Useful Notes / Ukraine

Ukraine (Україна, Ukrayina in Ukrainian) is a former Soviet state, declaring independence in 1991. Before that, it was under Russian and, even earlier, Polish rule, and most famous for its hard-to-pronounce Cossack Host, the Zaporozhians. For reasons that'll be explained later, "the Ukraine" is nowadays considered to be incorrect and even offensive. Ukrainians prefer their country to be called simply "Ukraine".

The word Ukraine means "Borderland," derived from the Slavic word "край" ("krai") meaning "edge." Some modern Ukrainians have attempted to redefine the word, claiming it means something closer to the more-patriotic-sounding "Homeland," however this has not been widely accepted.

Ukraine draws its history all the way back from the Kievan Rus'. The Kievan Rus was an ancient state, and the first to unify the Eastern Slavs - therefore Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all claim descent from it. Unsurprisingly, its capital was based in Kiev. The state was united for approximately 300 years from the late 9th century to 12th century, when it fractured into various quarreling principalities. This left them easy prey for the Mongol Empire, which easily conquered the East Slavs and made them vassals for almost 300 years.

The Kievan Rus and its splinters formed the first and last "Ukrainian" state for a long, long time. In fact, for the next 700 years from the 13th century all the way up to the end of the 20th century, there was little that could conceivably be called a "Ukrainian state," with Ukrainian land being variously ruled by Tatars, Austrians, Poles, Russians, and Lithuanians. Even Italians and Turks had a go at ruling Crimea.

As you can imagine, this makes modern Ukraine a very interesting place. Ukraine has been a divided land for a long time. When Russia came to rule all the East Slavs, it considered itself to be carrying on the legacy of the Kievan Rus - uniting all the Slavic people. As far as Russia was concerned, these people were all "Russian," split into three main groups: Great Russia (modern Russia), White Russia (modern Belarus), and Little Russia (modern Ukraine). They went so far as to deny that Belarusian and Ukrainian were separate languages, considering them merely rustic "dialects" of Russian.

Unlike the situation with Belarus, which has been largely Russified (Belarusian is only commonly used by 10% of the population), Russia and Ukraine have never entirely gotten along, despite protestations to the contrary from both sides and extremely close cultural ties. The recent unpleasantness is only the latest in a string of grievances going back centuries, not least of which is the question of "historical legitimacy." Moscow's claim to be the successor of the Kievan Rus was never completely accepted in Kiev. Indeed, the centuries-old Ukrainian term "Moskal" to refer to a Russian person is considered derogatory. note  While Eastern Ukraine was ruled by Russia for many centuries and the Tsars attempted to impress on them the idea of being part of an All-Russian Brotherhood, many Ukrainians never quite shook the feeling that they were being ruled by a foreign power. However while many Ukrainians object to being called Russian, there are in fact a large number of people in the east of the country, especially in the Crimea peninsula, who are Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian (this doesn't necessarily mean they want to be part of Russia, though). Another issue is the Holodomor ("death by hunger"), a famine which lasted from 1932-33 due to Soviet crop seizures and agricultural policies, killing around 4 million Ukrainians. Many Ukrainians consider this little less than a Soviet holocaust, while many Russians claim the famine was due to factors outside of human control.

The problem is even bigger in Western Ukraine. While Eastern Ukraine was part of Russia for many centuries, Western Ukraine had only been ruled by Moscow since about the start of the 19th century. Until then it had been ruled mostly by Poles and Lithuanians. This makes Western Ukraine very culturally distinct from the rest of Ukraine, it being considered generally more "European" in everything from architecture to religion. This divide is dramatically illustrated by typical Ukrainian voting results, with the country being split exactly down the middle: the east voting for the pro-Russia candidate and the west voting for the pro-Europe candidate.

