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HOME: Russian / Ukrainian Culture

Russian Culture and Tradition

 

Russian culture, Ukrainian and Belarusian cultures, all originated from common roots - those of Kievan Rus'.

 

Its true that each nation, throughout history, has also been influenced by other nationalities, both external and those absorbed by the larger Russian empire. While this "foreign" influence has added to distinct cultural differences from nation to nation, region to region, similarities still abound.

 

Below we explore both the common and distinct characteristics of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian culture. These include cultural traits of East European origin, as well as those from non-Slavic ethnic groups who've had an important role in molding the broader Russian culture.

 

 

Russian Folk Costume

 

 

 

Language

 

Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian are the three living members of the East Slavic language subgroup. This subgroup is the largest member of the Slavic language group, which itself is a "subgroup" of the greater Indo-European language family.

 

 

Russia flagWhile Russian is the only official language used throughout Russia, there are another 27 co-official languages which are recognized in their respective Republics or regions. A few of the larger regional languages include Tatar (Republic of Tatarstan), Bashkir (Republic of Bashkortostan) and Chuvash (Chuvash Republic). While these three belong to the Turkic language family, there are also members of the Uralic, Mongolic, and North Caucasian language families, as well as Chukchi, a member of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family of northeastern Siberia. For more information of languages in Russia, please follow the link.

 

 

Ukraine flagUkraine is quite an interesting country in regards to language. Officially, Ukrainian is the only official language. In practice, however, Ukraine is very much a bilingual country with a roughly 50-50 split between Russian and Ukrainian. According to an official 2001 Ukrainian population census, 67.5% of Ukraine's citizens consider Ukrainian to be their mother tongue, versus 29.6% of citizens who consider Russian to be their mother tongue. And while an outsider may consider this breakdown to be a good representation of language usage in Ukraine, these numbers are rather misleading .

 

The reality is that language usage in the Ukraine is more "grey" than black and white...   Continue reading about Language in Ukraine

 

 

Belarusian flagBelarus, unlike Russia and Ukraine, has two official state languages, Belarusian and Russian. While virtually everyone speaks Russian, only half of Belarus's population can read and speak Belarusian (52.5% according to a 2009 gov't study). The same study states that 72% of Belarusians speak Russian at home versus just 11.9% who use Belarusian. As such, apart from schools and some government institutions, the spoken language in public and in business, is generally Russian.

 

 

 

 

Religion

 

Russian flagReligion has played a very important role in the evolution of Russian culture. Traditional religions, those deemed part of Russia's "historical heritage", include Orthodox Christianity (63% of the population), Islam (6% of the population), Buddhism (<1%), and Judaism (<1%). (VCIOM 2006)

 

The largest of the religions, Orthodox Christianity, is predominantly represented by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has over 95% of registered Orthodox perishes in Russia (Federal Registration Service 2006). A few of the smaller, yet notable Orthodox denominations include the Old Believers, Russian True Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, Molokanand, and Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kiev Patriarchate. Altogether, approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, roughly 70% of the population. (International Religious Freedom Report 2007).

 

With respect to Islam...   Continue reading about Religion in Russia

 

 

Ukrainian flagReligion in Ukraine has a somewhat different "mix" of faiths as compared to religion in Russia. Although the region was once home to rather large Muslim and Jewish communities, Islam and Judaism have diminished significantly from their historic heights. Ukraine, unlike Russia, is predominately Christian, with greater than 90% of religiously active citizens belonging to Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant denominations (2006 Razumkov Centre survey).

 

According to the same 2006 Razumkov Centre survey, the breakdown of religious faith in Ukraine is as follows...   Continue reading about Religion in Ukraine

 

 

Belarus flagReligion in Belarus is predominantly split between two Christian denominations, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. While the Belarusian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church account for roughly 94 percent of those who profess a religious faith (80% and 14% respectively), there are remnants of the the Protestant Church, Islam and Judaism as well.

 

According to January 2007 census figures from the Office of the Plenipotentiary Representative for Religious and Nationality Affairs (OPRRNA), the breakdown of religious faith in Belarus is as follows...   Continue reading about Religion in Belarus

 

 

 

 

 

Etiquette / Customs

 

Russian hospitalityEvery culture has its unique etiquette and customs. For the most part (with slight variations from country to country - region to region), Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet nations all share similar "rules" of social behavior. First time visitors to Russia and Ukraine are often pleasantly surprised, sometimes confused, and in certain cases, taken back by the peculiarities of Russian etiquette.

