Ukraine

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question: I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

A formal introduction in Ukraine starts with introducing yourself including your name, your organization and your position. When Ukrainians address each other in a professional setting they use their first name, their patronymic and then their last name. For example, Mykola (first name) Petrovych (patronymic - means a son of Petro) Savchenko (last name).  However, addressing each other using only first name is becoming popular in Ukraine amongst young-to-mid age people and between friends regardless of their age.

Ukrainian names also have a “diminutive” form.  For example, the diminutive of Alexander is Sasha.  Use of diminutives is reserved for close friends and colleagues.  You might hear it in a business setting, but only use the diminutive form of a name if you’re invited to. A handshake and exchange of business cards are generally part of the introduction, though Ukrainian women rarely shake hands with each other.

Ukrainians take great pride in their county and city, and generally welcome remarks about the beauty of the city and the country.  They appreciate the opportunity to share information about their culture, so asking about monuments (there are quite a few in each city) and other places of importance to their heritage is genially welcome.

Ukrainians like to discuss politics, but you should let them initiate the discussion. They may be at times quite critical about their own country’s politics but could take an offence when a foreigner does the same.

Take care not to call the country “the Ukraine”.  It was referred by that name under the Soviet Union and may be considered offensive to use it.

Canadian Perspective:

It should be noted that, while in the past Ukrainians had little interaction with Westerners, this is less and less true.  While they do have their own cultural norms and rules, they also understand that Westerners also have theirs, which often differ (like smiling when you meet someone, and oversharing) and are becoming more accepting of these norms and adapting in professional settings when dealing with westerners.  It is less likely to be so in a social setting.

It should also be noted that Ukraine, in every way, is a country transitioning from a closed to open society and its values and norms are changing along with it.  This is the most evident in those born after independence.

Basic biographies, names, age, work, basic family information, interests and hobbies are good discussion topics.  Depending on the atmosphere of the meeting, current events (at a glance) and world events (at a glance).  Religion and in depth politics are not generally a conversation starter.  Ukrainians have a very different sense of humor than Westerners and jokes are not generally understood between cultures.

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question: What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

Ukrainians tend to be more physical when communicating with each other or with foreigners. A pat on shoulder, a hug, a kiss on a cheek are the acceptable norms of communication among friends or close acquaintances.

Eye contact is less important and it is considered rude to keep staring at someone. However, avoidance of making an eye contact when speaking to someone may be regarded as a sign of dishonesty or shyness. Ukrainians use physical gestures and are generally more animated while speaking or making a presentation.

Canadian Perspective:

Both verbal and non-verbal communication play a large role in communication styles as do direct and indirect communication styles.  Men tend to be more direct in their communication than women and expect that of other men.  Women are generally more non-verbal and indirect when speaking to strangers or colleagues.  It should be noted that smiling is also not a typical form of communication in Ukraine and is generally reserved for family and friends in a social setting.

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question: Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Public displays of affection, anger or other emotions are more common and are generally acceptable if they do not involve rude gestures or/and using physical force against another person.

Westerners often remark that Ukrainians usually don’t smile in public. In fact, loud talking and smiling to strangers usually indicates that a person is a foreigner. At the same time when it comes to personal or professional relations Ukrainians usually see themselves as open and direct in terms of letting their emotions be known to those concerned. And in fact, they are.

Canadian Perspective:

While more intimate displays of affection such as kissing, or, depending on the age group, walking with arms wrapped around one another are not often seen, hand-holding is not uncommon, in all age groups, but most evident in younger generations.  Again, this is dependent on age.  Millennials are more likely to display affection than people 40+. That being said, the type of public displays of affection in Ukraine is very conservative in comparison to North America and consists of hand holding and occasional pecs between partners.  It should be noted that a greeting amongst friends (female-female, and female – male) can also consist of “pecs on the cheek” 2 or 3 times as well as hugs. Men tend to shake hands or occasionally, after long absences, hug.

In a professional setting, men shake hands, and, when dealing with westerners, will shake hands with women as well, though, this is not generally the norm among Ukrainians, and is generally initiated by men.

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question: What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

Ukrainians pay a lot of attention to their dress and appearance especially in a professional environment.  Status is often shown through clothing and accessories and people strive to be seen as person of certain status even if in reality they are not.  Women pay a lot of attention to their physical appearance, and appreciate being complimented. General advice is; when in doubt choose the more formal clothing and always pack a business suit.

