Україна (Ukraine) as the name for the country derives from the Slavic words 'u' (=at) and 'krai' (also 'kraina', which means 'border'). Hence, 'Ukraina' means 'borderland'. The national anthem oracles that "the Ukraine is not dead YET". This actually doesn't sound very promising. But as a matter of fact, the Ukraine is much more than a borderland of Mother Russia, although one might think so when travelling around east or south Ukraine. It's a little known fact that parts of present-day western Ukraine had never been under Russian rule until the end of World War II. Especially in these parts, the 'real' Ukraine with its own distinctive culture and language, heavily influenced by the Habsburg monarchy and Poland, can be experienced.
|Clickable Map of the Ukraine and destinations covered on this site|
Area: about 600,000 km² (as big as New Mexico and Arizona together) Population: 46.3 million (less then one fifth of the U.S., negative, 2007) Ethnic groups: Ukrainians (78%), Russians (17%), Jewish, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles Capital: Kyiv (Kiev (around 2.6 million inhabitants) Languages: Ukrainian (esp. in the north and west), Russian (south and east) Religions: Ukrainian-Orthodox, Roman-Catholic, Protestant, Jewish Government type:Republic President: Viktor Yushchenko (since 2004) GDP per capita: 6,900 USD (purchasing power parity, 2007) Population below poverty line: 38% (2007) Inflation rate (consumer prices): 11% (2007) GDP growth rate:7% (2007) Currency: Hryvnia (Grivna), abrr. UAH Exchange rate: € 1 = appr. 7 UAH (2007, relatively stable)
Figures from CIA Factbook
A few words about the basic facts: As for European conditions, the Ukraine is comparatevily sparsely populated. More than 75% of the population are Ethnic Ukrainians - the Russian minority mostly lives in the autonomous →Crimea peninsula and some places in the East of the country. There, Russians are the majority. Needless to say that languages spoken correspond to the ethnic distribution. Be aware that not only a few Ukrainians in the west of the country are quite nationalistic. Hence it's not always a good idea to use Russian in Western Ukraine, since many people don't like the Russians.
When looking at the basic economical data, the high growth rate as well as the comparatevily high GDP per capita - 6,900 USD is not too bad (it was 4,200 in 2001) - make a good first impression. BUT: More than one third of the population struggles below poverty line! And to be poor in the Ukraine means to be really poor! Especially old people are concerned - social security pension is often € 10 a month only. Socially weak people have a very hard time, and so beggars are everywhere - you will see them in front of every church and every train station. Old people, children, handicapped people - poverty is everywhere. This comes as no surprise, since even the minimum salary is far below poverty line, although this seems to change at the moment. In contradiction to this, the gold on top of the churches and the abundance of everything in the big cities is breathtaking. The gap between rich and poor is huge and frustrating. This is also due to the fact, that Ukrainians, as well as Russians, don't hesitate to present their wealth in public. Still it must be said that situation seems to be better than in →Georgia or →Armenia for instance - at least there's visible progress. The only question is when the progress will reach the masses.
Flag and Insignia
The Ukrainian flag: Azure at the top, yellow at the bottom. The flag symbolizes the blue sky above yellow grain fields. The country is also known as 'the granary'. Thanks to the endless steppe with very fertile black soil, the Ukraine is the perfect place for cultivation of cereals.
The Trizub is used as the national symbol. Literally, 'trizub' means 'three teeth' (which is also the translation of the latin word 'trident'). Originally, it's an old Indo-German Symbol, which can be found on all Ukrainian coins, emblems and other official insignia.
Ukrainian is definitely an east-Slavic language and indeed quite similar to the Russian language. Nevertheless, Ukrainian is much more than just a Russian dialect. Basically, the Russian (cyrillic) alphabet is in use, but there are some different and differently used letters:
- Quite confusing is the variety of the letter 'i' (as the 'ee' in 'bee'): Ukrainian has four different 'i': There's ' I ', ' Ï ', ' И ' and " Й '. The first two letters do not exist in the Russian alphabet.
- ' I ' is a rather short 'ee', which doesn't exist in English.
- ' Ï ' on the other hand is pronounced as the 'yea' in 'yeast', but slightly shorter.
- ' И ' is like 'yi' and doesn't exist in English. It's like the Russian ' Ы ' (this letter doesn't exist in the Ukrainian Alphabet).
- ' Й ', which is called 'I-Kratkoye' (short i) in Russian. It's mostly used for endings and pronounced as a short 'i', similar to the 'i' in 'hit'.
- Sounds confusing!? Yes, it is. Especially for people who know some Russian. Sometimes, two or more 'i' variations succeed one another. The capital for instance is written KИÏB and therefore pronounced 'Kyiyeav' (mostly written as Kyiv).
- As in Russian, there's no 'H' in the Ukrainian alphabet (well, there is one, but that's an 'N'). In place of that, the letter ' Г ' is used. This letter is always pronounced as the 'g' in 'gear' in Russian, but Ukrainians pronounce it as a fricative 'h', such as 'ch' in the Scottish word 'loch' (phonetical symbol: 'x'). Hence, the currency is written 'grivna' but pronounced 'hrivna'.
- The letter ' E ' is pronounced as the 'ye' in 'yes' in Russian, but in Ukrainian it's simply an 'e' as in 'ten'. The same sound is written as ' Э ' in Russian - this letter doesn't exist in Ukrainian. To make things even more difficult, Ukrainian uses the letter ' Є ', which is pronounced as the Russian ' E ' (Ye). This is just another trap for people being familiar with Russian...
- The Russian ' Ъ ' called Hard Sign doesn't exist in the Ukrainian Alphabet. Therefore, the Russian (palatalised) Soft Sign ' Ь ") ' is excessively used. Additionally, the apostrophe can be often found in Ukrainian writings
Russian is widely understood. As a matter of fact, it's sometimes diffcult to use Ukrainian on the Crimea peninsula and some places in the East, since some people simply can't speak Ukrainian. Some important words a re completely different - 'yes' in Russian is 'da', but in Ukrainian 'tak'. Other words and phrases such as 'thank you', 'excuse me' or 'how much is...?' are very different to Russian and sometimes closer to the Polish language. (For a table with important vocabulary in some Slavic languages incl. Ukrainian see also →Slavic vocabulary comparison).