Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Myths and stereotypes about Ukraine that we hear OVER AND OVER

Yulia and I have heard many myths and stereotypes about Ukraine over the years. We've tried ignoring them because most of these myths and stereotypes tend to annoy us, but when you are constantly reminded of them anytime you hear an outsider talk about Ukraine, it's hard not to react. Here's our take on these myths and stereotypes.

1. The harsh Ukrainian winter

A lot of people refer to winter in Ukraine as the "harsh Ukrainian winter." I just watched a travel video about Ukraine, and the blogger recommends that you wear special rubber bands with wires around your shoes in winter so you don't slip on the ice.

I'm not really sure why the cold winter gets emphasized when we have pretty hot summers here too. Our last two winters have been milder than the winters they've been having back home in Pennsylvania (a mid-Atlantic state!), and I never heard of anybody wearing special rubber bands with wires in Pennsylvania. We had snow a few times last winter, but there were also many above freezing days in December, January, and February.

The truth is that this is a temperate climate. A lot of the country is even warmer than our city of Lviv. It's cold in the winter (below freezing) and hot in the summer (in the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) or 30s (Celcius)). Some winters are cold and snowy and some are mild, almost without any snow.

I understand though. If you come from a warmer area, winters like this will feel cold--obviously. And Ukraine seems far away, so a lot of people are tempted to make it sound exotic in one way or another. But there's no need to over hype it. Yes, it snows more here than it does in southern California. But it's somewhere between that and the North Pole.

2. There are no cities in Ukraine.

When Yulia lived in the States someone asked her if there were big cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin in Ukraine. Yulia thought about downtown Milwaukee's empty streets and parking garages. The downtown in her hometown of Lviv is full of people all the time and has beautiful historic architecture.

A deserted backwater hamlet in Ukraine
Here's the same deserted village in the midst of the harsh Ukrainian winter. The cold weather and snow keeps everyone trapped in their primitive homes. Notice the lack of parking garages. Ukraine's a really backward place! Don't forget to pack your rubber bands with wires!

3. Be careful of the criminal element

Before I came to Ukraine I was very concerned about pick pockets, swindlers and the like. I was suspicious of every person I met and spoke as little as possible so as not to get involved with any potentially shady characters. Unfortunately, I made myself miss out on some good experiences because I was too busy being paranoid.

There are millions of people here. There are a few bad apples, but most people have been really helpful to me--especially if I come out of my shell and talk. If you are at a store and need help with something, don't try to hide your accent or foreignness. The person you are talking to will probably notice anyway. Just be direct about what you need and people are usually pretty good at helping you out. Yes, Ukraine is poorer than, say, America. But there are a lot of people here who just want to work and have a normal, stable life. Allow them to do so.

If you are on the street, most people are not pick pockets. If someone is visibly drunk, don't talk to them. Otherwise, use street smarts. Yulia and I speak English to each other most of the time in public. We'll speak quietly and switch to Ukrainian in the presence of others. We've never had any run ins with petty crime.

4. Farming technology is outdated here

We took this picture a few weeks ago.

Those one and a half story combines go for hundreds of thousands of US dollars used.

Of course, locals also use simpler, more antiquated forms of technology as well. Many of our neighbors till their land with a horse and plow. If it's cheaper for your neighbor or relative to do it with his horse, then people will choose that.

We've also seen some people ride around their gardens with small personal tractors. There's no one way to farm or garden here. The truth is, Ukrainians use a range of different technologies, but that does not mean the whole country is still in the 19th Century.

5. The Women are Beautiful

To people who think this, I have one question: Really??

This is, of course, a positive stereotype, but, even though it's positive, I have to question it. The general idea of it stinks of eugenics to me--that an entire nation of women is beautiful because of their genes.

Could this phenomenon perhaps be social? I'd be more willing to buy that. One thing Yulia and I have noticed is that men in Ukraine are less than desirable. They tend to have bad attitudes, swear, drink and smoke. Don't get us wrong, not every man is like this, but a lot are. Maybe a lot of women are just tired of seeing the same kind of men and have become open to foreigners who visit the country. Perhaps foreign men also like the way that Ukrainian women dress, do their hair, and do their makeup. Maybe a lot of them like Ukrainian gender roles. I think it's most likely a combination of factors.

But are they "naturally" more beautiful? Umm, does that mean some nations are smarter because of their genes? Are some nations morally superior? This can get dangerous quickly.

Unfortunately, I guess this is a "thing" now, so, as a man, I just want to ask that other men please respect Ukrainian women and not objectify them. When you objectify Ukrainian women, you are objectifying my wife, my friends, and my family. Treat them with the respect and humanity that you would want your wife and female friends and family treated.

If you really think they are the most beautiful women in the whole world, treat them as the goddesses you make them out to be. Learn to be a better man. Get rid of your cynical attitude. Lose your beer belly. Quit smoking. And then treat her as the goddess she is.


  1. Oh, how I miss everyone out walking in the streets!!!! Your winter picture is fabulous- everyone all bundled up and in good spirits )))

  2. Greetings from Poland. We're also from Pennsylvania and constantly hear about the harsh Polish winters and the proximity of Poland to Siberia. When Pennsylvania was buried under 2 feet of snow, I thoroughly enjoyed posting winter pics of us jogging in just our sweats.

    Our neighbors bought a real, industrial John Deere last year - new. I can't even imagine how much it cost. It's a beautiful machine. The whole village came out to see it.

    Come on, every Polish person knows that the prettiest girls in the world are Polish 😉 I can't comment because I'm American so I'm supposed to fat and geographically challenged.

    Take care
    Chris from Kielbasa Stories

  3. Yeah, we've been pretty lucky here in Europe the past two years. Very mild. Let's see how this winter turns out to be!

  4. Hi Guys! (From your soon-to-be distant partner in Homesteading UA or, 'HUA', for short)
    I'm actually moving to UA because I have a sick addiction to snow. You mention that where you are there wasn't that much snow recently. I see you are in the far west of the country. Will I have more snow (under normal circumstances) 50km south of Kyiv? p.s Thanks for the blog. Useful info for a UA newbie.

  5. Chances are that you will have more snow since you will be near Kyiv. If you look at this climate zone map of Ukraine ( we are in zone 6a, while Kyiv is in 5b. Even though we are pretty far north like Kyiv, Lviv has the same climate as southern Ukraine--though we get more rain.

    Every winter's different though, so who knows??

  6. And there's definitely more snow in Kyiv oblast than there is in Guatemala, Japan or the UK, so you're good! :)

  7. Thanks for your replies and yes, there will certainly be more snow there than there is here. ;) I am so excited about this big life change/move. :)

  8. When I moved to Switzerland, people were impressed. Switzerland. Wow.

    When I decided to leave Switzerland (I was less impressed with that country) and move to Hungary people asked me why I wanted to move to a Communist country (Do note: I moved to Hungary full time in 2007, some time after the "wall" fell).

    Kudos to your list of corrections. But I find people like their biases and tend to stick to them. And it does not matter that they never actually visited the country they have so many opinions about -- my actual experiences must be false, they say, since they definitely "heard" it different (they are not sure where, but definitely heard it somewhere).

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, very true! People don't believe even those with firsthand experience sometimes.