A Look at Ukrainian Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Facts and Statistics
Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east
Capital: Kyiv (Kiev)
Climate: temperate continental; Mediterranean only on the southern Crimean coast; precipitation disproportionately distributed, highest in west and north, lesser in east and southeast; winters vary from cool along the Black Sea to cold farther inland; summers are warm across the greater part of the country, hot in the south
Population: 44,291,413 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: Ukrainian 77.8%, Russian 17.3%, Belarusian 0.6%, Moldovan 0.5%, Crimean Tatar 0.5%, Bulgarian 0.4%, Hungarian 0.3%, Romanian 0.3%, Polish 0.3%, Jewish 0.2%, other 1.8% (2001 census)
Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox - Kyiv Patriarchate 19%, Orthodox (no particular jurisdiction) 16%, Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate 9%, Ukrainian Greek Catholic 6%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 1.7%, Protestant, Jewish, none 38% (2004 est.)
Language in Ukraine
Ukrainian is the official state language; it is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages. The language shares some vocabulary with the languages of the neighbouring Slavic nations, most notably with Belarusian, Polish, Russian and Slovak.
The Ukrainian language traces its origins to the Old East Slavic language of early medieval state of Kievan Rus'. In its earlier stages it was called Ruthenian. The language has persisted despite several periods of bans and/or discouragement throughout centuries as it has always nevertheless maintained a sufficient base among the people of Ukraine, its folklore songs, itinerant musicians, and prominent authors.
Ukrainian Society and Culture
Ukrainians are of Slavic origin. About 75% of the population is ethnic Ukrainian. The largest minority group is the Russians at about 20%. Belarussians, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians and Romanians make up the other major minority groups.
Approximately 40% of the population in the Ukraine describe themselves as atheist. Of those that do adhere to some form of religion, 37% belong to one of the three major orthodox denominations present in the country. There are also a significant and growing number of Jews, Protestants and Muslims.
Despite the large numbers describing themselves are atheist, Ukrainians are extremely superstitious. If you do something that they believe can cause harm such as sitting on stone steps, someone will undoubtedly tell you that you risk doing great harm to yourself as a result of your actions. Superstitions are derived from folk wisdom in rural communities.
Ukrainians live in a country where everyday life is often unpredictable and unstable and they have learned to adapt to constantly changing rules and laws. The influences of the Russian Orthodox Church plus a long history of turbulent economic times, unstable governments, and adverse climatic conditions produce a rather fatalistic approach towards life.
Ukrainians are extremely generous and hospitable. All social occasions include food. Visitors are always offered something to eat as well as a beverage. It is considered the height of rudeness to eat in front of another person and not offer them something.
Etiquette and Customs
Meeting and Greeting
- The typical greeting is a warm, firm handshake, maintaining direct eye contact, and repeating your name.
- When female friends meet, they kiss on the cheek three times, starting with the left and then alternating, while close male friends may pat each other on the back and hug.
- Ukrainian names are comprised of:
- First name, which is the person’s given name.
- Middle name, which is a patronymic or a version of the father’s first name formed by adding "-vich" or "-ovich" for a male and "-avna", "-ovna", or "ivna" for a female. The son of
- Alexi would have a patronymic of Alexivich while the daughter’s patronymic would be Alexivina.
- Last name, which is the family or surname.
- In formal situations, people use all three names.
- Friends and close acquaintances may refer to each other by their first name and patronymic.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- Ukrainians exchange gifts with family and close friends on birthdays and the Orthodox Christmas.
- Name days’ (birth date of the saint after whom a person was named) are also celebrated rather than birthdays by some.
- Gifts need not be expensive. It is the act of giving the gift that is important, since it symbolises friendship.
- If you are invited to a Ukrainian’s home for a meal it is polite to bring something; cake, flowers, or a bottle of imported liquor.
- Flowers should only be given in odd numbers and avoid yellow flowers.
- Gifts are generally not opened when received.
- Table manners are generally casual.
- The more formal the occasion, the stricter the protocol.
- When in doubt, watch what others are doing and emulate their behaviour.
- Table manners are Continental, i.e. hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Do not begin eating until the host invites you to start.
- Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table.
- The oldest or most honoured guest is served first.
- Try everything. Refusing a dish is considered very rude.
- You will often be urged to take second helpings.
- Toasting is part of the culture and generally occurs whenever three or more people share a meal.
- Ukrainians are suspicious of people who do not drink. Having said that, it is better to offer a medical condition as an excuse rather than starting to drink and failing to keep pace with your Ukrainian counterparts.
- A common toast is "za vashe zdorovya", which means "to your health".
- The host gives the first toast, usually to the guest of honor, who may return the toast later in the meal.
- Most toasts are given with vodka. You need not finish the glass, but you must take a sip.
- Do not clink your glass with others during a toast if you are not drinking an alcoholic beverage.
- Glasses are filled no more than two-thirds full.
- Never refill your own glass.
- Do not pour wine backhanded.
- An open bottle must be finished.
- Empty bottles are not left on the table. They are immediately removed.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
Meeting and Greeting
- Ukrainian businesspeople are generally less formal than in many other countries.
- Shake hands with everyone upon arriving and leaving.
- Handshakes are quite firm.
- Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
- It is common to repeat your name while shaking hands.
- Academic and professional titles are commonly used with the surname.
- If someone does not have an academic or professional title, use the honorific "Pan" for a man and "Pani" for a woman with the surname.
- Most business colleagues refer to each other by first name and patronymic. (Middle name which is a version of the father’s first name formed by adding "-vich" or "-ovich" for a
- male and "-avna", "-ovna", or "ivna" for a female.)
- When using someone's complete name, including the patronymic, the honorific title is not used.
- The way someone is addressed often depends upon the situation. Titles and surnames are used in meetings and may give way to first names or diminutives in social situations.
- Business cards are exchanged without ritual.
- Have one side of your business card translated into Ukrainian.
- Include advanced university degrees on your business card.
- Present your card so the Ukrainian side faces the recipient.
- If someone does not have a business card, note the information in your appointment book or portfolio.
Although direct communication is valued in the Ukraine, there is also an emphasis placed on delivering information in a sensitive manner. Often, the level of the relationship will determine how direct someone is. Obviously the newer a relationship, the more cautious people will be. Once a relationship has developed, people will then feel more comfortable speaking frankly.
Meeting schedules are not very rigid in the Ukraine. There may be an agenda, but it serves as a guideline for the discussion and acts as a springboard to other related business ideas. As relationships are highly important in this culture, there may be some time in the meeting devoted to non-business discussions. Engage in small talk and wait for the other party to change the subject to business.