When you think about a country like Ukraine, what would you imagine it to be? You might visualize something along the lines of Russian communism and Oksana Baiul, the Olympic figure skating medalist in 1994 in Lillehammer. Many people don’t know very much about the country, let alone the diversity and character in it. After visiting Ukraine for a month back in 2003, participating in a criminal justice study abroad program while studying at Michigan State University, I have grown to learn as well as fall in love with its extreme differentiated culture. And in today's post, I'm sharing my insights and experiences from this incredible trip to Ukraine!
The relationship of the Ukrainian to others is based on definite forms that express social culture, good manners, courtesy, and hospitality. The fundamental nature of their people is hospitality. They are kind and friendly. There is respect for elders, for the deceased, and love for children, nature, and animals. Ukrainians enjoy a good sense of humor. They are musical, artistic and wonderful craftsmen famous for their skills in weaving, woodcarving, and ceramics. However, proficiency and diligence in working the land is perhaps the greatest talent the Ukrainians have.
Ukraine is to be found on rich soil, and since ancient times the Ukrainian people have driven their energy into agriculture. Folk customs revived since the era of Trypillian culture (4th - 2nd millennia B.C.) and modified over time, have sustained the hard working peasant toiling on the land. Life depended on the regularities of working the soil. Holidays were celebrated during periods of change from one type of agricultural activity to another. Even in pre-Christian times, a kind of ceremony was held before starting work raising the powers of nature to cooperate and to provide generous harvests. These seasonal festivities were later built-in into Christian holidays, and they still exist to this day.
Easter, for example, is a spring holiday. Spring is a time of plowing and sowing in the fields, a time of warmth and rebirth after a very cold winter. In pagan times, Ukrainians believed that the gods died and were reborn every year. An example of a pagan ritual symbolizing renewal and rebirth which is still practiced is the dyeing of eggs. Using wax, women drew symbolic designs on eggs, dipped them into dye, melted the wax to expose the ornament, and presented these delightful objects to loved ones. On Holy Saturday, they go to the church (which they call tserkva) to attend ceremonies in which an image of Our Lord is laid in a sepulcher, from which it is [then] removed with great solemnity. When this representation or ceremony is finished, every one of them, men, women, boys, and girls, go to kneel before the bishop (whom they call vladyka) and presents to him an egg dyed red or yellow, and pronounces the words, Khrystos voskres. Pysanka (in Ukrainian the word pysanka is derived from the verb pysaty, that is "to write" or "to paint") is an egg painted with bright colors in geometrical patterns or stylized figural, animal and floral designs. Christianity adopted this pagan tradition and Easter eggs have become an indelible feature of the feast commemorating the Resurrection of Christ. To the Christian Ascension Day (the 40th day after Easter), Ukrainians added a pre-Christian tradition of going into the field to check the progress of the wheat. The Trinity is celebrated on the 50th day after Easter. Customarily, people decorated their homes with green tree branches and aromatic herbs. This was a day for fortune telling. Women knitted wreaths and floated them in a river or stream.
They watched as the wreaths drifted away, wishing that a handsome young man would find the wreath, for this meant that he would some day become her husband. Another summer holiday full of magic and ritual is known as Saint Kupala, which is on July 7th. It is a beautiful, high-spirited celebration in which fire and water, symbols of cleansing are celebrated. During the day everyone has to be at least immersed in water. At sunset bonfires are lit, and boys and girls jump over the flames while holding hands.
This is the last holiday before the harvest. The year was rounded out with a series of harvest holidays. August 2nd, known as St. Illia Day, marked the beginning of autumn. On the19th of August, known as Saviour Day, vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and honey were blessed. Weddings usually took place in the middle of October. A unique feature of Ukrainian Christmas festivities is the vertep, or a puppet theater. Young people get together, dress as angels, kings, Herod, Satan, death, and even animals. They walk from house to house enacting the Nativity and singing about the birth of Christ, greeting everyone with the holiday. The most well known national holidays are Independence Day, which was on August 24th, 1991 and January 22nd, 1918 the day Ukraine first declared its independence from Soviet Russia. This day is now celebrated as Unity Day. Along with holidays, the cuisine of the Ukrainians is very much individualized as well.
Ukrainian cuisine is closely linked to the customs, culture, and way of life of the Ukrainian people. It is famous for its diversity and quality of flavor. The most popular Ukrainian meal is borscht. This thick, hearty and distinctive soup is prepared with an assortment of ingredients including meat, mushrooms, beans, and even prunes. Mushroom soups, bean and pea soups, soups with dumplings and thick millet chowders are also popular. Holubtsi, or stuffed cabbage, is another favorite meal, as are varenyky (pirogues) filled with potatoes, meat, cheese, sauerkraut, or fruit such as blueberries or cherries. Varenyky are often mentioned in their folk songs. Ukrainians very much like dairy food. For example, cottage cheese pancakes, riazhanka or fermented baked milk and nalysnyky, which are cheese-filled crepes. When walking down the street, Ukrainians will have stands where you can buy milk, even unpasteurized milk. There are no holidays without pies. Some examples of dessert are pampushky, which is a type of fritter, baba, a tall cylindrical cake, and cakes made with honey. Ukrainian sausage is very appetizing. It is preserved in a special way. They are cared for in porcelain containers smothered in melted fat. Along with bringing a variety of tastes to the table, there are several traditions that come along with it as well. During my trip, I discovered that Ukrainians eat plenty of chicken when they first welcome someone into their home and when they leave as well. As for drinks, Ukrainians enjoy fruit juice, coffee, tea, and plenty of vodka. A double shot to Americans is one shot in Ukrainians. And let me tell you, it will definitely creep up on you. As for their salad, or salat, it only consists of cucumbers and tomatoes. If you want dressing on the side, such as Ranch, you’ll be lucky enough to get salt. Ukrainians do not prefer a lot of salt on anything.
