Today, Ukraine is famous for its social and economic problems (unfortunately but still true). The Ukrainians have suffered greatly during the existence of the Soviet Union (perhaps more than any other nation).
Ukraine has had a turbulent and interesting history. From the medieval country of Kievan Rus’ up to the modern-day Ukraine, a lot of things have happened.
Parts of the country were under Polish rule (mostly parts of Western Ukraine) while other parts have been subjugated under different empires, kingdoms and duchies (all of them mostly connected with Russians).
Ukraine is the second-largest Slavic nation (after Russia) and the 8 most populous state in Europe. The capital of Kiev is the biggest and most populous city in Ukraine. Ukraine is the biggest exporter of grain in Europe.
Things To Know About Ukrainians
1. Wladimir Wladimirowitsch Klitschko
Let’s start this list with a bang by talking about the most famous man from Ukraine (I know this isn’t a “thing”, but still).
This Ukrainian national and a former boxing champion was born in 1976.
Klitschko has held the world title multiple times and is considered as one of the best boxers of all time. Wladimir started his professional career in 1997, at the age of twenty.
Before becoming a pro, he represented Ukraine in the 1996 Olympics. He managed to get himself a gold medal and become the most famous Ukrainian in the world.
Together with his brother Vitali (also a champion), Wladimir has dominated the world of boxing for more than a decade.
He retired in 2017, with a record of 64 wins in 69 fights (53 of which were won by knockout).
Klitschko was in a relationship with a famous Hollywood actress, Hayden Panettiere .
The 2011 documentary about the Klitschko brothers is a must-watch for anyone interested in learning more about these two amazing Ukrainians .
2. Vitali Klitschko
I know both of them are not “things about Ukraine and its people”, but they could easily be considered as forces of nature. That is why the first two places on this list are held by the most famous duo from Ukraine.
Born in 1971, Vitali is a former boxing champion and a current politician. He and his brother became a part of the Guinness book of records in 2011 (the most world heavyweight title fights).
He retired in 2013, at the age of 42 while still holding a championship title.
In 2010 he founded a political party called Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (or UDAR).
In 2014 he became the mayor of Kiev (or Kyiv), which is a position he still holds .
3. Kievan Rus’
Kievan Rus’ was a federation of Eastern Slavic tribes (and other ethnic groups). The federation lasted from the 9th to the 13th century. The federation was built around (mostly, but not exclusively) the city of Kyiv (Kiev), hence the name.
The state was ruled over by the Rurik dynasty .
Russkaya Pravda (or Rus’ Justice) was the first legal document of this state. It was written in the early 12th century and is considered to be the best historical record from medieval times.
The ruler Vladimir the Great was the one who introduced Christianity to the territory of this Slavic nation. He did that in 988 when the official religious center became the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Yaroslav (also called Yaroslav the Wise), son of Vladimir the Great was responsible for the start of the “Golden age”. How did he do that? Well, mostly by improving trade and by forming alliances. And how did he do that?
He married his granddaughter to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry the IV.
Then he also married his sisters and his daughters to the kings of Poland, France, Norway and Hungary (essentially “making friends” with all of the most important and powerful nations from Western Europe and gaining their support).
Kievan Rus’ had a lot of years of prosperity (or better yet centuries) but would eventually succumb to the Mongols (during the Mongol invasion of 1240) .
4. Member Of The Soviet Union
Ukraine and its people were probably the ones who suffered most grievously during the Soviet Union era.
Ukraine was a member of the USSR since 1922, (shortly after the end of World War I). Ukraine remained in the USSR until 1991 when it proclaimed its independence.
Holodomor or more widely known as The Great Famine (the thing I was talking about when I said that Ukrainians suffered a lot) was an event that happened between the years 1932-33 where millions of people lost their lives.
Since 2006 this event has been considered (by the government of Ukraine) a genocide, purposefully committed on the Ukrainian population by the USSR.
The estimates of the number of people who’ve lost their lives range from 5 to 12 million (technically it was the worst genocide in the 20th century, and yes I believe the Holocaust has happened).
As the hunger became unbearable (there was literally no food) reports about cannibalism started pouring in from all over the territory of Ukraine. More than 2500 people were convicted for cannibalism and were sentenced to death.
The cause of this famine has been a topic of debate (for a lot of years) among scholars. Some of them directly blame Stalin and claim that he enacted policies that were harmful to the Ukrainians.
Others, blame it on the Soviet industrialization, and the economic and social problems that stemmed from it. Whatever the exact cause of the Great Famine was, it doesn’t undermine the fact that millions of Ukrainian peasants died as a result.
The Ukrainians opened the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide in 2008, on the 75th anniversary of this horrible event.
