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Ukraine: What makes the country so endearing

by drbyos

A paradise for bikers

DUkrainian hospitality is legendary, and most travelers and locals mention it first when asked what they like about Ukraine. But even those who want to be alone will find endless possibilities.

For me it was always one of the most important reasons to cycle through Ukraine, after all, almost 30,000 kilometers in nine summers. Statistically speaking, every person in Ukraine has at least four times as much space as in Germany – the area is almost twice as large for half as many people.

How many people live in Ukraine can currently only be estimated because the last census was in 2001. The population is currently estimated to be around 44 million, with around two million people living in Crimea and around two million in the Russian-occupied areas in Donbass.

Large area, few people, this thin population has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, the roads are often miserably poor, because the financial resources of the municipalities are scarce, especially in rural regions.

On the other hand, there is plenty of space for intensive and large-scale agriculture. As is well known, the famous Ukrainian black earth is said to be the most fertile in the world. As a grain exporter, Ukraine ranks third worldwide behind the United States and the European Union.

And more than half of the country’s area is covered by this special earth, which is far from being used everywhere. So the animals and hyperboreans like me are happy about quiet forests and overgrown open spaces.

Borscht – the national dish of Ukraine

The most famous Ukrainian dish is likely to be Borsch be a soup with beets, whose name comes from the Ukrainian word Buryak comes from. In any case, it is Borsch a national cultural asset about which scholarly articles appear. Since ancient times, it has even been believed that the soul of a deceased is with Borschsteam flies to paradise, that’s why Borsch often cooked for funerals in the past.

Ukrainian media use the unofficial “Borschtsch Index”, analogous to the “Big Mac Index”, to estimate the purchasing power of currencies and to determine the actual inflation of the hryvnia. “The Borscht index is the average price of products that are required to prepare a certain volume of this dish at a given time.”

In honor of the Ukrainian Borsch even a city was named, the city of Borschiw in the Ternopil region, where every autumn BorschFestival is celebrated. Of course there is not just one recipe for Borschbut dozens of red ones alone Borsch.

Ukraine: Borsch is the national food of the Ukrainians

Borsch is the national food of the Ukrainians

Source: Getty Images

No matter whether man or woman, all Ukrainians can Borsch cook, and of course everyone has a special recipe. Before a Ukrainian marries, the woman must give him Borsch cook, and if he doesn’t like it, the wedding falls in the water, no, in the Borsch.

One can Borsch cook with or without meat. Common ingredients are cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, pre-cooked beans, onions, prunes, garlic, as well as “greens” dill and parsley. It is seasoned with salt and black pepper. After the Borsch was put in plates, you refine it with Smetana, the Ukrainian sour cream.

I learned green when I was cycling Borsch know, which I have always enjoyed eating since then. As the name suggests, you do in the green Borsch green vegetables, not red, so sorrel, spinach and nettles and matching herbs. Mushrooms, such as Halli mesh, also harmonize in this mixture.

Exciting metro ride in Kiev

So for tourists it is probably better not to take a taxi, but a metro or bus through the city. And of course it’s cheaper too.

Anyway, as a Kiev visitor, you should have taken the metro to see the stations with their mosaics, for example the Golden Gate, which is said to be one of the 15 most beautiful metro stations in the world, according to a survey by the Australian travel magazine “Bootsnall” .

Ukraine: Metro is worthwhile in Kiev - if only to see the mosaics in the stations

It is worth taking the metro in Kiev – if only to see the mosaics in the stations

Source: AFP via Getty Images / SERGEI SUPINSKY

And it is always exciting to take the escalators deep underground, for example to Arsenalna station, which is 105 meters below the surface. Incidentally, the entire route network of the Kiev Metro is almost 68 kilometers long and comprises 52 stations. In November 1960 the first route between the main train station and the Dnipro station was opened.