 

To minimize the culture shock for first time visitors, we've outlined some of the more prevalent conventions of social behavior. Simply follow the links to learn more about Russian (and Ukrainian) Etiquette and Customs.


 

 

 

 

 

Superstitions

 

Russian superstitionsSuperstition is a very big part of Russian and Ukrainian culture. While many superstitions are largely ignored, many more are so common that they have become an inseparable part of everyday Russian etiquette.  So while Russian friends may joke about them, it may be courteous to be aware of common superstitions and show respect for them just the same. After all, do you really want look disrespectful, or worse, risk bad fortune on yourself?

 

 

Origin of Russian Superstition

 

While Russians and Ukrainians are predominantly Christian, its important to remember that Kievan Rus' didn't turn to Christianity until the end of the 10th century. As such, pagan tradition and beliefs remained entrenched in Russian culture. The remnants of these pagan beliefs form the foundation of superstitions so prevalent in Russia and Ukraine today.

  • Its also important to point out that superstitions often vary region to region. Russia, after all, absorbed many pagan cultures over the centuries, all of which had their own unique traditions and beliefs. Local traditions are so varied that they even produced a popular Russian television program that traveled around the country exploring the diverse range of unique, often humorous, superstitions.

Follow the links to see the most widespread Russian superstitions, those that transcend the borders of Russia, Ukraine and former states of the Soviet Union.


 

 

Start Looking

 

 

 

Fairy Tales / Folklore

 

Russian fairy talesLike Russian superstition, Russian Fairy Tales have their origins in the pagan beliefs of ancient Slavs. Grand tales of heroes and heroines, animals and "mystical" beings, were passed down through the generations. These folk tales, or skazki (сказки) as they are known in Russia, were eventually recorded - many in poetic verse. Today, as much as ever, Russian skazki remain an integral part of Russian culture.

 

All Russians and Ukrainians are familiar with traditional fairy tales. Parent's (who themselves listened to skazki when they were young), can practically recite each tale by memory when reading to their children. Russian folklore is engrained in the psyche of all Russians - it is evident in many forms of Russian art, crafts, music and literature.

 

 

Classic Russian Fairy Tales

 

 
  • Teremok (Little Hut)
  • Father Frost
  • Finist the Falcon
  • Ilya of Murom
  • Maria Morevna
  • Kolobok (Bun)
  • Ruslan and Ludmila
  • Repka (Turnip)
  • Scarlet Flower
  • Sivka-Burka
  • The Frog Princess
  • The Snow Maiden
  • Tale of Tsar Saltan
  • Twelve Months

 

The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka - Снегурочка) - Once upon a time there lived an old man and woman who had always regretted that they did not have any children. One lovely winter day they make a girl out of snow. The snow maiden comes alive and becomes the daughter they never had. They call her Snegurochka. She is very beautiful and sweet. But when spring begins to warm the land, the girl becomes quite depressed. When the summer arrives, she becomes even more sad. One day she goes to the woods with a group of village girls to pick flowers. She has a good time for the first time since the winter. It begins to get dark and the other girls make a fire and begin playfully jumping over the flames. Snegurochka also jumps, but suddenly she melts and evaporates into a white cloud.

 

See more Russian Fairy Tales

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Folk Art / Ukrainian Handicraft

 

Click on the links below for more info about Russian Handicraft and Ukrainian Folk Art.

 

Russian Gzhel

 

Russian Gzhel


A Russian style of ceramic, the distinctive blue and white pottery has been produced in an area southeast of Moscow since the early 19th century.


 

Ukrainian Ceramics

 

Ukrainian Ceramics


Ukrainian ceramics consist of typical and decorative dishes, some painted with floral and animal designs, others with traditional red and white patterns.


 

Matryoshka

Matryoshka

Russia's most recognized handicraft, Matryoshka is a painted wooden figure that can be pulled apart to reveal more "Russian Nesting Dolls" inside.


 

Pysanka (Pisanka)

 

 

Pysanka



Originating as a pagan tradition, these ornamental Easter eggs have always - past and present - been a symbol of Resurrection and the hope for renewal.


 

Vologda Lace

 

Vologda Lace


Dating back to the 17th century, Vologda Lace has gained worldwide attention for its rich, decorative patterns and smooth lines that never cross.


 

Ukrainian Embroidery

 

Ukrainian embroidery


Connected to beliefs in protection and fertility, traditional Ukrainian stitch work is generally similar, but does take on distinct variations from region to region.


 

Khokhloma

Khokhloma

Known for their colorful patterns of red and gold, Khokhloma are painted ornamental dishes, spoons and bowls. The name itself is derived from the name of the settlement where the craft got its start (in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast), as far back as the 17th century.


