The combined influences of Slavic culture, Orthodoxy, atheistic communism, collectivism, and repeated exploitation have deeply impacted the Ukrainian soul and produced a worldview radically different from our own. Western Christians who do evangelism and church planting in post-Soviet Eastern Europe must understand the worldview which affects how Ukrainians think, feel and act.
Family Structure in Kiev
Courtship and Marriage:
Ukrainians are private about their courtships. Sometimes couples surprise their friends by announcing their plans for marriage before their friends even know of their interest in each other. Engagements tend to be very short—a few weeks to a couple of months. Young men often delay marriage because of a lack of a good job and an inability to provide financially for a family. Often couples live together before marriage. Church wedding ceremonies are common for believers but are not legally recognized. All couples must register their marriage at a municipal wedding palace.
Because of low salaries and the inability to purchase their own apartment, it is common for young Ukrainian families to live with one set of parents, grandparents or both. This arrangement is reflected in Ukrainian humor where mother in laws are frequently the brunt of jokes.
Impact of Divorce:
According to the US Census Bureau and Infoplease, in 1998, Ukraine had a 63% divorce rate. The cause for this includes unemployment, financial problems, immorality and alcoholism. A more recent cause of divorce is the growing number of “mail order” marriages between Ukrainian women and western men. Children in divorced families almost always live with the mother. Many children have little or no contact with their father.
Because of the low salaries, even if there are two parents in many Ukrainian homes both will work. As a result of this, very often the grandmothers will raise the children.
The low salaries, make it very common for people who live in Kiev and other large Ukrainian cities to have a dacha or summerhouse. These simple homes are located in villages outside large urban areas and have small plots of land on which Ukrainians grow fruit and vegetables that they preserve and eat throughout the winter.
Because of the large number of schools in Kiev, many young Kievites attend a technical institute or university. Their choice of school is determined both by affordability and by their personal interest. However, once students complete their education, it is not unusual for Kievites to be employed in a field completely different from their employment, simply because that is where they were able to find a job.
Kinship Lines and Extended Family:
The Soviet Union disrupted many Ukrainian families. As a result of its policies of relocation or imprisonment, many Ukrainian families have little knowledge of their ancestors and family history.
The majority of the Ukranian people we talk to have at least one relative that either died of starvation during the Stalin years or was otherwise the target of political or social persecution.
Holidays and Special Family Celebrations:
Customs and family celebrations vary widely in different regions of Ukraine. The birth of a child is always an occasion for celebrating. Families have parties with their friends and, in secular society, there will be much drinking
Ukrainians celebrate birthdays by preparing a large meal and inviting their close friends and families to join them. It is appropriate to drop by with a gift to such a gathering, even without an invitation.
Holidays are many and widely celebrated in Ukraine. Religious holidays are observed by the entire country even though the purpose of the holiday is adhered to by only a very small minority of people.
Urban Ukrainians are very private and do not make friendships readily. One American missionary living in Kiev invited a Ukrainian woman who lived in the same apartment building into her home. Her Ukrainian neighbor replied, “I have lived in this building 20 years and you are the first neighbor to invite me into your home.
Ukrainians expect friendships to be deep. They believe that friends should depend on each other much more than they see in American relationships. Ukrainians commonly mention that Americans are very friendly - but only to a point. Some who have visited America will say, "Everyone is nice and open, and they say, 'come visit us.' But when you drop in on them (unannounced - the Slavic way) they say, 'It is nice that you came by, but what do you want? Why did you come by?'"
Ukrainians value hospitality. They are warm and hospitable people, going to great lengths to put out a good meal and accommodate guests. They expect and want to spend time with guests, something not often seen in the west.
Even though Ukrainians love giving and receiving flowers, they would never give an even number of flowers to someone because that is done only at funerals.
It is very rude not to take off your shoes upon entering a home.
Response to Strangers:
Ukrainians are reserved around strangers and tend to trust only those they have known a long time, their closest family members and a very small circle of friends.
Ukrainians are sometimes very blunt with strangers. The word "dushevnost" can be translated as "the quality of having an open soul." It refers to the Ukrainian preference for being more straightforward or blunt with strangers and being friendly only with those who are really friends.
On the other hand Ukrainians are very eager to meet Americans and other westerners.
Ukrainians understand leadership from an autocratic model. This is true in politics, business, education and even the church.
Insecurity becomes Security:
Ukrainians live in a very insecure society. They cannot depend on a steady job and stable income. Inflation continues to erode the buying power of their small salaries. Electric service may be cut off without any warning. They may not have hot water to heat their apartment. Yet in the midst of a life of uncertainty, Ukrainians are to some extent secure. Because they cannot count on government or employment, they have learned to be self-sufficient. Because of their own resourcefulness, and growing produce at their dachas, Ukrainians can survive on an extremely small amount of money.
