People, Religion, Festivals, Traditions in Ukraine


Ukraine is famous for its bright traditions and dynamic cultural life, which attracts more and more visitors to this beautiful country. If you are planning your trip to Ukraine or considering relocation here, you may be interested to know about cultural life in Ukraine, national identity of Ukrainian people, local traditions and religion.

This article provides introduction to Ukrainian cultural aspects, main holidays and public days off as well as cultural features of Ukraine.

Historical Background

Excavations prove, that Ukrainian territory was inhabited since 32,000 BC. Ukraine is homeland of one of the most ancient civilizations – the Trypillian Civilization, which flourished on her territory between approximately 7,000  to 5,000 years back in history. At the time of Middle Ages, on the territory of Ukraine was formed a powerful state Kievan Rus, which was center of East Slavic Culture. Kievan Rus gathered numerous tribes, which lived on the territory of Ukraine at that time, in one state and it is considered as the time, when Ukrainian identity was formed. With adoption of Christianity in 989, on the territory of Ukraine the new cultural era has started with considerable influence of the Byzantine Empire, one of the most advanced cultures of that time.

Due to rich natural resources and excellent geographical location, at different times territories of Ukraine were conquered and ruled by such countries as Lithuania, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. This had huge impact on culture and regional diversity of Ukraine. You can easily notice that some Western Ukrainian regions (which was long time part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Austro-Hungarian Empire) have a lot in common with Poland, Austria and Hungary (dialects, religion, traditions and architecture), whereas Eastern Ukraine is traditionally closer to Russia.


Ukrainians belong to East Slavic ethnic group and are the 8th largest nation in Europe. According to the latest census about 78% of the population (33,312,240 out of an overall 42,708,000) is ethnic Ukrainian. The largest minority group is the Russians (about 17,3%). Belarussians, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians and Romanians make up less than 1%. Ukraine has long been a crossroad between Europe, Arabia and the East. It was a reason of strong admixture of blood giving Ukrainians an average height, slender build, fair skin, generally light eyes and hair.

Most of people in Ukraine (around 68%) live in urban areas and there is a constant movement of rural populations to the rapidly industrializing urban centres.

A wide-ranging Ukrainian diaspora exists throughout the World.  Officially around 10 million people outside Ukraine identify as having Ukrainian ethnicity, however according to some researches their population exceeds 20 million people. Ukrainians primarily move to Russia, Canada, the USA, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Italy and Argentina. Many of them maintain cultural and economic links with the homeland.

People here are well-educated, hard-working and are one of the most hospitable nations in Europe. Ukrainians made a significant impact in the fields of aviation, aerospace, IT, agriculture, metallurgy, sport and art. Ukraine is famous for such well-known in the world personalities as writer Taras Shevchenko, painter Kazmir Malevich, spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev, boxers Klitschko brothers and many others.


Ukraine guarantees freedom of religion

Ukraine is a secular state with a high level of religious freedom. According to the country’s Constitution, church and state are separated from each other. More than 90% of religiously active citizens are Christian. Christianity was established as the national religion in 988 by Prince Volodymyr the Great. Since those times the territory of Ukraine has been known for its magnificent churches and cathedrals. The most important national Ukrainian shrines are Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and Saint Sophia’s Cathedral that are included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

In Ukraine the dominant religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity (over 88% of religious population) and about 15,8% of the religious population in Ukraine are Catholics (mostly in Western Ukraine). In addition, nearly 500,000 Muslims and 400,000 Jews are estimated to live in Ukraine.


In Ukraine there are 11 public holidays

Date National Holiday (day off)
01-Jan New Year’s Day
07-Jan Orthodox Christmas
08-Mar Women’s Day
Date is changeable Orthodox Easter
Date is changeable ,  Easter + 49 days Orthodox Pentecost
01-02-May Labour Day Holiday
09-May Victory Day over Nazism in World War II
28-Jun Constitution Day
24-Aug Independence Day
14-Oct Defender’s Day

There are 11 public holidays in Ukraine that are officially considered as day offs:

  • 3 Government holidays (Constitution Day, Independence Day, Defender’s Day­­­)
  • 3 Religious holidays (Christmas Day, Orthodox Easter, Orthodox Pentecost)
  • 5 Social holidays (New Year’s Day, International Women’s Day, 2 days of International Workers, Victory Day)

If a national holiday falls on a weekend, the following Monday is officially observed as a day off. On the request of religious communities of non-orthodox confessions, employers have to provide their representatives with up to three days of rest within the year for celebration of their great holidays (with further working for these days). There are also many other festivals (working days) in Ukraine, which are not days-off, such as the Day of Collegiality, Mother’s Day, Kupala Night and many others.

The most popular festival is New Year’s Day. It is celebrated on the 1st of January. On this occasion Ukrainians decorate a New Year’s Tree, prepare festive dinner, host guests and exchange presents with their relatives and friends. At the same time many of Ukraine’s top holidays are religious. They are observed according to the Julian calendar (except Christmas, which is celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar).

Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on the 6th of January. The evening before Christmas is called the Holy Evening.  Most of the customs are connected with these religious days. People in Ukraine sing traditional Christmas songs (shchedryk), go to church and celebrate in family circle. But, unlike in many other countries, Ukrainians do not exchange presents on these days.

There are some nationwide holidays that play very important role for Ukrainian formation. Among them are the Day of Collegiality (January 22), Constitution Day (June 28), Independence Day (August 24).  They are commonly associated with fireworks, parades, fairs, picnics and concerts.



Ukraine has lots of bright traditions

Ukraine has unique and diverse culture that is based on ancient Slavic traditions and symbols. The national flag colors mean blue peaceful sky above yellow wheat fields. It reflects the special role of agriculture for Ukraine (earlier known as a “bread basket of Europe”). Special attention in Ukrainian art is dedicated to woman (called Berehynia) as a symbol of wellness, fruitfulness and protectress of the home. Traditional picture of Woman-Berehynia is a female with warningly raised hands. In 2001, a column with a monument to Berehynia (also known as Independence monument) was constructed on top at Independence Square. She keeps the branch of snowball tree (the natural symbol of Ukraine) and is considered as Kiev defender.

Ukrainian traditional dance (hopak, cossachok) and music mostly came from Cossack era (15-18th century). Fast-paced, energetic folk dances (hopak, cossachok) and sentimental songs often represent Ukraine at International festivals and contests. Many people do not know  that worldwide famous Christmas song “Carol of the Bells” was written by Ukrainian composer Nikolai Leontovich (is known in Ukraine as “Shchedryk”). The beauty of Ukrainian dances grows up by the colorful folk costumes and the melodic musical  accompaniment. The bandura, kobza and lira are the Ukrainian national instruments, commonly used for this purpose.

The traditional dress of Ukraine is Vyshyvanka (embroidered shirt). It is traditionally adorned with black, red or blue motifs. Nowadays it is very popular and stylish to wear Vyshyvanka on public holidays.

Summing It Up

Ukrainians are one of the largest nations in Europe with a wide-ranging diaspora throughout the World. Hospital people, rich culture and ancient history attract attention of foreign tourists. As Ukraine has a high level of religious freedom you can meet here people of different faiths. The dominant religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox Christianity that brought a lot of traditions to the everyday life of people.The main distinguishing feature of Ukrainians is hospitality. They respect the family and religious values. People in this country are happy with their numerous holidays and love to celebrate them in largely.

In these days national customs and traditions are becoming more and more popular in urban areas among young Ukrainian people.

Related Resources

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