Ukraine - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Ukraine - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

by Anna Shevchenko

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Ukraine - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Anna Shevchenko

This revised and updated edition of Culture Smart! Ukraine reveals a country in the throes of change. The euphoria of the famous Orange Revolution has vanished. The momentum for reform has been checked and the forces of authoritarianism have returned. Even so, modernization continues apace and people are eager to be seen as European. The recent political instability highlights the contradictions of Ukrainian society. Ukrainians are proud of their roots, and reticent about the traumas of their past; the country participates in international space programs and produces the world’s largest aircraft, but still lives in a world of superstitions. The Ukrainian way of life is intertwined with ancient customs, the old Soviet legacy, and the search for a new European identity. What strikes visitors to this fascinating and important country is the heady mix of ancient history and youthful energy, the resilience of the people, and their generosity of spirit. For the twentieth anniversary of its independence, Ukraine received quite a present—hosting the key matches of Euro 2012. Now it has a game of its own: to show the world that it is a serious player. This new edition of Culture Smart! Ukraine will enable you to visit the country with open eyes. It describes the history that has shaped the Ukrainian psyche, explains present-day values and attitudes, and offers practical advice on what to expect and how to behave. It aims to make you feel at ease, whether you are shopping in a market, dining out, or attending a business meeting.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857336634
Publisher: Kuperard
Publication date: 07/24/2012
Series: Culture Smart! Series
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 828,257
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Anna Shevchenko is a Ukrainian-born business development consultant and the managing director of 3CN, a British-based company specializing in cross-cultural risk management. She speaks seven languages, and has an M.Phil. degree from the University of Cambridge. Anna has worked with key government and industry decision makers in Britain and Europe and across the CIS. She is the author of numerous articles and two books on cross-cultural communication, as well as two novels set in Ukraine: Bequest, published in 2010, and Tony’s Game, out in September 2012.

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By Anna Shevchenko

Bravo Ltd

Copyright © 2016 Anna Shevchenko
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85733-664-1




When you travel through the picturesque region of Transcarpathia in the Western Ukraine, admiring its flower-filled valleys and fast rivers, you might spot a small monument near the Slovak border. And, if you studied Latin, you will be able to translate the inscription, marked by the Vienna Geographical Society in 1911, as " ... with a scale of meridians and parallels, the center of Europe has been established here."

So, what is this country in the geographical center of Europe like? Bordered by Russia in the east and northeast, Belarus in the north, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary in the west, and Romania and Moldova in the southwest, it is the second-largest European country in territory after Russia, with the fifth-largest population (approx. 45.8 million); 78 percent of the population are ethnic Ukrainians, 17 percent of the population are Russian, with other ethnic minorities, mainly from the bordering countries, making up the remaining 5 percent. The Crimean Tatars, who were forcibly deported to Central Asia in 1944, have been allowed to settle in Crimea. So far, around 250,000 have returned.

Administratively, Ukraine consists of twenty-four oblasts (regions) and one Autonomous Republic (Crimea). The capital, Kyiv (formerly "Kiev"), has a population of 2.64 million.

The Carpathian Mountains and alpine meadows (polonyny) in the west descend to the rolling hills of Podillya, and to the thick forest of Polissya further east. The steppes stretch all the way south, to the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where the Crimean Peninsula enjoys a Mediterranean climate.

Flying over Ukraine in summer, you will see endless golden fields — "the breadbasket of Europe" lives up to its name. Even the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag reflects two of the country's treasures: clear skies and wheat fields. The temperate continental climate and a quarter of the world's rich black soil, chornozem, made the land ideal for agriculture. As Ukrainians say, "Even if you plant a spade, it will grow in Ukrainian soil." And, although only 33 percent of the population live in the rural areas, the Ukrainians (including those who live in the cities) are known for their "farmer's" mentality. They are self-reliant, hardworking, and individualistic, and they are ready to face hardships and laugh at themselves.

The longest river, the Dnipro (Dnieper), flows through the center of the country, and serves as a natural division between east and west. This divide is not only geographical.

The East–West Divide

The three biggest Ukrainian industrial cities — Kharkiv, city of engineers, metallurgical Dnipropetrovsk, and mining Donetsk — with their giant post-Soviet industrial plants, are situated in the eastern part of Ukraine. Western Ukraine is more rural and traditional. Apart from economic development, there is a national aspect. As large areas of Western Ukraine were parts of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland until the end of the Second World War, Western Ukraine is much more pro-European, and sees Ukraine's future in the new Europe. Eastern Ukraine supports closer economic ties with Russia — not surprisingly, as most of the eight million ethnic Russians live here.

