23 Interesting Facts About Ukraine

posted on October 14th 2014 in Blog & Fun Facts & Ukraine with 41 Comments

Ukraine was topping all the major news headlines in last half a year. Sadly, for all the rough times we had and the ongoing conflict with Russia (still in progress, unfortunately).

Other than that my home country does not get much talks and visitors after Euro-2012 (except of a steady flock of international daters and wife-seekers…ugh).

I did a quick Google search recently….and yield nothing up-to-date or thrilling enough concerning Ukraine. So I kinda took the initiative and made a list of the most interesting facts about Ukraine .

Won’t bore you much with generic historic facts and focusing more on some of the local Ukrainian quirks only a local can tell you!

1. Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe (2nd biggest if counting Russia) with total area of 603.550 square kilometers. Yet the population is lesser compared to France and Germany.

Ukraine by Ilya//Flickr 

2. It is correct to say “Ukraine” not “The Ukraine“.

“The Ukraine” can only be used if referring to the grey old days when Ukraine was part of the USSR, not a sovereign state. A lot of people actually find the usage of article to be offensive. Please, mind this fact as a token of respect to our independence.

P.S. The cool kids also spell Kyiv (not Kiev). It is the right transliteration from Ukrainian language.

3. The official language is Ukrainian. However most people are bilingual and speak Russian and Ukrainian equally well. Some peeps from the westmost regions are often fluent in Polish, Hungarian and Romanian as well.

I come from Kyiv, the capital city, where Russian language is more commonly spoken. My partner comes from Ivano-Frankivsk – a western city, where the majority speaks Ukrainian. In everyday life we speak to each other in two different languages, yet have zero misunderstanding. The perks of being bilingual.

Note: Russian and Ukrainian are two rather different languages. They have way more linguistic differences than British and American English. Better comparison: Swedish and Norwegian. 

4. The most popular letter in the alphabet is “П” pronounced like “P”. The biggest amount of words starts with it. (including my surname)

5. An expression commonly puzzling all foreigners is “Ta ni”, literary translated as “yes no”. Usually it is used as an objection and stands for “no”.

For instance:

– “Is it far from here?”

– “Ta ni, it takes just 10 min to walk there”.

6. Popular traditional Ukrainian dishes are borsh – yummy beef and meat soup and varenyky – dumplings filled with meat, potato or sweet berries.

Borsh by Liz West//Flickr

More local delicacies to try:

  • Green Borsh – a soup made of beef broth, potato, carrot, sorrel and egg. Usually eaten with pampushky – round puff buns with garlic flavor and dill.
  • Deruny – fritters made of grated potatoes with a bit of onions, flour and eggs
  • Holubtsi – minced meat with seasoning wrapped into boiled cabbage leaves. Old recipes include wrapping into grape leaves, but I never tried that.
  • Nalysnyky – thin pancakes made of egg dough with cottage cheese filling

7. No, Ukrainians don’t drink vodka all the time (or horilka as we like to call it).

We are ranked as the 6th most drunken nation in the world right after Romania, Russia, Lithuania, Moldova and Belarus being the most drinking nation in 2014 according to the Independent.

But, yeah. Most booze is really cheap. A bottle of bear costs 0.50$ in a supermarket and around 1.5$ when ordered in a bar. A bottle of fine vodka costs around 2$.

However, imported drinks like whiskey, gin and other spirits are can come with a more expensive price tag when compared to US and Europe.

8. Lviv has the highest amount of cafes per capita with around 1500 establishments total. (Lviv population ~730.000 people).

Lviv

I love quirky places like “Masoch cafe” named after Leopold Sacher-Masoch. Yep, the term “masochism” is deprived from his surname. His most famous novel “Venera in furs” explores a couple with odd sadomasochistic relationship (based on the author’s personal experience). A good read, by the way 😉

Мазох

In Masoch-café you can ask to be put in chains,while you are enjoying your coffee. Or choose something from their pervert cuisine (the definition’s not mine). Actually, the food here’s really delicious!

My second favorite place is “At The Golden Rose – a Galician Jewish Cafe with no prices on the menu. After you finish the meal you have to haggle severely for your bill. Usually the grand total is ten times higher than you actually have to pay.

Waiters here are amazing and would play along with all your jokes and tricks to reduce the price! Be as creative as you can ☺

Most of the staff speaks good English, so you can still have fun if you don’t know a single word of Ukrainian.

9. The first gas lamp was invented in Lviv by a local pharmacist in a store named “At The Golden Star”. Today there’s a cafe named “Gasova L’ampa” (gas lamp) situated in the same building.

