Welcome to Ukraine!
Big & Diverse
Ukraine is big. In fact it's Europe’s biggest country (not counting Russia, which isn’t entirely in Europe) and packs a lot of diversity into its borders. You can be clambering around the Carpathians in search of Hutsul festivities, sipping Eastern Europe’s best coffee in sophisticated Lviv and partying on the beach in Odesa all in a few days. Ukrainians are also a diverse crowd: from the wired sophisticates of Kyiv’s business quarters to the Gogolesque farmers in Poltava, the Hungarian-speaking bus drivers of Uzhhorod to the Crimean Tatar cafe owners just about everywhere, few countries boast such a mixed population.
Despite their often glum reticence and initial distrust of strangers, travellers to the country quickly find out that Ukrainians are, when given the chance, one of Europe’s most open and hospitable people. Break down that reserve and you’ll soon be slurping borshch in someone’s Soviet-era kitchen, listening to a fellow train passenger’s life story or being taken on an impromptu tour of a town’s sights by the guy you asked for directions. Much social interaction takes place around Ukraine’s hearty food, always brought out in belt-stretching quantities. Learn a bit of Ukrainian and you double the effect.
A diverse landscape obviously throws up a whole bunch of outdoorsy activities – from mountain biking and hill walking in the Carpathians to bird spotting in the Danube Delta, from cycling along the Dnipro in Kyiv to water sports in the Black Sea. But if the idea of burning calories on hill and wave has you fleeing for the sofa, rest assured that most Ukrainians have never tried any of the above, but love nothing more than wandering their country’s vast forests, foraging for berries and mushrooms or picnicking by a meandering river.
As we have now all sadly realised, history didn't end around 1989, and that's doubly true in Ukraine. Having only appeared on the map in 1991, the country has managed two revolutions and a Russian invasion already, and fighting in the Donbas is ongoing. History ancient and recent is all around you in this vast land, whether it be among the Gothic churches of Lviv, the Stalinist facades of Kyiv, the remnants of the once-animated Jewish culture of west Ukraine or the ubiquitous Soviet high-rises.