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GEOGRAPHY AFFECTING CULTURE
The government of Ukraine is made up of 24 Oblasts (or provinces or states) and one autonomous republic (Crimea). The capital city of Ukraine is Kyiv. These subdivisions are responsible for local government and decision making.
Ukraine is bordered by the countries of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova on the west and south-west, and by Belarus and Russia on the north and north-east. On the south, Ukraine is bordered by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
The longest river is Dnipro, and the largest mountain chain is the Carpathians in the west, which mark the geographical centre of Europe.
Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe and the second largest Slavic nation. In 2005, it was estimated that 48.5 million people lived in the Ukraine, which makes it 5th for Europe (behind Germany, Italy, UK and France) and the 21st largest country in the world. The general census in 2001 found that 32.6 million people (67.2%) live in urban areas and 15.9 million (or 32.8%) live in villages or rural areas. Five cities have populations over one million: Kyiv (which used to be called Kiev) has over two million), Kharkiv (has about 1.5 million), Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk and Odesa (which each have just over one million people).
Through emigration – especially during years of occupation – millions of Ukrainians left for other parts of the world: Over 11 million in Russia, over 2 million in the U.S., and over a million in each in Canada, Kazakhstan and Bilorussia.
Ukraine is in two different climatic zones – the moderate (including the plains and both the mountain ranges) and the Mediterranean subtropical zone (along the southern shore of Crimea). The weather is comfortable and good for growing many different crops. Rainfall is good. Plains cover 95% of the country and 5% by mountains in the west. Farm lands take about 75% of ariable land and forest about 3%.
Hutsul folk craftsmen living in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains still use the traditional metal-working techniques that were used in the 18th century to make their knives, axes, pin and needle cases, tobacco pipes, chains, buttons, etc. They decorate their clothes with embroidery. Hutsul peoples reflect the diverse natural of Ukrainian peoples, who incorporate aspects of the cultures of peoples located in neighboring countries and cultures. Hutsul peoples are not only from Ukrainians, but often have relatives who are
Romanian, Hungarian, Poles, Gypsy, as well as from Tatar and Turkey.
Picture of Carpathian Mountain area in Southwestern Ukraine.
Picture of Hutsul farmer playing a version of the bagpipe
Festivals and folklore surround the everyday activities of the people and are used in celebrating their major events. The harvest is a major time for celebration each year because a good crop means that there will be plenty to eat and share with others. At these festivals traditional instruments are played and songs are sung.
Picture of a Ukrainian Wheat Harvest
Picture of some Ukrainian musical instruments
Ukrainians have distinctive weaving patterns for everyday rugs and clothing. In southeastern portions of Ukraine, decorations and crafts, such as basket weaving, are very similar to those of their Islamic/Middle-Eastern neighbors who share their Islamic beliefs. In the west, Polish foods, household decorations and many types of dress are very similar to the Poles. Polish Easter eggs are often made very similarly to Ukrainians, except that the designs are very different.
Picture of a Ukrainian weaver
Ukrainian basket weaving
A variety of Ukrainian Easter eggs
A picture of Polish Easter eggs showing how the designs are different from Ukrainian eggs
OCCUPATION, TRADE AND OTHER TIES
Ukraine's Dnepr River was, and still is, an important water route between the Black Sea in southern Ukraine and the Baltic Sea, to the north of modern-day Russia. Because of this, many other European countries had regular ongoing relationships with Ukraine for over 1,000 years. Ukraine is also located in the middle of ancient trade routes between Europe and Asia. So there has been plenty of contact with cultures nearby and far away.
Some of the traditions that are believed to be shared or copied with other cultures include: Cross-stitch and the use of blues and yellows – both shared with Scandinavian cultures; musical instruments shared with Russia.
Russian folk instruments
Page 4: IMPACT OF OTHER CULTURES ON UKRAINE
The country having the most impact on Ukraine has been Russia and the Soviet empire. They murdered millions of Ukrainians through war and starvation and continue to work against the independent Ukraine by trying to prevent their entry into the European Union, NATO and by trying to cut off their energy supplies.
Russia wanted to have political control of the land and control the resources and economy. Many of the officials or workers brought in by Russia still live there and continue to speak in Russian and would prefer that Ukraine continue to be a part of Russia or under their control.
Ukraine has also had a strong history of sharing and working and learning from other countries in the region, especially those countries that share borders with Ukraine, as well as other countries that have had trade or other relathionships with the country. In the 19th century, for example, Russians required that the Russion Orthydox faith over Catholicism or Ukrainian Orthydox as the main religion. Russian become the only administrative language. This happened not only in Ukraine but in Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.
