Local traditions and culture in Ukraine

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Most Viewed Local Customs in Ukraine

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    Fiddler on the Roof...

    by arturowan Updated Jul 2, 2014

    The famous musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is set in the village of Boyberik, (outside the town of Boyarka, itself situated not far from Kiev...)
    Although the cast, featuring the poor milkman, Tevye, & his 6 eligible daughters, are Jewish, & so would have spoken Yiddish amongst themselves, with Russian or Ukrainian for neighbours...
    The iconic scene from the film, made out of the play, is Tevye playing his violin upon the twilit roof of his peasants dwelling...
    When I was in 0dessa, I visited a Russian-Jewish family, & received live recitals, not only of violin, but also flamenco guitar, & piano (- there was no playing on the flat roof of their bungalow, but it was a poor neighbourhood, although that was not reflected in their generosity to strangers...)
    Music is an intrinsic facet of Ukrainian culture, & many folk not only learn to play an instrument, but to a high level of proficiency...
    During the Soviet era, the arts were subsidised, so that events such as opera were affordable for all, & this remains part of Ukrainian culture today...
    Ukrainian youth do not seem to be so insular in their musical tastes as in the west, where tastes seem to be mostly divided between 'indie' guitar bands, or 'house music'...
    The tv pop channels might be overwhelmed with Russian-speaking white rappers, trying, unconvincingly to the point of hilarity, to evoke EMINEM - but there is much more variety than this dire excuse for music...
    Traditional Ukrainian folk tunes celebrate the land & its people, making specific reference to Ukraine's rich, black soil, which produces swathes of golden corn...
    Ukraines women-folk are also the theme of much of the old-style music, praised for their dark hair & eyes - the ideal of beauty in the east of slavonia...
    0ther folk music is specific to regional history...

    'skree-pka' = violin DA! Ladies are still seranaded in Ukraine!
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    You are what you wear?

    by arturowan Updated Jun 10, 2014

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    I now know that in Ukrainian culture, it's expected that 1 looks their best on ALL occasions!
    As a people, Ukrainians appear rather like cats with white fur - however much time they spend outside, they never seem to show the effect, & even labourers seem able to toil in the deep-puddled streets, without a splash of mud on their clothes...
    I read a review in a travelguide about the country, which states that some people go there with the attitude to dress down as if on a camping trip, & that was exactly my attitude, when I first visited in 2005
    Having heard all the tales of woe about the place, & having been warned of the dangers of getting mugged, I thought it prudent to wear some old clothes, then leave the lot behind with some street folk!
    How ignorant I was of Ukrainians!
    Ukrainians simply don't comprehend this thinking - even for travel, they wear their best outfit, even if its uncomfortable, (& I don't understand this attitude!)
    For me, comfort is always the first priority, & even having learnt how wrong I was about Ukrainian attitudes in 2005 - I still refuse to dress up to travel, or take luxury luggage, which is an obvious invitation to thieves at public transport terminals...
    I've accumulated 15 weeks living & travelling to & from 0dessa, & in all those times, when I was on the street in the dark, as is inevitable when all my repeat visits have been in wintertime, I've not had a single incident with beggars, muggers, etc. (& now I have to assume it was because they assumed I was a hobo, & poorer then them!)
    The downside of this camouflage, is that I did encounter some disdain from locals, not least of which was at the customs, border crossing, no doubt because of the assumption that if I could afford a ticket to Kiev & truly be English, why wasn't I dressed any better than all the Ukrainians on the coach?
    This is Ukrainian logic about how 1 dresses, & though I understand it now, I still refuse to comply with it, because though I'm no shellsuit & trainer wearing 'chav', neither am I going to go around dressed to go to a night @ the opera, inviting every 'street crim' in the city to cut me down to size...
    So, my advice to any first time visitor to a city as image conscious as 0dessa, is do not go there with the attitude that I had, that you can go home with an empty suitcase because locals are so poor they'll readily accept your hand me downs...
    This will be regarded as patronising, even by many who otherwise repeat that they cannot afford to feed themselves regularly, as I kept hearing from the person who invited me to 0dessa, in the first place...
    But do not expect to blend in with the locals, either, because they're so acute at identifying foreigners ('nyeroosskee') just by the different labels on your clothes, & with some, especially taxi drivers, this automatically doubles their standard rate of fare...