Punctuality is understood in more relaxed fashion and usually applies to subordinates rather than to everyone in Ukrainian hierarchy. The higher a person’s rank, the less punctual the person may be. It is accepted to be late to a meeting within 15 minutes of the designated time.

It is often observed by foreigners that Ukrainians do everything at the last minute. Which certainly has an impact on deadlines and may affect the quality of work. Productivity varies and usually relates to a common cyclical process where pace and workload significantly increase when closer to the deadline, and are relatively slow at the beginning of a project or an initiative.  Some observe that in Ukrainian workplaces promises are made relatively easy but sometimes not kept.

In the office, Ukrainians are friendly and cordial often celebrating personal milestones such as marriage anniversary, child’s birthday etc. with their colleagues.

Canadian Perspective:

Dress is business formal to semi-formal and Ukrainians are generally well groomed, and, while the average Ukrainian cannot permit themselves a large wardrobe of expensive clothing, they are very proud of what they have.  Women tend to wear skirts and heels, men, suits with jackets (depending on age group and office type, ties as well).  Punctuality is generally respected in the work place (arrival time) but leaving before your boss at the end of the workday is less common.  Having said this, office meetings rarely start or end on time as they are often not only professional events but also a chance to catch up with colleagues/friends.  In social atmospheres Ukrainians are less punctual and follow their own clock (1/2h late).

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question: What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

Ukrainians in generally are highly educated with most people in the professional workforce having obtained a university degree. Experience does play an important role in the person’s position within the organization, but the same is often true regarding the person’s connections within the professional establishment or in the society in general.

If the manger is foreign, Ukrainian colleagues will likely expect him/her to learn as much as possible about the country, professional field, organization etc. Ukrainian staff would normally expect the leader to "set the tone" of the organization/project and establish the rules. Expectations will be higher, meaning Ukrainians will expect fair treatment and would usually compare their own professional situation/conditions of employment with ones in similar organizations/projects.

In the Ukrainian professional environment, the most important conversations often take place in the kitchen or in smoking spaces over a smoke or even a drink. The same goes for parties at work. It is a tradition to socialize with one’s co-workers.

Canadian Perspective:

Most highly regarded qualities include educated, well spoken, confident and direct, generally male, and over 40 (however age and gender are changing and have been since 2004). Both experience and education respected, but, much like in the west, experience is invaluable. Women managers are still rare in most fields and older professionalsare less comfortable with female managers than their younger counterparts. Attitudes towards females in positions of management or above in the more senior of staff can be compared to those of North America in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The glass ceiling is still very evident in Ukraine and equal pay for equal work is a long way away.  Having said all of this, when dealing with western business, Ukrainians are more open to young and female managers but they tend to be more comfortable with mature men.

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question: In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

Ukrainian managerial practices still largely operate on a hierarchical “command and control” model with decision-making power at the top. Traditionally, a Ukrainian manager is a strong leader who is expected to know all the answers to any possible problem in the workplace.  Furthermore, they often make decisions without consulting with subordinates.  The effect of this model is that subordinates do not make decisions on their own, and often don’t take initiative. The ultimate decision-making authority typically rests with the organization’s leader. Though an appreciation of teamwork is slowly making its way in the Ukrainian society and workplace.

Ideas are usually generated by the leader and his/her immediate subordinates, and presented by the leader. The subordinates rarely take an initiative or are asked for feedback.  Because of this, Ukrainians might not want to share their feedback or opinion on a work related project.

Certainly within international donor-funded programs and multi-national firms you will see a style of management that follows traditional Western models, which has led to a more democratic work environment where a boss consults his/her subordinates and decisions are made after being discussed with all affected employees.  This type of exchanged needs to be encouraged by the manager and takes time to build in a team.

A foreign leader/manager should not expect too much initiative from the local employees unless he/she encourages them. Ukrainians tend to be rather sensitive about the evaluations of their professional performance and may take criticism as a personal offense.

