The earliest people groups to live in what is known as the Ukraine today were the Goths, Scythians, Sarmatians, Cimmerians and other nomadic groups. These were the people who lived in the region when the Greek and Roman governments were ruling, and it was among these people that these major governments set up city-states and trading outposts. By the sixth century, Slavic tribes had settled into the eastern and central parts of the country. These were the people that were vital in the establishment of the city of Kiev.
Kiev was paramount to the early history of what is now the Ukraine. It sat on important trade routes and quickly became the center and capital of Kievan Rus, a powerful state and the largest in Europe by the 11th century. During this time, two Christian missionaries, Methodius and Cyril, brought the Cyrillic alphabet and the Christian faith to the area. Most of the population had claimed Christianity by 988.
The 12th century brought a time of feudal fighting and war to the area. This set the stage for the invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century. By the 14th century, Poland and Lithuania had each annexed some of the territory in modern Ukraine into their countries. However, this did not stop the Ukrainian people from establishing their own identity as a people. In spite of the various countries that ruled, this feeling of nationalism survived and grew. When the Polish government tried to subdue them, they fought back with a fierceness that surprised everyone, earning them the name of Cossacks.
By the 1660s, Russia and Poland shared the land that is now Ukraine. When Poland was partitioned in 1783, the land became part of the Russian Empire. Imperial Russia tried hard to stamp out the Ukrainian nationalism, banning the use of the language and making life difficult for Ukrainian heroes. However, they were not successful in stopping the growing sense of nationalism.
World War I and the resulting Russian Revolution brought the perfect opportunity for Ukrainians to declare their independence from Russia, setting up an independent statehood. In 1917, Ukraine earned autonomy, and by 1918 the Bolsheviks had seized power in Petrograd, and the Ukrainian National Republic declared its independence, with President Mykhaylo Hrushevsky at the helm. Just one year later, however, the republic united with the West Ukrainian People’s Republic, which was part of the Austor-Hungarian Empire. The independence was short lived, and they once again found themselves under Russian rule.
Kiev succumbed to invading Germans during World War II, and two concentration camps were set up. The Soviets liberated the city, but brought it under the rule of Stalin’s U.S.S.R.
Life under Soviet rule was hard, but as the Soviet empire declined in the 1980s, the people of the Ukraine began to look for freedom again. On July 6, 1990, the legislature declared the sovereignty of the country, and just over a year later, on August 24 1991, the Verhovna Rada declared independence. However, the first two presidents were former Soviet leaders, so it was not until the Orange Revolution in 2004, when Viktor Yushchenko was elected president, that the country was finally completely free from the rule of Russia.
- Ukrainians do not like to stand out. They do all they can to blend in and to be part of a larger group, rather than being too individualistic.
- The people of the Ukraine often seem cold to strangers, but this is due to the fact that life is sometimes hard so there may be little to smile about. When you get to know them, they are quite warm and inviting, often inviting new friends to their home for a large meal.
- Ukrainians often disobey traffic laws, as they feel that it is a special honor to go against authorities. But while they may criticize their government, they are fiercely loyal to their country, so foreigners should not do the same.
- Dilvove Village, located in Rakhiv town in the Carpathian Mountains in Western Ukraine is the geographic center of Europe.
- The Ukrainian language is considered the second most melodic language in the world.
- Ukrainians consume bread at almost every meal.
- The people of Ukraine are considered the fourth most educated in the world. By age 16, 99.4 percent of the population knows how to write. In addition, 70 percent of the population has higher education.
- Carpathian Mountains – Located around Rakhiv, the Carpathian Mountains are ideal for those who enjoy hiking.
- Kamyanets-Podilsky – This beautiful medieval town sits atop a rock island, and is definitely a site worth seeing.
- Sofiyivka Park – Located in Uman, this historic garden is called Ukraine’s answer to the gardens of Versailles, and is truly a mesmerizing place to visit.
- Crimea – If you love the beach, then head to Crimea in the summer to lounge on some of Ukraine’s finest.
- Kiev – The birthplace of the Slavic culture and the capital city of Ukraine, Kiev is a must-see destination for those visiting the country.
- Odesa – Revel in the amazing architecture of this city on the Black Sea, and spend some time on the beach during your visit.
- Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve – Europe’s largest wetlands spreads between Ukraine and Romania, and Ukrainian visitors can see the terminus of the Danube should they choose to visit. Bird watching here is incredible.
- Lviv – Lviv is the “Least Soviet” city in the Ukraine, and its centre is a Unesco World Heritage site with its rich blend of architectural styles. The culture in this city is surprisingly central European in stark contrast to the Soviet inspired life in other areas.
- Yalta – Yalta gives you the chance to relax surrounded by palm trees and beautiful mountains. While a bit tourist-trap inspired, you will find it a relaxing place to vacation in Crimea.
- Kara-Dag Nature Reserve – Enjoy the chance to tour the volcanic landscape of the Ukraine in this natural preserve.
How Do You Get Cash?
- ATMS in the Ukraine are known as “bankomat” and can be found everywhere. They take major credit cards, and some take debit cards, but not all. Some ATMs allow you to withdraw both the national currency, Hryvnia (UAH) or US Dollars. While the ATM and your bank will charge fees, this is usually the most affordable and easiest way to get Hryvnia.
- Exchange rates in the Ukraine vary tremendously from one location to the next. The most competitive place to exchange is typically a bank or an exchange located in a downtown region. Your hotel may not change money on the weekends, so be prepared if you arrive for dinner on a Saturday or Sunday night.
- Banks are hesitant to accept traveler’s checks, so only bring them as a backup. If you can find a bank willing to take them, the process takes a long time and involves a lot of paperwork.
- Credit cards are not the preferred form of currency, but you can use your credit card to get cash from the ATM.
- If you face an emergency, Western Union is available in the Ukraine, but the prices are high for this service.