On August 24, 1991, the Ukrainian Parliament declared Ukraine's independence. On December 1, 1991, in a nationwide referendum, over 90 percent of the voters confirmed the Act of Independence. Ukraine, a former republic of the Soviet Union, became a state in its own right. To understand what this meant for Ukraine at the threshold of the twenty-first century, it is essential to look at the country's history.


It is often said that Ukraine is enriched by nature but robbed by history. For centuries, neighboring states fought bloody wars to control its fertile lands. Foreign domination has left indelible traces in the Ukrainian mentality: Ukrainians are fatalistic, patient, and resilient, and, as we've seen, one of their most popular sayings translates as "Things will improve somehow."

Kyivan Rus

The Ukrainians trace their ancestry to the early eastern Slavic tribes. According to legend, three brothers — Kiy, Shchek, and Khoryv, from the Slavic Polian tribe — founded the settlement of Kyiv in the sixth century CE. They called it Kyiv after the eldest brother. In 882 CE the Scandinavian prince Oleg captured Kyiv, killed the local Polian rulers Ascold and Dir, and proclaimed, "Here will be the mother of Rus cities." The Rus were the dominant Viking clan. Kyiv became an important point on the Viking trade route — called "From Varangians [Vikings] to Greeks" — from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. In the tenth century Kyiv was the capital of Kyivan Rus, a powerful empire extending from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

In 988 Prince Vladimir introduced Orthodox Christianity to Rus, albeit in a peculiar way. He announced to the Byzantine emperors Constantine and Basil his decision to be christened, and took his fleet to Crimea, to the Byzantine city of Khersones, for the purpose. He returned to Kyiv and ordered the pagan wooden idols to be cast down and floated down the River Dnipro. While his subjects watched in horror, Vladimir appeared on the hill with the council of Greek priests. At his signal, all the people there, adults and children, were commanded to step into the freezing waters of the Dnipro to be baptized.

Kyivan Rus flourished during the rule of Yaroslav, Vladimir's son. Known as Yaroslav the Wise, he created the first legal code, "the Russian truth," carried out grand construction projects, and avoided wars by marrying his daughters to European monarchs. His eldest daughter, Anna, became the first literate queen of France when she married Henry I in Reims Cathedral in 1051. On being consecrated as Queen, she took her oath placing her hand on the Gospel that she had brought from Kyiv.

The prosperity of Kyivan Rus attracted invaders from the southern steppes. The city of Kyiv and the power of Kyivan Rus were destroyed by the Mongol Baty Khan's conquest in 1240. The siege of Kyiv lasted several weeks. The Mongol army was so enormous that, according to the chronicler, "You could not hear anything for the creak of their carts, the roar of their camels ... The land of Rus was filled with enemy." The city was burned down, and thousands were killed. The lands of Kyivan Rus were divided by the principalities of Galicia, Volynia, and Muscovy — later Poland, Lithuania, and Russia.

In the fifteenth century the Lithuanian prince Alexander granted the city of Kyiv a certain degree of independence under the Magdeburg Right, the European code of municipal self-government, in accordance with which the citizens of Kyiv were governed by the members of an elected self-government and a court. The Magdeburg Right was effective in Kyiv until 1834.

The Cossack State

Cossacks are one of the Ukrainian symbols of national independence. Their mystique lives on in Ukrainian proverbs, legends, and songs. Rebels and warriors, protectors of the borders, freedom fighters, adventurers — who were they in reality?

The word "Cossack" comes from the Turkish word meaning "free man." More than five centuries ago the mass escape of Ukrainian serfs from feudal oppression gave birth to the Cossack movement. These runaway serfs settled along the empty southern steppes, at the delta of the Dnipro River. In order to protect their settlements from the devastating raids of the Crimean Tatars, they developed various forms of self-defense. In these circumstances, Cossack soldiers had to be brave and agile, ready to fight in the steppes and at sea, and strong in their faith and in action. For more than two hundred years they resisted Turks, Tatars, and Polish domination.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, the Cossacks formed their own state — Zaporizhska Sych — and created their own democratic military administrative system. They had their own legal proceedings and military councils. The governing body was the Army Kysch, headed by hetmans, or Cossack chieftains. The world's first constitution was written for the Cossack state by the hetman Philip Orlyk in 1710.

