Ukraine Customs and Traditions.

Things you should be aware of 
to understand Ukraine culture.

How to have a better understanding of Ukraine culture. Ukraine customs and traditions were created by being absorbed through the experiences of the many generations of people who have lived in Ukraine throughout its long history.

Every new generation has created its own vision of everyday rules of life to follow, creating what we call today our national culture. To understand the traditions of Ukraine culture there are a few things you should be aware of.

  • Traditions and customs vary regionally within Ukraine. There are significant cultural differences between city and village, West and East Ukraine.

  • You will find that some Ukraine customs are compatible with your own. Some of them you will consider irrational or incomprehensible. They are neither "good" nor "bad"; they just belong to another culture and are therefore different.

  • Unlike people of most western countries Ukrainians tend to express their emotions freely. Whether they are positive or negative, Ukrainians are honest with their emotions, so don't be confused when you see it happening.

  • People in the streets don't typically smile too much, however you will soon realize that an ability to form warm informal relationships is the soul of the Ukrainian national character.

Ukraine Customs. Ukrainian national costume.

Let me introduce some Ukraine customs and traditions to you from a standpoint of someone who belongs to the Ukrainian culture by birth and has had these life experiences firsthand. I hope it will help you to recognize some real gems in the culture, which at first glance looks drastically different than the culture of your native country.

Traditions are like the heart of a nation's culture. They determine the way people live; the languages they speak, the religions they follow, the values they hold, the relationships they keep, the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, the building they have made and much much more.

Because it would require a book to describe any countries national culture we are only going to provide you with a simple list here to help you become familiar with some of the differences you can expect when visiting Ukraine.

Language.

From time to time the status of Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine becomes a subject of pretty dirty political games, this debate is like a vital fuel for those trying to promote their own interests. Because of its history Ukraine cannot afford to allow these people to divide the country with these games and instead needs to focus on creating a stable and successful political and economic future.

I will present to you some facts and statistics and allow you to make your own conclusion about the languages spoken in Ukraine. You can then decide whether the problem of "Russification" or "Ukrainization" really bothers "people on the street".

  • Ukrainian is the only official language in Ukraine.
  • The majority of the population in Ukraine is bilingual.
  • Both Russian and Ukrainian languages are equally popular in Ukraine. Very often you can see this picture; two people in the street are having a conversation. One of them speaks Ukrainian, while the other speaks in Russian. While engaged in their conversation they don't even realize they are speaking different languages and yet still understand each other perfectly and get along well.
  • According to the official 2001 census data. : "The part of those whose mother tongue is Ukrainian totals 67.5% of the population of Ukraine". The Ukrainian census did not ask people what language they speak most of the time, but what their "native language" is. Many ethnic Ukrainians who regularly speak Russian in everyday life nonetheless consider Ukrainian their native language due to their nationality.
  • On the other hand, when the question "What language do you use in everyday life?" was posed in the sociological survey, the Kievans' answers were distributed as follows: "mostly Russian": 52%, "both Russian and Ukrainian in equal measure": 32%, "mostly Ukrainian": 14%, "exclusively Ukrainian": 4.3%.

Now you can make your own conclusion about what kind of language problem, if any, exists in Ukraine.

Life Values in Ukraine Culture.

If traditions are a heart of the national culture, the life values are its foundation. What are the ideas, beliefs and aspirations which have formed the foundation of Ukraine customs and traditions?

Ukrainians are traditionally family oriented people. It is common for parents (or grandparents) to live together with their children and help them to raise their kids. This tradition was a necessity just a couple generations ago when the majority of Ukrainians lived in the villages.

Because of the tradition with the living situations, it is also a Ukraine custom that grandparentsplay a great role in raising children. They have a popular saying for this, "Children are our future." Sometimes the parents and grandparents can sound over protective, but without a doubt they try and do their best to bring the children up as decent people.

Ukrainians are well known for their hospitality. They love to invite people to their homes or to visit at the homes of their friends and relatives. Traditional Ukraine customs are to put the best food on the table and to feed the guest once he has entered their home. But Ukrainian parties are not just about food, it is a long process with plenty of eating, drinking and conversation.

In Ukraine you will never see such a thing as militant feminism. A lady-policeman twisting the arms of some criminal would seem an absurdity to Ukrainians. The typical custom for the older generation is for the wife to do the cleaning and cooking, while the husband manages the "technical jobs". However this is changing with the younger generations, as they more commonly work around the home together, sharing their responsibilities.

Ukraine customs and traditions have also determined the style of public behavior. Ukrainians are brought up to avoid attracting attention to themselves. They usually speak quietly in public and to sit or lay on the floor is considered inappropriate in public places. Read more about Ukraine traditions and public etiquette.

