Last updated: 01:43 PM ET, Tue January 22 2019
View of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, city and Dnepr river. Kiev, Ukraine. (photo via ChamilleWhite / iStock / Getty Images Plus)


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Politically young, but historically ancient, Ukraine has a rich historic, cultural and architectural legacy. It is Europe’s second-largest country, so you have to pick and choose what to see. First, there’s its capital, cosmopolitan Kiev (birthplace of the eponymously named garlic-filled chicken dish). Then there’s the resort area of Yalta, where Russian czars once took their holidays and where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met in the waning days of World War II to plot the course for post-war Europe, and the beautiful coast of Crimea. Ukraine has its own version of the Swiss Alps -- the Carpathian Mountains. Another major city is Lvov, a major port on the Black Sea, a city of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Italianate and Neoclassical architectural masterpieces.

Ukraine means borderland and over the centuries it has served as a buffer between East and West. Once a major medieval empire, it fell to the Mongols, then rose again as an independent state, but ultimately became part of the Russian Empire and then a Soviet state. Its Orange Revolution in 2004 laid the political groundwork for the nation today and since then Ukraine has had more freedom of the press, enjoyed gradually improving economy and now aspires to join the European Union.

It’s a country with the golden domes of Russian and Ukrainian orthodox churches as well as Turkic architecture -- mosques, palaces and Islamic schools -- in the Crimea. This is where the marauding Cossacks got their start, something that the Russian-speaking east, center and south are proud of, but the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country takes pride in the Hutsul culture of the Carpathians. The Tatars of Crimea are proud of their own heritage as well.

Ukraine is building a new national identity and has its eyes on Europe. Besides intending to join the EU, it’s also co-host of the European Football Championships in 2012.

Ukrainians have kept their own unique cuisine, despite Russian domination. Ukrainian cuisine stems from peasant dishes based on the plentiful grains and staple vegetables grown in the country. Staple crops include sugar beets, potatoes, grapes, cabbages and mushrooms. These are often key ingredients in soups and salads. The most popular dish is borshch, a hearty soup. Other typical dishes include Kovbasa (sausage) and sauerkraut, varnyky (dumplings) and holubtsi (stuffed cabbage) and strudels, breaded meats and desserts, such as cheesecake and tar.

Domestic flights connect Kiev, Lviv, Odessa and other major cities. Trains are the most convenient and reliable means for long-distance travel, although degrees of comfort and punctuality may vary from one train to the next. Booking tickets can be problematic; book tickets as far in advance as possible. Buses are inexpensive but often crowded. Regular cruises operate between Kiev, Odessa and Sevastopol, and they’re a good way of seeing the countryside.