The Cossacks' horsemanship, powers of endurance, ability to withstand pain, and ability to drink were legendary. The typical Cossack had a long moustache, a shaven head with a single lock of hair, and an earring. When a former Ukrainian Minister of Defense was asked why the Ukrainian army did not adopt Cossacks as examples of bravery, his reply was: "I didn't like the uniform and the drinking habits."

The Cossack hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky played a fateful role in the history of Ukraine. He led the Ukrainian uprising against Polish expansionism, and in 1654 signed the Pereyaslav Agreement with Russia to provide mutual defense against the Poles. Many Ukrainians consider this a tragic point in their history, as Moscow turned this agreement of mutual military and political assistance into an act of union — incorporating Ukraine into the Russian empire. The modern benefit of that agreement, as Ukrainians often ironically point out, is the fact that in 1954 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ceded the Crimean Peninsula, with its Mediterranean climate, spas, and seaside resorts, to Ukraine as a gift to mark the three-hundredth anniversary of Khmelnitsky's union with Russia.

Another hetman, Ivan Mazepa, made a desperate attempt to save the country, and signed an agreement with Charles XII of Sweden to fight against the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great. However, Swedish troops suffered a disastrous defeat at the battle of Poltava in 1709. Russia continued the aggressive acquisition of Cossack lands, gradually abolishing the privileges of the Ukrainian Cossacks. Ukraine was called "Malorossiya" — "Little Russia" — and became a powerless province of the Russian empire.

By 1775, by order of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, Zaporizhska Sych was completely destroyed, both as a legal entity and physically, and the Ukrainian lands were divided between Russia and Austria.

In Ukraine you will see the Cossack heritage everywhere — in monuments, paintings, names of streets and restaurants, even in the names of brands of vodka. Their dance troupes are legendary. A popular Ukrainian vodka (horilka) is called "Hetman," and has portraits and brief biographies of Cossack chieftains on the labels.

The Nineteenth-Century Independence Movement

Though Ukrainian sovereignty was crushed, prominent intellectuals never abandoned hope of reinstating independence. The national Ukrainian spirit found its outlet in both secret and legal organizations, such as the Brotherhood of Cyril and Methodius, whose members included Taras Grygorovich Shevchenko (1814–61) — a poet, artist, and symbol of the revival of national culture, language, and consciousness. "There is something appealing about a nation whose greatest hero is a poet and a painter," comments the writer Linda Hodges. Shevchenko's book of poetry, Kobzar, was kept in every home next to the Bible, and his poem "Testament" was known and repeated as a prayer. His words, "Fight and you shall win," were quoted in Ukrainian by the former US president Bill Clinton during his visit to Ukraine.

There are numerous monuments to Taras Shevchenko, not only in Ukraine, but also in Moscow, Toronto, Washington, and other cities across the world. A black taxi driver in Washington, when asked whether he knew whom the monument honored, replied, "I don't know his name, but I know he was a good man. A poet, who fought against slavery." And indeed Shevchenko, a serf himself, whose freedom was bought in 1838 by a Russian painter, spent his life writing about serfdom, the suppression of Ukrainian culture by Russia, and Russian autocracy. His poem "The Heretic" (1845) spoke of his dream of a free brotherhood of all Slavs. He became a professor at Kyiv in 1845, and founded an organization for radical social reform.

Shevchenko was severely punished for his views: he was sent to a Siberian labor battalion for ten years, and was never allowed to live in Ukraine again. He died in St. Petersburg at the age of forty-seven. But the seeds he planted in his poems grew, and the Ukrainian national independence movement became so widespread that in 1865 the Tsarist government banned the use of the Ukrainian language in public. Ukrainian culture was, again, suppressed.

The Tragic Twentieth Century

During the twentieth century Ukraine lost almost a third of its population — around fifteen million people — as a result of the artificial famine, the Second World War, and mass repressions. The memories of this recent past are an integral part of the Ukrainian view of life, though it is only recently that people have been finding the voice and the courage to talk about them. They define the Ukrainian mentality and have their reflection in the language, in key words such as "to bring up" (vyhovaty), which comes from the word hovaty meaning "to hide" — to hide and protect the child from wars and enemies.

