9 Things I Love About Ukraine

Happy Tuesday! Here is a list of 9 things that I love about Ukraine. Of course, the list could be longer, but here is a quick highlight of what I have become fond of during the past six months. (Yes, that’s right, I’ve officially passed the 6 month mark!! How fast time flies.)

1. Fresh fruits and vegetables

I shop at the local farmer’s market, aka ‘bazaar’ nearly every day. Tasting fresh, seasonal produce is wonderful. The inexpensive price tag is a perk, as well. As winter looms large, I will miss this greatly. Many Ukrainians do canning of fruits and vegetables, so that they can eat a variety of produce even in the dark days of winter.

2. Shashliking

I loved barbecuing in the U.S., I could have gone to a braai every day in South Africa, and I’m a huge fan of ‘shashliking’ in Ukraine. Skewers of sumptuous meat roasted slowly over a fire while you have a drink, eat snacks, swim, talk with friends, and relax? Summer at its finest.


Found the perfect sign for shaslik in Kiev!

3. Beach Attire

A beach experience in Ukraine is one unlike any other I have experienced. Every woman wears a bikini, occasionally I see a thong bikini, and speedos are the norm for men. Weight, age, height, body type? Doesn’t matter. I love it. I’ll say it again. I LOVE IT. Sure, do I sometimes catch myself gawking like a fool or feeling temped to make comments? Yes, yes I do.

But, Ukraine is the one country where everyone is completely comfortable at the beach. No need to hide or cover up. (And hey, a few years ago, I dropped a nice amount of cash for a tattoo on my ribs – I need to show it off, right?)

4. Locks of Love

On major pedestrian bridges throughout Ukraine, one can find an assortment of locks permanently decorating the railings. These locks are inscribed with the names of couples and their wedding days.  Fun to look at while walking past, and a sweet reminder of people’s happy moments.

DSC09969Hope Maxim and Anya had a great day!

5. Public transportation

Car ownership is still somewhat of a luxury in Ukraine, and many Ukrainians do not have driver’s licenses. So, in order to accommodate people’s needs, there are a variety of forms of public transportation – large buses, smaller, privately owned ‘marshrutka’ mini-buses, and trains that criss-cross the countryside. I enjoy knowing that from 6 a.m. – 11 p.m., I can find a way to get to most places in Sumy for cheap.

DSC09674The marshrutkas of Sumy…there is always room to cram one more person inside.

6. Flowers

I love how often I see people giving each other flowers. It is not unusual to see a couple walking together, with one of them happily clutching a bouquet. Flowers are considered a good gift to give for any holiday or celebration, and they are somewhat inexpensive. Fun fact – it is bad luck to give someone an even number of flowers in Ukraine, so you would never buy a dozen.

7. Family ties

Families often live together in small apartments or houses, and children usually live with their parents until they get married (and sometimes, afterwards, too). This creates a lot of close relationships between family members.

During my pre-service training near Chernigov, I lived with a tight knit host family. My host parents live one street away from their older daughter and her family; in 10 weeks, I saw their granddaughters every day except for two. Pretty remarkable.

In the work setting, family also takes priority. Women are able to leave their jobs for up to 3 years for maternity leave (they are not paid for this whole time, but they are guaranteed to have their job back).

8. Ukraine’s Got Talent

Ukrainians are a talented nation of people. Whether it is singing, dancing, gymnastics, or comedy, every time there is a holiday, there is a celebration highlighting the skills of the population. I have continually been impressed, in every city/village, with the breadth and depth of talent.

When I was leaving my training village, I was able to watch the “last day of school” celebrations: every single member of the graduating class, about 15 boys and girls, participated in a choreographed, 10 minute dance routine to a variety of songs. It’s hard to imagine high school boys being willing to do this in America!

Side note: there is also a tv show called Ukraine’s Got Talent, which I watched once with my host sisters. Cheesier than the American version? Yes. Was I thankful to watch TV where I did not need to know the language? Yes.


A dance scene from the “Welcome Back” celebration at Sumy State University

9. Tvorog and Smetana

Tvorog is delicious Ukrainian “cottage cheese,” a tasty treat that I enjoy frequently. It is a drier, crumbly version of American cottage cheese, and when topped with jam, it is the perfect snack. There is always a package of tvorog in my fridge.

Smetana is sour cream. Who knew that everything tastes better with sour cream? Thank you, Ukraine, for opening my eyes.

And one more thing I love…

Care packages from home. Thanks, Mom and Dad :)

DSC09998Look at that amazing amount of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups…heavenly.


Happy to take any comments!
  1. Virg says:

    #10- popping bottles with PCVs after bad days….or after good days…or just because the day ends in -y :)

  2. Lily says:

    I remember that package! There were also treats for Panda:) Thank you very much from me and Panda to Mr & Mrs Wichman!