Now we come to the issue of "the Ukraine vs Ukraine." Obviously Russia and Ukraine don't have this English grammar problem, but they have their own version of it which involves the prepositions "на" (pronounced "na") and "в" (pronounced "v"). In Russian and Ukrainian, the preposition "na" is used to refer to regions or areas, while "v" is used to refer to proper nouns or definite locations. Until independence it was considered correct to refer to Ukraine using "na," but now many Ukrainians have switched to "v." Russians, however, have stubbornly continued on using "na." This is a problem, because to Ukrainians using "the" and "na" when referring to Ukraine implies it's not a "real" country.

Another controversy is the spelling of the capital. "Kiev" is the romanization of the Russian spelling, while "Kyiv" is the Ukrainian spelling. Since independence, Ukrainians have made it a point, even passing a law, that English-speakers should write it as "Kyiv." Accordingly most political organizations, such as the US government and the United Nations, spell it as "Kyiv" on official documents, but the old spelling of "Kiev" remains in wide colloquial use among English-speakers.

Basically what it comes down to is whether you consider Ukraine and Belarus legitimate nations with full rights to self-determination, or simply regions and subgroups of a "Greater Russia" that have temporarily fallen away due to historical accident and western plotting. Vladimir Putin is said to have told George Bush that Ukraine "isn't even a state." Many Russians are genuinely puzzled and saddened that Ukrainians would want to be their own country, and this frustrates many Ukrainians.

A notable recent event was the 2004 Orange Revolution, where peaceful demonstrations forced the re-run of a questionable election and changed the government from pro-Russian to pro-Western (later elections changed it back, but were more peaceful). Another event of note was Ukraine holding the Euro-2012 football championship, along with Poland, and preparations for the event were painstakingly made. The most notable event in Ukraine of the 2010s so far has been the semi-violentnote  revolution of 2014 which overthrew the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych; this episode is called the Euromaidan, i.e. "Europe Square" (because the triggering event was Yanukovych rejecting a deal with the European Union to take a deal with the Russians). In response, Russia annexed Crimea and started stirring up trouble in Eastern Ukraine; The Other Wiki has dubbed this the Crimean Crisis. For its part, Crimea seems indifferent or possibly happy to be part of Russia (except for the Crimean Tatars)note , while most surveys say that Eastern Ukraine is indifferent or possibly happy to remain a (prickly) part of Ukraine (protesters aside). Or rather they were. After protesters took over several regions of Eastern Ukraine, a full on civil war broke out, that only seems to have quieten with the current Minsk treaty.

Ukraine is also known as the location of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, near its northern borders. It is home to the former V.I. Lenin Memorial Nuclear Power Station and the surrounding Zone of Alienation, most of that being in neighboring Belarus.

During Soviet times, Soviet planners wanted to prevent any one region from establishing totally independent arms production, and a lot of defence and aerospace plants (such as Antonov and Yangel) ended up in Ukraine. When the USSR collapsed, the Russian Federation found itself in the unenviable position of having the vendors of many of its equipment and weapons systems in a foreign country and often they weren't very cooperative. Ukraine is sitting on top of a lot of old Soviet industrial bases, needless to say. Also for a while they inherited all the nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles the Soviets had stationed in Ukraine, but they decided to give them up, as did Belarus and Kazakhstan, which had found themselves in similar positions.

Before Crimea was annexed by Russia, the Russians used to lease a naval base there in Sevastopol. The Ukrainian parliament used to have one brawl per year (literally, with fists flying and things being thrown) over whether to let them stay. The Ukrainian parliament usually has additional brawls each year over other issues; it's that kind of government. Now that Russia controls the entire peninsula, it's a moot point.

People tend to get the flag upside-down. An easy way to remember the correct orientation is the flag represents the blue sky over rich fields of grain. This is a modern mnemonic however, and not official. There is occasionally confusion even among Ukrainians about what order the colors should be, possibly because historically sometimes the flag was flown with gold above blue. In those cases, the gold was said to symbolize the domes of Orthodox cathedrals while the blue represented the river Dnieper which flows through Kiev. In any case, the blue-gold flag of Ukraine goes back centuries, and any definite original symbolism, if there ever was one, has been lost.