 

Ukrainian Woodwork

Ukrainian woodwork

Wood carving has always been an essential part of Ukrainian life. Farm tools, household items and instruments were traditionally constructed from wood. To give these items more character, many were decorated with elaborate designs, mostly of geometric patterns.


 

Zhostovo Painting

Zhostovo painting


Traditional Russian folk art in which metal trays are painted with lovely floral designs. The handicraft still exists in the village of Zhostovo (Moscow Oblast).


 

Palekh

Palekh


Small paintings (often Russian fairy tales or literary works), which are produced with tempera paints on varnished boxes or cases made of papier-mâché.


 

Dymkovo Toy

Dymkovo Toy

Molded, painted clay figures that are sometimes in the form of a pennywhistle. The Russian handicraft is still produced, according to tradition, in the village of Dymkovo (near Kirov).


 

Tula Samovar

Tula Samovar

A traditional craft of the Tula region, the Samovar was originally produced as a practical device - to boil water, make tea and coffee. Today, although functional, they serve more of an ornamental role.


 

Ural Malachite

Ural Malachite

Jewelry, ornamental pieces and furnishings of exquisite craftsmanship produced using famous Ural Malachite (also known as Russian stone and/or Peacock stone in old Russia).


 

Rostov Finift (Enamel)

 

Rostov Finift (Enamel)


The traditional Russian art form of painting on enamel (often on jewelry - brooches, rings, earrings). Had its origin in Rostov in the 18th century when artists first painted small icons for the church.


 

 

 

 

National (Public) Holidays

 

  Russia Belarus Ukraine
January 1 New Year's Day
January 7 Orthodox Christmas
January 22     Day of Reunion of Ukraine
February 23 Defender of the Motherland Day
(Men's Day)
Men's Day as is celebrated in Belarus and Ukraine
(but not a public holiday)
March 8 International Women's Day
April - May Orthodox Easter, while recognized in both Russia and Belarus, is not a public holiday. Orthodox Easter
A Sunday determined by the church calendar
see oremus.org for dates
May 1 Labour Day (Ukraine celebrates on both May 1st and 2nd)
May 9 Victory Day
June 12 Russia Day    
June 28     Constitution Day
June - July The Orthodox Pentecost is recognized in both Russia and Belarus, but is not a public holiday. Holy Trinity Day
Also known as Triytsya, the Sunday holiday falls 50 days after Easter.
see oremus.org for dates
July 3   Independence Day  
August 24     Independence Day
November 4 Unity Day    
November 7   October Revolution Day  
December 25   Catholic Christmas  

 

 

 

Unofficial Holidays

(for more info, see Cultural festivals and Celebrations)

 

Unofficial Russian Holidays

  • Old Calendar New Year - January 14
  • Tatyana's Day (Student's Day) - January 25
  • St. Valentine's Day - February 14
  • Maslenitsa (Pancake week) - springtime (last week before Lent)
  • Day of Laughter - April 1
  • Cosmonautics Day (Yuri Gagarin Day internationally) - April 12
  • Paskha (Orthodox Easter) - springtime (see oremus.org for dates)
  • Troitsa (Holy Trinity Day) - 50 days after Easter
  • Ivan Kupala (Holiday of John the Baptist) - night of 6th/7th of July
  • Navy Day - last Sunday in July

Unofficial Ukrainian Holidays

  • Old Calendar New Year - January 14
  • Tatyana's Day (Student's Day) - January 25
  • St. Valentine's Day - February 14
  • Men's Day (formerly Soviet "Defender's Day) - February 23
  • Maslenitsa (Pancake week) - springtime (last week before Lent)
  • Day of Laughter - April 1
  • Kiev Day - last Sunday of May (chestnut trees are in full bloom)
  • Day of Remembrance of War Victims - June 22 (day of 1941 German invasion)
  • Youth Day - June 24
  • Graduation Day - last Friday of June
  • Ivan Kupala (Holiday of John the Baptist) - night of 6th/7th of July
  • Navy Day - first Sunday of August (big celebration in Sevastopol)
  • Ukrainian Army Day - December 6
  • St. Nicolas Day - December 19
  • Catholic Christmas - December 25

Unofficial Belarusian Holidays

  • Defender Of The Fatherland Day (Men's Day) - February 23
  • Maslenitsa (Pancake week) - springtime (last week before Lent)
  • Constitution Day - March 15
  • Unity Day - April 2
  • Day of Remembrance of the Chernobyl Tragedy - April 26
  • Catholic Easter - springtime (see oremus.org for dates)
  • Paskha (Orthodox Easter) - springtime
  • Commemoration Day - 9 days after Orthodox Easter
  • Troitsa (Holy Trinity Day) - 50 days after Easter
  • Day of Remembrance of War Victims - June 22 (day of 1941 German invasion)
  • Ivan Kupala (Holiday of John the Baptist) - night of 6th/7th of July
  • Dziady (feast to commemorate the dead) - November 2

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional Clothing / National Costume

 

Click on the links below for more info about Traditional Russian & Ukrainian Clothing.

