- One must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Machiavelli Niccolo
Despite their often glum reticence and initial distrust of strangers, the Euro 2012 football championships proved what travellers to the country have known for years – that Ukrainians are, when given the chance, one of Europe’s most open and hospitable nations. Break down that reserve and you’ll soon be slurping borshsch in someone’s Soviet-era kitchen, listening to a fellow train passenger’s life story or being taken on an impromptu tour of a town’s sights by the guy you asked for directions. Much social interaction takes place around Ukraine’s hearty food, always brought out in belt-stretching quantities.
A diverse landscape obviously throws up a whole bunch of outdoorsy activities – from mountain biking and hill walking in the Carpathians to bird spotting in the Danube Delta, from cycling along the Dnipro in Kyiv to water sports on the islands across the river. But if the idea of burning calories on hill and wave has you fleeing for the sofa, rest assured that most Ukrainians have never tried any of the above, but love nothing more than wandering their country’s vast forests, foraging for berries and mushrooms or picnicking by a meandering river.
Some claim history ended around 1989, but not in Ukraine. The country is passing through a choppy period in its post-independence story and one which is fascinating to watch (from a safe distance perhaps). History is all around you wherever you go in this vast land, whether it be among the Gothic churches of Lviv, the Stalinist facades of Kyiv, the remnants of the once-animated Jewish culture of West Ukraine or the more recent Soviet high-rises just about anywhere.
Big & Diverse
Ukraine is big. In fact it's Europe’s biggest country (not counting Russia, which isn’t entirely in Europe) and packs a lot of diversity into its borders. You can be clambering around the Carpathians in search of Hutsul festivities, sipping Eastern Europe’s best coffee in sophisticated Lviv and partying on the beach in Odesa all in a few days. Ukrainians are also a diverse crowd; from the wired sophisticates of Kyiv’s business quarters to the Gogolesque farmers in Poltava, from the Zaporizhzhya steelmaker to the Hungarian-speaking bus drivers of Uzhhorod, few countries boast such a mixed population.