Your Best Travel Guide to Ukraine 05:35 | 15.04.2024 Choose your language УкраїнськаEnglishРусскийPolskaDeutschItalianoFrançaiseEspañol
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Ukraine Travel Center
Kyivo-Pechers'ka Lavra at night
Kyivo-Pechers'ka Lavra at night

The culture of Ukraine is unique and diverse, but over the years it has been influenced by its eastern and western neighbours, which is reflected in its architecture, music and art. Folk culture is fundamental and basic for the Ukrainian national culture. Ukrainian professional science, literature and art has been formed on it gradually. The originality of Ukrainian culture has been defined by the influence of geographical conditions, peculiarities of the historical process, as well as interaction with other ethnic cultures. An important historical stage of Ukrainian culture was the adoption of Christianity in the 10th century.

Ukrainian customs are heavily influenced by Christianity, which is the dominant religion in the country (Orthodox Christianity). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the largest in the country. Eastern Catholicism is the second most widely practiced religion in Ukraine. Protestantism and Judaism are also well represented in the country.

Gender roles tend to be more traditional in Ukraine than in the West. Grandparents play a great role in raising children.

Ukrainian humor often deals with Ukrainian everyday life, Russians (often referred to as "Moskali,") other ethnic minorities and Ukrainians themselves. A majority of jokes make fun of stereotypical ethnic features.

Culture in Ukraine during the Communist Era

Mosaics at Kyiv metro - Shulyavs'ka station
Mosaics at Kyiv metro - Shulyavs'ka station

The Communist era had quite a strong effect on the Ukrainian culture. In conjunction with the Socialist Classical style of architecture, Socialist realism was the officially approved type of art in the Soviet Union for nearly sixty years. Communist doctrine decreed that all material goods and means of production belonged to the community as a whole. This included means of producing art, which were also seen as powerful propaganda tools. Socialist realism became state policy in 1932 when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin promulgated the decree "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations". All existing literary and artistic groups and organizations had to be disbanded and replaced with unified associations of creative professions. This greatly stifled creativity and hindered the freedom of Soviet artists. Socialist Realism demanded that all art must depict some aspect of man's struggle toward socialist progress for a better life. It stressed the need for the creative artist to serve the proletariat by being realistic, optimistic and heroic. The doctrine considered all forms of experimentalism as degenerate and pessimistic. Many artists and authors found their works censored, ignored, or rejected.

Only after the death of Stalin in 1953, and Nikita Khrushchev's Thaw, artists began to feel free to experiment in their work, with considerably less fear of repercussions than during the Stalinist period. By the 1980s, Gorbachev's policies of Perestroika and Glasnost made it virtually impossible for the authorities to place restrictions on artists or their freedom of expression. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, artists no longer had to be employed by the state, and could create work according to their own tastes, as well as the tastes of their private patrons.

Ukrainian Food

Food is an important part of Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian cuisine has developed over many centuries. Ukrainian cuisine was mainly based on the products obtained from farming. Ukrainians have been growing rye, wheat, barley, buckwheat and oats. Oats and barley were dominant in Carpathian villages. In southern areas, Podnistrovyi and in the eastern Carpathians corn was widespread.

Best-known Ukrainian dishes:

  • Salo (salted pork fat with, or without garlic and pepper)
  • Borshch (cabbage and beets based soup, usually with pork or beef meat, served with sour-cream)
  • Pampushky (small baked breads, often buttered and topped with garlic and dill)
  • Holubtsi (cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and minced meat)
  • Varenyky (large stuffed dumplings, can be stuffed with potatoes, cottage cheese, curds, meat, berries, etc.)
  • Nalysnyky (very thin pancakes)
  • Syrnyky (fried cheese pancakes, usually served with sour cream, honey, or jam)
  • Kisto, tisto or rizanka (home-made spaghetti)
  • Holodets' or studen' (meat (beef, or pork) aspic, prepared with garlic, onion, bay leaf and black pepper)

Vegetables play an important role in the Ukrainian sustenance, such as potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions, garlic, cucumbers, legumes (beans, peas, and in the Carpathian villages - beans).

Easter Cake Paska and Pysanky
Easter Cake Paska and Pysanky

An average Ukrainian diet consists of potatoes, pasta, different types of kasha (porridge), fish, cheeses and a variety of sausages. Hard cheese (syr) is quite popular in Ukraine as well as kovbasa (sausage). Typically bread is a core part of every meal, and must be included for the meal to be "complete", even if it's pasta or varenyky. A respectful attitude to bread has been passed down through generations. It has occupied a huge part in many Ukrainian customs and rituals, symbolizing prosperity, hospitality and kindness. Ukrainians have been meeting dear relatives and guests with bread and salt. Bread has been brought to the house with the newborn. Young couples have been coming into a marriage with bread and salt.

In general, food in Ukraine is divided into two groups: casual and festive.
Special dishes are cooked during holidays. These dishes were including ritual meals, which carried out a kind of religious-magical function. Any ceremony could not take place without them. Ritual meals are of a particular interest because their nutrition function as to satisfy hunger plays a secondary role, giving the place to a symbolic and magical content.

Such festive meals are: holodets or studen' (general), korovai, kalach - a special wheat bread decorated with different figures made of lean dough: doves, flowers, etc. (for wedding or other). Kolyvo - wheat or barley porridge, topped with honey (for funeral). Kutia - a mixture of cooked wheat groats, poppy seeds, and honey, and special sweet breads (at Christmas time). Krashanka - decorated (dyed) hard boiled egg (at Easter time). Note: Pysanka is often taken to mean any type of the decorated egg, but it specifically refers to an egg created by the written-wax batik method and utilizing traditional folk motifs and designs.

