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Ukraine Overview

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Join Ukrainian families as they start dinner with a toast to good health and eat simple courses of food until they can’t physically take another bite. After the rainy season, venture with them into the forests for wild mushroom hunts that Ukrainian families have participated in for generations. On a Ukraine cruise you have the chance to see some of the 45,000 animal species and 30,000 plant species that call the region home.

Many of these animals and plants hold deep tradition in the folklore of Ukraine. The music, stories, and art of the area express appreciation for the landscape—the Carpathian Mountains, the vast steppes, and the refreshing Mediterranean Sea. The most popular Ukrainian art that the world is familiar with is the Pysanka or Ukrainian Easter Egg. These eggs often share the stories of the land and experiences of the people in Ukraine.

The history of Ukraine hasn’t been simple. An assortment of dynasties and principalities held control of the Ukrainian region, often with little success. From Trypillian domination in 4500 BC and Scythian rule in 700 BC to the Rus people led by Vladimir in 988 AD, Ukraine held little consistency. Progressively, the area became incorporated into the Russian Empire in the 1800s. Communism brought great starvation and suffrage. Historians estimate that the war, purges, and famine of the first half of the 20th century resulted in the deaths of a quarter of Ukraine’s female population and over half of the male population. On August 24, 1991, Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

Abundant festivals demonstrate that despite Ukraine’s rocky history, pride continues to rein in local hearts. While on a Ukraine cruise watch agricultural dances of dynamic movement and elaborate costumes called khorovody. Try playing the bandura, Ukraine’s national instrument that looks like a guitar and sounds like a harp. A tour of Ukraine offers a chance to sample local cheeses, sausages, and vareniki (unleavened dumplings stuffed with foods such as sauerkraut, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs in a tasty combination). Throw in the most important words to Ukrainians during your visit: bud’ laska (please), dyakuyu (thank you), and proshu (you’re welcome). Chivalry is quite alive in the Ukraine and part of the culture. It is common for men to hold doors for women, stand when they enter the room, and offer their seats to a woman.

Before you depart from Ukraine, be sure to swing by one of the corner bakeries for a Slovak favorite—kolach. This simple dessert of baked bread with fruit and poppy seed spread could in itself persuade you to travel to this welcoming region again.

The Ancient History of Ukraine

Trypillian domination set the pace for Ukraine’s agricultural history from the 4500 to 3500 BC. Perhaps Europe’s first urban culture, the Neolithic Trypilian peoples raised cattle and other livestock and grew agriculture. Between 700 and 200 BC, the Iranian nomads, Scythian, claimed the steppes of the Black Sea. Today, Ukraine travel offers a chance to visit a cave monastery in the city of Kyiv that still holds a touch of this culture’s tradition. Scythians filled cave tombs with meticulous sculptures of animal and human forms made of gold. Over time, invaders such as the Huns and the Turko-Iranian Khazars seized the area.

Their rule didn’t last long because the Rus, a group of Scandinavians, moved in, seizing control of the city of Kyiv in 882 AD. Kyiv became the center of the Rus’ state of Kievan Rus late in the 10th century. Much of the culture of Ukraine began to develop at this time along with military power. After enormous struggles to institute a nation of paganism, the Kyivian Rus leader, Vladimir, accepted Christianity in 988 through Constantinople’s influence. Yet Vladimir and his son, Mstislav, couldn’t hold Kievan Rus together. The empire crumbled at the strike of the Mongol empire.

An assortment of dynasties and principalities held control of various Ukraine regions with little continued success. Populations nearly evaporated from combination of plague and constant military destruction. As a result, refugees of neighboring regions and escaping serfs flocked to Ukraine. Ukrainian nationalism prospered in the 1840s. Progressively, the area also became incorporated into the Russian Empire. Russification began when the tsar banned the use of the Ukrainian language.

Meet Ukraine Culture!

While on a Ukraine cruise, expect men to hold open doors for a woman, stand when she enters the room, and offer their seats to her when all other chairs are taken. People of this nation highly favor politeness. The most important Ukrainian words to know are: bud’ laska (please), dyakuyu (thank you), and proshu (you’re welcome).

The national language is Ukrainian, though don’t be surprised to hear more people speaking Russian. Roughly one half of students receive education in Ukrainian and the other half learn in Russian. Over 39.4 million people speak Ukrainian, despite two Imperial Russian attempts to eliminate the language. Nearly everyone comfortably speaks both.

Because of Ukraine’s proximity to Russia, many Russian ways of life seep into Ukraine. From the other boarder, Ukraine also battles the assimilation of European culture. Despite these influences, Ukraine works to maintain its own cultural identity. During the Kievan, or medieval period, the Byzantine Empire’s influence dominated the region. Then the European Renaissance filtered into Ukraine via Poland. In the Soviet period, government subsidized cultural activities, though only as a vehicle for Communist propaganda. Now natives find Westernization threatening their identity.

