Having officially entered Ukraine 5 times, I may have made a cultural observation or two ? . Here are the top 10 things I’ve noticed while visiting this beautiful Eastern European country:
1. Hospitality is a Big Deal
I’ve traveled all around the globe and I must say that Ukrainian hospitality is among the best. If you are fortunate enough to be a guest at someone’s home or to make friends with a Ukrainian, prepare yourself. You will be fed! Food is a huge part of the culture, and your host probably spent all day cooking and preparing for your arrival.
Providing you with slippers to walk around their home is a part of the hospitality. I’m more of a socks person and would often forget to wear the sandals around the house. Whenever I just walked around in socks, I always unintentionally got my friends in trouble, everyone would ask why I wasn’t wearing sandals?.
Hospitality will involve much story telling. Ukrainians enjoy listening to your stories, hearing your thoughts on their country and sharing jokes with you. They want you to feel like a part of their family ❤️.
To show appreciation for their hospitality, it’s expected that you bring a small gift. It can be anything from flowers, a bottle of wine or a souvenir from your home country.
2. The Food is Delicious
As mentioned earlier, food plays a huge role in Ukrainian culture. There are many tasty traditional homemade dishes. There will be a separate post dedicated to the food in Ukraine. Just for starters I can tell you that Borscht, potatoes, sour cream and salads are staples in the Ukrainian diet. Nalysnyky (crepes) and Vereniky (dumplings) are among my favorite Ukrainian dishes. They both can have either sweet or savory fillings.
3. Drivers are Crazy
It doesn’t matter if you are in a taxi or on a marshrutka (minibus), the gas pedal is held down hard until there’s a very sharp and blunt brake. Other than the wild rides, it’s nice that there is usually public transportation that can take you almost anywhere in the city for about .20¢ USD on average. If you are outside the city center, hitch hiking is normal for short distances. As a foreigner, when I hitch hiked in the village the driver was so happy to have me, he didn’t even charge.
If you want to experience real Soviet Culture, take the railway or as many call it the slow train. It can take a while to travel between cities but you can also enjoy the view on your ride. Its one the cheapest ways to go across the country and even visit a neighboring country. The “fun” part is that it’s like a hostel on wheels. Your seat is either the top part or the bottom part of a bunk bed, but you will make new friends that will share food and trade stories with you. Fair warning, air conditioning is not provided and there are no showers on board. Let’s just say that those funky odors will stay with you long after you’ve left the train ?
4. Coffee Shops are on Every Corner
If you are a coffee lover, here’s another reason to love Ukraine. There will be coffee shops every where and the coffee is delicious. Shops are filled with friends chatting and people relaxing with something sweet along with their coffee. Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture is a great place to visit for coffee and a show. I recommend going downstairs and grabbing a helmet ?
5. People Have no Sense of Personal Space
Walking down the street, standing in line at the grocery store or walking through the shops while talking to your friend that is right next to you makes no difference. People will walk into you or between you and your companion with no remorse. They have a destination and seemingly have blinders on. As much as this annoyed me, that is just life here so you have to get over it ?
6. English is Not Widely Spoken
Lviv, is a hub for tourists so I found this was the easiest city to get around if you only speak English. If you are in other cities in Western Ukraine, you will want to learn some basic Ukrainian. If you are visiting Eastern Ukraine, Russian is more widely spoken. Make sure to have your translation app with these languages already downloaded in order to help you on your journey. Another tip is to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, as it will help you sound out food and Street names. The Cyrillic alphabet will also be helpful when visiting other former soviet nations.
7. Diversity is Starting
Diversity is getting started due to the many students coming from Africa, India and Arabic speaking countries to learn at Universities in Ukraine. In most city centers, locals thought I was a student and I didn’t feel as though I was on display. Some students who remained after graduation have set up shops and are starting their own communities but there is still a long way to go. Outside the city center is a completely different story, blending in was not an option ?. Some friendly locals would strike up conversations with me, take pictures with me and ask endless questions about my braids. They were intrigued by my presence because it’s rare for them to see foreigners and it all just made me smile.
8. Flower Lovers
Ukrainians love flowers and nature in general. Flower shops are found everywhere and at their homes there is either a huge garden or many plants indoors. I’ve never been to Ukraine without receiving fresh flowers from at least one friend. Spring and Summer is a great time to visit as nature will be in bloom and the country will be absolutely beautiful. Parks will be filled with locals and sidewalk cafes will be open everywhere.
9. Visit the Villages
The villages in Ukraine make me happy. You will be fully immersed in nature. During the warmer months, the landscape will be bursting with colors and flowers ?. I love seeing the animals especially the baby chickens ?. The food will be as fresh and tasty as can be. Berry season is the perfect time to go as you will have the opportunity to pick all kinds of fruits by the bucket full ??. My mouth is watering just thinking about it ?
10. Underrated Tourist Destination
I’ve spent time in about 6 cities in Ukraine and I can tell you that for the most part there were few tourists. There is much history to be discovered and castles to explore! Ukraine is also a very affordable travel destination. Renting an apartment for your stay can start from $10 USD/ night. A dinner out usually cost about $5 USD and a meal at a very fancy restaurant with several courses and drinks cost me $20 USD. There are also very reasonable prices for visiting tourist sites, including a shuttle pick up.
Ukraine is filled with natural beauty, friendly people and tasty food. I hope that you add Ukraine to your travel list as I’m sure that you will enjoy your visit ?