Ukrainian Weddings

Ukrainian wedding
Ukrainian wedding

Traditional Ukrainian weddings take place in churches (in Ukrainian - Vinchannya). The bride is in white and the groom is in black. In the Ukrainian villages wedding celebrations are known to continue for days or even during the whole week. Wedding parties are accompanied by lively music and dancing, playing games, lots of drinking and eating. Some particular Ukrainian wedding customs include:

  • Before the wedding, the groom goes with his friends (Svaty) to the bride's house and bargains with "money' to get a bride from her family. In Ukrainian it's called "Svatannya".

  • In the bride's house Svatý should not sit down, drink or eat (if they sit down - children of the couple will start walking late, if they drink - children will be alcoholics, if they eat - children will suffer from gluttony).

  • When leaving the church, the bride and relatives carry baskets of candies, sweets and coins to throw to children and guests.

  • The groom carries the bride down any stairs.

  • During the wedding party the bride throws her wedding bouquet (she has to be with her back to the girls lined up to catch it) and the girl who catches it first will likely be the next one to marry.

  • You can not have your wedding on Wednesdays, or Fridays, as these are fasting days, nor in May, because you'll not be happy all your life!

  • Rushnyk (embroidered towel) at the wedding is a symbol of unity and happiness of inseparable marriage. The bride had to embroider this towel during long lonely evenings before her marriage.

  • By tradition, parents of newlywed meet them with a loaf of bread (called korovai) on rushnyk (a towel). The bride and the groom must bite off a piece of this bread without touching it with hands. It is believed that the one who's bitten off the bigger piece, will be the head of the family.

  • During the wedding parties guests shout "Hirko!" (bitter). That means the couple should kiss each other. This custom has a long history. Previously the bride had to come to each guest with the tray and the guest had to put money on it, then had to take a glass, drink out of it and say: "Bitter!", confirming that the drink was vodka, not water. Then he kissed the bride. Those who just drank, saying "bitter" but not giving the money, didn't have the right to kiss and have been just watching others' kissing. Gradually, this custom has changed, so the guests are shouting "hirko" - "bitter" asking the newlyweds to kiss.

If you are invited to the wedding in Ukraine, you should know that:

  • You can not bring red roses.
  • You can not give forks, spoons, or knives as a present.
  • You can not give underclothes as a present.
  • You can not wear black clothes.
  • You can not cross the road in front of the bride and the groom when they go to the registry office, or church.
  • You can not wash the dishes during, or after, the wedding party.

Ukrainian music

Many of its ethnic groups living within Ukraine have their own unique musical traditions. The most striking general characteristic of authentic ethnic Ukrainian folk music is the wide use of minor modes. Ritual songs of Ukraine are frequently in recitative style, essentially monodic. For example, Shchedrivka "Shchedryk" known in the West as "Carol of the Bells". The bulk of Ukrainian folk songs melodies are based on scales identical to mеdieval modes, but differ in melodic structure.

Ukrainian vocal music exhibits a wide variety of forms – monodic, heterophonic, homophonic, harmonic and polyphonic. Ukrainian folk song singing style can be divided into a number of broad aesthetic categories:

  • Solo singing - primarily ritual songs including holosinnya (sung at wakes).
  • Solo singing with instrumental accompaniment of the bandura, kobza, or lira by professional singers known as kobzari, or lirnyky. The highest form of development of this style of singing can be seen in the lyric historical folk epics known as dumy.
  • Archaic type of modal "a cappella" vocal style in which a phrase sung by a soloist is answered by a choral phrase in two, or three, voice harmony.

Traditional Ukrainian instruments are:

kobza (lute), bandura, violin, basolya (3-string cello), lira (hurdy-gurdy), tsymbaly, sopilka (duct flute), trembita (alpenhorn), fife, volynka (bagpipes), buben (frame drum), tulumbas (kettledrum), resheto (tambourine) and drymba / varhan (Jaw harp).

Troyisti muzyky are traditional instrumental ensembles of Ukraine. Literally it means "three musicians" who typically make up the ensemble, for example, violin, sopilka and buben.

Traditional Ukrainian dances
Traditional Ukrainian dances

Traditional dances of Ukraine are:

Kozak, Kozachok, Hopak, Hrechanyky, Tropak, Kolomyjka and Hutsulka, Shumka, Arkan, Metelytsia, Kateryna (Kadryl) and Chabarashka.
There are also dances originating outside Ukraine, but which are quite popular: Polka, Krakowiak, Mazurka, Barynya, Csárdás, Waltz and Kamarynska.
Ukrainian instrumental and dance music has also influenced Jewish and Gypsy music.

The first professional music academy was set up in Hlukhiv, Ukraine in 1738 where students were taught to sing, play violin and bandura from manuscripts. As a result, many of the earliest composers and performers within the Russian empire were ethnically Ukrainian, having been born, or educated, in Hlukhiv, or had been closely associated with this music school. Ukrainian national school of classical music was spearheaded by Mykola Lysenko. This school includes such composers as Mykola Leontovych, Kyrylo Stetsenko and Levko Revutsky. Most of their music contains Ukrainian folk figures and are composed to Ukrainian texts.

There are also many famous composers and performers of non-Ukrainian ethnicity who were born, or at some time were citizens, or were active in Ukraine. Among them are: Franz Xavier Mozart, Rheinhold Gliere, Isaak Dunayevsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Yuliy Meitus. Among famous performers are Volodymyr Horovyts, Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh and Isaac Stern. The music of these composers rarely contains Ukrainian folk motives and are more often written to the texts of Russian, or Polish poets.

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