Ukraine can be described as a very large and mysterious country, very little known to “outsiders” (read Westerners) despite its huge size, which makes it one of the biggest countries in Europe.
With a land surface of 603,700 square kilometers and a population just shy of 45 million, Ukraine was always associated with its larger than life neighbor, which is Russia. And by larger than life I don’t mean God President Vladimir Putin, but the fact that Russia is the largest country in the world by a wide margin.
Now, despite its colossal neighbor, Ukraine stands out on its own right due to its beautiful scenery and cultural diversity, which is hardly a surprise. Thing is, Ukraine in its current form is a weird place, as it was a former member of the USSR and large territories which nowadays comprise Ukraine were taken from the neighboring countries, including Russia, Romania and Poland. Oh, and I almost forgot Crimea, which was given to Ukraine by Khrushchev, the former USSR president 60 years ago, but now it was taken back by Russia.
The idea is that Ukraine is made from what some are calling an unholy alliance of diverse peoples, hence the cultural diversity which is not always a good thing, especially if we’re considering the de-facto civil war in East Ukraine.
Thing is, Ukraine is a very interesting place, having a reputation of being home for a tough and “manly” people, hardy folk which are formidable by any metrics. Just like in Russia, smiling at a stranger in an Ukrainian city is deemed as a clear sign of madness, however, once you get to know the place and the ice is broken so to speak, you’ll end up falling in love with Ukraine and its people.
As you’re getting accustomed to the folks around, you’ll be surprised to see how warm they are behind their “cold blue eyes”, as they’ll invite you home for a borscht after showing you around and all that jazz.
Ukraine’s scenery is also tough, and I mean the outdoor life, especially during the winter, when snow covers most of the country and the temperatures plummet. However, except for the harsh winter, the climate of Ukraine is surprisingly mild during the rest of the year.
Considering Ukraine’s verdant and idyllic interior, which is very natural as in unspoiled, this country is the ideal destination for outdoors enthusiasts, i.e. cyclists and hikers.
Another thing to contemplate, like an additional reason for visiting Ukraine, are the Carpathian Mountains, spilling over the border with Hungary, Poland and Romania, offering an epic view as they dominate authoritatively the west of the country, while the eastern region and the center of Ukraine is mostly flat plains carpeted with cereals and sunflowers.
The south of Ukraine is very comparable to the Mediterranean climate, and I am talking about the Black Sea coastline, not to mention the Crimean peninsula, which used to be part of Ukraine until recently, making for one of the most interesting traveling destinations in this part of the world.
Even in heavy winters, the landscape is still flabbergasting, due to the plethora of Soviet era buildings and old churches where you can dive in and take shelter in case of emergency.
The country’s capital and main city is Kiev, a world famous name, founded in the 8th century and displaying a huge variety of architectural styles and buildings. Kiev used to be the capital of Kievan Rus, which was the precursor of the Russian empire, not to mention the modern Russian Federation, which is basically the same thing running under a different public relations policy. I am just kidding, but then again, who knows for sure?
One of Europe’s oldest cities is also located in Ukraine, and I am talking about Lviv, a magical place where you can imbibe in baroque architecture and also some magnificent pieces from the Renaissance period.
Odessa is best known for the Potemkin Stairway, which is the place where the legendary The Battleship Potemkin movie was filmed, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Ukraine has been recently in the news (in a bad way I mean) due to the civil war involving Russian separatists on the border, but except for Eastern Ukraine, the rest of the country is perfectly safe to visit anytime.