Regions and Culture of Ukraine 

Ukraine is usually thought of as consisting of five regions:

  • Eastern Ukraine
  • Southern Ukraine
  • Crimea
  • Central Ukraine
  • Western Ukraine
Eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine is the center of the country’s heavy industry (metallurgy, petrochemicals, and engineering). In the southeast there is an old coal-mining area called the Donbass. The main city of the Donbass is Donetsk. To the northeast lies Kharkiv, which was Ukraine’s capital in the early Soviet period.

Eastern Ukraine is ethnically mixed (60% Ukrainian, 40% Russian) but mainly Russian- speaking. It has close links with neighboring areas of southern Russia.

Southern Ukraine

Southern Ukraine, along the Black Sea coast, is less heavily industrialized. There are a number of ports with shipbuilding, the most famous being the cosmopolitan city of Odessa.

The ethnic composition of Southern Ukraine is similar to that of Eastern Ukraine. It is also mainly Russian-speaking.

Crimea

Attached by a narrow isthmus to Southern Ukraine is the beautiful peninsula of Crimea, which has the status of an autonomous republic within Ukraine (capital Simferopol). Here are famous seaside resorts such as Yalta. The Russian Federation's Black Sea Fleet is also located here, with its main base at Sevastopol. About two-thirds of the population of Crimea is Russian. Besides Russians and Ukrainians, there are the Crimean Tatars, who are indigenous to Crimea.

Central Ukraine

Central Ukraine comprises the country’s rural heartland and the area around the capital. The population is mainly Ukrainian. Both the Ukrainian and the Russian languages are widely spoken.

Western Ukraine

Western Ukraine is mainly rural, and overwhelmingly Ukrainian and Ukrainian-speaking. There is a Polish as well as a Russian minority. Western Ukraine, and especially the province of Galicia, with its main city of Lviv, is the stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism.

Western Ukraine includes the province of Transcarpathia. This province is not as “Ukrainian” as the rest of Western Ukraine. Many people there feel that they belong to a separate Slavic group called Rusyns or Ruthenes, although officially they are regarded simply as Ukrainians. There is also a sizable Hungarian minority in the province.

The Dnieper

Ukraine’s greatest river, the Dnieper, starts in the marshlands of eastern Belarus, flows south through Kyiv, then southeast to Dnipropetrovsk, and finally southwest into the Black Sea.

Ukraine east of the Dnieper is called “Left Bank Ukraine.” Ukraine west of the Dnieper is called “Right Bank Ukraine” (that is, left or right as you face south, toward the Black Sea).

Culture in Kyiv 

Kyiv, the capital city of 2.6 million, stands astride Ukraine’s greatest river, the broad and majestic Dnieper. The modern center and the surviving parts of the old city are on the hilly west bank of the river. The main street, called the Khreshchatik, runs between two steep hills. Here are the big hotels, department stores, and government buildings.

Opposite the metro station is an open square, the Maydan, with fountains where people gather to rest and talk. On the street corners one can buy hot snacks, books, and other things at outdoor stalls. The Maydan was the principal site of the demonstrations supporting the Orange Revolution during the 2004 presidential elections. 

A view of Maidan Nezalezhnosty (Independence Square) in the center of Kyiv. The huge plaza has been the site of many political protests, the most famous being the Orange Revolution of 2004. During holidays the square is the scene of parades and open air concerts. (CIA Factbook)

A view of Maidan Nezalezhnosty (Independence Square) in the center of Kyiv. The huge plaza has been the site of many political protests, the most famous being the Orange Revolution of 2004. During holidays the square is the scene of parades and open air concerts. (CIA Factbook)

 

 

Pecherskaya Lavra
Back to Thumbnails Previous Image Next Image Caption The Uspensky Sobor (Dormition Cathedral) at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Kyiv Monastery of the Caves) complex. Originally constructed between 1073 and 1078, it was further enlarged over the subsequent centuries. Destroyed by the Soviet Army in 1941, the cathedral was rebuilt between 1998 and 2000. (CIA Factbook)

Back to Thumbnails Previous Image Next Image Caption The Uspensky Sobor (Dormition Cathedral) at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Kyiv Monastery of the Caves) complex. Originally constructed between 1073 and 1078, it was further enlarged over the subsequent centuries. Destroyed by the Soviet Army in 1941, the cathedral was rebuilt between 1998 and 2000. (CIA Factbook)

A short trolley ride will take you up to the ancient Monastery of the Caves (Percherskaya Lavra). 

