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What Is Ukraine Known For & Famous For?

Ukraine is known for its diverse geography and well-preserved cultural heritage. And while the country is currently embroiled in a war, it’s worth a visit once things die down. There are several reasons to visit Ukraine, and it’s a relatively inexpensive trip.

Ukraine is known for its rich culture, famous cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Lviv, and structures like St. Sophia’s Cathedral and the Tunnel of Love located near Klevan. The country is also steeped in history and has retained many traditional practices that visitors can enjoy.

In this article, we’ll list a few of the things and places Ukraine is famous for and take a closer look at each.

1. The Largest Country in Europe

While Russia is technically the largest county on the European continent, it is, in reality, a separate landmass split between Europe and Asia. In terms of geographical size, Ukraine is the largest country completely in Europe and is home to a population of over forty million.

2. The Ukraine War 

Ukraine is also well-known for ongoing tension with Russia stretching for nearly a decade. The Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2014 when Russia started to annex Crimea after the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity. The conflict escalated in 2022 when Russia mounted a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

3. Wheat Exporter

While Ukraine may not make the top ten list in terms of size, this country is known for producing and exporting enormous quantities of wheat.

In 2021 Ukraine produced an estimated 33 million tonnes of wheat and exported 20 million tonnes. In fact, Ukraine alone produces nearly 10% of the wheat used across the entire globe. This is significant in itself, but it takes on additional importance when you consider how many people worldwide consume wheat as a staple crop.

4. Kyiv 

Kyiv is perhaps Ukraine’s most famous city. It is the nation’s capital and is considered the ‘greenest city in Ukraine.’ The city blends old architecture from Soviet times with modern art and architecture. The contrast between history and a modern outlook makes Kyiv a popular destination for travelers.

Kyiv has a population of over three million, and the city is buzzing with energy throughout the day. There’s also something for everyone here, whether you’re seeking a rich cultural experience or simply a night out at a bar.

5. Kharkiv 

Kharkiv is one of the largest and most populated cities in Ukraine and is a center for industry, science, architecture, and business. It is a much “younger” city than most other Ukrainian destinations, with the first real settlement in the area only having been established in 1654. 

The city is famous for its beautiful sculptures and fountains, some of which include the Mirror Stream, the Fountain of Lovers, and the Cascade. 

Kharkiv was also famous for the Barabashova Market, which was among the top fifteen largest markets in the world. It occupied approximately seventy-five hectares (that’s 185 acres!) and was home to over twenty thousand shops. The market was destroyed in March 2022 as a result of the Russo-Ukrainian War – however, vendors have since started to return to the area in the hope of bringing the market back to life.

6. Odessa

The coastal city of Odessa is an essential port for Ukraine, with regular trade and transport occurring here. However, aside from trade, Odessa is also a popular tourist spot, being one of the few hubs in Ukraine with beaches on offer for visitors.

Odessa is lovingly called the ‘Pearl By The Sea’ by its residents and those who have experienced its beauty. The city is also famous for the Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, where you can witness performances by some of the finest artists in Europe.

7. Lviv

Lviv is rich in culture and architecture, but it’s best known for three things that define the vibe of this city:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee 
  • Lions

It is famous for its dedication to and love for chocolate, with the city hosting chocolate-making festivals that attract tourists from all over Europe. You’ll find families with specific techniques for making quality chocolate who have passed down their knowledge through generations. It is home to numerous chocolate shops that teach you to make chocolate, and you can also find some of Ukraine’s historical monuments reduced to candy size.

8. The Crimean Peninsula

The Crimean Peninsula can be located along the northern coast of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe. Crimea is internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory. However, Russia formally annexed the region in 2014, and the peninsula is perhaps best-known for its role in the frequent disputes between the two neighbors. 

9. Ukrainian Language

Ukraine is also known for its language, with the citizens speaking Ukrainian. This Slavic language shares a resemblance with other Eastern European languages, including Russian, Polish, and Czech.

Ukrainian closely resembles Russian in many ways, though it is a distinct language of its own. Russian speakers may not be able to understand Ukrainian if they are not bilingual. However, most Ukrainians can understand Russian due to its proximity to Russia and the history shared by the two countries. 

Under the occupation of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians were required to speak Russian in public spaces, like schools, colleges, and offices. So while they spoke their language at home, most older Ukrainians can also understand and speak Russian – a legacy they have passed on to their children and grandchildren.

10. History

Ukraine is a land steeped in history and has been ruled by several different powers since it was first discovered. In fact, at one point, present-day Ukraine was led by three great powers:

  • The Golden Horde (the nation formed by Genghis Khan’s grandson)
  • The Crimean Khanate (the longest-living Turkic tribe)
  • The Grand Duchy of Lithuania 

Ukraine has also been the site of several power struggles involving the Soviet Union, Russia, and the Ukrainian people. Today, in the 21st Century, Ukraine is once more embroiled in a battle with its neighbor.