Despite being free from Soviet domination, Ukraine still has the the Russian language widely used on television and as the language for most newspapers in many areas of the country (in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine) where Russians have settled. Many still consider themselves Russians and not Ukrainians.
The Soviet policy of Russification during most of the 20th century was an effort to erase Ukrainian political, religious and cultural beliefs and practices and replace these with Russian ideals. They took over churches and destroyed the interiors, turning them into gymnasiums or other buildings. Now Ukrainians are taking them back and helping to restore them.
Massive destruction of Kyiv during World War II
Most Ukrainians are Eastern Orthodox Christians. Christianity has been the religion of the country since 988 when Volodymer I of Kiev, the grand prince of Kiev, converted to Christianity – that's over 1,000 years ago. Other religions include Judaism, a community was nearly destroyed by the Soviets before and during the second World War and under postwar Soviet repression. Today, the community is growing. The third most popular religion is Islam, which is most common in the southern and southeastern part of the country – near Ukrainian borders with the Islamic countries of the Middle East.
Distinctive architecture of Ukrainian churches
Religious traditions are very important to the Ukrainian culture and these traditions have been brought to other countries through emigration. This includes the colorful cross-stitched clothing and other materials, weaving and Ukrainian Easter eggs – called pysanky - which have designs that are written on to the eggs. They aren't painted by created in a process using beeswax. All of the colors and symbols on the eggs have meaning.
Caption: Picture of Ukrainian pysanky
Picture of girls in traditional Ukrainian costumes
Picture showing the making of Ukrainian Easter eggs
Instead of having Christmas presents on Christmas day, Ukrainians usually share gifts on the twelveth day of Christmas, January 6th. Christmas day itself is considered a day for religious ceremonies and reflection. Easter is the other most important day on the Ukrainian Christian calendar. People feast on traditional foods, decorate with Ukrainian eggs, cross-stitch and other traditional arts.
Ukraine is a country rich in natural resources like oil, natural gas, coal, granite, and graphite. Almost 45% of the land consists of fertile farming land. Many have called Ukraine the “bread basket of Europe.”
Some Ukrainian crafts: Cross stitch, paining and Easter Eggs.
Other countries have tried to overtake Ukraine for centuries because they wanted to control the resources for themselves. Ukraine was a separate nation from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries sometimes called the Kyivan Rus then. Russia has been a constant enemy, taking over the country and taking their natural resources over and over again. From 1917 to 1920, Ukraine was able to be independent from Russia, but even this was followed by a brutal Soviet rule.
Russian Soviets created two artificial famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) during which over 8 million Ukraines died.
Poster recognizing the forced famine in Ukraine in 1932-33
During World War II, between the German and Soviet armies, over 7 million more Ukrainians died. Once overtaken by Russia, it become a territory or colony of the Russians in what they called the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics. The Soviets controlled the media, politics and the economy. They also worked to stop all types of religious and cultural practices that they believed led to nationalistic feelings of the people. Soviets prohibited many cultural practices and symbols because they said their were subversive. Churches were destroyed or turned into other types of buildings. Important cultural icons were almost lost. Even now many people in Ukraine do not speak Ukrainian as their main language.
Picture of Ukrainians being deported to Germany to work as slave labor force during World War 2
With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine began the process of trying to become a solid, inclusive country with a representative government again. However, many of the former Soviet officials and upper classes stayed behind and have worked to stop reforms and the establishment of true freedom.
My father's mother and her family are from the western areas of Ukraine. Many of their family members were killed by the Soviets during the artificial famine – which means that the Soviets refused to give Ukrainians the food they needed to stay alive – even though Ukrainians were growing much of the food used by the Soviets in Russia and elsewhere.
My grandmother, Maria Moises, lived on a farm with her family. When the Nazis came through Ukraine, she was taken to work on the farms in Germany during World War II. She never knew what happened to the rest of her family, but we assume they were all killed. She lived in work camps in Germany and wasn't treated well, but she survived. After the war, she was left in settlement camps waiting to learn where she might be able to go to live in freedom. For two years she wasn't able to emigrate to Canada or the U.S., so she had finally had to go to Venezuela. My father was born in the settlement camps. They were not nice. His baby brother died of pneumonia in the camps. My Dad has never been able to find out what happened to his father.
After World War II, concentration camps were turned into camps for displaced persons such as this one.