Famous Ukrainians include:

  • Viktor Yushchenko, the country's former President until his epic defeat in the 2010 election. Him of the pockmarked face, which was the result of attempted poisoning.
  • Viktor Yanukovych, the country's President from 2010 until forced out of the office in 2014 by the events dubbed Euromaidan. He has since fled to Russia and hasn't been heard since, after a single press-conference. His opulent mansion was opened to the public, revealing just how much money he was embezzling from his office, including a toilet made of solid gold and a private restaurant aboard a ship on his lake. In January 2015, he was added to INTERPOL's wanted list.
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, the country's former PM. Considered one of the sexiest female politicians in the world, a fact she uses, she once posed in designer dresses for the local version of Elle magazine (during her first premiership) and commented that she'd like to pose for Playboy. You may know her best from her role as Token Evil Teammate in The Legend of Koizumi.
    • Oh and she's an important opposition figure and a powerful woman in her own right, but let's just concentrate on her looks.
    • She is currently serving yet another term... this time in prison for abuse of power. Though it was widely accused of being a political prosecution, with sending her to prison being the actual abuse of power.
  • Speaking of Crimea and over-sexualized politicians, Natalia Poklonskaya. Currently she's the Prosecutor General of the pro-Russian Crimean government presntly in power, but you probably know her better as the latest out-of-left-field infatuation of Japanese online culture, and the internet in general, leather pants and all.
  • Nikita Khrushchev, who led the entire Soviet Union after Stalin's death. While not Ukrainian, he (among other things) inadvertently laid the ground for the current situation in Crimea, by taking it from Russian Soviet Republic and giving it to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. This no doubt seemed to Khrushchev like a more logical geographical fit, seeing as Crimea is actually connected by land to Ukraine and not to Russia, but whether it was a proper cultural fit is a completely separate issue and much more complicated.
  • Model and actress Olga Kurylenko was born there. She later moved to France and took French citizenship. Appeared in films like Quantum of Solace or Oblivion.
  • Milla Jovovich. Resident Evil and The Fifth Element. Her. Born in the country (to a Russian mother and Montenegrin father), but moved to the US.
  • Mila Kunis. That '70s Show, Black Swan and Family Guy. Born there, moved to the US.
  • Vera Farmiga. The Departed, Up in the Air, The Conjuring.
  • Speaking of Soviet leaders, one shouldn't forget Leonid Brezhnev, architect of zastoi, peaceful co-existence and resource economics, came from Dnepropetrovsk. He was also totally bros with Nixon.
  • A small-time politician who worked under Lenin during Red October, Lev Davidovich Bronstein.
  • Vadim Pruzhanov, keyboard player for the power metal band DragonForce.
  • Andriy Schevchenko, football striker.
  • Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, heavyweight boxers and very well known ones in that sport- Vitali currently holds the WBC belt, Wladmir the IBF, WBO, IBO and Ring Magazine ones. Vitali became a politician, taking a seat in Parliament, and was a major leader of the Euromaidan, and briefly ran for president in 2014 before withdrawing and endorsing chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko for the post.
  • The female singer Ruslana.
  • The classic 19th century writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (though he's often lumped together with Russian-born writers like Tolstoy and Chekhov).
  • Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, which is named for the writer Gogol. Hutz often refers to himself as Russian.
  • And lest we forget the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, of 3Guys1Hammer infamy.
  • Yakov Smirnoff (he of the Russian Reversal fame), though he usually identifies as Russian, probably because it was still part of the USSR when he left and everybody in America called the USSR "Russia" at the time.
  • Sergei Korolev, the father of the Soviet space program.
  • GSC Game World, a video game studio, creator of the Cossacks and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series most notably.