    National dress is bright - otherwise sombre... Flowers are an iconic symbol of Ukrainian culture.
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    Baggage Wrapping & Baggage Security

    by Pomocub Updated Apr 10, 2014

    Baggage wrapping seems to be really common in Ukraine. In Boryspil Airport almost every Ukrainian person that I saw had wrapped their baggage up. Maybe they do not trust airport baggage handlers? Personally, I have never had a problem with anyone accessing my baggage unlawfully while in Ukraine but I do always padlock my luggage as a precaution.

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    Ukrainian months...

    by arturowan Updated Mar 25, 2014

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    While in Ukraine, I was told by some Russian-speaking locals, that by learning this language, I would anyway know Ukrainian (!)
    (This is something of a touchy subject amongst Ukrainian nationalists, & at no time more so than the present, so perhaps I should not interject on this topic...)
    It certainly is not so, though some words are shared, or similar, & if you know Russian numbers, than the Ukrainian counterparts are almost identical...
    However, Ukrainian is a separate language to Russian, & their version of the Cyrillic alphabet differs slightly, & is pronounced quite differently...
    Although the overall system of grammar follows a similar pattern of declinations, many of the verbs themselves are different words - in fact, Bulgarian is closer to Russian, in this respect...
    The most obvious difference between Ukrainian & other Slavic tongues, are the names of the months, which unlike with Russian, bear no resemblance to the usual Roman names; but are based on local nouns:

    1 - sichen' = slicing (with cold)
    2 - lyuteey = angry
    3 - berezen' = birch trees
    4 - kviten' = flowers
    5 - traven' = grasses
    6 - cherven' = reddening
    7 - leepen' = linden trees
    8 - serpen' = sickles
    9 - veresen' = heather
    10 - zhowten' = yellowing
    11 - leestopad = leaffall
    12 - hrooden' = frozen

    Some of the definitions are apposite, especially that for August, associated with harvest of the wheatfields, which once involved many sickles & scythes...
    However, a couple are confusing, not least that of June, being linked to the reddening of berries & fruit, something more obviously associated with autumn...
    While the early autumnal phenomena of leaf fall, is given to November, by which time this is usually over & the seasonal heavy rains have begun...

    Ukrainian months are season specific... April = flowers
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    'Kolbasa...'

    by arturowan Updated Mar 1, 2014

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    I was intending to include all my observations on 'Ukrainian cuisine', in my article of that title, but some aspects of this nation's dining culture warrant separate tips, such are they a part of the folk psyche & lifestyle...
    Eating sunflower seeds, while drinking tea, or vodka, are an everyday sight if you visit the country, but the aroma which most swiftly returns me to my travels in Ukraine, is that of sausage...
    Sausage, 'saseeska' is the most popular source of meat in Ukraine, & typical of popularity, there are countless varieties of the basic frankfurter, 'sardyelka', & salami, 'kolbasa'...
    Visit any grocers or supermarket, & there will be a confusing display of salami cramming an entire cooler cabinet, all based on piquant pig meat, with added meat ingredients, such as beef, lamb, veal, turkey, or chicken, with flavours enhanced with blood, caraway seeds, pepper, or garlic...
    0ther variations on the key recipe, involve the preparation, as it might be sold fresh, or smoked, & smoking might also involve burning particular woods with a taste-enhancing, fragrant content...
    Ukrainians take their 'kolbasa' eating very seriously, & to hinder its consumption would likely incite a revolt on the streets...
    In Soviet times, sausage was recognised as a staple of the union's diet, & when Andropov was made president, he described his plans to be more popular, by actually stating, "if we provide more kolbasa, we'll have less dissidents..."
    An old Soviet joke:
    What is long, green, & smells of sausage?
    Answer = a train!
    Why?
    Because all Soviet era trains were green & full of 'babooshki' having travelled x100km just in order to do the weekly shop, as Moscow was the only place where grocery stores had stock on shelves - subsidised train travel was so cheap, it's said that people travelled a distance such as Kiev>Moscow, return, just in order to buy a bagful of salami...
    Gorbachov was actually made unpopular during his term of presidency, by conspirators against him, who intercepted consignments of sausage meat, & dumped it in landfill sites, so there would be less resistance to the political coup that toppled him from power...
    Ever since my first experience of Ukraine, I'm transported straight back there whenever I pass an eastern European grocer in this country, & catch a scent of salami - there's just something so evocative about that aroma for me, it's beyond words...

