Welcome to Ukraine!
If you want to find out more about one of the most exciting – but frustrating countries in Eastern Europe … then you have come to the right place. www.expatua.com was established in 2003 and has a lively forum with over 4,500 members - so please join.
The country is home to 46 million people, 78 percent of whom are ethnic Ukrainians, with sizable minorities of Russians (17%), Belarusians and Romanians. Ukrainian is the official language in Ukraine but despite this Russian is widely spoken. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has heavily influenced Ukrainian architecture, literature and music. Although Ukraine achieved independence in 1991 upon the fall of the USSR, democracy remained elusive, as the legacy of state control and endemic corruption prevented economic reform, privatisation and civil liberties. A peaceful mass protest, the “Orange Revolution”, in the closing months of 2004 forced the authorities to overturn a rigged presidential election and to allow a new internationally-monitored vote, which brought to power a reformist state under Viktor Yushchenko. Since 2010 a new president, Viktor Yanukovych, has been in charge. Acceptance into the European Union is an important – if very unlikely – priority, but Ukraine is still heavily reliant on Russia for its fuel supplies, and is therefore never likely to fully grow according to its own plans. Corruption is rife and, as the Dutch say “Rotting starts at the head” so despite the correct noises being made by the ruling party, lip service is paid to the idea of a democratic society by politicians who are in the pockets of Oligarchs who in turn own most of the major industries. Bureaucracy too is thriving and helps to stifle any form of entrepreneurial spirit – many of the Soviet rules and regulations still exist and, despite the fact that they are largely irrelevant, to satisfy them requires determination and application.
The weather is puzzling – it can be +40 degrees in Summer and then -25 in Winter. Expats from temperate climates will marvel at the first snowfall around November – but become worried when it is still falling 5 days later. Despite all that the roads are still manageable – the pavements less so.
Etiquette: Nowadays Ukraine is an unmistakably “European country”, with a few idiosyncrasies of its own. Ukrainians can often seem rude, especially with strangers – for example, in shops and banks – so don’t take it personally if you don’t receive a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. However, with friends they are some of the most hospitable people in Europe, and make up for their external brusqueness by being extremely polite in other ways: Ukrainians are very respectful of the elderly, never failing to help them when needed, and generally always give up their seats on public transport. There aren’t many customs in Ukraine that visitors can unintentionally break. But speaking loudly in public (or acting in an undignified way) is frowned upon, so it is better not to draw attention to yourself.
Safety: There has been a lot of negative press in Britain in particular about Ukraine and focussing on racism and violence against black – asian – in fact anyone not fitting into the white ideal ayryan model. This is overhyped and sensationalism at it’s worst. Yes, there are idiots… all countries have them. Just be careful as you would in any major city and especially if you are a foreigner – of whatever race, creed or colour.
Finally, Ukraine is always just that – never “The Ukraine”.