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Ukraine:Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

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Europe, Ukraine


Map of Ukraine

Location: Eastern Europe; bordered on the South by the Black Sea Capital: Kiev

Climate: Temperate Continental with warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters depending on region.

Ukraine ChildPopulation: 46,299,862 as per 2007 estimates. After independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union, Ukraine had to start from scratch and build up on its own. A breakaway was called for from traditional industries to suit a modern nation. After a period of slump, the economy picked up and continued to expand as it grew by an impressive 13% in 2004. About 37% of the population live below the poverty line.

Ethnic Make-up: Ukrainian 78%, Russian 17%, Others 5%.

Religions: Eastern Orthodox 42%, Catholic 6%, Others 52%, including non-believers. There is no law against evangelism.

Language: Ukrainian, Russian, Polish

Government: Democratic Republic

St. SophiaTravel Issues: U.S. and EU citizens intending to stay less than 3 months do not require a visa to visit Ukraine. For other nationals and for longer periods of stay you need to contact the Ukrainian Embassy in your country for country specific requirements. Do note that Ukrainian visas are not valid in the Russian Federation and Russian Federation visas are not valid in Ukraine, even for transit.

Health & Safety: Immunization against diphtheria, hepatitis A, tick-borne encephalitis, typhoid, and tetanus are strongly advised for travellers to Ukraine. Instances of avian flu have been noted, but this is not considered an immediate threat for travellers. Water for drinking and washing is safer bottled or boiled. Tap water is not considered safe. Swimming in the Dneiper River is not advised due to threat of radioactive pollution.

When out sightseeing, it is advisable to not carry large sums of money on your person due to a high rate of petty crime and bag snatching.


Ukraine Crowd
Photo by katesheets

The People: On first sight you might get the feeling that Ukrainians are a little cold and unsmiling, but in fact, they are warm and hospitable once you get to know them. It is quite natural for them to invite total strangers to share their meals.

The Religion: Orthodox Christianity is the religion of the majority, but there are a large number of people who are not particularly religious.

Role of Family: They are very family oriented and often never leave their aging parents. Generations live together under one roof and the grandparents have an important role in bringing up young children.

Woman in UkraineAncestors: Ukrainians have great respect for their ancestors and always speak of them with reverence. For Christmas, a sheaf of mixed grain stalks is placed under the religious icons in the house to symbolize all the ancestors.

Recreational Activities: Outdoor activities are popular especially in view of the scenic landscapes that abound. Sports such as table tennis, football, volleyball, and badminton have quite a few takers. Recently, yoga and martial arts have climbed the popularity charts in the major cities. Traditional activities such as gathering around a log fire to drink and share jokes are uniquely Ukrainian recreations.

Anything else important for this culture: There is little respect for the law and it is common for people to not stop at red lights. It is common for men to flirt with single women, and protesting really doesn’t get you anywhere. Heavy drinking is considered normal and bread is almost sacred.


Swimming in Crimea
Photo by Vlad & Marina Butsky

Meetings & Greetings: Hand shakes are a common way of greeting people in business circles. A kiss on the cheek is offered to close relations and friends. It is common to address a man by his last name with the title Pan, and women with the title Pani. If there is a professional title, you need to use that. Never shake hands or make conversation under a threshold; it is said to bring bad luck. Never shake hands with gloves on.

Kiev WinterCourtesy: It is normal to open meetings with informal conversations and a drink which is best accepted as a refusal might seem rude. It is not polite to launch into business straightaway, but considered common practice to take time to gauge your counterpart leisurely before starting business.

Gift Giving: This is a common practice and a lot of thought goes into the exercise. Tickets to a concert, a box of chocolate or anything from your country will be much appreciated. If invited to a home, a thoughtful gift for the lady of the house would be a nice gesture. Invariably she would have been toiling in the kitchen to prepare your dinner. If bringing flowers, never present white Easter lilies, which are only for funerals, or any yellow flower, which is considered bad luck. Also, make sure the number of flowers is odd. If you have been at the receiving end, a thank-you note is customary.

Dress Code: Blending in is the right thing to do in Ukrainian society. Therefore, try your best to not stand out when among others. Business suits are appropriate for formal meetings. But if you dressed all in black, you may be mistaken for the underworld. It is better to be overdressed than underdressed. Do not enter restaurants, concert halls, or theaters in casual wear. Shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers are not acceptable other than for trekking or camping activities.

Ukraine KidsDining Etiquette: There is no such thing as a quick meal for Ukrainians. Every meal is an elaborate affair with a variety of home-cooked food and strong alcoholic drinks. This may take quite a while to accomplish and nobody will seem to be in a hurry. In fact to be in a hurry over a meal is considered rude. The host decides where the guest of honor is to be seated.

While dining, adopt the European mode of holding the fork in the left hand. After you’re done you may leave the cutlery crossed in the middle of the plate. Never pass salt directly to a person; instead place it on the table in front of him. Visiting a home: Ukrainians love to invite people to their homes, and go to a lot of effort cooking everything from scratch. There will be quite a lot of fatty food such as butter, pork fat, sour cream and rich, creamy milk served to you. The concept of low fat or junk food does not exist. Everything is homemade and wholesome. You will most certainly be welcomed with vodka or other strong spirits which you almost never should refuse. This is meant to be drunk in one shot and never sipped.

Lviv Traffic
Photo by  point of lviv

Communication Style: English is not spoken widely and you may need the services of an interpreter for business and tours. When meeting an older person, it is the younger that has to initiate the introduction.

Ukraine ShopDos and Don’ts: It is common for Ukrainians to find fault with their systems and the law, but you should not join in or attempt to do the same. Beckoning with the index finger is rude. Never gesture with your thumb sticking out between your fingers in a fist; it is the Ukrainian equivalent of a raised middle finger. If you tap your forehead with your finger, it implies you think the other is crazy and this may land you in trouble. You do not wear a hat or cap indoors, or put your feet up on the coffee table.

Kiev Child photo by  AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker
St. Sophia photo by 
Ukrainian Woman photo by
quatre mains
Kiev Winter photo by
AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker
Ukraine Kids photo by
quatre mains
Ukraine Shop photo by
L-plate big cheese

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