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    Ruslana...

    by arturowan Updated Feb 19, 2014

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    Ruslana won the Eurovision Song Contest for Ukraine in 2004
    Ukraine has never won this competition before, or since - not surprising considering how dire some of their entries have been!
    Ruslana, however, was as worthy a Eurovision winner as their has ever been - I can still remember the Saturday evening I watched the event live on tv, & really, it was a clear case of who oughta take the prize with the song, Wild Dances...
    Ruslana really rocked, with her troupe of tribal dancers, & high-energy, raunchy routine, dressed similar to the popular tv show character of the time, Xenia - Warrior Princess...
    Her performance was dynamic & the energy from her was tangible even on tv - no wonder so many men are looking for a Ukrainian wife!
    But what has any of this to do with travelling you might ask, thinking this article is just an excuse for the gratuitous use of images of the sizzling Ruslana?
    When Ruslana won, Ukraine was a nation unchanged from its Soviet past, still very much behind 'the iron curtain', with ridiculous visa restrictions in order for a foreigner to cross the border...
    PM Viktor Yushenko, (the most undeservingly maligned politician of modern times), grasped the opportunity to put this to an end, & used the Eurovision Song Contest as an excuse to withdraw visa requirements for all EU passport holders...
    Because the winning country of the Eurovision Song Contest is obliged to be the host of the next competition, he ruled that so many folk would be crossing the border to Kiev to watch the live show, the administration burden would be too much...
    Great move, Viktor, you're my kinda laissez-faire politician!
    I visited Ukraine for the first time, the same year the visa requirement was revoked, in 2005
    Unfortunately, since then, my easy access into the country has not been quite the cheery welcome I encountered from a female border guard in 2005
    Ukraine still has not grasped the simple fact that tourism generates income, & it's better for the economy to encourage it, not discourage it with interrogative border militia!
    However, at the time of writing, despite the fraught situation throughout the land, anybody with an EU, or US passport, can enter Ukraine for free & stay for 90 days without additional documentation, unless you're working there ( - maybe you should make the most of the situation, before the clock is turned back & it becomes as inaccessable as Belarus...)
    But just for the record, Ukraine's jump into the world of a tourist economy, all began with their momentous victory in, of all unlikely events, the Eurovision Song Contest...

    Dances with Wolves... Singer - dancer - warrior princess... Wild Dances... Ruslana has stage presence... What a woman!
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    Pysanka

    by Pomocub Written Feb 15, 2014

    Pysanka / Pysanky (pl) is a type of painted egg which is decorated with wax. There is a Pysanky museum in the Western town of Kolommya (Kolomiya) which displays Pysanky from all over the world. Pysanky is sometimes left on the gravestones of loved ones and are a tradition throughout Ukraine. You can buy plastic Pysanky type souvenirs from most souvenir shops throughout Ukraine.

    Pysanky
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    Lada

    by Pomocub Written Feb 15, 2014

    The Lada is still the car of choice for most Ukrainians. As they originally come from Russia they are very easy and cheap to fix. Don't be surprised to see a lot of these all around Ukraine. Most taxis that you go in will also be Ladas.

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    Hitch Hiking

    by Pomocub Written Feb 15, 2014

    Hitch hiking is quite common in Ukraine, particularly in rural areas. People will raise their arm as if they are signalling for a bus to stop. I hear that is reasonably safe in Ukraine but you should use your own common sense. It is the custom to agree before the journey if you are going to charge them money and how much.