11. Orthodox Christianity 

While Ukraine houses a population with diverse religious beliefs, most Ukrainians are believers in some form of Orthodox Christianity. In a 2019 study, almost 78% of Ukrainians interviewed mentioned that they adhered to Christianity. 

Ukraine is home to two Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical bodies – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, under the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is led by the Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine.

12. The Former Soviet Union

After the Russian Revolution, Ukraine formed the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1917. This body was forcibly reconstituted as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in 1922 by the Bolsheviks. While it is common knowledge that Ukraine was a member of the former Soviet Republic, few people are aware that the Ukrainian SSR was, in fact, one of the founding members of the Soviet Republic.

13. Old Cities

It’s believed that the city of Kyiv was founded back in 482 CE, while archaeological studies place the founding of Ukraine in the 6th or 7th Century. In 1982, the city celebrated its 1500th anniversary! 

While Kyiv is ancient in its own right, it’s not nearly as old as the city of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (historically known as Akkerman), which is one of the ten most ancient cities in the world. The city boasts over 2500 years of history, and in that time, it has been known by over 20 names.

That said, most Ukrainian cities have roots that are hundreds of years old. Even Lviv, which is relatively new compared to the others mentioned here, has been around for more than 700 years!

14. Ghost Towns  

Ukraine is also famous for one of the most disastrous events in the history of humankind – the Chernobyl disaster. In 1986 one of the reactors in the factory malfunctioned, exploding and destroying the factory building while releasing significant amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

While only one power plant was destroyed, millions of hectares of land were affected, causing animals and humans to be born deformed with negative health impacts to this day. The radiation released endangered nearby settlements, requiring immediate evacuation. These form the “ghost towns” of Ukraine and include:

  • Pripyat (closest to Chernobyl)
  • Kopachi
  • Opachychi
  • Andriivka
  • Tarasy

These ghost towns have remained unpopulated since the Chernobyl incident, and you won’t be able to visit them unaccompanied. However, some companies organize safe, controlled tours of places like Pripyat.

15. St. Sophia’s Cathedral

Ukraine is famous for its dedication to architecture and beauty in the design of its religious buildings. Over 900 cathedrals and churches were constructed in the country between the 13th and 20th centuries. 

The most famous cathedral in Ukraine is St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, with foundations laid in 1011. The Cathedral celebrated its thousandth birthday in 2011. 

St. Sophias is also famous for having the most extensive collection of mosaics and frescoes from that period. The Cathedral also functions as a museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.   

16. Ukrainian Matryoshka

You’re probably familiar with matryoshka dolls, even if you’ve never heard the word before.

Matryoshka dolls typically consist of six or seven dolls of decreasing size and identical design. The largest matryoshka doll is split in the middle, so you can open it to find another doll of a smaller size. This smaller doll can be opened again to reveal another doll until you arrive at the smallest.

There’s still some debate about whether matryoshka dolls were first invented in Ukraine or Russia. However, these dolls are popular enough in Ukraine to be added to a list of things Ukraine is known for.

17. Motanka Dolls 

While there’s some confusion about the origin of the matryoshka doll, motanka dolls were a part of ancient Ukrainian households and have been around for centuries.

Motanka dolls were meant to be faceless, typically with a cross covering the space where the eyes, nose, and mouth would be. The inspiration behind such a design was that children were supposed to figure out the doll’s emotions while playing with it. 

Ancient Ukrainians also believed that the faceless feature of the doll meant there was a soul inside, and this soul could be good or bad. These dolls were believed to symbolize prosperity and fertility. Motanka dolls were also regarded as guardians of the household, protecting the people from evil spirits and misfortune.  

18. Horilka

Vodka is famous in most Eastern European countries and is believed to have originated in either Poland or Russia during the Middle Ages.

In Ukraine, vodka is pretty famous, but Ukrainians also have a unique distilled spirit often flavored with hot peppers. This alcoholic beverage is called horilka and is typically homemade. 

The word itself is often used to categorize fiery spirits like vodka and other alcohol, but it’s also a type of drink popular in Ukrainian homes. Horilka is usually made with different berries, including raspberries, strawberries, and gooseberries, and flavored with nuts. 

Mixed peppers are added to this concoction to create a unique brew of varying flavors based on the ingredients. 

19. Tunnel of Love

If you travel to northwest Ukraine, you may come across what’s popularly known as the most romantic place on Earth. The Tunnel Of Love is a section of the railway line surrounded by green arches on all sides and radiating a warm, peaceful atmosphere. 