A cathedral modeled on Hagia Sophia

In the center of Kiev you can also visit many famous sights on foot. For example, you can take the metro from the main train station to the Teatralna, Khreshchatyk or Arsenalna stations and walk across Independence Square, Majdan Nesaleschnosti, or Majdan for short, over the Golden Gate to St. Sophia Cathedral.

The Golden Gate was built at the beginning of the 11th century on the orders of the Kiev Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise. In 1982, a museum was opened in this old city gate to mark the 1500th anniversary of Kiev. Around the gate and in the side streets are many cafes and restaurants with different national cuisines, Japanese, French and also inexpensive Ukrainian restaurants.

From there you can reach the most photographed sight of Kiev, the Sophia Cathedral, the construction of which, also on the orders of Yaroslav the Wise, began in 1037. It was built on the model of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

Ukraine: The most photographed attraction in Kiev is the St. Sophia Cathedral

The most photographed attraction in Kiev is the St. Sophia Cathedral

Credit: Getty Images / Lilyana Vinogradova

Since 2019, you can also take photos in the cathedral, for example the mosaics (260 square meters) or the frescoes and murals. The cathedral has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.

It has become particularly important for Ukrainians in recent times because on January 7, 2019, in the presence of the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the Tomos was presented with the certificate of independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

A museum explains the disaster in Chernobyl

Right next to the St. Sophia Cathedral is the St. Michaelskloster, which was blown up during the Soviet era in 1936 and only rebuilt after the end of the Soviet Union and was inaugurated in 1999. From there, I think you should definitely go to Andreassteig, one of the oldest streets in Kiev, where many Ukrainian artists and artisans offer their goods for sale, especially on weekends, and where you can visit the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum, for example.

Ukraine: The Andreassteig is one of the oldest streets in Kiev

The Andreassteig is one of the oldest streets in Kiev

Source: Universal Images Group via Getty

From there you can also easily walk to the Chernobyl Museum to think about the dangers and risks of modern technology and human recklessness.

The presentation of the catastrophe in the Chernobyl Museum is extremely modern, audiovisual information resources are used, one learns a lot about the causes and the course of the dramatic events and about the fates of the workers and liquidators affected, as well as about the actions or inaction of those responsible at that time.

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The National Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II is also a museum that requires good nerves to visit and is very thought-provoking. Until 2015 it was called “Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War from 1941–1945”.

It not only provides information about this war, but also about all wars in which Ukrainians were involved in the 20th and 21st centuries, such as the communist colonial wars in Angola or Afghanistan, and also about the unfortunately still ongoing war against Russia in the Donbass.

It is one of the largest museums in Ukraine, its inventory is housed in 16 halls with a total area of ​​five square kilometers. It is very easy to find because the statue of the Mother Home stands next to the museum. The figure’s shield still bears the coat of arms of the Soviet Union because it would be too expensive and time-consuming to dismantle or replace it, as one of the museum staff told me.

Little Vienna on the Dniester

While cycling in Ukraine, I saw many places where I would like to have settled. Already on my first tour I almost bought a house by a lake, 140 kilometers south of Poltava.

There are many such quiet, “romantic” places in Ukraine; I was often offered to settle in them. A German with whom you can chat and drink, a “devil guy” who cycles through the country on a bike, is obviously not considered the most boring contemporary.

The temptation to stay there was also great in a number of cities. The city of Kolomyja in the pre-Carpathians, which has long been part of Austria-Hungary, is one of my favorites. The Dniester River with its canyons flows past, one of the most beautiful landscapes in Ukraine.

Chernivtsi is one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine

Chernivtsi is one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine

Source: LightRocket via Getty Images

Chernivtsi is also not far, the former capital of Bukovina, which also belonged to Austria-Hungary. A city with such beautiful epithets as “Little Vienna”, “Alexandria of Europe” or “Jerusalem am Pruth”.

In the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, Chernivtsi was a predominantly German-speaking city in which many nationalities lived. Just under a third of the population were Jews. However, Yiddish was not recognized as an independent language, but was stated as German in official papers. Many educated Jews such as merchants and professors also used German as a colloquial language.