Ukrainian Food.

Traditional Ukrainian cuisine is rich with natural ingredients. You will always remember the taste of tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, lettuce, onions, apples, grapes and peaches grown in the famous fertile Ukrainian soil.

The Ukraine customs and traditions in cooking are based on a combination of fresh or pickled fruits and vegetables, meat, mushrooms and herbs. Recipes often include a great number of ingredients and their unusual combinations to give them very unique tastes.

Visit the Ukraine Cuisine page where a few popular Ukrainian recipes have been listed. It's a great starting point for your own culinary experimentations in the Ukrainian style.

In Ukraine people tend to eat fatty foods such as whole milk, sour cream, butter, etc. Sometimes people even go to villages just to get whole milk because it is considered to be beneficial for children and worth the extra effort. Ukrainian people like to cook and their appetite for freshly made food means that they practically don't eat any junk food.

The description of Ukrainian cuisine would be incomplete without salo (pork fat). Ukrainians regularly joke, "Salo is our national pride". Placing a thin sliced salo on black bread with garlic and salt is a quick and simple way to a delicious snack.

A curious fact about salo, it is practically the only product which doesn't cause food troubles at high altitudes. This makes it very popular amongst alpinists who can often not even look at food without causing negative emotions while at high altitudes in the mountains.

It is hard to name a nation that would respect bread as much as Ukrainians do. For many centuries Ukrainians were strongly attached to their land and its fruits. Bread was regarded as one of the holiest foods and the cult of bread is well observed in Ukraine customs and rituals.

At gatherings hosts often give their guests a loaf of bread with salt on top. The ritual of offering bread and salt to guests is a ceremony of welcoming which dates back many centuries. As such, "The Bread and Salt" tradition is very symbolic in Slavic culture and can symbolize many things. During wedding ceremonies in Ukraine it is customary to serve traditional bread called Korovai instead of a wedding cake. It symbolizes a new-family birth and its future prosperity.

Ukraine Customs and Drinking.

Drinking in Ukraine is a cultural phenomenon. It doesn't mean that everybody can be considered as being an alcoholic, but drinking in company is encouraged. Drinking a bottle of vodka for three is not considered as excessive. Nevertheless, after this "normal portion" people have to "cure" themselves by drinking a small amount of alcohol the next morning, they call it "opokhmelitsya".

The Ukraine custom treats a person who is able to drink a lot without falling down drunk as a respectful person. It's called "he can drink".

Heavy drinking is customary in business settings in Ukraine. Many business deals are closed while drinking together. Though this feature of Ukrainian business often causes some difficulties for foreigners, particularly if they are non-drinkers.

Here is a typical joke about it.

"Yesterday I was drinking with my Ukrainian business partners. I thought I was going to die ... Today they came to visit me and said we should "opokhmelitsya". I wish I would've died yesterday..."

Some useful tips about drinking in Ukraine you can here find at the Welcome to Ukraine site.

Ukraine Customs and Superstitions.

There are many superstitions which are well-known; black cats, lucky horseshoes, broken mirrors, scattered salt, Friday the 13th, etc. etc. Sounds familiar, right?

Superstitions are some of the oldest and most well known beliefs in the world. They are rooted in the culture and touch every aspect of daily life; luck-fate, happy-sad, life-death, sanity-madness, good-bad and male-female.

Everyone knows them and jokes abound about them, however many who say that they don't believe in these superstitions still avoid breaking them because they don't want to tempt fate, just in case.

As for Ukraine customs, rituals and superstitions we have to remember that for hundreds of years the Orthodox Church in Ukraine coexisted beautifully with the ancient Pagan traditions. Superstitions are part of our cultural heritage, that's why elements of mysticism and irrationality are a noticeable part of Ukrainian mentality.

Some examples.

  • Never shake hands, give keys or anything else in a doorway. It may bring misfortune to your guest.
  • Never leave an empty bottle on the table, also if a bottle is opened, drink up.
  • Try to sit between two people with the same name, it will bring you luck.
  • Don't be alarmed when somebody spits three times over his left shoulder or sits on his luggage before going on a trip.
  • Most of those people love God, but don't want to make the devil angry either. Just in case.

    You can read more about superstitions existing in Ukraine at Superstitions in Ukraine culture page.

    • Don't be alarmed when somebody spits three times over his left shoulder or sits on his luggage before going on a trip.

    Most of those people love God, but try not to make the devil angry either. Just in case.

    You can read more about superstitions existing in Ukraine at Superstitions in Ukraine culture page.

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