Travelling in Ukraine offers so many distinctive experiences to visitors. Not only is the country beautiful, but it is also filled with rich cultural heritage, ethnic groups, and colourful history. Ukraine is an up-and-coming, off the beaten path destination that people are just beginning to discover. Since it’s still relatively untouched, it’s full of unique, meaningful, community-driven experiences. Many traditional, locally-led activities are available and educate visitors in a more authentic way. It’s a great destination for rural tourism as many experiences are offered in more remote parts of the country.
Take a Ukrainian Cooking Class
Spend an evening in the home of locals in the heart of Lviv and learn how to cook traditional Ukrainian food. Get a real taste of Ukrainian customs and culture by cooking and enjoying a traditional 3-course meal. The menu includes sliced smoked pork filet, salted herring with red onion, and Ukrainian borsch for the starter; varenyky (traditional dumplings) with cabbage and cottage cheese for the main course; and baked apples with cinnamon and buckwheat honey for dessert. This is definitely the most delicious way to spend a night in Lviv.
Attend a Hutsul Wedding
In a small village in the Carpathian mountains, travellers will get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a re-creation of a traditional Hutsul wedding. Hutsuls, a famously hospitable ethnic subgroup of Ukrainians, are passionate about preserving the traditions of their ancestors. Guests will learn the customs surrounding a traditional wedding and see the intricate, handmade costumes worn for the event. The re-creation is filled with all the joy of the real event, including learning traditional songs, watching the locals dance, and trying food homemade by local women.
Meet the Self-Settlers of Chernobyl
After the Chernobyl disaster, many people were displaced from their homes. Some who were forced to evacuate decided to move back into their homes within the 30km zone of alienation (an exclusion zone surrounding the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant) and became known as self-settlers, or “samosely.” Get the unique opportunity to speak to some of these people in the village of Paryshiv. Hear their perspective and learn why they chose to come back and live permanently in a known danger zone. Though the area was once very dangerous, it is safe to visit today due to the low levels of radiation and the short amount of time you will spend in the area.
Learn How to Make Traditional “Lizhnyky”
The small village of Yavoriv near the Polish border is famous for its “lizhnyky”. Lizhnyky are handwoven woollen blankets made only by women. Yavorivian women make these blankets using a traditional method that has been preserved for centuries. Travellers can try their hand at making this unique blanket themselves while learning about the long-standing traditions of this art. Lizhnyky blankets are great for cold winters and make a perfect souvenir from Ukraine.
Discover the Kosiv Bazar
Every Saturday, the Ukraine-famous Kosiv Bazaar opens at 4 a.m. and is the perfect place to get a feel for the local Ukrainian culture. The town of Kosiv is home to many artists and craftsmen that pass their craft down from generation to generation. They all gather to sell their goods at the bazaar, which is the best place to connect with locals and pick up a masterfully crafted souvenir. Talk to booth owners and learn about the traditional Ukrainian wares they make and sell. Stroll through the rows of stalls and feast your eyes on the beautiful designs, colours, and materials that engulf the bazaar. It sells everything; wood carvings, ceramics, clothing, and fresh local delicacies. Kosiv bazaar isn’t just a market, it’s really a living, breathing museum of Ukrainian art and culture.
These five authentic experiences are just some of many to be had in Ukraine. With locals eager to show off their traditions, the options for community-based tourism are endless. When your trip is over, not only are you guaranteed to leave with a lifetime supply of memories but also a feeling of connectivity to Ukrainian people and their beautiful country.
Author: Jenna Olsen, 2021