Hidden behind the Iron Curtain for over 45 years, Ukraine is still one of Europe’s lesser-explored and less-loved destinations. That’s a shame because within its borders you’ll find staggering diversity, from 11th-century cathedrals and ancient cities to beech forests and a sparkling coastline. It’s home to seven World Heritage Sites, contemporary cities like Chernivtsi, Lviv and Kyiv and plenty of activities for outdoorsy types, from hill walking to skiing. Have we piqued your interest in this charming Eastern European country? Here’s a handful of some of the most interesting facts about Ukraine you might not have heard before.
Interesting Facts about Ukraine
1. It’s bigger than you think it is
If you take Russia out of the equation – which, at 17.13 million km² is pretty colossal – Ukraine is the largest country on the continent. Measuring 603,628 km², the country stretches all the way from Poland in the west to Russia in the east, with Belarus to the north.
2. Bread plays a big part in its history
Ukraine was once known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’. It had a huge agricultural industry that then became responsible for feeding the Soviet Union under Salin. Unattainable grain targets caused the country immense hardship and were the main cause of Holodomor, the Great Famine, which took 7.5 million Ukrainian lives between 1932 and 1933. In 25 countries, including Ukraine and Canada, the famine is considered a genocidal act.
3. You’ll find a fair few ghost towns here
Europe is home to its fair share of ghost towns, but none more so than Chernobyl. Now the subject of a hit Netflix series, Chernobyl saw the world’s worst-ever nuclear power plant disaster. Soviet authorities established The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 1986, 36 hours after the accident, evacuating about 49,000 people from their homes. Pripyat was the hardest hit. The exclusion zone was later extended to 30 kilometres (from 10-kilometres), evacuating a further 68,000 people from their homes. Inside there are a handful of completely abandoned towns and, while tours are now possible, radiation levels are dangerously high.
4. They invented the gas lamp
Lviv, the cultural heart of Ukraine, invented the world’s first gas lamp. Two pharmacists – Jan Zeh and Ignacy Łukasiewicz – claim to have invented it in 1853 in a store called At the Golden Star. Today the site is a museum-cum-cafe called the Gas Lamp. The museum displays a huge collection of the original kerosene lamps invented in Lviv in 1853. The fun doesn’t stop there though – drinks arrive in glass flasks and canisters are used as reservation signs.
5. It has hero status
The Soviet Union awarded Kyiv the title of Hero City in 1965 following its resistance to the Nazis. In July 1941 the city became the site of the largest encirclement battle ever. When Germans started the offensive, thousands of civilians volunteered to help Soviet soldiers defend the city. Eventually, the Germans captured the city in September, taking over 600,000 Soviet soldiers captive. During the German occupation of Kyiv, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed or deported for forced labour. Kyiv again became a battlefield when advancing Soviet forces pushed the Germans back West, liberating the city on November 6, 1943.
6. You can beach and ski here
Beaches might not spring to mind when you think about Ukraine, but it’s home to a spectacular coastline along the Black Sea. The water lacks a tide and the water level doesn’t fluctuate either. From May through to late September, thousands descend on its resorts for sun, sea and relaxation. Odessa is the most popular resort town, boasting a handful of beaches, nightclubs and restaurants.
7. It’s home to one of the world’s oldest constitutions
The Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, written by a Ukrainian Cossack in 1710, is one of the world’s first constitutions. This set a democratic standard for the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. It also limited the executive authority of the Hetman and established a democratically elected Cossack parliament called the General Council. This predates the more famous example – the American Constitution – by over 65 years.