25 amazing things you (probably) didn't know about Ukraine

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«25 amazing things you (probably) didn't know about Ukraine» (25 удивительных вещей, которые вы (вероятно) не знали об Украине) — editorial Hugh Morrise British newspaper The Telegraph, dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Independence of Ukrainian. Released for publication August 24, 2016.

To mark 25 years of Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union, here is an array of facts and trivia you probably did not know about the Eastern European country.

1. It is large

Not counting Russia, which has an ambiguous relationship with Europe, Ukraine is the continent’s largest county at 603,628 square kilometres, stretching from Russia in the east to Poland in the west, and sandwiched between the Black Sea in the south and fellow former Soviet state Belarus in the north. France is a respectable second at 551,695 square kilometres.

2. And boasts seven wonders

Within its large borders, Ukraine has seven Unesco World Heritage sites, including the 11th century Saint-Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, the ancient city of Chersonesus and the primeval beech forests of the Carpathians. One of its sites is a Struve Geodetic Arc – one of 34 commemorative plaques or obelisks that mark the first accurate measurement of a meridian through ten countries, linking Hammerfest in Norway through to the Black Sea in Ukraine. Ukraine has five separate markers. Beyond its World Heritage sites it has a wealth of majestic Orthodox cathedrals, including St Michael's in Kiev, pictued above.

Saint-Sophia Cathedral CREDIT: ALAMY

3. It likes a drink, but not as much as it used to

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked Ukraine sixth in alcohol consumption, with 13.9 litres glugged per capita per year. The study from 2010 put only Belarus (top), Moldova, Lithuania, Russia and Romania ahead of Ukraine. However, initial figures for last year tell a different story, with the country falling to 15th place, with a figure of 11.8. In the estimate, the UK features above Ukraine, in 13th place.

4. But it's not just vodka

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that Ukrainians do not drink vat-loads of vodka as one might assume. The national drink is called horilka, and though very close to vodka and used a substitute term for the clear spirit, it is actually slightly different. While vodka means “little water”, horilka means “burning water”, a nod to the fact that drink is often flavoured with chili pepper.

5. It loves Mcdonald's

Ukraine is not all about booze. The McDonald’s next to the main train station in Kiev, the country’s capital, is claimed to be the third busiest in the world.

Файл:A McDonald's sign in the capital.jpg
A McDonald's sign in the capital CREDIT: ALAMY

6. It is at the heart of Europe

Put your tea down because this one is a gasper. Within Ukraine is the geographical centre of Europe. OK, it’s not quite as simple as that as a number of locations lay claim to the title and it depends on how you measure Europe, but the small town of Rakhiv in western Ukraine is one such place. Remarkably, the country has a second claimant in Transcarpathia, where an Austrian-Hungarian (who once ruled over the territory) obelisk marks the spot.

7. It’s not The Ukraine

The English-speaking world commonly referred to the country as The Ukraine. That is, until independence in 1991 when the West gradually dropped the definite article. In 1993 the Ukranian government requested that the country be called just Ukraine. US ambassador William Taylor, who knew that addition of the “the” was considered insulting by some Ukrainians, said it implied a disregard for the country’s sovereignty.

8. It gets deep

Arsenalna, a station on Kiev’s Sviatoshynsko-Brovarska line, is the world’s deepest at 105.5 metres below ground.

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The escalator at Arsenalna CREDIT: ALAMY

9. But its capital's main street tells a different story

Kiev’s main street, Khreshchatyk Street, is often referred to as the shortest yet widest main drag in the world. At only 1.2km long but remarkably broad, the street, which was destroyed in Second World War, is a focal point of the capital.

10. Speaking of Kiev...

No, chicken Kiev does not come from Kiev. It is thought to be a 19th-century French recipe, brought to the east by Russian aristocracy fascinated by French cuisine.

Файл:Kiev's centre, and not a chicken in sight.jpg
Kiev's centre, and not a chicken in sight CREDIT: FOTOLIA/AP

11. It was once a breadbasket

Bread, on the other hand plays a large part in Ukrainian history. The country was once known as the breadbasket of Europe, owing to its large agricultural industry. This title was to cause the country immense hardship when it became responsible for feeding the Soviet Union under Stalin. Collectivisation and unassailable grain targets were the main causes of the Great Famine, otherwise known as Holodomor, in 1932 and 1933 that killed as many as 7.5 million Ukrainians. The famine is considered a genocidal act by 25 countries, including Ukraine, Australia and Canada.

