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Ukraine History, Language and Culture

History of Ukraine

Ukraine has long been associated with its much larger and more powerful neighbour Russia and first came under Russian control in the 1650s when the only real alternative was invasion by the Poles.

By the 19th century, although the western part of Ukraine was under Austro-Hungarian control, most of the country became part of the Russian Empire. After various attempts at independence around the period of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ukraine became a republic within the USSR and its territory enlarged slightly around the time of World War II. Crimea became part of Ukraine in 1954 and, due to its predominantly Russian population and strategic position on the Black Sea, is still the subject of on-going dispute between Ukraine and Russia especially since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

In 1986, in the final years of the Soviet era and during the Perestroika period of President Gorbachev, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine brought worldwide attention and was arguably a significant factor in accelerating the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Full independence came with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, but Ukraine’s foreign relations are still dominated by the Russian Federation, a fact which displeases many of the country’s ethnic Ukrainian population, particularly those in the west of the country.

Rigged presidential elections in 2004 that declared Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the victor sparked bitter public outcry and resulted in the so-called Orange Revolution and the subsequent 2005 election of pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko as President, with Yulia Tymoshenko as his Prime Minister. However, Yanukovych soon returned to power as Prime Minister in 2006 and in 2010 was elected President once more. Ousted by Parliament in 2014, he fled the country and according to some reports was granted Russian citizenship in a ‘secret decree’ by Vladimir Putin. In January 2015 he was placed on Interpol’s wanted list.

The current President Petro Poroshenki was elected by an outright majority in 2014 and in 2016 took Ukraine into the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU in an attempt to modernise and develop its economy, political structure and rule of law by gradually increasing its connection to the EU’s internal market.

Did you know?

• The National Police Force of Ukraine was formed on 3 July 2015 to replace the discredited and unpopular Militsiya.

• The University of Lviv, founded in 1661, is the oldest in Ukraine.

• Traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs, known as pysanky, are thought to be at least 1,000 years old and pre-date the Christian era.

Ukraine Culture

Religion in Ukraine

About 16% of Ukraine’s population claim to be either not religious or do not identify with a particular church. Around 55% are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church while 6.5%, mostly in western Ukraine, adhere to the Uniate (Eastern-rite) or Ukrainian Greek Catholic tradition. Other minorities include the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant groups. There is also a Muslim minority (mainly consisting of Tatars in Crimea), which makes up 1.1% of the population.

Social Conventions in Ukraine

Ukrainian people are generally warm and friendly to visitors. It is not at all uncommon for Ukrainians to invite strangers into their own homes. Shoes should be removed on entering a home. Formal attire is rarely required, though people dress smartly for the theatre. Visitors should avoid ostentatious displays of wealth in public places. Men should not shake a woman’s hand unless it is offered to them. Women should cover their heads when entering a church or mosque.

Language in Ukraine

Ukrainian is the sole official state language. It is still widely spoken in western and central Ukraine, although Russian is spoken by virtually everyone. Russian is the main language spoken in Kiev, eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

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