Canadian Perspective:

Historically, Ukrainians worked in a hierarchical atmosphere where opinions and suggestions were rarely given, and only when requested.  While the society is still hierarchical, a more western approach is being taken in business, with staff meetings involving a freer exchange of ideas and opinions, though. This is truer in the private and not for profit sectors than it is in government, where Directors still hold a very old school mentality.  In government, high ranking positions are still held, for the most part, by wealthy men. In a professional atmosphere, approaching a supervisor is completely acceptable when looking for feedback and answers, feedback may not be given in the way westerners are accustomed to receiving it.  Extensive evaluations on ones work and things like work plans and yearly reviews are still rather uncommon.

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question: Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:

Gender:

It is unquestionable that the Ukrainian woman has been carrying the heaviest burden of social reconstruction - taking care of the family, and working sometimes on several jobs and often doing a bit of farming to provide for the family. There are also more traditionally divided gender roles and expectations in Ukrainian families.

Women are less visible in senior positions in the political and economic spheres, and there isn’t a strong belief that they should be more prominent. The dress code for women tends to place a heavy emphasis on looking feminine. The issue of sexual harassment as it is understood in the West is not understood or accepted in Ukraine. Some gestures that would be considered inappropriate between work colleagues tend to be commonplace in Ukraine, even if unwelcome by women.

Several recent donor-funded programs have introduced projects promoting equal rights for men and women. The projects are met with scepticism by both men and women as “gender equality” is fairly misunderstood by both.

Religion:

During Soviet times citizens were strongly discouraged from celebrating religious holidays or attending services. As a result, several generations grew up without religious values or traditions. Since independence there has been a religious revival in Ukraine. Most Ukrainians are Eastern Orthodox, which is divided into Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox and Autocephalous churches.  But in Western Ukraine you will find a higher number of Greek-Catholic, who follow the Orthodox tradition of religious services and have a married priesthood, as well as Roman Catholic. There are some Muslims (i.e. Crimean Tatars) as well as a strong presence of Judaism in some parts of the country.

Class:

During the Soviet period everyone was considered equal, although "some were more equal than others" - meaning the Communist Party elite enjoyed unspoken rights and privileges about which the majority of population was not even aware. According to Soviet ideology, there were only two classes: peasants/ workers and the so-called "intelligentsia" (i.e. professionals). As a consequence, notions of equality remain strong in the Ukrainian society. In real life, however, nepotism governs class.  Personal connections, family, and parents’ position in the society often define a social position of an individual. And people of status will often promote family and friends to other positions of status regardless of ability.

While democratic, economic, and social reforms are progressing in Ukraine, old Soviet elite has tried to propagate itself through nepotism and preserving the “elite”. Typically, Ukrainians would say that there are two classes in today’s Ukraine: rich and poor. The middle class is still not very significant in numbers.

Ukrainians are very status conscious. It is typical for people in high positions to expect preferential treatment. When hosting a Ukrainian official delegation senior officials will expect a more luxurious hotel and a private a car with a driver at their disposal.

Ethnicity:

There are two main ethnic groups in Ukraine: Ukrainians (about 78% percent of the total population) and Russians (17% percent). Other ethnic groups include Crimean Tatars, Moldovians, Jews, Polish, Romanians, Hungarians and other Baltic and eastern Europeans.

Ukrainian and Russian are the two national languages.  Recently language in Ukraine has become politicized.  Ukrainian as the official language is used especially in the bureaucracy and educational institutions. However, many people speak Russian in their every day life, except in Western Ukraine which historically is a stronghold of the Ukrainian language and culture.

It is important to use the Ukrainian language as a language of translation during negotiations, respecting the fact that it is the official language.

Canadian Perspective:

Gender: Gender is one of the more complex cultural aspects in Ukraine, both socially and professionally.  While women are more visible in the workplace, they are not as prevalent in Managerial roles and above and rare in high ranking political positions, director roles and above. The glass ceiling for women is much more evident in Ukraine than in the “west”.  In offices, women generally fill the majority of administrative roles.  Women as managers are not unheard of, but are still atypical.  When in those positions, they come across more resistance than their male counterparts.  Women are also much more openly sexualized (even in the workplace) than in the “west”.  In the home gender roles are very similar to those in Canada from the 70’s and 80’s when women were starting to break through into the workforce and split their goals between family and profession.  Women still do the majority of the cooking, cleaning and child rearing in addition to full time jobs.  Most women do hold some form of employment as a single family income is very unlikely to be high enough to support a family.