Changing Hands

Following the First World War and the collapse of the Russian Tsarist authority, Ukraine had a chance to gain independence, but in the chaos of the civil war none of the factions could win decisive support. In the years 1917–20 Kyiv, according to different estimates, changed hands between fourteen and eighteen times. There was fighting between Ukrainian leaders of different orientations, pro-Moscow Bolsheviks, Tsarist White Guards, Polish, and German occupants. Western Ukraine has also changed hands so many times that there is a popular joke about an old man in a village in Transcarpathia. When asked about his life, he said, "I was born in Austro-Hungary, went to school in Czechoslovakia, served in the Hungarian army and then went to prison in the Soviet Union. Now I live in independent Ukraine!" "Oh, you must have traveled and seen a lot!" "Oh, no, I have never left my village!"

On January 22, 1918, the Ukrainian government, Tsentralna Rada, proclaimed Ukrainian independence. Briefly, during 1919–21, Eastern and Western Ukraine united to form an independent Ukrainian government that was ultimately crushed by Russian Bolsheviks. Western Ukraine fell under the control of Poland; the rest officially became part of the USSR in 1922. For those twenty-three million Ukrainians in the eastern part of Ukraine, life under Soviet rule was overwhelmed by tragedy.

Holodomor — The Great Famine

Vyacheslav Lypinsky, the Ukrainian historian and sociologist, noted that, "love for one's land is the primary dynamic force of the Ukrainian." The inclination of Ukrainians toward private land ownership has been traditional since Cossack times, when the runaway serfs got the chance of owning the land they worked on.

As a result, Stalin's policy of collectivization — taking away the land from independent farmers and creating collective farms under complete Communist control — moved much more slowly in Ukraine than in Russia. Once, talking to Winston Churchill, Stalin referred to collectivization as a terrible struggle that had lasted four years and involved ten million people. Most of these people were defenseless Ukrainian peasants. Grain, the source of Ukrainian pride and livelihood, became Stalin's weapon in his drive to press the Ukrainian peasants into submission, force them into the collectives, and ensure a steady supply of grain for Soviet industrialization.

In 1932 the Communist Party adopted a new plan for grain-collection quotas in Ukraine, which were increased by 44 percent. This was unachievable, and the result was a massive shortage of food. Roadblocks were set up to stop Ukrainians from moving out of their region, and any attempts to grind grain or collect crops from the vegetable gardens were regarded as a crime against the state and punished by execution by firing squad.

While a hundred million tons of grain were taken out of Ukraine, the starving peasants were consigned to a slow death. The highest death rates were in the grain-growing provinces of Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad, and Odesa, where 20–25 percent of the population died; in many individual villages the death rates were higher.

The Great Famine of 1932–33 took an estimated seven million lives in fifteen months. People died at a rate of seventeen every minute: 25,000 every day. One-third of those who died of starvation were children.

The Russian poet Boris Pasternak, author of the Nobel Prize-winning novel Doctor Zhivago, wrote, "In the early 1930s, there was a movement among writers to travel to the collective farms and gather material about the new life of the village. I wanted to be with everyone else and likewise made a trip with the aim of writing a book. What I saw could not be expressed in words. There was such inhuman, unimaginable misery, such a terrible disaster, that it began to seem almost abstract, it would not fit within the bounds of consciousness. I fell ill. For an entire year I could not write."

The Great Famine was a forbidden topic in the Soviet era, and remained a secret tragedy of the buried nation. Only in 1998 did the President of Ukraine officially recognize the famine by proclaiming an annual National Day of Remembrance of the Famine Victims on the fourth Saturday of November. On November 28, 2006, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a law recognizing the 1932–33 Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.

The famine was followed by the years of the notorious Stalin purges. From 1937 thousands of people disappeared overnight without explanation, executed for "nationalism and espionage." In 1938 all 115 members of the Soviet Ukrainian government were executed. By 1941 the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, had arrested nineteen million Soviets; seven million were shot or died in the Siberian camps; at least a million of these were Ukrainians.


Excerpted from Ukraine by Anna Shevchenko. Copyright © 2016 Anna Shevchenko. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
About the Author,
Map of Ukraine,
Key Facts,
Chapter 5: DAILY LIFE,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Chapter 7: TRAVELING,
Further Reading,
Appendix 1: The Ukrainian Alphabet,
Appendix 2: Some Useful Words and Phrases,

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