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In autumn 1875, the Austrian writer and journalist Karl Emil Franzos (1848–1904) even claimed in his report “From Vienna to Czernowitz” about the inauguration of the Franz Joseph University: “The German spirit, this kindest and most powerful magician under the sun, he – and he alone – put this blooming piece of Europe in the middle of the semi-Asian cultural desert! “

Today Chernivtsi is one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine, along with Kiev, Odessa and Lviv (Ukrainian Lviv).

Ukrainians celebrate 365 days a year

Ukrainians have at least one reason to celebrate every day. Three or four parties a day, that’s it normalno. A holy festival, one for the weather and for the seasons, a historical one, one from the world of work, plus personal and local ones, name days and celebrations for food and drink, beer, bacon, coffee day (in Lviv) or the dumpling, a lot comes together.

Indeed, historians report that Ukraine celebrated more at the end of the 19th century than in western countries. While 300 days worked in Protestant Europe, up to 270 days in Catholic countries, the maximum was 245 in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine: Malanka is the name of the festival at which the Ukrainians celebrate the early end of winter and the upcoming spring

Malanka is the name of the festival at which the Ukrainians celebrate the early end of winter and the upcoming spring

Credit: pa / dpa / Alexei Furman

The tsarist government even set up a “special commission” to reduce the number of holidays and days off. However, the measures taken by the Commission, for example to regulate working hours, did the opposite, and the number of holidays continued to increase.

The attempt to reduce the number of fairs also failed. Among other things, “wise officials” had decided to move the fairs to working days. They tried Saturday, but had simply forgotten that this was a holy day for the Jews, and without them a fair was not worthwhile.

Vyshyvanka festival

One of the most popular festivals of today was already celebrated back then – the summer solstice Ivan Kupala. Ivan Kupala is the Slavic name for John the Baptist. As is well known, he was an ascetic priest who loved to cry, baptize people in the Jordan and die a horrible death by being beheaded.

According to legend, Ivan Kupala or St. John’s Day is his birthday, according to the Gregorian calendar July 7th. On this day, women like to weave wreaths of flowers and throw them into the water to somehow guess their future.

There is celebration and dancing, young couples jump over the fire to pass a test of courage together or for whatever reason. In any case, it is a festival where you are happy, drink and laugh and joke.

I personally particularly like the Vyshyvanka festival on the third Thursday in May. Wyschywankas are collarless blouses made of white cotton or linen, which are embroidered with different patterns depending on the region. A large parade takes place in Poltava on this day, thousands of people in Vyshyvankas and local costumes roam the city together, singing and shouting slogans like “Ukraine – Free Land!”.

Kiev (Ukraine): Even this cat was traditionally dressed for the Vyshyvanka festival

Even this cat was traditionally dressed for the Vyshyvanka festival

Source: pa / NurPhoto / STR

By wearing these blouses, you demonstrate your belonging to the Ukrainian nation or, as a foreigner, your respect for it. For our wedding ceremony, for example, my wife, son and myself naturally wore Wyschywankas with Poltava patterns, as did most of our guests and our musician, the Cossack from Dikanka. I also like to wear a Wyschywanka on normal working days, it is comfortable and looks good.

Collective amazement at Germans

While cycling I was always happy about the Ukrainians’ desire to celebrate. Despite money worries and hard work, it also has to be celebrated, if necessary every day! “We live today!”

Nobody here can understand why more and more people are supposed to be suffering from depression in rich Germany. When a German comes to the village by bike, straight from Berlin to this pub, it is almost a matter of honor to invite him to a glass and ask him why the Germans are sad.

In addition, you immediately have a convincing excuse for the wives waiting at home. So of course I’m a bad witness, because celebrations were often organized in my honor. In truth, most Ukrainians naturally work a lot more than they celebrate.

The text is an extract from the book “111 Reasons to Love Ukraine” by Christoph Brumme, Verlag Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, 312 pages, 14.99 euros


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