Some trivia

  • Ukrainians (especially those from west of the Dnipro River) will object to being called "Russians" because of a lot of horrid stuff done to them by the Russians, including purges, being sent to Siberia, suppressing Ukrainian language, culture, and identity (though at one point Soviet Russians briefly encouraged own national identity of Ukrainians) and, worst of all, engineering a famine under Stalin (the Holodomor) that killed between 7-10 million Ukrainians in one year. Or so they claim. As is the case with Basques in Spain or Irish and Scottish people in Britain, it's difficult to sort out the grains of truth from propaganda perpetrated by both sides. Holodomor alone raises doubt about whether it was just Stalin's economic failure, ethnic genocide, or democide (given that people from some other USSR republics were also subject to it). Or some mix of all of the above.
  • Ukraine had its own representative in the United Nations, with the entire USSR and Belarus having representatives as well. Initially, Stalin attempted to have each of the sixteen Soviet republics to get a vote, under the reasoning that each was still sovereign country. However, Harry Truman pointed out that with this logic, each of the 48 (at the time) American states should be given a vote as well. However, Ukraine and Belarus were still given votes because America was feeling nice and the Soviet Union had far fewer allies than the West.
  • The reason the debate between the spelling of the capital is Kiev/Kyiv mainly has to do with the languages used. During Soviet times, the official language was Russian. English translated the capital from the Russian spelling, which is Киев (pronounced "KEY-ehv"). After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the capital reverted back to its original Ukrainian spelling, which is Київ (pronounced "KEY-eve"). Because of the Western stereotype that everyone in Eastern Europe speaks Russian, the Russian-translated spelling is still generally used, but that is changing.
  • The popular "Carol of the Bells" originated in Ukraine. As a New Year's Carol. In fact, Christmas is a very strict religious holiday in Ukraine, and all merriment happens on Saint Nicholas Day, which falls on either December 6 or 19 (depending on which calendar you use), and on New Year's, which is celebrated on January 14th thanks to the Ukrainian Orthodox Calendar being chronically behind. Also, the translation is horribly, horribly wrong. It's not about bells at all. It's about a swallow flying into people's homes to signal the coming of Spring.
  • Contrary to what most Russians will tell you, Borscht originated in Ukraine. So did vodka (Poles and Russians, not unexpectedly, claim otherwise), but it's called Horilka.
  • Right now (late 2010s) Ukraine is a volatile country prone to political upheavals and internal conflicts. So don't be surprised if everything you know about this country will be proven wrong next year.

Works set in Ukraine


Since the country has been included in USSR for the biggest part of the 20th century, expect a lot of Soviet era films to show up here.
  • In The Battleship Potemkin (1925), the mutiny happens in Odessa. It was filmed on location, using the famous Potemkin Stairs, originally known as "Boulevard steps", "Giant Staircase", "Primorsky Stairs" or the "Richelieu steps" (renamed "Potemkin" in 1955 for the 50th anniversary of the mutiny).
  • Commissar (1967) is a Soviet film set in a largely Jewish Ukrainian village during the Russian Civil War.
  • Earth is a Soviet propaganda film from 1930, presenting a highly inaccurate version of collectivization of farming, in one Ukrainian village.
  • The 1929 experimental Soviet film Man with a Movie Camera, a visual collage of urban life in Stalin's Soviet Union, was shot exclusively in Ukraine. Footage was taken in Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa.
  • Only Old Men Are Going To Battle is a 1973 Soviet film set in Ukraine, directed by and starring Ukranian Leonid Bykov, about a Soviet fighter squadron going up against the Germans during World War II.


Video Games:
  • The 2000 Real-Time Strategy game Cossacks European Wars has 17th century Zaporozhian Hetmanate Ukraine as a playable nation. The Ukrainian campaign includes Cossack uprisings against Poland (the Khmelnytsky rebellion most notably) and the Polish campaign in The Art of War is about crushing said uprisings. Ukrainian peasants cannot be captured, the serdiuk is the best rifleman of the game and the hetman is the cavalry unit with the most health points and hit points in the game.
  • The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games (2006-2009) are all set in the Zone of Exclusion around the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

TV Series:
Anime & Manga:
the Ukrainian flag
The simple blue and yellow colors symbolize an allegorical landscape of grain fields underneath the clear sky, befitting Ukraine's reputation as the breadbasket of Europe.