Law and Order in Society:
Law enforcement is far more subjective in Ukraine than in the west. There is a double standard of enforcement. For example, traffic police routinely ignore blatant violations committed by drivers of dark expensive sedans and vehicles with government tags while at the same time they will sternly fine others for minor violations.
1. Some Ukrainians feel that strangers should not look at somebody’s newborn baby because they give the infant the “evil eye.”
2. Ukrainians consider it bad luck to shake hands or to pass something across the threshold of a door.
3. If you whistle indoors, you supposedly whistle away your money.
4. Never drink anything cold. If you drink cold drinks or eat ice cream, chances are you'll get a sore throat. This especially applies to children.
5. A woman should never sit on the cold ground or brick wall or anything cold or she may physically not be able to have children.
6. After a death occurs in a home, some Ukrainians will cover the mirrors for 9 days because it is believed that the spirit stays in the home for 9 days and will not leave if it sees itself in a mirror.
Predominant Religious Systems in Ukrainian Society:
Approximately 50% of Ukrainians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians of one of three churches -- the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Approximately 40 % of Ukrainians are atheists, 10% are Greek Catholic, 2 % are Roman Catholic, .5% are Baptists and other Evangelical Christians and .25% are Jewish.
The Ukrainian people possess a wide array of skills and a high level of education. One thing the Soviet system did well was to broadly institute a uniform level of education, so that almost all the population is literate. This being the case, the range of occupations is very broad.
Many in the rural areas are still bound to a life of hand labor due to the leftover Soviet collective farm system. Their lives are bound to the land. Their primary work is planting, harvesting, and maintaining the farms, land and equipment necessary to make these things happen year to year. It is quite difficult for the new generation to break out of this framework, as the economy is bad and does not offer many opportunities for advancement.
Most of the professions in Kiev include lawyers, notaries, computer specialists, bankers, police, business owners, teachers, sales clerks, bookkeepers, truck drivers, custodians, secretaries, etc.
Due to the Soviet system, in which everyone was guaranteed a job whether he had work to do or not, many factories are having a difficult time now that it is necessary to deal with the world markets. They found themselves to be inefficient and noncompetitive on the world markets. This caused many firms to downsize, thrusting many workers into the unemployment ranks.
One will also find an abundance of street vendors that did not exist during the Soviet period. They are trying to eek out a living selling whatever they can get their hands on to market for a small profit.
Many jobs are tied to government employment of some sort. The Soviet bureaucracy was enormous, and has yet to be significantly downsized since the fall of the Union. Many are teachers and professors connected to the many schools, institutes, academies, universities and other institutes of learning. The medical profession continues to employ health care workers. State transportation such as railroads, buses, and highway work also require laborers.
Major Ukrainian occupations include: Industry and construction 33%, agriculture and forestry 21%, health, education, and culture 16%, trade and distribution 7%, transport and communication 7%, other 16% (1992).
It is difficult to know the true amount and sources of a Ukrainian’s income. While official figures put the figure often at $50 USD per month, officials will acknowledge what is known as the “shadow economy”, or unofficial economy. It is estimated that the shadow economy may in fact be greater than the official economy. For example, a physician may quote his official state salary when asked how much he makes. However, he may receive many times more than that through the unofficial payments from patients he sees each week.
This is also true of many other professions. Each clerk at each desk of the bureaucracy must feed his/her family, and since the official salary will not do that, he uses the little bit of clout that he has to receive supplementary income. Westerners often see this as a “bribe” system, whereas Ukrainians simply view this as the normal way things get done. Ukrainians have grown accustomed to corruption. One of the leftovers of the communist system is that almost nothing gets done without some sort of bribe or favor
In addition to this, many people have part time jobs carried out independently of the “real” jobs. Sometimes these extra jobs create much more income than their official ones. A schoolteacher may receive $50 per month for her full-time job and an additional $100 per month for part-time work tutoring one or two foreign students. All these sources are unofficial, and even among friends people usually don’t discuss their “real” income. Much of this mindset has been shaped from the Soviet period when people seldom shared personal information for fear of repression of some sort.
Ukraine gained independence from former Soviet Union in 1991, but concluded a cooperation agreement with Russia in 1993 in order to secure important oil shipments. Ukraine faces a strong separatist movement of the Tartars on the Crimea Peninsula. With the ratification of a new constitution in July 1996, President Leonid Kuchma won a long battle against the parliament during which he threatened to hold general elections. The new constitution provides for a constitutional court to oversee its application. The President has the right to pick the Prime Minister and the regional governors, but the parliament can veto his decisions. Presidential decrees will eventually be abolished. The President can no longer dissolve parliament.
Learn more from:
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia
World Fact Book (CIA)