Ukraine became a sovereign nation in August 1991, finally departing from the Soviet Union shortly before the fall of the union in December 1991. I traveled there with my dad this summer for his business trip — a vast Ag Show where my dad showed his products to potential agricultural buyers.
With Ukraine being nearly the same climate of the American Midwest, agriculture is pivotal there. It received the name “the breadbasket of Russia” when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and even longer before that.
Agriculture in Ukraine is standard and woven into the culture — just like in Kansas.
Ukraine counted as my eleventh country to visit, and it’s the first country where I felt so out of place, but yet sort of still at home. It has a very similar climate to Kansas, so it felt like I was still in my home state, but the tall concrete buildings, the famous Kyiv Library, the ancient churches and the terrible roads brought me back to the country I was in.
It has only been a modern country for nearly 28 years, and so much of the Soviet shadow remains, yet the people continue to push forward as hard as any other country left in the ashes of the Soviet Union. It trudges on and sings to being fiercely independent of its former occupation.
Even though most residents of the nation speak Russian and Ukrainian (or a hodgepodge of both), the latter is the official language of the country. Meanwhile, there’s the infamous debate over borscht soup in which all Ukrainians will tell you it’s a Ukrainian dish and all Russians will tell you it’s a Russian dish.
Even with a captivating history and a rocky path to the present, it’s the people who have endured it all that I find the most fascinating.
I met Olga, a 17-year-old born and raised Ukrainian, but she fluently speaks three languages (Ukrainian, English and Russian) and she adores her country and loves to talk about its politics. She told me everything.
She told me about the history of Ukraine that I know; she told me about the nature of the residents compared to the environment of the nation’s politics — everything from how their current president is a comedian to showing me some political memes about the hardships the country is going through.
She told me about how the subways and buses my dad and I rode in are from the time of Soviet occupation and why everything seemed to be so cheap for Americans — it’s because the economy is still growing — and all the different nationalities that are quite common in the capital city of Kyiv.
Olga rarely left anything out, she told me about the food and all the different nationalities that influence it.
Uzbekistani, Tajikistani, Georgian, Armenian and Romanian dishes are all now all common, at-home dishes. The Soviet shadow is to thank as it has allowed many nationalities and cultures to homogenize in one central location, Kyiv.
Ukraine still has so much further to go, it still works every day to get out of the shadow cast by its past, but the people remain active, and to see such a bright young heart be passionate about her country tells me it has an excellent chance to have a healthy future on the global stage.
The air and countryside of Ukraine felt so much like home, but it still felt so foreign at the same time. Out of the 11 countries, this is the first country that has captivated me so fiercely and the only state that I still can’t adequately describe to someone.
It’s just a place you have to visit to understand.
Olivia Bergmeier is the multimedia editor for the Collegian and a junior in mass communications and conservation biology. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.