Class: A middle class is slowly emerging in Ukraine, however its’ growth has slowed since the beginning of the Russian Incursion in 2013.  High ranking positions in Government as well as White Collar professions are generally held by the wealthy, including Ukrainian Oligarchs, who, much like in other post-soviet states, have no interest in sharing their control of key sectors in Ukraine. As bribes are still an “accepted” practice in the country, the wealthy are more likely to climb the professional ladder than those from lower income families.

Ethnicity: While the majority of the Ukrainian population is Caucasian and a majority of Ukrainian and Russian ethnicity, visible minorities are more and more common in Ukraine. Ethnic Crimean Tatars have traditionally been the majority on the Crimean Peninsula and are also recognized and Identify as Ukrainian Tatars.  Other ethnicities in Ukraine include but are not limited to Polish, Jewish, Romanian and Hungarian. Visible minorities comprise of a minimal percent of the population and report facing varying levels of discrimination in the workplace, depending on the profession.

Religion: Religion does not play a large role in the workplace as it is not a subject that is generally broached in a professional setting. Ukraine is a largely Christian country comprised of Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholics, and Protestant Christians (94%), with a small percentage of citizens practicing the Jewish and Muslim faiths (4%).

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question: How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

Ukrainians place very high value on personal relationships. It is very important to establish trustworthy personal relationship with your Ukrainian counterparts prior to establishing a professional one.

A small Canadian souvenir or gift like a poster, calendar or a pen with a Canadian maple leaf on it would be a good start/icebreaker especially when attempting to build a long-term professional partnership.

For a meeting, Ukrainians will often ask to receive as much advance information as possible about the participants, the objective of the meeting, issues to be raised and anticipated results.

The professional group of the bureaucracy will want to know the status and professional position of everyone participating in the meeting so they can provide participants of the same level. Usually the most senior person from the Ukrainian side would be leading the meeting. In the business environment, again, trust is important and good personal relations are critical. Learn as much as you can about the general context of doing business in Ukraine to understand the legal environment which is constantly changing.

Protocol is important and it is essential to rely on the advice of your local colleagues with respect to with whom meetings should be organized and in what order. Time invested in the building of trust and partnership and perhaps friendly personal relationship at the beginning will definitely pay off later on. If overlooked, a lack of personal support will impede relationship building.

Canadian Perspective:

Meetings are generally taken by senior officials in Ukraine and are often taken offsite, in restaurants and café’s and sometimes involve meals and alcohol. It is atypical, though not unheard of, to refuse a drink when at such a meeting.  Often meetings are a social event in addition to a professional one, and are viewed as an opportunity to “get to know” the people you are working with.

It should not be a surprise if, at a meeting in the office, tea, coffee, a snack, or even alcohol are offered.

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question: Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship?

Local Perspective:

In many organizations, loyalty to the leader, not necessarily to the organization is often the most crucial criteria to receive a job. That is why every leader hires his/her own team.  A personal relationship or friendship is a good reason to expect and ask for a favour.

One of the most important questions business partners should ask about a possible new partnership is who the leader is affiliated with.  Many senior business and political officials in Ukraine are affiliated with an Oligarch or large conglomerate of companies that are promoting a specific political or economic agenda.  It’s wise to do some research on the wider network your counterpart is engaged in.

Canadian Perspective:

While special privileges are not “expected” as such, they do exist, especially in more esteemed professions like Medicine, Dentistry and the Public Service.  Bribery and gifts are also not uncommon to ensure medical treatment, grades, promotions etc. The practice isn’t “openly accepted” or condoned, but it is not condemned either and is subtly implied.

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question: I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

Interpersonal problems are better discussed privately in a non-confrontational manner.   A casual lunch or coffee together starting with general talk and then coming to the understanding of the issue on both sides would be a good tactic. Trying to solve an interpersonal conflict in public will likely only worsen the conflict.

Ukrainians are usually very hospitable towards foreigners. If a colleague all of a sudden becomes very formal with you, this could be a sign that something went wrong or was misunderstood. It is best to try to clarify things as soon as possible and privately. Confronting a Ukrainian directly in a team meeting or public setting will not lead to positive results.

