5 Things I Love About Ukraine
I am convinced that if people really knew Ukraine they would find so many things to love. But unfortunately most are like the disappointed wife in a recent American TV commercial for the upcoming UEFA Championship Soccer Tournament. There, celebrating with champagne and roses in a posh restaurant, her husband flashes airline tickets and a toothy grin. "We're going, honey!", he says, triumphantly. "To Paris?!" she responds, expectantly. "Better!" he says, grin widening, "To Ukraine!" Maybe if she knew what I knew, she'd fall in love with Ukraine, too.
1) Ukrainians are passionate.
I always joke that if they hate something – you know it. But if they love something – you know that, too!
This can be a bit daunting when at the rynok (open air market), someone seems to be reading you the riot act just because you touched their tomatoes and aren’t buying.
But on the upside, Political Correctness hasn’t ruined the great art of debate here. I love that we don’t have to act like we agree just to discuss something. But I also love that when I share a good meal, a great film, or beautiful art or music with friends – we really enjoy it.
I don’t know if it is learning to live through great difficulties that makes Ukrainians seem to drink in every drop of things that are good, but they do.
2) Ukrainians value intelligence.
In those passionate discussions I have as often heard someone quote from great world authors and philosophers as they have from old Soviet cartoons.
It seems to be assumed that everyone has at least a perfunctory knowledge of classical music, art and letters. Ask a thoughtful question and you’ll get a thoughtful answer – not a 30 second regurgitated sound bite from the latest spin doctors.
Don’t get me wrong. I have many educated, thinking friends and family in America. But whereas I think the best compliment people often give in America is that someone is “nice” in Ukraine it is that someone is intelligent.
3) Ukrainians are affectionate.
Whether it is friends greeting or parting with a kiss, walking arm in arm lost in conversation, being the original “close talkers”, or simply the elaborate birthday well wishes for “health and success”, etc. etc. …there is no lack of PDA in Ukraine. (Not to mention the young couples that find more “privacy” on a public park bench than at home, surrounded by extended family!)
If you are feeling lonely – move to Ukraine. (Well, move to Ukraine and make friends.) Whereas Americans make friends quickly, Ukrainians make friends deeply. And back to point 1) – if you are as fortunate as I am to have people here that love you, you'll never lack for evidence of their affection.
4) Ukrainians are beautiful.
I thought about saying “Ukrainians value beauty” and that is true, too… but let’s face it, Ukrainians have some of the most beautiful women in the world. But it’s more than that.
On Independence Day or Christmas or out at "Pyrohiv" (the outdoor museum of folk architecture and rural life outside Kyiv) you can find yourself swimming in a sea of beautiful “vyshyvankas" (traditional embroidered shirts) and bright colored “vinoks" (flower wreaths adorned with multi-colored ribbons).
At family meals and celebrations the table is not just FULL, overflowing with all sorts of mouth-watering (usually homemade) dishes, but also almost a work of art. Bright red marinated tomatoes set out by dark green pickles. Creamy varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings) and ivory-skinned new potatoes with fresh dill steam in dishes nearby… and on and on.
And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the paintings, music, dances, etc. that mingle to create the scent of beauty from the nation’s soul, an ever-present aroma in everyday life.
5) Ukrainians are spiritual.
Here the great divide between secular and spiritual (“and never the twain shall meet”!) that the West has is seems less pronounced.
I remember seeing both an icon and a “girlie” picture side-by-side on a taxi dashboard. But beyond this disturbing example, there is a genuine rootedness to the unseen in Ukraine.
Few think you are odd if you acknowledge the reality of God or His interaction in the daily affairs of man. But back to points 1) and 2) - you might find yourself in a lively interchange if you do - both with those for and against you!
But whatever you believe, the idea that man is more than simply physical has endured here despite years of communism's repeated pressure otherwise and I believe it adds a dimension to life that is slipping away in some western societies.
I know it's sometimes awkward to hear someone go on and on about the object of their affection. My Meyers Briggs personality test summary said that I “tend to put on a pedestal those I love”. I suppose that’s true. But is that such a bad thing?