Babi Yar

A slightly longer bus trip goes to Old Woman’s Ravine (Babi Yar) and the memorial to the 33,000 Jewish victims of the Nazis murdered there.  

Babi Yar Memorial (by permission of Roland Geider)

Babi Yar Memorial (by permission of Roland Geider)

 

Old Kyiv

A little to the west of the Khreshchatik is Old Kiev. Great damage was done to its architecture and art treasures under Stalin and during World War II, but much of the old city has now been restored. The recently reconstructed Golden Gate marks where the city’s fortified wall once stood, while the Cathedral of St. Sophia has mosaics and frescoes dating back to the 11th century.

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv was completed in 1037 during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise. The ruler was buried in the church in 1054 in a six-ton marble sarcophagus that still survives. Although the cathedral's exterior was remodeled into the Ukrainian Baroque style in the 17th century, its original Byzantine interior was preserved. It was the first Ukrainian monument to be inscribed onto the World Heritage List. (CIA Factbook)

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv was completed in 1037 during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise. The ruler was buried in the church in 1054 in a six-ton marble sarcophagus that still survives. Although the cathedral's exterior was remodeled into the Ukrainian Baroque style in the 17th century, its original Byzantine interior was preserved. It was the first Ukrainian monument to be inscribed onto the World Heritage List. (CIA Factbook)

 

 

Dnieper River
The Soviet-era Motherland Monument, sometimes referred to as the "Iron Lady," was supposed to symbolize the Soviet "Motherland." The 62-meter-high statue stands at the National Museum of the History of World War II in Kyiv, and still displays the Soviet coat of arms on its shield. (CIA Factbook)

The Soviet-era Motherland Monument, sometimes referred to as the "Iron Lady," was supposed to symbolize the Soviet "Motherland." The 62-meter-high statue stands at the National Museum of the History of World War II in Kyiv, and still displays the Soviet coat of arms on its shield. (CIA Factbook)

Above them looms the giant statue of a sword-bearing woman who represents the Soviet Motherland defying the invader. Across the bridge is the flat east bank of the Dnieper, with the newer sections of the capital, dominated by big clusters of apartment blocks and industrial zones. Approaching the river, the slopes are covered by woods and parkland. 

Other Cities

Ukraine has several other big cities besides Kyiv. In the east of the country are the old and decaying centers of heavy industry and coal and iron ore mining as well as the republic’s former capital Kharkiv. In the south, on the Black Sea coast, lies the famous cosmopolitan port city of Odessa, while the historic center of western Ukraine is the city of Lviv.

Geography

Over a third of the country’s people live in the countryside, mostly in large villages of 1,000 to 5,000 inhabitants. Rich black soil and a mild climate with adequate rainfall provide excellent conditions for agriculture, compensating to some extent for the effects of communism and economic stagnation.

The south is open and flat, watered by many streams that empty into the badly polluted Black Sea. Further north the terrain becomes hilly and wooded, except for marshlands in the northwest. In the far west of Ukraine the land rises to the wooded heights of the Carpathian Mountains.

Crimea

The beautiful Crimean peninsula, in the south, juts out into the Black Sea. Crimea is known for its health spas and ancient ruins, for its wines and garlic — and for the world’s longest trolley bus route (from the capital of Simferopol to the resort of Yalta). Rocky mountains provide the backdrop for the palm-lined beaches that used to serve as the Soviet Union’s playground.

Cuisine

Ukrainian cooking is famous for its dumplings. Varenyky are dough pockets filled with potato, cheese, blueberries, cherries or prunes, often served with onions and sour cream, while vushka are boiled dumplings filled with chopped mushroom and onion. There are various kinds of sausage, like the smoked ham kovbasa and kyshka, which is made from buckwheat and blood. Other popular dishes are borshch (beet soup), nalysnyky (crepes), and holubtsi — baked cabbage-leaf rolls made in the shape of doves, stuffed with rice and covered with tomato sauce. Two specialties traditionally served on Christmas Eve are “God’s food” or kutia, a cold dish of boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey, and “God’s drink” or uzvar, a mixture of 12 different stewed fruits. Linked to the celebration of Christmas and Easter are many old customs going back to pagan times.