Out of the ashes of Soviet flames, Ukraine has emerged as one of Eastern Europe’s best-kept secrets: A land of $2 bottles of vodka, and a million places to visit. You could spend months in Ukraine and still not see everything. And in my endless quest to share with fellow travelers the wonders of lesser-known destinations, I hereby present a list of interesting, fun facts about Ukraine, covering everything from music, food, history, and several deliberate attempts at world record conquests. Enjoy!
- Kievan Rus, the predecessor state to modern Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, was once a major European power. It took the Mongol horde to bring them down.
- Ukraine practically ceased to exist from the 1300s until the early 1900s. At various times it was ruled by Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Austria, and the Tatars. And just when it looked like it might be independent, the Soviet Union arrived on the scene, including Ukraine among its borders until the collapse in 1991.
- After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. They voluntarily gave it up, becoming entirely free of nuclear weapons by 1996.
- Ukraine was once known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, for its massive grain fields. It remains the world’s third-largest grain exporter, as of 2011. It’s part of the reason it was so frequently fought over.
- The fate of Europe was drawn up at the Yalta conference in the Crimea, between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt, in 1945.
- Borsch is the national dish, and has become known worldwide. Fun fact: It’s excellent.
- In Ukrainian, vodka is known as horilka. Fun fact: It’s also excellent.
- Bread and mayonnaise are often consumed at every meal.
- Salo is a Ukrainian delicacy consisting of seasoned slices of pig fat. Yet somehow the ladies are thin.
- Though Chicken Kiev shares the name of the Ukrainian capital city, it looks like it originated in Moscow.
- In Ukraine, as with many Eastern European countries, smiling is only for laughter, rather than for a friendly hello. Don’t feel weird if Ukrainians don’t smile at you, since all it means is they’re not laughing at you!
- Ukrainians wear their wedding rings on their right hands.
- Ukraine is tech-savvy. They’ve got the 4th largest number of IT professionals in the world, behind the US, India, and Russia.
- George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is based on a Ukrainian lullaby, called “Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon,” meaning “The Dream Passes by the Windows.”
- The song “Carol of the Bells,” also called “Ring Christmas Bells,” is actually a Ukrainian folk song called Schedryk. You’ll recognize it right away:
World records and bragging rights
- It’s the biggest country in Europe. Well, depending on whether or not you count Russia. It’s also 44th in the world.
- Ukraine saw the publication of one of the world’s first constitutions in 1710, by Pylyp Orlyk, which was also one of the first documents to establish a separation of powers.
- The heaviest silver coin in the world is the 10-year anniversary hryvnia, weighing 1 kg, issued in 2006.
- The world’s largest plane, the Antonov An-225 Mriya, was built in Ukraine.
- The world’s 3rd most visited McDonald’s can be found in Kiev, near the train station. It handles 2 million orders per year.
- The Ostroh Academy is the oldest university of Eastern Europe, established in 1576.
- Ukraine claims the town of Dilove as the geographical center of Europe, though plenty of other towns in other countries claim this title as well.
- Ukraine built the world’s largest champagne glass.
- Ukraine is home to the world’s deepest metro station, the Arsenalna station in Kiev, 105.5 meters down. It also has one of the world’s longest escalators, at 65.7 meters, just barely falling behind a few St. Petersburg contenders. Check out how long the ride is:
Yeah, it’s deep. Oh, and this is fun too:
Can’t get enough Ukraine? Me neither. I spent 2 months there and had a great time. And it was only partially due to the availability of $2 bottles of vodka. Check out a list of fun stuff to do there and you’ll be travel-jealous in no time.