Canadian Perspective:

A private discussion is always better than a public one.  However, whether you approach them directly, or through a supervisor or with the individual in question, it very much depends on your own relationship with the individual and your comfort level with them, much like it would in the “west”.  If your concern is with a senior colleague than decorum and discreetness are key when speaking to supervisors, as well as an awareness that the issue may, or may not actually be addressed. Depending on the individual’s comfort in working with westerners, filing a concern about a senior may simply not be addressed as there is still a mentality of “the supervisor is always right”.  Using one’s own judgement, much like you would in a “western culture” is always the best way to decide how to proceed with such sensitive issues.

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question: What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Ukrainians take tremendous pride in their work and expect to be recognized when they do a good job. Though it may not be openly admitted, Ukrainians are first of all looking for prestige and recognition with fair remuneration when it comes to work.   Other motives like job satisfaction, good working conditions are relatively important but not necessarily crucial. Ukrainians often have more than one job, moonlighting or consulting on the side.  This is understood and generally acceptable.  The professional market is very competitive for someone with in-demand expertise.

Canadian Perspective:

Compensation is the major reward in Ukraine, like much of Eastern Europe.  However, positive relationships and an interest in subject matter also play a role in an individual’s desire to succeed in their position.

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question: To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, music and foods.

Local Perspective:

Books to read: Ukraine: A History by Orest Subtelny; The Master and Margaritte or anything by Mihail Bulgokov; or some books by modern Ukrainian authors like S. Pavlychko, Y. Andrukhovych, O. Zabuzhko.

Ukraine’s most famous poets include Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko and Lesia Ukrainka. Selected works translated into English of modern Ukrainian writers like S. Pavlychko, O.Zabuzhko, Y. Andrukhovych and others could be found in Canadian bookstores.

Films to see: Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom;  Natalka Poltavka;  Chasing Two Hares; A Zaporozhian Cossack beyond the Danube; Heart of a Dog (based on Bulgokov’s novel);

Food:

Ukrainians eat exceptionally well, adhering to a diet of locally grown produce and farm fresh eggs and meat when they can get it.  They have many traditions and superstitions with food and are not shy to educate foreigners on them.

The most popular Ukrainian dishes are borsch (beat soup), pierogis or varenyki (dumplings with various staffing), holubtsi (cabbage rolls with rice and meat), potato pancakes and various salads i.e. potato salad called Olivier and beat and vegetable salad called Vinaigrette. Other popular dishes include salo (smoked pork fat), sausages, many types of soups, cereals like buckwheat and oatmeal, various dishes with cottage cheese and a variety of baked products like cakes, pastry and cookies.  Most food in Ukraine is without GMOs, and the country prides itself in that.

Canadian Perspective:

Books:

Borderland, a journey thought the history of Ukraine (A. Reid)

Ukraine, a History (O Zubtelny)

Ukraine, Birth of a Modern Nation (S. Yekelchyk)

Films - Current events

I am Ukrainian

Ukraine Burning

Winter on Fire

Television: There is very little English language Television in Ukraine, and what exists is generally western TV shows that have been dubbed into Ukrainian or Russian.

Music: Mandry, Tartak, VV, Okean Elzy, MadHeads, Jamala, Ruslana, Volodymyr Ivasuk, Sofia Rotaru, Pikadirska Tertsia, ViaGra, Dakha Brakha, Ot Vinta

Food: Perogies/Varenyky, Cabbage Rolls, Borshch (tomoato/beet based soup wich varies from region to region), Salo (pig fat), Smalets (pig lard with bacon-bits, onion, garlic), Kotlety (beef/meet cutlets), Kvas (fermented bread drink, non-alcoholic), Oliver (similar to a potato salad, with peas, bologna, pickles and mayo), various forms of dried and pickled/marinated fish), shashlik (pork, chicken, beef, on a stick), green borsch (sorrel soup)

Western food like pizza and burgers is available at some restaurants but are not popular with local populations.

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question: When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

Culture is highly regarded in Ukraine and most Ukrainians are knowledgeable on the great classical composers, ballet, and operas.  In general, Ukraine is a place with a highly developed culturalal life; especially in the major cities like Kyiv, Lviv, and Odesa. The diversity of Ukrainian cultural life will satisfy the diverse tastes of guests of the country. Most urban centres will offer classical performances including opera, ballet, drama theaters and concert halls and these performances regularly sell out.  Art museums and galleries are prolific, as are folk singers, and modern rock.

Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, is more than 1500 years old and has many historical places and architectural buildings to visit.  It’s most famous buildings as well as the whole downtown core has been renovated and modernized. As such, Kyiv is becoming one of the most beautiful European cities. Following the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 a vibrant urban art culture as grown to use large scale murals as a way to communicate and promote Ukrainian culture and heritage.  You can learn more online here.

Traditional historic places to visit in Kyiv: Sofia Kyivska, Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Andryivsky Uzviz; Historical museum; museums of art; Ukrainian Ethnographic museum in Pyrogovo; Taras Shevchenko museum; the National Opera and Ballet Theatre; the Philarmony.

Other popular cities in Ukraine include:

Lviv: a medieval city in the West of Ukraine formerly annexed by the Polish and Austo-Hungarian Empires.  The city’s architecture has remained the same since construction and offers a stunning view of how medieval and empirical cities of the past were constructed.

Odesa: a city on the Black Sea mostly know for its massive port.  With Greek, Ukrainian, Moldovian, Russian, French, Portuguese and Jewish heritage, the city offers a unique mix of cultures and flavours.

Carpathian Mountains: also in the West of Ukraine, the Carpathians are a special place to most Ukrainians who retreat there in the summer to escape the heat, and in the winder to ski.

Kamianets-Podilsky: a mid-sized city in the centre of Ukraine is home to a fully intact medieval fortress and castle.  The landscape and architecture is surreal.

Uman: also in the centre of Ukraine Uman is a charming “garden city” with the Sophisca garden.  Built in the 19th century, the garden is a 168 hector wonder.

Most Ukrainians are well aware of the historical and cultural assets their city and country has to offer.  They are also quite willing to show you around if you ask.

Canadian Perspective:

Visiting local museums and historical sites is the best way to learn about Ukrainian culture, however, it should be noted that many of the sites do not provide English tours. A guidebook is always beneficial.  Often, translation and tourism students can be hired to do private tours and provide translation.   Developing friendships with Ukrainians is more difficult than with westerners, however, if you have to opportunity to do so, it is the best way to learn about the people.  People- watching in town squares and local restaurants is also beneficial. Note that most Ukrainians do not socialize in the more expensive establishments geared to foreign patrons. Local pubs (watering holes) will give you a better understanding of the “real” Ukraine.

“Gypsy cabs” should be avoided and ensuring that a meter is running in taxis is also key when traveling in within cities.

Being aware of the political history with the USSR, and Russia, as well as the current situation on the eastern and southern fronts of the country is also key to understanding the Ukrainian people. While many find the current situation in Ukraine, difficult to talk about, there are those who are eager to share with westerners and inquire about how these situations would be dealt with in the “west”.

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question: Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

Historically the most famous Ukrainian heroes have been poets and political figures. Taras Shevchenko is Ukraine’s greatest poet, artist and thinker of 19th century who first openly demanded Ukraine’s independence from Russia and for which he was sent away to serve as soldier. Taras Shevchenko has been a symbol of Ukrainian independence for generations of Ukrainians in Ukraine and abroad. His most famous collection of poems entitled Kobzar, has been translated into English and is available in Canada.

Other heroes include famous poets like Ivan Franko, as well as Lesia Ukraiinka.  Poets like V. Stus, M. Rylsky, L. Kostenko, D. Pavlychko, P. Zagrebelny worked under the constant watch of the Soviet authorities in the 1960-1970s but were able to dedicate their works to Ukraine.

Ukrainian heroes include hetmans like Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Sahajdachnyi and Ivan Mazepa. Hetmans were military and political leaders whose role was to defend Ukrainian lands from various intruders in the XV - XVIII centuries.

Soccer is by far the most famous sport in Ukraine with Andtiy Shevchenko being the most famous contemporary Ukrainian football (soccer) player. The Olympic and World champions in boxing and kickboxing Volodymyr Klychko and Vitaliy Klychko are two other sport heroes of Ukraine.

Current pop culture Idols include Okean Elzy and Jamala.

Canadian Perspective:

Historical: Taras Shevchenko (Writer), Ivan Franko (writer), Lesia Ukrainka (writer), Stepan Bandera (Political/War hero, Western Ukraine), Prince Vladamir (Christened the Kyivian Rus).