10. The 3rd most visited McDonalds in the world is in Kyiv, near the main railroad station. Also it was ranked as one of top-5 worst McDonald’s around the world and there’s a reason for that…

11. One of the most fun traditional celebrations is Ivana Kupala Day, celebrated on June, the 23rd.

A huge fire is laid out first.  Next, boys and girls (in pairs or solo) jump over the flames to get “purified”. If a couple jumps over the fire without letting go their hands, their love and marriage will last forever and ever.

Ivana Kupala

Later at night everyone goes searching for the fern flower. It is said to bloom only during this night for a few hours and is guarded by evil forces. The one, who finds it, will be able to talk to any creatures alive and spot any treasure hidden under the ground.

12. Ukrainian national costume is calledvyshyvanka“. It’s a plain white shirt made of linen and decorated with floral or ornamental hand-sewn embroidery. They are worn by both men and women on numerous occasions.

Another part of the traditional women costume is “vinok” – a wreath made of real or fake flowers with long colorful ribbons attached to the back of it.

Ukrainian girls Photo by Anna Senik – an amazing ukrainian etno-photographer

13. Kyiv ranks #1 city with the most beautiful women according to Travelers Digest. (Actually, the first thing I always notice when I come back home is how beautiful all girls are!).

14. Kyyivo-pechers’ka Lavra is one of the biggest Orthodox monasteries in the world. Golden domes and the bell tower are the postcard view of Kyiv.

Lavra by Matt Shalvatis//Flickr 

If you are planning to visit the monastery, dress appropriately. Please, do not wear short skirts or shorts (men including), bright makeup or way too open cleavage. Women are usually asked to cover up their head when entering the church.

Ornaments inside are mind-blowing with loads of colorful mosaics, mural paintings and stained glass.

Lavra decor by Trey Ratcliff//Flickr

However, the most fascinating thing about Lavra is an extensive cave network, stretching for kilometers out and around the Pechersk hills. No one knows exactly how long these 11th century tunnels are.

Two cave passages are currently open to the public for exploring. Obviously, you will here a few spooky ghost tales about the dead monks still wondering through the caves at nights.

14. For centuries Kyiv has been an important Orthodox spiritual center with pilgrims coming from faraway lands to visit Lavra, St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and Sofia Kyivska church.

Kyiv Golden domes by Timm Suess//Flickr 

At the same time, there are 3 “official” witch gathering places in Kyiv. All named Lysa Hora (Bold Mountain).

According to Ukrainian folk tales, all the witches, evil spirits and other paranormal creatures used to gather for Sabbath at each of three mounts with no vegetation on top.

15. You have seen this viral picture of the Tunel of Love. It is located in Rivenska oblast, Ukraine nearby Kleven town.

Tunnel of love Photo by Oleg Gordienko

16. Public transport in Ukraine isn’t at its best…sigh. It’s primarily dominated by marshrutka – ugly, uncomfortable mini-buses where you need to shout to get out.

However, a weirder form of public transport can be found in Kryvyy Rih. The metrotram. Yep, it is a tram, which goes underground on 4 stations from 15.  So, it was proudly named the metro.

Metrotram

Underground platforms are huge as they were intended to be used as an army hangar. You know, to hide planes in case of bombing during the Soviet times and all that stuff. Today, this tram-metro stops randomly at any part of the platform and you have to run to catch it.

17. A bit more about public transport. In Uzhhorod region – the westmost province of Ukraine, there used to be a 700 meter smuggler underground tunnel going to Slovakia with tiny railroad and trolleys riding back and forth all day long. It existed for a year till the owners got busted. It actually looked like a tiny metro ☺

18. The deepest metro station in the world is Arsenalna station in Kyiv going down at 105.5 meters. It was made that deep for military purposes with a huge secret bunker hidden between Arsenalna and Khreshatic stations.

Kyiv Underground Photo by cool Kyiv diggers whom I’d love to hang out with one day! 

19. Ukrainians have built the world’s biggest plane An-225 Mriya (The Dream), which can carry up to 559.577 pounds into the air. You should have seen it in 2012 movie.

20. Trembita is the longest musical instrument in the world. It is a very long pipe that the  Hutsul ethnicity from the Carpathian Mountains loves to play.

Trembita

21.  The first constitution in the world was written and adopted in Ukraine in 1710 by a Cossak hetman Pylyp Orlyk. It was a progressive document separating three branches of power with numerous laws regulating the government and society.