Ukrainian people identify themselves by folklore—traditions of storytelling, dancing, music, and art—that passes from generation to generation. While on a Ukraine cruise there are plenty of opportunities to explore the numerous competitions and festivals that occur every year, ranging from international organ and piano music festivals to the Tavriya Games. Agricultural dances of dynamic movement and elaborate, colorful costume date back to the rural Cossack lifestyle of hundreds of years ago. These popular dances, known as “khorovody”, are accompanied by instruments or a capella songs.

Be sure to listen to the national instrument of Ukraine—the bandura. This instrument looks like a guitar and sounds like a harp. No one knows exactly how far back the history of the bandura exists. In the city of Kiev, the Saint Sofia Cathedral holds an 11th century fresco of an instrument resembling a possible relative. Then during the 15th to 18th centuries, free warriors and blind and wandering minstrels led by children sang epics while plucking the banduras. These men sang of relations with Turks, troubles with the Polish regime, and the exploits of Ukrainian people. Such songs can still be heard today.

Ukrainian tradition urges newlyweds to walk around the Chortitza Oak three times for good marital fortune. This 800-year-old tree, infamous throughout the world, became significant to the region when the Cossacks ruled the area. Since then, the Mennonites and other settlers camped beneath the tree’s branches. People say that many vital agreements were established beneath the Chortitza Oak. Today, during your tour of the Ukraine you might want to join the travelers in their pilgrimage to the ancient tree—often with hope of great fortune.

Perhaps even more famous is the Ukrainian Easter Egg, locally known as Pysanka. For thousands of years, Ukrainian craftsmen have drawn elaborate drawings on eggs with wax. They dip the eggs in dye, then add additional layers of wax drawings. After repeating this process multiple times, the wax is removed, revealing a multicolored egg deeply embedded in symbolism. Many of the emblematic images and colors pre-date Christianity. However Christian interpretations are often layered over these images.

People throughout the country practice religion, particularly Orthodox Christianity and Uniate. Families feast and linger over meals together until they cannot take another bite. Holidays reflect pre-Christian and Christian cultures. The biggest and most unique celebration comes at Christmas; the holiday starts with a severe Lent and ends with the Feast of Jordan on January 19.

Post-Communism Struggles

The people live by the motto of freedom, accord, and goodness, which hasn’t always been easy. Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 24, 1991. The former Soviet lifestyle of communism is gradually being replaced by a consumer-based society. Unfortunately, the transition to a market-based economy has been challenging. Many people struggle to make ends mean.

Additionally, Communism highly subsidized the arts and traditions of Ukraine as a method of propaganda. Unfortunately with the growth of democracy has come the reduction of government funds for cultural activity.

Cherished Environment of the Ukraine

In a place where the growth of plants represents the well-being of people and a plum denotes wisdom and health, visitors on a Ukraine tour will easily notice the value that locals hold in their plant life. For centuries, plants have provided this agricultural country with nutrition and inspiration for stories and song.

The majority of Ukraine consists of fertile steppes and plateaus. Roughly one third of the land still holds its natural vegetation. Close to 30,000 plant species decorate the landscape; over 400 of these species are registered on the endangered-species list. Traditional Ukrainian folklore personifies many of these plants. The oak tree personifies endurance. The willow represents the “fore tree” of life, the symbol of spring. Medicinal plants, berries, other wild fruits, and mushrooms grow in abundance in forest regions where families flock after the rainy season for wild mushroom hunts, as their families have done for generations.

Ukraine—one of the largest sugar producers—is a land of variety. In addition to the sweeping meadows of the steppes, spend time exploring the forests of fine wood while on a tour of the Ukraine. These forests cover 14 percent of the country. The Corinthian Mountains reach toward the western sky, and the Mediterranean provides warmer weather and fascinating views of wildlife feeding on the region’s plant life.

Get Filled to the Rim with Ukraine Cuisine!

Every Ukrainian meal starts with a toast to good health and large helpings of bread. Sample the staple cheeses, sausages, and fish dishes on your Ukraine cruise. People linger over meals with spirited discussions, and every food comes in abundance. People actually eat until they physically cannot take another bite.

Ukrainians try to incorporate several courses into their meals. At Christmas, families traditionally enjoy exactly twelve courses. These foods are simple and filling. The most popular Ukrainian foods include: borshch (vegetable soup with beets), vareniki (unleavened dumpling stuffed with foods like sauerkraut, hard-boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, and cheese), and holobtsi (cabbage rolls often stuffed with rice and meats).