5. Population Of Ukraine
As of 2019, the population of Ukraine is around 44 million people. Before the Second World War the largest minorities were Russians, Jews and Poles. Around that time more than 1.5 million Jews lived on the territory of Ukraine.
Since then, that number has dwindled to less than 100 000. Now, the largest minority group are Russians (with around 7 million people), followed by Belarusians and Moldovans (both groups are around 250 thousand people).
According to the 2001 census, around 30 percent of the population speaks Russian.
6. Ukrainian Cuisine
You can’t start talking about the Ukrainians and their cuisine if you don’t first mention the most famous national dish- borsch.
Borsch (or Borscht) is a sour soup of Ukrainian origin. It’s made with beetroots which is responsible for giving this dish its famous red color. The beetroots and other vegetables are sauteed and combined with meat or bone stock to create this amazing soup.
This Ukrainian dish has spread to other Eastern European countries (like Russia) and it also managed to find its way to the United States (there it is most commonly associated with Jewish cuisine).
Varenyky or Pyrohy (called in some regions of Western Ukraine) is another famous Ukrainian national dish. It’s usually served as a part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner (or as it’s known in Ukraine, Holy Supper).
Ukrainians make these dumplings with dough to which they add fermented milk products (or eggs).
The dumplings are then filled with a variety of different vegetables or meats (like potatoes, beans, peas and such). This dish is usually served with sour cream and butter, and/or fried onions and pieces of fried bacon.
If you want to learn more about Ukrainian foods, make sure to check out this article about the best Ukrainian dishes.
7. Ukrainian Anthem
Glory and Freedom of Ukraine Has not yet Perished (or The State Anthem of Ukraine) is the Ukrainian national anthem.
The lyrics are a modified version of the poem from 1862 (written by Pavlo Chubynsky) . A year later, in 1863, a Ukrainian composer by the name of Mykhailo Verbytsky, created the music that would accompany the before mentioned poem.
The music for the anthem was officially adopted in 1992. The lyrics were changed (just a little) and officially recognized by the Ukrainian parliament in 2003.
During the Orange Revolution (2004) and the Euromaidan (2013) the popularity of this anthem has dramatically risen among the Ukrainians .
8. Chernobyl Power Plant
Even though this horrible event is most often associated with the USSR (as it should) it mostly affected the people of Ukraine, mostly because of the fact that it happened on their territory.
In 1986 this power plant exploded. This event is considered the worst nuclear disaster of the 20th century. It completely affected the region (making it uninhabitable) and caused the deaths of many.
Better than reading about what happened I suggest you watch a mini-series about the whole event (if you already haven’t seen it). The show was released in 2019 and is simply named Chernobyl .
9. The Annexation Of Crimea By The Russian Government
The Crimean peninsula, located in the northern part of the Black Sea, was annexed by Russia, in 2014.
Although the territory of the Crimean peninsula was a part of Ukraine for years, most of the population considered itself as ethnic Russians.
The whole thing is still a part of the international debate and a cause of many conflicts throughout the region.
10. The Father Of Ukrainian Literature
Ivan Kotliarevsky was born in Poltava (then a part of the Russian Empire, now Ukraine) in the year of 1769. He was a writer, poet, social activist and playwright (Yeah, and he was also a war-veteran).
Why is he considered as the father of Ukrainian literature? Well, because he wrote and published the first poem written in the Ukrainian language.
During those times (18th, 19th century) the Ukrainian language was spoken by millions of people. But because they were a part of Russia, Ukrainian writers were discouraged from writing in their own language.
That’s when Ivan stepped up and earned his place in history. In 1798 he wrote the poem called Eneyida – the first literary work published in the modern Ukrainian language .
He is also a writer of the famous play Natalka Poltavka (or Natalka from Poltava). The play was later turned into an opera. He still holds a large influence on literature today (mostly among the Ukrainian writers).
11. Invention of Helicopter
What’s that thing flying over our heads and making a lot of noise? You know that thing, that makes life easier for millionaires and billionaires? Because of it they don’t have to interact with the common people?
Helicopters were invented by Igor Sikorsky. Igor was born in Kiev, from where he emigrated to the United States. In 1931 he patented the design for helicopters.
The Bottom Line
We’ve talked about Ukraine, Ukrainians and the things they are most famous for.
Despite the political and economic troubles that have plagued Ukraine for many centuries, the Ukrainian population has remained welcoming and cheerful.
The food from Ukraine is simply amazing. Even though they’ve spent a number of years in subjugation under the Russians, the Ukrainians have developed their own and unique culture.
These past few years have been promising and will continue to usher the new era for Ukraine and its population.