Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe and has been considered an epicenter agricultural success and East Slavic culture since the Middle Ages. Ukraine’s national identity remains steadfast, despite a past of political turmoil and foreign occupation, most recently in the war with Russia. Ukrainians express themselves through their art and culture, which has created deeply insightful works throughout history. Embrace the enduring spirit of Ukraine by celebrating these pillars of Ukrainian culture.
Food is one the best ways to embody any culture, and these dishes are sure to take you on a tastebud tour of Ukraine. Our first course is borsh, or borscht. This satisfying soup comes in many variations depending on the region and tradition, but it always includes one key ingredient: beets. Next, you’ve probably heard of perogies in Polish circles, but in Ukraine they serve verenyky. These dumpling-like pillows of flavor are painstakingly crafted in both sweet and savory varieties. Last but not least, we have salo. This cured pork fat represents the Ukrainian spirit of resourcefulness and simplicity. Animal lard dishes have grown in popularity in upscale restaurants worldwide. What was previously seen as peasant food in Ukraine was actually ahead of its culinary time.
Music is an integral part of Ukrainian culture, from folk tunes to symphonic masterpieces. For traditional Ukrainian music, listen to Suzirya Folk and Dance Ensemble. For a larger repertoire performed by world-class musicians, listen to the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, based in the capital city of Kyiv. The symphony is returning to the world stage in 2022 for their “Voice of Ukraine” European tour.
Another way to embrace Ukrainian culture is through fashion. Actually, you might already have something in your closet that resembles traditional Ukrainian clothing. Peasant tops are inspired by the traditional embroidered Ukrainian vyshyvanka blouses. Bohemian, or “boho,” styles take cues from Ukrainian folk clothing, as well.
By now you’ve caught on that Ukraine is no stranger to the fine arts, and painting is no exception. Petrykivka is a traditional Ukrainian painting style known for its decorative, detailed, and symbolic nature. The artwork originated in the town of Petrykivka and is believed to protect people from sadness and evil. Today, the intricate design style is still taught in Ukrainian households and featured in everything from flatware to facades of homes.
Both traditional and classical dance have a large presence in Ukrainian culture. Traditional Ukrainian folk dancing features energetic, rhythmic displays of athleticism and grace. Folk dancers wear period costumes including leather boots and flower-adorned headpieces for the women. Originating from celebratory occasions such as hunting parties, Ukrainian folk dancing is still performed at events and festivals. Ukraine also has a long legacy of classical ballet and is home to premiere training schools and professional companies. In fact, Kyiv Ballet of the National Opera of Ukraine performs one of the largest varieties of ballet repertoires in the world.
Ukraine’s list of literary greats is almost as big as the country itself. Notably, the poet, playwright, and author Ivan Kotlyarevsky is considered the patriarch of modern Ukrainian literature. His parody epic, “Enieda,” was the first book to be written entirely in Ukrainian. The work was published in sections between the years 1798 and 1842. For more modern reading, browse books written by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. His fiction bestseller, “Death and the Penguin,” follows a struggling writer who rescues a penguin from the Kiev zoo and discovers an unexpected kinship with the flightless bird. Ukrainian literature, like many aspects of Ukrainian culture, is notoriously dark, humorous, and heartfelt.
Ukrainian is the national language of Ukraine. It’s derived from the East Slavic family of languages. Though today’s form of Ukrainian has been spoken since the 13th century, it was not seen in literary text until the late 1700s due to the nation’s ongoing political subjections. If you’re interested in learning a few basic phrases, Duolingo has created a helpful phrasebook for learning basic Ukrainian. Plus, it’s free to download and includes six other language translations.
The film industry is tremendous impactful on both Ukraine’s economy and culture. The country is a popular filming destination and has provided scenery for movies like “The Whistleblower” and “Act of Valor.” To learn more about the famous nuclear disaster of 1986 that occurred in Ukraine, watch the award-winning historical drama series “Chernobyl.” Lastly, check out “Everything is Illuminated,” the 2005 film starring Elijah Wood for a quirky, historically-inspired depiction of life in Ukraine.