Just as freedom and family are important in Ukraine, it is important in my family. My grandmother died before I could get to know her, so many of her traditions are lost. However, at holidays, we put out our Ukrainian Easter eggs to decorate the house, we have other paintings and pictures in our home and we sometimes have Ukrainian food like pierogis (or vareniki), and holubtsi (cabbage rolls).
Because of occupation and control by so many foreign countries, freedom is very important to the government, culture and identity of the people. They deeply respect their unique, traditions. Two traditional Ukrainian national symbols—the trident and blue-and-yellow flag—were first adopted during Ukrainian independence in 1917–1920 and again after the end of Soviet rule in 1991. The trident dates back to the Kyivan Rus and was a symbol used by Prince Volodymyr I. Blue and yellow are important because they signify the blue skies and yellow wheat fields – which honor the natural resources and geography of the area.
Picture of the Ukrainian trident
Map of Ukraine showing geographic features neighbors and major cities.
CONTINUING POLITICAL PROBLEMS
Government is important, but because they have only been free for less than 20 years, they are still working to unite the country and create a solid, democratic country. The man chosen to be Ukraine's third president in election, Viktor Yushchenko, is an example of how badly Ukraine continues to be treated by Russians. He was running for election and promising the people freedom (in what was called the Orange Revolution). He was poisoned with dioxin. He almost died but continued to run for office. One of three suspects (all who lived in Russia at the time of the poisoning) is still in Russia and the Russian government refuses to bring him to Ukraine for court trial.
Pictures of Yushcenko before and after dioxin poisoning:
After, wearing a trident lapel pin
UKRAINIAN ART & FAMOUS ARTISTS AND SCHOLARS
There is a long history of folk tales and stories. There are many leaders in art, literature and other fields. One of the main cultural heroes is writer Taras Shevchenko who lived in the 19th century. His poetry has been read and loved by Ukrainian peoples for over 150 years. He spoke of the beauty of his country and the need for freedom. In one poem, called Testament, he wrote:
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.....
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
Monuments, paintings, and other icons to Shevchenko are all over Ukraine, and in homes of Ukrainian-emigrants across the world.
Caption: Picture of Poet Taras Shevchenko @
Other important Ukrainians or people born in Ukraine throughout history are:
Hryhory Skovoroda, a philosopher who is considered one of the “greatest minds of Eastern Europe.”
Sergei Prokofiev, composer
Vladimir Horowitz, pianist
Isaac Stern, violinist
Dancer Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky
Novelist Joseph Conrad
Novelist Nikolaj Vasilevich Gogol
Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the helicopter
Simon Kuznets, Nobel prize winner in 1971 in economics
Volodymyr Drinfeld, mathematician and winner of the 1990 Fields' Medal (like the Nobel Prize for math)
Ilya Mechnikov, Nobel Prize Laureate (1908) in physiology and medicine
Ukraine proclaimed its independence on August 24, 1991 with the fall of the Soviet empire. A referendum held on December 1st, 1991, the Ukrainian people confirmed this by an open vote. Today, writers and artists have freedom to express themselves and traditional Ukrainian arts are promoted in the country and around the world.
According to Ethnologue, there are 13 living languages spoken in Ukraine today. Ukrainian is the official language. 99% of the people are literate. Other primary languages include: Polish, Huangarian, Rusyn, Romanian, Russian and Greek.
Map of the languages of Ukraine
Languages of Ukraine
Ukrainain is also spoken as a minority lanague in Poland and Slovakia as well as by emigrants throughout the world, which includes: Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation (Asia), Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United States, Uzbekistan.
The Cyrillic alphabet as used in Russian and Ukrainian
The language uses a Cyrillic script and includes the following dialects: Northwest Ukrainian, Southwest Ukrainian, East Ukrainian – although the differences between the dialects are considered slight. The language is categorized as being from Indo-European, Slavic and Eastern origin. Under the Soviets, the Russian language was preferred so that everyone spoke the same language. In order to do this, they discriminated against people who didn't speak the language and they would sometimes even jail people who wanted to keep their traditions. After the end of the Soviet regime in 1991, Ukrainians were, again, able to speak and write in Ukrainian freely again.
Picture of Anti-Russification protest. The banner reads "Ukrainian school for Ukrainian children!"
Encyclopedia of Ukraine
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Welcome to Ukraine
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Ukraine Country Travel Guide
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Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre
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InfoUkes: An Information Resource about Ukraine and Ukrainians
. 29 December 2009. <
Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopaedia
Shevchenko Scientific Society. 27 December 2009 <
New World Encyclopedia. 27 December 2009 <
Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009.
Ethnologue: Languages of the World,
Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:
. Accessed 29 December 2009. <
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