22. The current President of Ukraine – Petro Poroshenko – is the former owner of the biggest candy factory in the country.

23. Ukrainians rarely smile in public, yet are extremely heartwarming and hospitable people once you get to know them closer!

Lena smishne


More Country Facts:

P.S. If you happen to be an expat and would like to share some unusual things about your new home, drop me a line! 
 
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  • Andrew Blum

    I was born in Ukraine, lived in an orphanage for a year or so as a toddler before being adopted by my American parents as a two year old. They never withheld any information from me as a kid, if I had a question about Ukraine they’d answer it to the best of their ability. I am very grateful for that, but my knowledge is very limited to my roots and who my biological family was. I’ve spent these last few years of my life asking why they gave me up. As a 16 year old guy living a roller coaster of a life in America I am very eager to go back and see my home country. I’ve been dying just to find out who I am and what my country is all about. I’m most likely going back to Ukraine later this summer. I don’t really know what to expect but I trust God will lead me right where I need to be just as he lead my parents to me. Sadly I never picked up any of the language but have always wanted to learn it. I’ve been longing to find out about my past for years now and hopefully will uncover something that will at least give me a little peace about all this. Yeah, it’s a lot to read, but I guess I just needed to get it off my chest. If anyone out there has any tips for what to expect or any encouraging words to relieve a little stress I’m open to it. This awesome info that you provided was really interesting, and I thank you for that.
    Take it easy y’all 😉

  • Darina

    Wow! Thank you for a very nice list! All is true.I discussed issue with THE Ukraine with some Americans and it looks like they know two countries with letter “U” in the beginning and both of them used with article THE: the United States, The United Kingdom. So probably they add THE to everything that begins with U.

  • Irina Malkmus

    Благодарю за пост! Просто находка. Во первых о многом не знала хоть и харьковчанка. А вовторых использую часть материала для презентации Украины в классе у моих детей (Калифорния) Спасибо еще раз!

  • Michael Mishka Godovan

    This is amazing, im a ukrainian American born in America raised by my grandparents learning ukrainian and russian before English, sadly iv never been to ukraine but exploring the internet to learn and see as much as physically possible about my homeland just makes each long hard day worth it when i get home.. beautiful pictures btw.. this makes me want to fly to ukraine with my gf on june 23 for her birthday !

  • Sofia Ilina

    There is an even more interesting phrase than “ta ni”, and it is: “ta ni, napevno” which literally means “yes, no, maybe” :)

  • I love this post! I was born in Chernivtsi and had no idea about some of these (especially that p is the most popular word). Also don’t like it when others refer to it as *the* Ukraine, drives me nuts :p

  • The tunel of love is situated in RIVNENSKA oblast!

    • Oops, yes. I knew that :) Thanks for pointing!

  • Wow, what a fascinating list!

    I was only aware of #2 and #13 (I had a girlfriend from Kyiv who would get really angry every time I said “THE Ukraine”) 😉
    Mediodiablo recently posted…Passing on GoPro and staying on the f*cking busMy Profile

    • Haha, yes. Sounds familiar to me. I really don’t get why people started using “the” before Ukraine in the first place and there’s no such thing as definite/indefinite articles in Ukrainian language…so I always found that fact rather strange :)

  • Ha – I laughed reading about the McDonald’s comment!

    I have some Ukrainian Heritage and so found this very interesting. I would love to visit the country but have to admit that with all the news it will likely be some time before I actually make it there.
    Emily recently posted…The Draw of JaipurMy Profile

    • I knew that McDonald’s always packed with people, but just recently found those stats and was really surprised myself :)

      I do hope Ukraine becomes a more popular travel destination one day…once we settle most of out problems.

  • This is so interesting! I really knew very little about Ukraine before, but I feel like I need to learn more about it now.
    Marie @ Marie Away recently posted…How to organize your travel goalsMy Profile

  • Elena, this is such an interesting article! I haven’t been to Ukraine, but maybe one day. It’s so nice to hear more insight than what I simply hear from all over the news.

    • Thank you, Stephanie. Yep, when I read news about Ukraine when I’m back in France I get kind of depressed…but than I remember there are still so many amazing things outside politics and economy, that I like about my home country 😉

  • So many interesting facts about Ukraine. (I almost typed ‘the Ukraine.’ Thanks for letting me in on that tidbit! ) I have a friend who lived there during her time in the Peace Corps. She fell in love with the area and the people. I hope I can visit someday. :)
    Lynsey @ Eternally Wanderlyn recently posted…More Things My Students SayMy Profile

    • How interesting! I’m glad you’re friend enjoyed the stay :)

      It always felt weird for me to use “the” before any country as there’s no such things as definite and indefinite articles in my language….so I just don’t know why should it be there 😀

  • Bo

    I’ve been to some of these places, but still learned new things, like Masoch cafe.

