem, the law requires the Page 535  |  Top of Articleregional governments to operate shelters for victims of domestic violence and crisis centers in every major city, but in practice, they do not.

At the same time, male underemployment and unemployment have undermined men's traditional role, thereby affecting the structure of authority and relative bargaining power of men and women within the household. Greater opportunities in the areas of education and employment for females have prompted women to become more independent. There has been an increase in the number of female-headed households and the number of women focusing on their careers. Also, recent labor laws establish the legal equality of men and women, including equal pay for equal work. Although employers do not always strictly adhere to these laws, the burgeoning civil society sector and the emergence of many organizations addressing gender issues (whose existence was formerly ignored or denied) provide a strong platform for addressing and promoting all aspects of gender equality.


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Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3648200551