Present day: Andrij Shevchenko (soccer player), Jamala (singer), Nadia Savchenko (POW and Politician), Klitschko brothers (boxers and politician), Georgiy Gongadze (journalist, deceased), Volodymyr Ivasiuk (composer and singer), Vyachyslav Chornovil (journalist), Mustafa Dzhemilev (Crimean Tatar politician in exile).

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question: Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

In July 2016 Canada and Ukraine signed the “Canada Ukraine Free Trade Agreement” (CUFTA) which removed about 99% of tariffs between the two countries.  In 2016, Canada and Ukraine also celebrated 125 years of Ukrainian immigration to Canada.  Historically, the two counties have enjoyed positive relationships. In fact, Canada was the first Western country to officially recognize the independence of Ukraine. Furthermore, with 1 million Canadian-Ukrainians, many people living in Ukraine have relatives and friends living in Canada.

Historically there were three waves of Ukrainian immigration to Canada:

  • 1891 - 1914 about 170 thousand Ukrainian settled in the mainly agricultural Prairie Provinces.
  • Between the first and second world wars, about 70 thousand Ukrainian immigrants arrived and settled mainly in cities like Winnipeg, Montreal and
  • post Second World War immigration about 30 thousand Ukrainians came to Canada.

Some researchers believe that the contemporary Ukrainian immigration to Canada (following the collapse of the Soviet Union) may account for the fourth wave.

Ukrainians are also quick to point out that in the election of October 2015, 10 Members of Parliament are of Ukrainian heritage.  Ukrainians in Ukraine are proud of this special connection to Canada and hope that the Ukrainian diaspora will continue to play a major role in the establishment of closer ties and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Canadian Perspective:

Ukraine and Canada have a long shared history and have always shared positive relationships.  Canada was the first country to recognize Ukraine as Independent from the USSR and one of the first to call the Soviet Holodomor a Genocide against the Ukrainian People.

Ukraine celebrated many of the same holidays as the West, however, they are celebrated following the “old calendar” meaning that holidays like Christmas, Easter and other Christian holidays do not fall on the same dates as those in the west.  The New Year is celebrated at the same time (though Ukrainians also celebrate the old New Year – Malanka- on the 13-14 of Jan).   Generally mid-December through mid to late January are times of celebration and many offices stay closed for much of the time.  Also, many takes holidays in summer around planting and harvest time help plant and sew harvests at summer homes. Many Ukrainians rely on these harvests to supplement food through the winter.  Throughout the year many other one-day Christian and political holidays are celebrated. For some of these holidays, businesses are closed (Independence Day, Memorial day) while for others, such as St. Nicholas Day, businesses may stay open.

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question: What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

Generally speaking, Canadians have a positive impression of Ukrainians. Ukrainian people value the approach that most Canadians take when they go to Ukraine, that is, to share their experiences and expertise, and not to be directive, telling Ukrainians what to do.  In some cases, foreigners will assume that Russian, Ukrainian, and in fact, east European cultures are similar.  Maybe to North Americans, eastern European customs look the same. However, they are quite specific to each nationality and region.  Canadians should refrain from drawing parallels between Ukrainian and other cultures and respect the unique historical and cultural elements that have made Ukraine unique and distinctive for over 1500 years.

Canadian Perspective:

One common stereotype is that Ukrainians and Russians are the same and mostly speak Russian. The amount of Russian spoken in the country varies widely from region to region, however, Ukrainian has become more and more “popular” since the country was invaded by Russia.  Ukraine was not a part of Russia, but a part of the Soviet Union which was led by Russia. This is a very difficult subject for Ukrainians and is not generally discussed between acquaintances.  This is not to say that all Ukrainians support the westernization of the country.

The other is that Ukrainians all drink too much vodka. While alcohol does play a role in Ukrainian culture, it is no more than in Italy or France where alcohol is consumed by individuals in a social setting by those “younger than the legal drinking age” as it is a large part of their culture.

There is also a perception that Ukrainians are generally unhappy and gloomy and never smile. While Ukrainians are not the most outwardly expressive people at first glance, once you get to know them, they do in fact smile, laugh and share emotions.

Ukrainians can also be regarded as generally racist/anti-Semitic.  Though racial and religious tensions are more visible than in Canada, recent polls have shown that Ukrainians are actually one of the least racist people in Europe.

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

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Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

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