12. It has hosted plenty of history

Ukraine has played the stage for much destruction during its history. But it was also the host of the Yalta Conference in 1945, where Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met to discuss the organisation of post-war Europe. Livadia Palace, which hosted the meeting, is open today as a museum. Today, Yalta is part of history once again as it lies on the disputed Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014. The Crimea is one of three areas the Foreign Office advises against travel to.

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A statue to commemorate the visit of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt CREDIT: FOTOLIA/AP

13. It is home to ghost towns

Another Ukrainian claim to history is Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster. The location in northern Ukraine is now the centre of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, established by the USSR soon after the accident in 1986. Within the zones are a number of abandoned towns that draw interest from all over the world. Tours of the area, including the power plant are available, at the risk of the traveller. Radiation levels remain dangerously high – read Telegraph Travel's Chris Leadbeater guide on how to visit.

Tour of Chernobyl 30 years after the disasterPlay! 03:28

14. Cafe capital of the world

The city of Lviv is sometimes claimed to have the most cafes in the world per capita. Fiona Duncan, visiting for Telegraph Travel, said: “Though Livivians of today are known for both their fervent nationalism and for their churchgoing, their city has an easy-going, almost frivolous air, filled with university students, embellished by its frothy confection of Renaissance, Baroque, Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau buildings and scented with aromas from its hundreds of Viennese style coffee houses. We only had to step out from our hotel, the Opera, and stroll with the crowds along Lviv’s central spine, Svobody (Liberty) Avenue, to find out how relaxed the place is.”

15. It invented the gas lamp

Lviv also boasts to be the home of the first ever gas lamp. Invented by a local pharmacist in a store called At the Golden Star, today the achievement is remembered by a café called Gasova L’ampa found in the same building.

16. Recognise this?

The Tunnel of Love, excellent Instagram fodder and vital travel inspiration, is found in the forests of Ukraine near the town of Kleven. The rail road is for a private train that provides wood for a local factory.

17. It built a superlative plane

Kiev was home to the world’s biggest plane, the Antonov An-225 Myriya. It has the largest wingspan of any aircraft, at 88.4 metres and weighs 640,000kg. A brainwave of the Soviet Union, only one was ever made.

18. And has a huge military

Ukraine, which inherited a large nuclear arsenal after the break up of the Soviet Union, has the second largest military in Europe behind Russia.

19. You can ski there

It’s no French Alps, but Ukraine has about four or five ski resorts to shout about, including Bukovel in the Carpathian mountains, with 55km of slopes and 15 lifts.

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The ski resort of Bukovel CREDIT: FOTOLIA/AP

20. Its capital is a hero

The capital Kiev was given Hero City status by the Soviet Union following its resistance to the Nazis in the Battle of Kiev in 1941. The Germans encircled the city in July of 1941, eventually capturing it in September and taking more than 600,000 soldiers captive. Despite the battle being seen as a huge victory for Hitler, the city was rewarded for its defence with the title of Hero City in 1965.

21. It is big on easter eggs

Ukrainians are pretty big on easter eggs. Less so, stuffing their faces with low-quality chocolate: they favour more intricate designs using wax on ornaments known as pysankas. Different regions of the country have different styles and methods of decoration. The practice was banished by the Soviet Union, but continued in north and south American by Ukrainian immigrants.

22. Its music inspires

George Gershwin’s Summertime was inspired by an old Ukrainian lullaby.

23. It has a mighty Soviet relic

Armed with a 16-metre sword and a great slab of a shield, Mother Motherland clearly isn’t to be messed with. While Communist symbols and street names were outlawed from Ukraine in 2015, Second World War monuments – like this titanium statue in Kiev – were allowed to remain.

Mother Motherland, a suitably imposing 62-metres high, was built in the 1970s – and now forms part of the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II (catchy title). The monument’s fire pit is supposed to hold an eternal flame, but due to funding issues it now only burns on the biggest national holidays.

24. It has a cool coastline

The Black Sea, home to Ukraine’s only coastline, is popular with holidaymakers and this perhaps due to its still, calm waters, as the massive lake lacks a tide. The water level never changes.

25. And a surprising claim to political history

Ukraine was home to one of the world’s first ever constitutions, in the form of the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, written by a Ukrainian Cossack in 1710. It established a democratic standard for the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive and judiciary branches, an idea perhaps made more famous by Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, which was published in 1748.

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