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20 December, 2011  ▪  The Ukrainian Week

Facets of Ukraine’s Real Image

Ukraine through foreign eyes

The Ukrainian Week decided to find out what image Europeans have of our country in their minds. We conducted a mini-survey among young Europeans and present the results below. We are also adding several telling excerpts from articles on Ukraine found in international travel guides and some captivating travel notes published by the foreign press. Of course this is just a another mirror, one that is sometimes curved and distorting, but also one into which we should look.


Li Guimaraes, Portugal: “I see Ukraine as the biggest country on the European continent whose history and literature are, unfortunately, unknown.”

Alexandra, Germany: “Ukraine definitely does not know how to advertise its attractions and natural beauty here in Germany. You can often come across advertisements of Albania or Croatia, but I have never seen anything like that about Ukraine. But you also have nice beaches and you have ancient Kyiv.”


Anna Wencyk, Poland: “Post-Soviet heritage lurks in the mentality of people who were shaped by decades of living in the communist system when we had to adjust in order to survive. This situation is like ours – the consequences of the Polish National Republic still have a negative impact on building a truly democratic and rule-of-law state.”

Tadeya, Slovenia: “If changes in Ukraine are taking place more slowly than in some other former Soviet republics, we need to understand that both the economy and the people have to mature to rise to democracy and take a certain path of development.”

Todor, Romania: “The presence of democracy in this country is doubtful.”

Lonely Planet travel guide:

Ukraine, whose name means ‘borderland’, is slowly, and sometimes indecisively, shifting. You still frequently encounter the surly, unhelpful bureaucracy that reigned when this was part of the Soviet Union, but now it’s tempered by widespread aspirations to eventually join the EU. … A patchwork nation, as contemporary pundits like to call it, Ukraine draws on numerous historical influences, and as a patchwork nation it’s searching for unifying 21st-century symbols. … The golden domes of myriad Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox cathedrals gleam out across one of Europe’s poorest nations. Yet, among the rocky outcrops of fascinating Crimea, you’ll also find Turkic architecture, not to mention ancient cave cities.


Karolina Lagewka, Poland: “I thought that Belgian service was bad but saw an even worse attitude to clients in Ukraine. While in Crimea, we thought it was because of our nationality (we are Polish), but we got the same treatment in other cities, too, except for Lviv and Odesa. (There was nothing to complain about there.) The poor quality of service caught our eye as it contrasted against the background of high prices which usually were triple the amount indicated in travel guides. In Ukrainian restaurants we saw how Russian tourists and rich people were courteously served on a priority basis, and using a different menus at that, while we foreign tourists were second or even third class to them. My trip to Ukraine did not inspire me as much as to go there again, and I don't want even think about Euro 2012.”

Alicia Szadzewicz, Poland: “I associate Ukraine with brutal bandits, truly beautiful women who sell themselves cheaply, but it is, in fact, similar everywhere. To me, Ukraine is also a sea of alcohol and a nice festival atmosphere.”

Travel section, Dallas Morning News, USA:

Few people speak English in Ukraine. If you need a taxi or would like to go on an excursion, ask your hotel for help. Never get into a taxi in Ukraine. You can only rely on a taxi arranged by a Ukrainian friend or a hotel.

Let’s Go travel guide:

Don’t be surprised if a desk clerk and a website provide two different prices for a room, and don’t expect anyone outside Kyiv to speak much English. If you can get past the almost complete lack of tourist infrastructure, Ukraine can be a beautiful and adventurous place to travel.


Sylwester, Poland: “I primarily associate Ukraine with corruption, bad roads and mafia. It is a country which I am sure I will not drive my car into. It is better not to walk around at night. Other things that come to mind are vodka, food and nice women.”

Anna Wencyk, Poland: “What stuns me in the post-Soviet space is that they block roads and limit traffic when government officials pass by. In Poland, streets are not blocked when a car carrying our president or prime minister is approaching.”

Travel section, Dallas Morning News, USA:

The heart of Kiev beats at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square. It was here that Ukrainians took to the street in 2004 in the Orange Revolution, and it remains the city’s gathering place of choice. … People-watching provides unlimited entertainment in Kiev, home to Ukraine’s richest oligarchs. You’ll see big, blond hair that rivals even stereotypical Dallas. Women wearing leopard print browse designer shops off Khreschatyk Street. Pimped-out SUVs blatantly ignore traffic and parking laws.

A Wikitravel article about Ukraine:

Be aware that all foreigners are subject to higher scrutiny by police when traveling on public transportation, especially intercity forms of it. Be prepared to show your passport and entry papers and keep your embassy/consulate number handy in case you come across a corrupt official. If you are caught outside your base city without your official documents, be prepared for a big fine.


Piotr Ligai, Poland: “In my mind Ukraine means also backwardness, Soviet styles, problems with transportation, outrageous things on the border and the poverty of the citizen’s everyday lives which is driving many out of the country.”

Jesus Rosilio Avila, Spain:

“I have been to Ukraine recently, and was stunned by the huge gap between the poor and the rich. Worn-down roads on which expensive cars drive… These contrasts are especially noticeable outside Kyiv.”


Todor, Romania: “I have the impression that Ukraine is doomed to remain a battlefield between the EU and Russia for a long time.”

Oreli Courier, France: “I know that the Ukrainian population is divided between Europe and Russia, but it can also be used as your strength!”

Violeta Podagelite, Lithuania: “When I was in Ukraine, I saw that there was indeed a certain division into Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking Ukrainians there.”

Stephan Heck, Germany: “In my perception, Ukraine is a country of songs and embroidery. I also associate it with the smell of fresh dill. But then the problems I saw when I was there spring to mind: corruption, the language issue (a very emotional topic) and a search for and construction of Ukraine's identity between the West and the East.”

World Travel Guide:

Ukrainian is the sole official state language. It is still widely spoken in western and central Ukraine, although Russian is spoken by virtually everyone. Russian is the main language spoken in Kiev, eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Let’s Go travel guide:

Today, Ukrainians are divided over their own identity: this internal struggle to reinvent and yet retain traditions can make Ukrainian culture confusing to navigate.


Piotr Ligai, Poland: “Ukraine is definitely a European country. It is much closer to me than, say, Portugal. On the spiritual level, it is sometimes even closer to me than contemporary Poland. But it is democratic only to a degree.”

Ana Azavedo, Portugal: “I don't see Ukraine as European, because its history and culture of very different from ours.”

Tomas Van Der Vejk, Netherlands: “I will be able to see Ukraine as a European country only if there is true rule of law, respect for human rights and freedom for the opposition.”


Piotr Ligai, Poland: “In my mind, Ukraine means, above all, my friends, as well as beautiful music, vacationing by the seaside, delicious fish, hospitable people and nice-looking women.”

World Travel Guide:

Ukrainian people are generally warm and friendly to visitors. It is not at all uncommon for Ukrainians to invite strangers into their own homes. Shoes should be removed upon entering a home. … Visitors should avoid ostentatious displays of wealth in public places. Men should not shake a woman’s hand unless it is offered to them.


Orange Revolution (symbol No. 1)


Yulia Tymoshenko (brand)

Gas wars

Nice women who sell themselves for money (sex tourism)

Sunflower fields




Lots of vodka


Streets blocked to let officials pass

Fights in parliament

Klitschko brothers

Andriy Shevchenko


Youth festivals

Related publications:

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