 

Fur Coats & Hats

Russian fur coat

Fur Coats and hats are an important part of Russian clothing and culture. Fur is one fashion apparel that has been in Russia since the beginning, and so long as Russian winters are cold, its a "trend" unlikely to change.


 

Dublyonka

Russian dublyonka

Another wintertime apparel is the suede, or sheepskin leather jacket known as a dublyonka (дублёнка). Like fur, the natural material provides a layer of warmth and defense from bitterly cold Russian winters.


 

Ushanka

ushanka

Derived from the word ushi - уши (ears), the ushanka is a traditional Russian hat with flaps to protect the ears from cold.


 

Papakha

papakha

Papakha is a traditional wool hat worn by people throughout the Caucasus, including Georgians and Chechens.  


 

Valenki

valenki

Valenki are traditional Russian winter footwear. Made of wool felt, valenki are still quite common in villages, with older generations and with those less caught up in fashion trends.


 

Lapti

lapti

An obsolete traditional footwear, lapti are basket woven shoes commonly made from fiber of the birch tree. No longer worn, today they're a common decorative piece hanging in people's homes.


 

National Ukrainian Costume - Embroidered Shirts, Blouses, Skirts

traditional Ukrainian costume traditional Ukrainian dress traditional Ukrainian embroidery

Traditional folk costume plays an important role in Ukrainian national identity. Distinguished for it's elegant embroidery and rich motifs that vary region to region, taken on the whole Ukrainian clothing maintains a definitive national style. Typically, traditional shirts and blouses of white are embroidered with red, red-black, or red-blue motifs while the entire costume includes woolen skirts, trousers, belts and aprons, red necklaces, wreaths, ribbons and countless other accessories.   


 

Orenburg Shawl

Orenburg Shawl

Shawls have long been a part of Russian fashion, and the most famous of all is the Orenburg Shawl. Made from a blend of silk and indigenous goat fiber, the knitting is so fine that the shawl can literally be pulled through a ring, earning it the nickname - "wedding ring shawl".


 

Pavlov Posad Scarf

Pavlov Posad Scarf

Like the shawl, the scarf was traditionally an important part of every woman's attire. A married woman was supposed to keep her head covered, and a colorful scarf was a cherished possession. A place synonymous with the production of quality scarves is the town of Pavlov Posad.


 

Sarafan & Kokoshnik

sarafan and kokoshnik

Sarafan is a Russian dress - long and shapeless. Kokoshnik is the head-dress that accompanies the Sarafan. Together they form a Russian folk costume that was traditional dress for peasant women up until the 20th century (middle and upper class ladies until the 18th century).


 

Kosovorotka

kosovorotka

Kosovorotka is a traditional Russian shirt commonly worn up to the early 20th century. The shirt has long sleeves and reaches down to the middle thigh. Men traditionally fasten the shirt at the waist with a belt or rope, while women tuck it in their skirt or wear it under the sarafan.


 

Budenovka

budenovka

An essential part of the communist uniform during the Russian Civil War, the Budenovka is a soft, woolen hat that can fold down to cover the ears and neck and can be worn under a helmet. The distinct hat was almost entirely phased out by the ushanka (above) by 1941.


 

Gymnastyorka

gymnastyorka

The Gymnastyorka is Russian military shirt that was used by Red Army up until 1965. First worn by the Czar's army in the late 19th century, the Gymnastyorka is a loose fitting pull-over with a standing collar, provisions for shoulder boards and reinforced elbows and cuffs.


 

 

 

 

Traditional Dance

 

Ukrainian National Dance - HopakThere is a myriad of traditional dances that have originated from Eastern Europe. Most recognized are the Ukrainian folk dances that include world famous Cossack dances, as well as a broad range of regional Ukrainian dances (from the Carpathian highlands to the Polesian lowlands in the north). Less well-known, but equally diverse, are the folk dances of Russia. Dances that are influenced by Cossack and Ukrainian ancestry, as well as those of Russia's diverse ethnic minority.