    American English has a slang saying, at least here in California, of “Yeah…no.” It is a sarcastic comment when someone says something dumb.

    • Ah, yes. Heard this “Yeah…no” things on the movies a few times :)

  • Love this post, a very interesting insight thanks for sharing!
    Becky Padmore recently posted…Exploring Oman – Muscat and beyondMy Profile

    • Thank you, Becky!

  • Ukraine has always interested me, actually, and even more so since it has been in the news. I totally understand what it’s like to have my country so badly misunderstood and so misrepresented in the media. Thanks for sharing!
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted…UrbanDuniya’s new look!My Profile

    • Tim, I love reading your insights about Pakistan for the same reason. The country’s getting so much negative mentions whereas I worked with a few people from Islamabad and it was extremely pleasant and productive experience. (I even got a wedding invitation from one of the colleagues afterwards, haha)

  • Roksolana

    Great blog! Thanks for gathering the neat facts, I learned a few myself. Hope to visit the tunnel of love on my next trip!. Side note: in our family we always made borscht n green borscht ( my favorite soup) without meat.

    • Yes, it could be made all-veggie, though I haven’t made it that way. Guess, I should try sometime :)

  • So wonderful to discover your blog… and learn about all the interesting facts about Ukraine – so rich in culture and history!

    • Thank you for stopping by, Catherine! I like your blog a lot too with all those gorgeous pictures of Paris.

  • Awesome post! I really didn’t know that much about Ukraine before, other than the politics that have been in the news, so it was great to read these cool and quirky facts :) I also googled nalysnyky, which look really delicious – I definitely want to try them!!
    Charlie recently posted…A City of Portraits: Street Art in San José, Costa RicaMy Profile

    • And they are super easy to make too! I’m kind of unsure if there’s anything close to cottage cheese available in Costa Rica, but anything closely similar in taste would go great too :)

  • Eva

    What an interesting read! My favorites were the midsummer celebration/ Ivana Kupala Day (I love hearing about old pagan traditions around Europe) and the expression “ta ni.” There is something kind of similar in Finnish and it confuses me a lot! :)

    • Ok, so now I know German, Finish, Russian and Ukrainian has this weird “yes no” type of phrase. I wonder why English lacks it? And haven’t heard anything similar in French too.

  • Great post since – although I’ve lived in Russia for a long time – I don’t know all that much about it’s neighbor/cousin/brother :)

    Also, the Russian да нет makes me CRAZY because it makes no sense in English :)
    Polly recently posted…Camping in ArmeniaMy Profile

    • Yeah, да нет is so silly when you think of it literary :) And what about “Да нет, наверное” Or “Да нет, конечно!” ? I think those are even worse 😀

  • Really interesting, thanks for enlightening us. Love #23 nice Ukrainian smile :) but not sure i’ll accept an invite for coffee with you, i usually drink mine without the chains or the whip
    Jameela Deen recently posted…Holidays in the South of FranceMy Profile

    • Haha :) So do I, actually. I couldn’t help mentioning that cafe ’cause of it’s quirkiness :)

  • This is actually so interesting – and such a great look into Ukraine. One of my best friends is from Ukraine and I would certainly look forward to visiting it with her (we’ve talked about it) and discovering more about her culture. This is giving me such a good insight into her culture and even some of her customs. Thank you :)
    Camila recently posted…50 Items on my Scottish Bucket ListMy Profile

    • Oh, that’s cool :) I hope you could make it to Kyiv and Lviv one day which I both love and get to know a tiny bit more about Ukraine. Though, things been pretty rough lately, it seems like everything is settling down slowly (at least I hope for that)!

  • Love this post, really insightful about a country that I unfortunately don’t know much about apart from what you see on the news!

    Will go have a wander and check out the rest of your blog now :)
    Cecilia x
    Cecilia recently posted…Things on my WANT list – October editionMy Profile

    • I hope Ukraine stays at the news headlines of Travel sections rather than International Politics and International crises.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Haha, we have an equivalent of Ta Ni in German too 😀 And I love those national customes, so beautiful!!!
    Van @ Snow in Tromso recently posted…My ABC’s of TravelMy Profile

    • But there isn’t anything similar in English or at least noting I could think of :)