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For decades, the Western world perceived Ukraine as simply a part of Russia. But borscht, painted eggs and many of the famous Cossack song and dance traditions originated in Ukraine. Western Ukrainians consider themselves to be 100% Ukrainian and the vanguard of their culture, speaking their language and trumpeting their nationalism. In the east, where over 10 million ethnic Russians live, nationalism is less intense, and most people speak Russian.

Ukrainian, like Russian and Belarusian, is an Eastern Slavic language. It's arguably the closest of the three to the original 9th century Slavonic used in Kiev before the more formal Church Slavonic from Bulgaria was introduced with Christianity in the 10th century. Despite being watered down by Russian and Polish and being banned by Tsar Alexander II in 1876, the Ukrainian language persevered and is becoming more widespread. It was adopted as the country's official language in 1990, though Russian is understood by almost everyone.

The origins of Ukraine's national literature go back to medieval Slavic chronicles of the 12th century, while he beginnings of modern Ukrainian literature stem from mid-18th century wandering philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian Socrates.

Taras Shevchenko, an ardent nationalist who was born a serf in 1814 and became a national hero, was the first major writer in Ukrainian. His work launched a golden age of Ukrainian literature. The most talented and prolific writer of the early 20th century was Ivan Franko, whose work spanned fiction, poetry, drama, philosophy and children's stories.

Taras Shevchenko
Taras Shevchenko, Self-portrait, 1840

Ukrainian music has its roots in centuries-old oral traditions of bylyny (epic narrative poems) and dumas, which were long lyrical ballads glorifying the exploits of the Cossacks. The roots of Ukrainian folk music lie in the legendary kobzar, wandering minstrels of the 16th and 17th. The bandura, a larger instrument with up to 45 strings, replaced the kozba in the 18th century and the instrument became the national symbol.

Ukrainian cuisine stems from peasant dishes based on grains and staple vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, beets and mushrooms. Meat is typically boiled, fried or stewed. Desserts are usually laden with honey and fruit, mainly cherries and plums, and often baked into sweet breads. While the small dumplings known as varenyky are by far the most popular Ukrainian snack, the sacred dish is salo - pig fat. Salo consumption goes back centuries, and Ukrainians age and prize it as obsessively as the French do wine. Borscht originated in Ukraine and is still the national soup; the beet and mixed-vegetable broth is typically served with cream. Ironically, good Ukrainian food is hard to find in Ukraine, as most top-end restaurants serve trendy Euro cuisine. The best Ukrainian cooking is found in the home; if you get invited to someone's house for a meal, you're in for a treat. Alcohol is plentiful and the drink is usually vodka, a clear distilate of wheat, rye or sometimes potatoes.

Excerpted from MyUkraine:   http://myukraine.info/en/culture



The Ukrainian applied art is rooted deep in the past. From chronicles and other monuments of Kyivan Rus it is known that crafts already existed then to properly become Ukrainian later. For instance, the oldest types of folk applied arts and crafts are woodcarving (e.g., wood sculpture carving), carpet making, embroidery, pottery and ceramics.

The wood sculpture cutting reached its climax during the heydays of the Cossack state in 17th and 18th centuries when talented Cossack artisans created the so-called Cossack Baroque. A special page in the life of Ukrainian arts and crafts is the woodcarving of the church iconostases and other religious objects. As of today, popular are the objects of home craft of the western regions, especially the Hutsul ornamental hatchets, pistols, guns, powder-flasks, small vessels for liquids, and wooden, predominantly decorative plates and dishes (ware). To embellish their makes the Huzul artisans are using techniques of incrustation and patsiorkuvannia (encrusting with glass beads).

Making carpets is another olden Ukrainian trade. Functionally, there are three in use for carpeting: kover, kylym and, kots. The difference between them could lie in the techniques, ornamentation, size, and purpose. The most varied and, surely, the oldest in Ukraine is the pottery trade. Historically, the centers of pottery emerged in accord to the natural location of deposits of the clay required with the names arising from the nearby settlements and perceived as brand names. Decorative painting as a vivid chapter went down in history of the Ukrainian culture. This type of folk art originated from mural painting spread widely since time immemorial in the Ukrainian villages.

A "pysanka" or Ukrainian Easter egg

Another unique phenomenon in the decorative art of Ukraine is painting of pysanka, the decorated Easter eggs. The Ukrainian pysanka springs from ancient beliefs of this people, and if at the time of paganism the eggs were painted to mark the Holiday of Spring, they were decorated to commemorate the Velykden, the Holiday of Christ’s Resurrection, under the Christianity. With the Slavs, an egg was the origin of everything typifying the Universe. They believed in the world created in similarity to a large egg: the shell representing the skies, membrane as the clouds, the white as water, and the yolk as the earth. As the symbol of origin of a new life, an egg has a ring of symbolism of the Sun. Worshipped by ancestors of the Ukrainians, they believed it to be the surety of nature and life revival.

Quite a few nations of the world have preserved until now the custom of using eggs for Easter commemorations, however, they are making predominantly dyed eggs, that is, single colored boiled ones. In contrast, pysanka painting in Ukraine scaled the heights of development becoming a separate form of art, and pysanka itself one of the cultural symbols of the country.

Excerpted from MyUkraine:   http://myukraine.info/en/culture/ethnography/arts



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