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    What is 'the new Ukraine' (?)

    by arturowan Updated Feb 10, 2014

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    "VIKTOR YUSHENKO! What did he do for Ukraine? He did nothing for Ukraine!"
    This complaint is something I can count on recurring every time I visit Ukraine - & I have heard it repeated by most of those who speak English!
    The former PM is about as popular in Russian-speaking Ukraine as the serial killing cannibal, Anatoly 0noprenko...
    I am not someone given to defending politicians, let alone sympathising with them, but in the case of the unpopular Yushenko, I make an exception...
    Being a politician in Ukraine is, at best, a thankless task, with such a high proportion of the male population congenitally addicted to vodka, not to mention other substances, any attempt to emerge from the rundown state the dictatorship in Moscow left the country in, is asking the impossible... The state of mind of those I've spoken to on my travels in Russian-speaking Ukraine, is identical to that of spoilt children; itemising every single fault they perceive in their homeland, but abhorrent that they themselves might be expected to contribute any effort to remedy the Third World decay...
    Every time I enter the new Ukraine, the words of President J.F.Kennedy become more poignant than they ever were when spoken to Americans; "Ask not what your country can do for you, rather, ask what you can do for your country..."
    I would like to quote this in Russian, from a soapbox in Kiev, then run for cover from the immature vitreol these words would incite, because Ukrainians regard it as an insult to suggest that any responsibility for changing their homeland into a better place, should ensue with their action...
    Males who do not wish to be dragged down by their drunken fraternity, learn English, & plot their great escape to Australia, Canada, or the States...
    Their sisters do not bother to learn another language, but nonetheless advertise online for a foreign husband, to become their 'prince Ivan', but whom they will not be able to speak a word to - utter genius!
    All moan about Yushenko as if he were a criminal, but the truth is, this man did more for his country in 2 years in office, than anyone else has managed in decades of mis-management...
    Yushenko observed how Ukraine's eastern neighbours, such as Turkey, transformed what were Third World economies, 2 decades ago, into modern European trading forces, mainly through the revenue from tourism...
    I made my original visit in 2005 - the same year his government withdrew the visa requiremnet for EU nationals, & received the shock of my life, when I did...
    6 years on, I do not detect much progress, for despite Yushenko's best efforts, the people of the country who should be revitalised by the new opportunity of tourism, are not interested to help themselves, & only a few have grasped the opportunity to benefit their plight by catering to tourists...
    Those who do speak English, astonished I should chose to visit their homeland & assuming I will not return, seem proud to tell me; "Welcome to Ukraine - it's a 'govno-hole'!"
    But, who made it that way, but their fellow Ukrainians?
    (...by the way, 'govno' is their equivalent of a 4-letter word!)

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    Peesanka...

    by arturowan Updated Feb 8, 2014

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    To the uninitiated eye, 'peesanki' are brightly painted & intricately decorated, wooden or ceramic egg or ornaments, celebrating Easter...
    However, there is more to these folkloric eggs than mere decorative charm, because every pattern is unique & forms a visual code as to the regional origins of the artist...
    'pees' is the keyword from which Ukrainian/Russian words pertaining to writing are derived, & in fact, these eggs are not actually painted with a brush, but written on with a stylus in beeswax, using a batik method...
    In 2000, a souvenir sheet featuring 6 'peesanki' was issued, illustrated by Kateryna Shtanko; the regions represented by each egg were; Podillia; Chernihiv; Kyiv; 0dessa; Hootsool; Voleen'...
    Hootsool culture is that of the Ukrainians settled in the Carpathian mountains, & according to their folklore, the perseverence of their people in the world, is dependent upon them continuing the art of 'peesanka'...
    It's impossible to quantify all the various designs of 'peesanki', as each 1 is different, & the symbolism has varying interpretations between regional cultures...
    Each colour has a meaning, as does each motif, which can be geometric, eternity banded, religious, or representative of the natural world...
    Although latterly associated with Easter & the 0rthodox faith, 'peesanki' were adopted by the Church as a symbol of ressurection, having previously been associated with the pagan concept of the Earth's regeneration at springtime...
    Generally regarded as symbolic of luck, treading upon, or dropping a 'peesanka' bears negative superstition, & witches also used them to embody spells, not necessarilly beneficial to the receiver...
    These ancient eggs were made using the real thing, hence so few have survived to document the history of this folk art...
    The superstitious uses of these eggs is manifold, & the subject in general would demand a book to explore the countless designs & beliefs associated therewith...