 

 

Traditional Folk Dance from Russia and Ukraine

 

 

 

Barynya (Барыня), which literally means "landlady", is a traditional Russian folk dance that combines chastushka (a traditional folk poem that is often in the form of satire) with spirited dancing. The dancing usually has no set choreography and consists mostly of fancy stomping and squatting. The refrain "Barynya, barynya, sudarynya-barynya" (landlady, landlady, madam-landlady), is also typically repeated throughout the course of the dance.

 

See more Folk Dance from Russia

 

 

Hopak (Гопак), which is often referred to as the National Dance of Ukraine, is a Cossack dance that has its origins in the early 16th century. Popular with amateur and professional Ukrainian dance ensembles, several composers have also incorporated Hopak into opera and ballet. While not standardized by melody or tempo, a 2/4 time predominates most arrangements, with the pace of the music changing from segment to segment. Such variation evokes a sense of improvisation, allowing dancers to distinguish themselves, and usually culminates with a fast paced, boisterous finale.

 

See more Folk Dance from Ukraine

 

 

Discover

 

 

 

Russian / Ukrainian Folk Music

 

An art form founded by the peasantry, Russian and Ukrainian folk music long played an integral role in village life and tradition. While there's no doubt that ethnic folk music became more "academic" during the 19th and 20th centuries, the influences of traditional folk music still endure. Folkloric music in Russia and Ukraine still maintains the rich melodies and characteristic vocals that distinguish it from traditional music in other parts of Europe.

 

 

Калинка (Kalinka) - Red Army Choir

CD / mp3 of Famous Russian Folk Songs

 

See more Folk Songs from Russia

 

 

Ти ж мене підманула (You've Let Me Down)

CD / mp3 of National Ukrainian Hits

 

See more Folk Songs from Ukraine

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional Russian / Ukrainian Architecture

 

Click on the links for more info about Russian and Ukrainian Architecture.

 

Vernacular Architecture

traditional Ukrainian hut

Architecture including non-professional, civilian constructed buildings including homes, granaries, workshops, etc.


 

Wooden Churches

Saint George Church in Drohobych, Ukraine

Traditional churches made of scribe-fitted horizontal logs and/or lumber with interlocking corner joinery.


 

Kremlins and Fortified Monasteries

Makaryev Convent

Kremlin refers to a central fortress or citadel that was built as a means of defense for the adjoining Russian city.


 

Architecture of Kievan Rus'

Golden Gate in Vladimir

Architecture of Byzantine influence that dates from the adoption of Christianity in 988 to the 13th century Mongol invasion.


 

Novgorod & Pskov Schools

Church of Saints Peter and Pavel in Kogevniki, Velikiy Novgorod

Two bastions of Rus' that escaped the Mongol invasion and developed their own styles of architecture.


 

Moscow & Yaroslavl Schools

Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

The most well-known styles of Russian architecture that include characteristic onion domes and tent-like roofs.  


 

Russian Baroque

Church of the Protection of the Holy Virgin in Fili

A style that arose in the late 17th century that adopted many characteristics of European Baroque.


 

Foreign Styles

Kazan Cathedral, Saint Petersburg

Foreign styles of architecture that were constructed by Muslim and European architects from abroad.


 

Russian Revival Architecture

GUM, Moscow

Construction of Russian cathedrals and buildings that drew inspiration from traditional forms of Russian architecture.


 

Neo-Byzantine Style

Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, Kronstadt

Late 19th century - early 20th century construction that had inspiration in the traditional style of Byzantine architecture.


 

Old Rus' Revival

Church of the Protection of the Holy Virgin, Moscow

Style of construction used just prior to the Russian Revolution that drew inspiration from architecture of Kiev Rus'.


 

Constructivist Architecture

Lenin's Mausoleum

A forerunner to modern building and design that flourished in the Soviet Union during the 1920s and early 1930s.


 

Stalinist Architecture

City Gate Towers in Minsk, Belarus

Also referred to as Stalinist Gothic or Socialist Classicism, this era of architecture lasted from 1933 until 1955.


 

5-Storey Buildings (Пятиэтажки)

Soviet five storey apartment

Mass-produced with concrete panels, the 5-storey building was Khrushchev's answer to a Soviet housing shortage.


 

Late Soviet Era

Kharkov Opera Theatre

A period of relaxed building controls that included multi-floor housing massifs and public buildings with new, varied themes.


 

Modern Architecture

Moscow International Business Center

A new age of freedom in architectural design that has seen the construction of ultra-modern skyscrapers, plazas....


 

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