Situated at the eastern end of Europe, Ukraine is the continent’s largest country. Despite this, the country still remains relatively unknown to many European’s. We have put together a list of facts that you may not know about this enigmatic country.
1. Ukraine is BIG.
Measuring nearly 610 000 sq.km, Ukraine has borders with Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. It also borders the Black Sea. France is the second largest country in Europe.
2. World Heritage Hot Spot.
A big country like this is bound to have a lot of interesting historical monuments and Ukraine certainly doesn’t disappoint. There are no less than seven UNESCO world heritage sites including the wonderful 11th century Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv and ancient beech and oak forests in the Carpathian Mountains.
In addition to the Unesco sites, Ukraine has a wealth of historical sites that are well worth visiting. The country’s gold topped Orthodox churches and majestic houses in many of the large cities are a wonder to behold.
Ukrainian’s are famous for liking their drink and are only beaten in their love of the sweet nectar by Moldova, Belarus and Russia. One of the most popular nationals drinks is Horilka, which is distilled from either wheat or rye grains.
Often referred to as vodka, Horilka is a term sometimes used to cover all manner of strong spirits in Ukraine. It literally translates to ‘burning water’ to give you an idea of how strong this rink is. Real horilka is particularly potent and one of the most popular variants it the Ukrainian chili pepper version.
4. Don’t call it The Ukraine.
Since its independence in 1991 Ukraine is officially referred to as “Ukraine”. Despite this, it is still occasionally called the Ukraine by English speakers, which some Ukrainians do find insulting.
A similar controversy hangs over the spelling of the capital city. Often spelled as Kiev in Western publications, which is derived from the Russia spelling, most Ukrainians would consider Kyiv to be its proper and true spelling.
5. Kyiv’s Metro
Kyiv has a long established metro system and also the deepest. The Sviatoshynsko-Brovarska line is the world’s deepest at nearly 106m below ground.
6. Above ground in Kyiv
It might have the deepest metro station in the world, but Kyiv can also claim the crown for the shortest main street. Kreshchatyk Street is just 1.2kms in length and is the shortest main street of a capital city in the world. But what it lacks in length it does make up for in width as it is also one of the widest.
7. Chicken Kiev
Hopefully we can put an end to the worldwide debate concerning chicken kiev! Unfortunately no, the capital cannot lay claim to this popular dish, the recipe for which was imported from France in the 19th century when the aristocracy were in love with French cuisine.
8. Breadbasket of Europe.
Ukraine has remarkably rich farmland. And not just rich but there is an abundance of it. Fields in Ukraine can stretch for miles uninterrupted and the rich, fertile black soil is a farmer’s paradise.
During the times of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the country became responsible for feeding the entire Soviet Union. Despite the incredible natural resources, poor management and Collectivism resulted in the Great Famine (Holodomor) in 1932 and 1933 that killed as many as 7 million Ukrainians.
The atrocity is considered as a genocidal act by 25 countries and one that many older citizens of the country have not forgotten.
Almost everyone has heard of Chernobyl, the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in recent history. Situated close to the northern border with Belarus, the nuclear site and nearby town of Pripyat are now ghost towns.
Although radiation levels are still at levels considered dangerously high, tours are available to see the abandoned towns and villages. It is a unique chance to see nature take over, completely unhindered by man, and for many is considered a must see site. At your own risk of course.
10. Café Culture.
The jewel in the west, Lviv, is bursting to the seams with historic buildings and culture. It also has the most cafés in the world per capita. Trip over in Lviv and you will likely fall into a café.
Primarily a university city, the city has a wonderfully relaxed and friendly atmosphere making a popular weekend break destination. The city is peppered with Baroque, Renaissance, Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau buildings making it a joy to walk around.
11. Inventors of the gas lamps.
Lviv’s second claim to fame is that it is the home of the gas lamp. Invented by a local Pharmacist for his store, At the Golden Star, there is, you guessed it, a café called Gasvova L’Ampa, now occupying the same building.
12. Home to Biggest Plane.
Big is better in Ukraine; not only are they the biggest country in Europe but they also have the world’s largest plane.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya has a wingspan of 88.4 meters and weighs an incredible 640,000kg. Built in the days of the Soviet Union, only one was ever made.
13. Ski Paradise
As well as having an atrractive coastline, the country is home to the Carpathian Mountains and five ski resorts. The most popular of these are Bukovel and Volosyanka (also known by the local town name of Slavsk).
Volosyanka is easily accessible from Lviv city (120kms) and if you’re not a skier then the Carpathians are equally wonderful in summertime.
14. Easter Eggs.
Easter is a major public holiday in Ukraine and unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, the focus is not on low quality chocolate eggs. Ukrainians will spend many hours decorating eggs and styles of decoration will vary depending onw hat part of the country you are in. The practice is still continued by Americans of Ukrainian descent.
15. Calm waters
Ukraine’s coastline is along the Black Sea. A famous inland body of water, the name, Black Sea, is a misnomer and many historians argue over the origins of the name.
Oxygen levels towards the bottom of the sea are almost non-existent mean sunken ships are almost perfectly preserved despite having over a century or more ago.
There are no tides meaning the Black Sea is almost constantly calm and ideal for boating and swimming. Many cruises depart from Odessa, visiting the 6 countries that border the Black Sea.