While the tunnel isn’t the most famous tourist spot in the country, it is a popular destination for couples to pay a visit. The tunnel is about 3-5 kilometers (1.9-3.1 miles) long and is surrounded by lush greenery. 

However, there are two things to be aware of when visiting the tunnel:

  • It’s infested with mosquitoes, so you must carry strong insect repellent when visiting.
  • Trains run through this tunnel randomly, so be careful while walking.

20. Paska

Paska is a soft, sweet, fragrant bread crafted in Ukrainian bakeries and homes, especially during Easter. Paska bread is traditionally made using dough, egg yolks, and sugar. Most homes also use whole milk to give the bread a softer and more consistent texture.

21. Vyshyvanka 

Vyshyvanka is a household name for the embroidered national costume of Ukraine. The embroidery on these shirts is unique to the country and tells people which region in Ukraine they originated from.

22. Deepest Metro Station 

Kyiv is home to the deepest metro station in the world, with the Arsenalna station lying almost 105 meters (nearly 350 feet) below the surface. The escalator that takes you to the Arsenalna metro station is probably one of the steepest descents in the world and the oldest in the Kyiv metro.

23. Invention of the Gas Lamp

The gas lamp was invented by two friends and pharmacists from Lviv – Jan Zeh and Ignacy Łukasiewicz. It’s safe to say that this light was perhaps one of the most groundbreaking inventions of modern times – so much so that Lviv even has a museum showcasing different types of gas lamps invented over the years.

24. Largest Sunflower Seed Producer 

If you want to control cholesterol and blood pressure, Ukraine has a quick solution – an abundance of sunflower seeds. In fact, Ukraine is currently the largest producer of sunflower seeds in the world, with Russia following closely behind.

25. Breadbasket

As mentioned earlier, Ukraine exports more wheat than most countries worldwide. Additionally, they are also known for their famous paska bread, a sweet delicacy eaten across Eastern Europe. 

However, Ukraine isn’t called the breadbasket simply for its products.

The black soil used to grow crops in Ukraine is fertile and rich in nutrients, ensuring high-quality bread. Additionally, the cost of growing wheat in Ukraine, coupled with easy distribution through their seaports, has cemented Ukraine’s place as the breadbasket of Europe.

26. The World’s Heaviest Aircraft  

The Antonov AN-225 Mriya was an airlift cargo designed back in 1980 and built to transport other vehicles. The aircraft was famous for its sheer size, with a wingspan that outstripped that of any other aircraft carrier. It was also famous for being the heaviest airborne aircraft ever to exist, with a takeoff weight of 640 tonnes (640,000 kg).

The aircraft was the only one of its kind to exist. Though construction was started on a second Antonov AN-225, it was only partially completed. The completed aircraft was destroyed during the Battle of Anotov Airport in February 2002, during the Russo-Ukrainian war. 

27. Pechersk Lavra 

As mentioned before, Ukraine is predominantly Orthodox Christian, and many of its monuments are a testament to the belief of the Ukrainian people over the years. Pechersk Lavra is one such monument. Founded in the early 11th Century (nearly 1000 years ago!), it is one of the most important monasteries in the Christian world today.

28. Cossacks

The Cossacks were a group of people originating in the steppes of Ukraine. They were staunch Orthodox Christians who engaged in several rebellions in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Cossacks would frequently rebel against Russian attempts to influence their culture until finally, the Russians agreed to grant them independence in exchange for their military services in the first World War. Many Ukrainians claim to be direct descendants of the Cossacks.

29. Culture and Traditions

Ukraine is also famous because they have managed to preserve a significant portion of its culture through the unrest and invasions. Aside from horilka and motanka dolls, here are a few cultural practices you can find in Ukraine even today.

  • Leaping over a bonfire. It’s believed to cleanse oneself of sins. 
  • Plunging into an ice hole. They create a hole in the form of a cross and dive three times. Like leaping over a bonfire, this is believed to be a way to purge yourself of sin.
  • Greeting people with bread and salt. The bread represents wealth, and salt was used to banish evil spirits. 
  • Sharing knowledge on September 1st. This is a popular custom where students put on performances, congratulate lecturers, and exchange knowledge. 
  • Picnicking on graves. They believe that the dead descend to Earth sometimes, and we must share food with them.
  • Celebrating the old New Year. This is perhaps the strangest custom of all, and the Ukrainian people celebrate two New Years, on January 1st and January 14th. The celebration on January 1st reflects the New Year’s Day celebrated worldwide, while the celebration on January 14th is a celebration of the Orthodox New Year.

Final Thoughts 

Ukraine has carried its most cherished traditions into the modern world while adapting to the needs of today’s global citizens. Consider taking a trip to Ukraine if you get the chance – few places offer such a dichotomy of traditional and modern influences.