In its ethnic composition, Ukraine is a multi-ethnic Republic, inhabited by more than 110 ethnic groups, of which Ukrainian (72.7%) are the largest, followed by Russians, Jews, Belarussians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles and Hungarians. Ukrainians have marked national characteristics that make it easy to recognize them even beyond the borders of Ukrainian territory. They belong to the Indo-Germanic group, an old Slav ethnic group that grew out of elements provided by Asia Minor and Mediterranean countries. Their original home is that of all Slavs. Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe, neighboring the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east. As of July 2017, the population in Ukraine is 44,405,055. The irony to these locations has much sway to its national characteristics. Ukraine has been divided in one way or another into two spheres of influence - the west, largely influenced by Poland, and the east, which traditionally has been dominated by Russia. During my visit to Ukraine, I never got to see the eastern part of Ukraine. I did get to see the western region, in a city called Lviv. Lviv has much Polish influence, throughout their history, Poland had greatly affected this city. During the 14th century, Polish kings took over Lviv and by the 19th century, the Polish owned most of the land. The Polish built beautiful churches, including the Dominican, Carmelite, Jesuit, Benedictine, and Bernadine. Along with the Polish influence, there are also some Greek influences.
In its ethnic composition, Ukraine is a multi-ethnic Republic, inhabited by more than 110 ethnic groups, of which Ukrainian (72.7%) are the largest, followed by Russians, Jews, Belarussians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles, and Hungarians. Ukrainians have marked national characteristics that make it easy to recognize them even beyond the borders of Ukrainian territory. They belong to the Indo-Germanic group, an old Slav ethnic group that grew out of elements provided by Asia Minor and Mediterranean countries. Their original home is that of all Slavs. Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe, neighboring the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east. As of July 2017, the population in Ukraine is 44,405,055. The irony to these locations has much sway to its national characteristics. Ukraine has been divided in one way or another into two spheres of influence - the west, largely influenced by Poland, and the east, which traditionally has been dominated by Russia. During my visit to Ukraine, I never got to see the eastern part of Ukraine. I did get to see the western region, in a city called Lviv. Lviv has much Polish influence, throughout their history, Poland had greatly affected this city. During the 14th century, Polish kings took over Lviv and by the 19th century, the Polish owned most of the land. The Polish built beautiful churches, including the Dominican, Carmelite, Jesuit, Benedictine, and Bernadine. Along with the Polish influence, there are also some Greek influences.
As being able to personally see Lviv (which was by far my favorite city of all six cities we visited), there is much realization that not one but several of the cities in Ukraine are unique with deeply seeded history. Along with this history, there is much educational background as well as philosophy, mannerism, and humanity. Along with being able to see their educational institutes and history, I also was able to observe Ukraine ’s law enforcement agencies and surroundings. Now to the juicy part... what were some of my first-time experiences over there?
I fired a gun for the very first time overseas, saw my very first autopsy (EVER) and was one of the only few ladies standing afterward, endured my first lap dance from an Ukranian male stripper dressed up as a matador, tried Absinthe for the first time, and was exposed to the beautiful world of opera as it was also the very first time I had ever seen one before, to which I instantly fell madly in love with. I tried borscht, barley, and sheep testicles. Yep. You read that right. Even though I really didn't enjoy the taste of sheep balls, the entire trip was an eye-opening experience that forever changed how I perceive the world and those that are in it. Not to mention the culture shock, that even to this day, is still unmatched unlike any other place in the world.
Which is why I chose this beautiful country to travel to with a group of students and teachers. Michigan State University has one of the best and largest study abroad programs in the country and I am so glad I took full advantage of it. I could have gone to London or Australia within my major, but I was actually really nervous at the thought of going to Ukraine. And how many times would I get such a wonderful opportunity to see a place not many people would see? To be honest, I felt so connected with Ukraine and the people, I would not be surprised if I'm partly Ukrainian mixed in with the Polish side of me. I'm even considering trying one of those DNA-tests that can individuate the ethnicities of a person. I'll be sure to fill you guys in on my experience with a fun story here on the blog when I do...
Where's the craziest place you've traveled to? I would love to hear some of your stories! Comment down below - and if you have any questions about Ukraine and my experiences there I'd also love to hear from you! Do I have any Ukrainian readers out there? Don't be shy! I love connecting with people and sharing stories. Don't forget to comment your most adventurous trip to date down below! Stay tuned for a ton of upcoming beauty & fashion content! I'll be sharing my August beauty essentials on Friday so be sure to check back here then! Catch y'all soon. :)