Many traditional recipes in Ukraine hold deep historic roots and links to cuisines of neighboring countries like Germany, Poland, Russia, Czech Republic, and Turkey. After large rainstorms in this region, people flock to the closest forest they can find for mushroom picking. Families fill buckets and buckets with wild mushrooms to cook that night or dry or marinate for later. Details of a successful mushroom hunt pass from generation from generation. Slovak people easily identify poisonous mushrooms from edible mushrooms, know specific ways to pick the mushrooms, and rush home to feast.

Finally, wind down your meals on your tour with coffee, tea, or wine and a simple dessert like kolach (sweet bread with fruit and poppy seed spreads).

Geography Experiences on a Ukraine Tour

The Eastern European country of Ukraine ranks as the second largest country in Europe after only Russia. A Ukraine tour offers more than 3,000 lakes to explore. The land has a complicated network of rivers and streams such as the Danube and Bug that flow southward into the Black Sea or Sea of Azov. Most of the country is covered in rolling plains of rich soil ideal for agriculture. Then the coastline extends 650 miles (1050 km), and the Carpathian Mountains (to the extreme west) and Crimean Mountains (in southern Crimea) rise up to 6762 ft (2061 m) at Mount Hoverla and cover five percent of the nation’s 233,090 sq mi (603,700 sq km). Above these regions in an area called Poles’ye, lowland areas of wooded bogs and swamps dot the land. Most of this area has been drained and plowed for agriculture, though.

Natural resources of the nation come in easily accessible abundance. Nearly half of the country’s land holds rich, fertile soil consisting of black chernozem—ideal for agriculture. Enormous coal deposits spread the Donets Basin in the southeast region. Thick forests decorate 13 percent of the nation. Iron ore runs deep in the east central Kryvyy Rih area while the Carpathian foothills, Crimean coast, and the Donets Basin hide abundant deposits of natural gas and oil. In addition, the country holds some of the world’s most abundant manganese deposits in Nikopol, an area of south central Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Complex Modern History

Following World War I, the Russian and Austrian empires collapsed. Coupled with the Russian Revolution of 1917, Ukrainians saw the chance to attempt a national movement to restore their Ukrainian culture. The Ukrainian National Republic declared independence in 1918 under the leadership of President Mykhaylo Hrushevsky. Instead of freedom, though, the country faced civil war and years of conflict. The country split. The western region incorporated into Poland in 1922 while the central and eastern regions joined the Soviet Union, becoming the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Soviet industrialization spread into Ukraine in the late 1920s. Soon the republic’s industrial output quadrupled. Yet everything wasn’t sunshine. Stalin transformed privately held peasant land and animals into a collective body to feed the state’s growing need for food. People who resisted communist ideals were arrested and deported; strong forces of troops and secret police tightly monitored all actions. Stalin expected remaining, loyal peasants to make up the difference, adding more work to their load. Agricultural quotas became unachievable in Ukraine, and if farmers didn’t meet these quotas, they didn’t get food for their own families. Stalin designed Holodomor in Ukraine, an artificial famine. As a result, a shocking estimated three to seven million people died from 1932-33. Stalin also attacked Ukraine’s religious areas, destroying over 250 churches and cathedrals. Purges of 1937-39 sent Ukrainians to labor camps or executed, taking the lives of millions of Ukrainians.

The Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Many Ukrainians welcomed the Nazis, thinking the Nazis were finally bringing liberation from Communist rule. Such theory didn’t last long, though. Nazi viciousness began focusing on the Jews of Ukraine, killing over one million Ukrainian Jews. Some Ukrainians collaborated with both the Nazi and Soviet forces; others fought against them. And still others were shipped to labor camps in Germany.

Historians estimate that the war, purges, and famine of the first half of the 20th century resulted in the deaths of a quarter of Ukraine’s female population and over half of the male population. While on a trip to the Ukraine today, visitors will find that the country is still trying to recover from such devastating losses.

Ukrainian boarders extended to the west, uniting most Ukrainians in one political state. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and the disinterest of Soviet officials to Ukrainian problems led to frustrations. People formed an umbrella nationalist movement called the Ukrainian People’s Movement for Restructuring and started gaining government seats. In July 1990, the parliament allowed Ukraine to declare sovereignty; succession wasn’t allowed. Nothing really changed at first. One year later, the party kept growing and the Communist Party of Ukraine was banned. The population voted for independence and gained its freedom from the Soviet Union on August 24, 1991.

Citizens couldn’t agree on a national constitution until June 1996. Ukraine became the last former Soviet republic to establish a constitution. Citizens finally agreed to establish a semi-presidential system of government (both a prime minister and a president actively engage in day-to-day government operations).

Ukraine travel today reveals a country that continues to struggle between residual communist ideals and democratic thinking. A consumer-based society gradually replaces the former Soviet lifestyle of communism. The transition to a market-based economy hasn’t been easy. Many people struggle to make ends mean.

