Quirks that give Ukraine its character
Editor’s Note: This story is from the special 30th Independence Day edition of Kyiv Post. Find it online or pick up a copy in Kyiv.
Ukraine’s oddities are part of its charm. Here’s some that stand out and give the country a character all its own:
For Ukrainians, balconies strategically extend their often-cramped living spaces, allowing them to store pickles, sleds, clothing and all manner of odds and ends. Since most cities don’t have a single design code, balconies of all shapes and sizes jut from buildings, some uncovered, others covered with glass, and still others covered with plastic. Some Ukrainian artists have even devoted their art to this phenomenon: Roman Blazhan shot a documentary “Enter Through The Balcony” and Oleksandr Burlaka published a photo book “Balcony Chic.”
Although many Ukrainians live simply, they party extravagantly. For birthday parties, it’s not unusual for Ukrainians to rent a restaurant and invite all their friends and relatives.
Weddings are more important, with some even going into debt for the occasion. Preparations can be meticulous and take a year. No detail is too small. And, after the bride and groom, the key person at a wedding is the toastmaster, or a tamada, who is in charge of entertaining guests. The celebration begins in the morning — when the groom goes to the bride’s family home and pays a ransom for his bride. Then the groom and the bride ask their parents for their blessing. After that comes the wedding ceremony in a church, then the registration ceremony, and finally a raucous celebration.
Many Ukrainians like to show off wealth that they don’t actually have, buying the latest iPhones or expensive cars, often on credit. Others purchase fake branded clothes and massive fur coats. Local markets are filled with replicas of well-known brands such as Off-White, Dolce & Gabbana, and Louis Vuitton.
The older generation of Ukrainians lived with scarcity, triggering the instinct to hoard and not throw away anything, from tea sets to old clothing to shopping bags.
The propensity to save also means repurposing items, such as old tires for planting flowers in or using old toys outside to decorate a yard.
The growth of huge supermarkets hasn’t ended the ancient culture of street vending. People set up street stands to sell everything from food to clothing. Illegal or not, many customers prefer to buy on the street, for reasons of price, convenience or quality. The agrarian culture leads many people to grow their own food, rather than buy it, in rural gardens or dachas.
Ukrainians are culinary innovators. While many foreigners already know about salo, the bacon-like animal fat with enduring popularity, lesser famous Ukrainian dishes as holodets and krovyanka are other dietary staples.
As for holodets, in a few words, it’s a savory aspic-like dish with meat in it. Krovyanka’s recipe isn’t so straightforward. For krovyanka, or blood sausage, a pig’s intestine is filled with blood, lard and buckwheat.
At the same time, many Ukrainians liberally apply smetana, or sour cream, and mayonnaise to everything, including pizza. Ukrainians also often customize international recipes, for instance, by adding chicken to Asian sushi.
Dating can be more formalized with the expectation of a restaurant dinner and bouquet of flowers, all arranged by the man. Keep in mind that yellow flowers symbolize breakup and the number of flowers must be odd, because even numbers of flowers are presented only at funerals.
Superstitions abound. For instance, it’s believed that after St. Illia Day on Aug. 2, it’s prohibited to swim because the water’s evil creatures can drag a person down to the bottom. Other practices stem from religious beliefs: Some Ukrainians don’t do physical labor on Sundays and religious holidays because these days should be devoted to the church and God.