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    Independence Day

    by Pomocub Updated Nov 24, 2013

    Ukraine's Independence Day is celebrated on 24th August with the 23rd August being the "Day of the national flag".

    Ukraine became independent in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    There are usually big celebrations on Independence Day which take place on Independence Square in central Kyiv.

    Independence Square, Kyiv
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    Toilet facilities in rural Ukraine

    by Pomocub Written Nov 15, 2013

    If you are planning to visit anyone in a rural area of Ukraine such as a village or if you are planning to go off to beaten track into a rural area I would always recommend that you take a small wash bag with toilet paper and toilet wipes. Most houses in rural Ukraine do not have what Western people would consider as 'toilets'. Some toilets are little more than a whole in the ground which can be quite a culture shock. Some houses will have toilet paper and other will have newspaper. I have found that it is always best to take your own.

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    Spies, Smugglers, or Sex Tourists...

    by arturowan Updated Nov 14, 2013

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    Ukraine might lay on the European north of the Black Sea, from Turkey, but whereas its Islamic neighbour has embraced tourism & boosted its economy proportionately, 'the new Ukraine' lingers in a despairing dark age...
    Many Ukrainians have never travelled outside their own country & those that do venture abroad, seem to limit their travels to within Russian-speaking borders...
    The simple concept of just BEING ON HOLIDAY seems alien even to folk half my age, born since the demise of Soviet isolationism restricted city's such as 0dessa, from being more cosmopolitan places than is so today...
    This is a shame, because Ukraine is a country deserving of a tourist industry, with its varied natural habitats, & countryside still in a state unchanged from half a century ago...
    Any nation blessed with such expanses of mountains to the west, & Black Sea beaches, should be at the forefront of promoting itself for travel, & though to be fair to some Ukrainians, they do realise their country's potential, others remain frustratingly obtuse...
    I have had my usually extensive threshold of patience with people, pushed past its limits by those to whom I've attempted to explain my reasons for being in Ukraine, only to have every word ignored due to the concrete presumtion that I had arrived to find a wife, & so to be asked, what do I prefer, "blondinka or brunetka?"
    Attitudes in Ukraine seem as primitive as that parodied in Borat's Kazhakstan, & foreigners are all suspected of being sex tourists, smugglers, or spies!
    Folk are painfully out of synch with western attitudes & OBSESSED with matchmaking singles into couples, an invite into someone's home can become an embarassing affair if somebody unattached is also there...
    An evening out in Ukraine, no matter how much you might protest to the contrary to your host, will still have you introduced to everybody as being in the city to find a 'zhena' (wife)...
    DO NOT go to Ukraine expecting subtlety, or insight, or even understanding of the basic concept of tourism...

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    Sunflowers...

    by arturowan Updated Nov 14, 2013

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    Sunflowers may be forever associated with Van Gogh, but they are the national flower of Ukraine, & appear everywhere in the country, turned into any type of decorative motif imaginable...
    Not only is the flower the symbol of Ukraine, but their seed is a national delicacy, & on any street corner can be witnessed folk, sharing a bagful of raw seed, biting off the husks, & spitting them to the ground, then chewing on the inner germ of concentrated goodness...
    Despite the fact that no visit to Ukraine can be achieved without witnessing the national homage to sunflowers, in Lonely Planet's Ukrainian phrasebook, not only do they leave the flower unnamed in their list of flora, they do not even mention sunflower seeds in the local cuisine section!
    A glaring oversight if ever there was 1
    'padsol'nichnik' is the Russian word for sunflower ('pod' = under & 'sol' = sun)
    'syemichkee' means seeds, which is how the edible part of the inflorescence is sold, in the natural state, (i.e; unhulled, & not honey-coated, as is the case in UK...)
    Russian culture also celebrates the beauty & food of this crop, & sunflower oil in particular was very popular in this country during the 18th century, when 0rthodox believers fasted for Lent, but were allowed to consume this energy rich by-product of the inflorescence...
    In both countries, sunflowers are a spectacle to see growing in vast fields stretching to the horizon, stunning the eye with brazen colour, but the Ukrainian national colours of azure over yellow, truly reflect summertime when these flowers are proud against the sky...

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Ukraine Local Customs

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