The Political Atmosphere of Ukraine

On August 24, 1991, Ukraine proclaimed its independence when the Soviet Union collapsed. The newly formed nation of Ukraine struggled to turn from the centralized structure of communistic government toward democracy. The battle wasn’t easy. Conservatives wanted to preserve the former Soviet structure; reformers wanted a new, democratic system. Few seemed to agree on any strategy.

The first presidential election occurred immediately in 1991. Then a premature presidential election took place three years later with legislative elections. Citizens couldn’t agree on a national constitution until June 1996, making Ukraine the last former Soviet republic to do so. The country finally entered a new semi-presidential system of government (both a prime minister and a president actively engage in day-to-day government operations). More than 40 political parties registered in the mid-90s, the largest being the communist party in 1994.

Legislative, executive, and judicial branches divide the balance of power. Governmental reform constantly occurs, amending and strengthening government processes within each branch. Chief obligations in each branch include:

1. The legislative branch, known as Verkhovna Rada, is a unicameral body of 450 members. Main duties include drafting laws, ratifying international treaties, amending the Constitution of Ukraine, and appointing various government officials.

2. In the executive branch, the President elects the Prime Minister with approval of the majority of parliament. The elected Prime Minister of Ukraine becomes the Head of the Cabinet, and the Parliament appoints the majority of his Cabinet. The President ensures independence and national security, signs bills, and performs a myriad of duties along side the Prime Minister

3. From Supreme Court down to local district courts, the judicial branch’s jurisdictions break down proportionately. Travelers on a cruise to this area will find it interesting to know that the Constitution of Ukraine offers trials by jury, yet such a system hasn’t been implemented.

Law guarantees freedom of speech, though on occasion, authorities implement strong pressure to influence the media. Unions such as the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine began to surface in 1992 and continue to survive. Law allows unions to strike unless strikes are based solely on political demands.

Ukraine isn’t a member of the European Union, nor is the country a current candidate. The country has been a member of United Nations since 1945.

The Urkaine’s Climate – Beyond Just Chilly!

In following regional tradition, Ukraine experiences the typical, harsh winter of Eastern Europe. Yet the freezing season is shorter! January temperatures in northern Ukraine can dip to –10 to –4 degrees C (14 to 25 degrees F). Meanwhile, if you plan a Ukraine tour to the southern part of the country near the Black Sea, you should experience far milder winter weather.

Moderate rain falls disproportionately across the country throughout the year—more in the north and west, less in the east and southeast.

Summer temperatures bring warm weather around 15 to 25 degrees C (59 to 77 degrees F) to the north. Southern regions become even hotter.

Plenty of Wildlife Wonders Await on a Ukraine Trip

As the second largest country in Europe, Ukraine holds four diverse regions of varied beauty more than worthy of a visit. The various geographical zones of Ukraine from south to north are: Mediterranean, steppe, forest-steppe, and forests. Naturally, such diverse landscapes grant even more varied flora and fauna.

While on a Ukraine trip you have the opportunity to discover the 45,000 species of animals that call Ukraine home, ranging from the red deer and elk to rock lizards and perch. To protect these animals and their environments, the country boasts eleven national parks, 16 natural reserves, four biospheres reserves, 100 wildlife refuges, and numerous other areas. Look for native animals like muskrats, spotted deer, and a type of wild sheep known as moufflon that are being reintroduced with great success. Imported animals valued for their fur—mink, silvery-black fox, and muskrat—also acclimated to their introduction to Ukraine.

In the forests, elk, wild boars, squirrels, and roe deer roam in abundance with foxes and wolves. You may even spot a brown bear or lynx playing in the woods. Birds to watch for during your trip include starling, wood and hazel grouse, cranes, and the beautiful blue titmouse. The steppes—Ukraine’s largest region—is home to smaller wildlife ranging from ground squirrels to jerboas and marmots roam the ground. The skies are filled with quail, pink starling, steppe eagles, and skylarks. Yet neither the birds of the forests nor the steppes can compare with the bird watching opportunities that you can find in the Mediterranean region. Birds come in abundance here. You’ll easily spot martins, wild ducks, herons, bittern, pelicans, cormorants, and pochards. During your Ukraine travel look to the waters to discover over 200 species of fish. Sturgeon, mackerel, and bullheads claim the ocean while bream, zander, sazan, and trout swim the Carpathian rivers and streams.

Behind many of these animals lie generations of Ukrainian tradition and symbolism. Images such as the horse represent a sign of the sun, endurance and speed, and the butterfly represents the pleasure of childhood. The people of Ukraine connect with these emblematic animals through folklore, music, and art like the Ukrainian egg.

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