The social life changes brought about by Ukrainian independence are most evident in the cities, particularly Kiev. The country’s capital now boasts high-end stores catering to a moneyed class, and a fashionable strip of contemporary art galleries and cafés winds its way down the historical street of Andriyivskyi Uzviz. The capital’s renovated airport stands in striking contrast to its decidedly dour appearance in Soviet times.
The cities, with their broad sidewalks and extensive greenery, are eminently suited for walking. Ukrainians generally do a considerable amount of walking, either to get around or simply for enjoyment. Parks are plentiful and popular for strolling or picnicking, a common pastime among city dwellers, most of whom live in apartments. The cities also feature numerous kiosks, which sell all manner of wares.
Cultural pursuits and entertainment are widespread. Most of Ukraine’s major cities have ornate theatres with their own opera or ballet companies. Song-and-dance ensembles, most notably the Verovka State Chorus and the Virsky Dance Ensemble, have made Ukrainian folk music and dance into an impressive stage art. Though classical music remains popular, contemporary Western-style music has expanded its audience considerably and now dominates the airwaves on numerous commercial radio stations. Street concerts and club performances are common, as are dance clubs and cabarets. Imported television soap operas have developed a dedicated following, and cinemas show American blockbusters.
The country offers a variety of restaurants that serve Chinese, Greek, Continental, or other foreign cuisine. Pizza bars and other fast-food restaurants are increasingly common as well. Many Ukrainians, however, still prefer such traditional Ukrainian foods as borscht, cabbage rolls, varenyky (dumplings), studynets (a form of headcheese), and shashlyky (kebabs). On festive occasions these dishes are accompanied by vodka or champagne and eloquent toasts. The dish known as chicken Kiev, though commonly served in Ukraine, likely originated elsewhere.
In the countryside, horse-drawn carts with rubber wheels have not quite disappeared. The khata (“house”), made of mud and thatch and typically whitewashed, is still found as well. These homes often contain such traditional handiwork as embroideries, weavings, and handmade feather duvets and oversized pillows. Their inhabitants are predominantly elderly Ukrainians.
Written Ukrainian literature began with Christianization and the introduction of Old Church Slavonic as a liturgical and literary language. The literary heritage of the Ukrainian people in the early period, from the 11th to the 13th centuries, is that of Kievan Rus; sermons, tales, and lives of the saints were the major genres. After the Mongol destruction of Kievan Rus in the 13th century, literary activity in Ukraine declined. A revival began in the 14th century and was spurred further in the 16th century with the introduction of printing, the Reformation ferment, and the advance of the Counter-Reformation into Polish-dominated Ukrainian lands.
The Ukrainian vernacular gradually became more prominent in writings in the 16th century, but this process was set back in the 17th and 18th centuries, when many Ukrainian authors wrote in Russian or Polish. At the end of the 18th century, modern literary Ukrainian finally emerged out of the colloquial Ukrainian tongue.
Nineteenth-century Ukrainian writers greatly contributed to the reawakening of Ukrainian national consciousness under the Russian Empire. The classicist poet and playwright Ivan Kotlyarevsky may be considered the first modern Ukrainian author. In his work Eneyida (1798), he transformed the heroes of Virgil’s Aeneid into Ukrainian Cossacks. Classicist prose appeared only with Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko’s novel Marusya (1834).
In the 1830s Ukrainian Romanticism developed, and such authors as Izmail Sreznevsky, Levko Borovykovsky, Amvrosii Metlynsky, and Mykola Kostomarov published works that recognized a particular Ukrainian culture and history. In western Ukraine, Markiian Shashkevych, Yakiv Holovatsky, and Ivan Vahylevych constituted the so-called “Ruthenian Triad” of Ukrainian Romanticism. A markedly different approach was taken by Nikolay Gogol (Ukrainian: Mykola Hohol), who wrote Romantic works with Ukrainian themes in Russian and with a “pan-Russian” spirit.
The most important 19th-century Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, treated Ukrainian history and Russian oppression, as well as broader themes. Panteleymon Kulish was another significant poet of the period.
Marko Vovchok, who wrote Narodni opovidannia (1857; “Tales of the People”), ushered in Ukrainian Realism. Many Realist works depicted village life and contemporary society; some touched on populist themes. Panas Myrny, with his works on social injustice, became the major representative of Ukrainian Realism, but the novelists Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky and Ivan Franko were prominent as well.
A number of competing literary movements emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though Realism, exemplified by the prose of Volodymyr Vynnychenko, remained important. Lesia Ukrainka was a leading modernist author. The poet Pavlo Tychyna followed the Symbolist movement; Mykola Bazhan, one of Ukraine’s greatest 20th-century poets, employed elements of Futurism; and Mykola Zerov, Maksym Rylsky, and Mykhaylo Dray-Khmara wrote Neoclassicist poetry (see Classicism and Neoclassicism).
During the early years of Bolshevik rule, talented Ukrainian writers proliferated. Mykola Khvylovy’s prose was imbued with revolutionary and national Romanticism, Hryhory Kosynka’s prose was impressionistic, Yury Yanovsky’s stories and novels were unabashedly romantic, and Valeriyan Pidmohylny’s work adhered to the principles of realism.
In 1932, however, the Communist Party began requiring writers to follow the theory of Socialist Realism. Many Ukrainian writers who did not adhere to the official style were imprisoned or executed, particularly during Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. A new generation of writers, known as the “Writers of the ’60s,” broke with Socialist Realism in the post-Stalinist period, but in the 1970s the Communist Party took new measures to repress literature that deviated from the approved style.
With Ukraine’s independence in 1991 came a rebirth of free literary expression. Many of the established literary journals continued to publish, although with far-more-open editorial policies, and a plethora of new journals appeared as well. Literary journals have provided a valuable outlet for the work of writers in Ukraine, particularly younger ones, as the postindependence economic difficulties substantially limited the publication of books, especially in the realm of belles lettres. Among the literary talents of independent Ukraine, novelist Valerii Shevchuk and poet Yury Andrukhovych stand out.