Ukraine: A brief guide
- Population, language, religion
- Mentality and etiquette
- Politics and society
Population, language, religion: Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. The official statistics defines its population as 45.5 million people (2012). The dominant nationality is ethnic Ukrainians (78%). Russians occupy the second position with 17%, with Belarusians and Romanians following.
The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has heavily influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music. Nevertheless the Western Ukraine has historically practised Catholicism (and its local branch – the Greek-Catholicism) that bore the wonderful masterpieces of sacral architecture, lots of which are recognized by UNESCO.
Climate: The climate in Ukraine varies by regions, but still temperate all around the country. It is rather rigorous in the Carpathian Mountains in opposite to the mild Mediterranean on the south coast. There has been a trend to the weather has got puzzling last 4-5 years – it can be +40 degres C in summer and then -25 degrees C in winter. Expats from temperate climates will marvel at the first snowfall around November – but become worried when it is still falling 5 days later. Despite all that the roads are still manageable – the pavements less so.
Ukrainian mentality and etiquette: Nowadays Ukraine is an unmistakably “European country”, with a few idiosyncrasies of its own. The ex-Soviet generation of people and those up to 40 differ by their world attitude considerably. A big number of youth and middle-age big cities inhabitants are western-oriented and can help if you speak English. Nevertheless the vast majority of people, especially outside the megapolises, know just Ukrainian and Russian. Though don’t be shy to ask for help - they will try to do their best anyway.
Ukrainians can often seem rude, especially with strangers – for example, in shops and banks – so don’t take it personally if you don’t receive a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. However, with friends they are some of the most hospitable people in Europe, and make up for their external brusqueness by being extremely polite in other ways: Ukrainians are very respectful of the elderly, never failing to help them when needed, and generally always give up their seats on public transport. There aren’t many customs in Ukraine that visitors can unintentionally break. But speaking loudly in public (or acting in an undignified way) is frowned upon, so it is better not to draw attention to yourself.
Politics and society:The historical location on the crossing of the European civilization and Russian empire effected national mentality considerably and determined that unbalanced position, which the country has held for last 20 years.
Ukraine received independence in 1991. It was a period of great hopes and enthusiasm, which embodied in the peaceful “Orange revolution” in 2004. Viktor Yushchenko, an opposition leader of the new generation, came into power. The term of his controversial and confusing rule resulted in change of empowered political elites on the presidential elections in 2010. Viktor Yanukovych has occupied his post since that time and his political party had the majority voices in the Parlaiment (Verkhovna Rada) previous session until the Parliament elections in autumn 2012.
Despite more than 20-th independence experience, Ukraine still stuck between the East and the West. Though joining with the EU was declared as a strategic direction for the country, it still tightened with thorough dependence of Russian gas. Despite optimistic official statements, it is rather difficult to define the way Ukraine moves as development: the country has got the worse position by democracy, human rights and terms for doing business by the international watchers annually. Besides, it took the second worst rank for welfare of its citizens in Europe in 2012.
Total corruption seems to be the key reason for the such a diagnosis. Red-tape and nepotism are rife. As the Dutch say “Rotting starts at the head” so despite the correct noises being made by the ruling party, lip service is paid to the idea of a democratic society by politicians who are in the pockets of Oligarchs, who in turn own most of the major industries. Bureaucracy too is thriving and helps to stifle any form of entrepreneurial spirit – many of the Soviet rules and regulations still exist and, despite the fact that they are largely irrelevant, to satisfy them requires determination and application.
Communications: Almost all categories of communications – cell and satellite, Internet – are available here. The quality of service may vary from the big cities to the little towns and countryside. The situation with free Wi-Fi spread is similar: it is available in all status and well-managed restaurants, cafes, hotels, hostels. There have been attempts taken by officials to provide with free Wi-Fi some public locations, but that initiative is still occasional.
The speed of traffic is also questionable here, especially as regards mobile Internet.
Connections: There are several ways to get to Ukraine. Driving a car is a preferable option for the neighbours from the contiguous countries - Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Belarus and Russia. Guests from distant places get here by air. Just very few Ukrainian cities have the airports, available to handle large airplanes. Thus the most popular route to all destinations in the country starts from the main Ukrainian air gates - Boryspil Kyiv international airport. More details on travelling to and around Ukraine you may find in Getting here subcategory.
Safety:Pre-EURO 2012 there was a lot of negative press in Britain in particular about Ukraine focusing on racism and violence against “foreigners”. This is overhyped and sensationalism at its worst. Yes, there are idiots… all countries have them. Just be careful as you would in any major city and especially if you are a foreigner – of whatever race, creed or colour. Lately of course there is violence in South East Ukraine caused by Russia sending in provocateurs, mercenaries and, lets not beat about the bush - Russian soldiers with no badges and all the latest equiipment.
Sightseeing: Thanks to versatile history and placement on the cross of the civilizations, Ukraine is a treasury of places of interest for any taste. The most prominent to be recommended are the following:
sacral destinations: Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, catholic and Uniat churches in Lviv, Pochaevska Lavra in Ternopyl region, cave monasteries (of the different religions) and Orthodox cathedrals in Crimea, rural wooden churches in the Carpathian region;
civil architectural sites: castles in Lviv, Ternopil, Chernivtsi and Zakarpattya regions, original old town areas in Lviv, Odessa, Kiev (Andriivsky Uzviz and Podol/Podil downtown), Kamianetz-Podilsky, open-air Museum of ethnic architecture “Piroghovo” in Kiev, Opera houses in Lviv, Kiev and Odessa;
natural wonders: national parks in the Carpathians, Askania Nova national park in Kherson region.
sites, wonders and historical places: The catacombs in Odessa, the Carpathian skiing and ecotourism region, Chernobyl is also a tourism spot - in an area not far from Kiev.
Crimea. Until the invasion of Crimea by Russia this was also a popular tourist destination. Now it is only visited by Russians forced to take their vacation there by state bodies.
* National currency: UAH (hryvnya). USD and Euro are the most popular foreign currencies in the country. More details in Bank and Money subcategory.
* Local time: +2 hr GMT (local time is being altered twice a year).
* Electricity: 220V. Plugs and wall sockets are of the European two pin style, but may be of old soviet standard in buildings that haven’t been overhauled.
* Measurements: the temperature - by Celsius (C), weight - in grams (gr) / kilograms (kg), length - in centimeters (cm), meters (m) and kilometers (km), volume - in litres (l).
* Water: It’s not recommended to drink tap water in Ukraine.
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