Sunday March 30, 2014
Ukraine has an ancient and complex history, with cultural influences from a multitude of sources. It may be difficult to choose what to see in Ukraine, which is why lists such as the Seven Wonders of Ukraine
and Ukraine's Seven Wonderful Castles
are so handy. They narrow down Ukraine's attractions to those that experts and citizens find to be the most significant.
The major issue with these lists is the recent takeover of Crimea
by Russia. Each of these lists has one sight in Crimea, making the lists effectively lists of six items each. However, they are presented as originally voted on when Crimea was a part of Ukraine.
Lutz Castle photo credit: CC BY iSavoch
Friday March 28, 2014
St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
is Ukraine's oldest church, a World Heritage site, one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine, and a must-visit Kiev sight. St. Sophia was built in the 11th century when Kievan Rus
was at its height. Originally, it was constructed with the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) in mind, but later renovations, particularly those in the Ukrainian Baroque style, altered its appearance significantly. However, its significance cannot be underestimated. St. Sophia is a monument to Kievan Rus, important for its architecture and interior decorations--which include rare frescoes and medieval graffiti--and recalls the adoption of Orthodox Christianity by Vladimir the Great at a time when the Slavic tribes followed pagan rites and beliefs.
Thursday March 27, 2014
Russia often cites it historical predecessor, Kievan Rus
, when making claims to Ukrainian territory. The relationship is there, but what is sometimes overlooked is that Russia sprang from this medieval state, not the other way around. Kievan Rus left a long and lasting legacy, which affects culture, politics, language, and religion today. After all, it was during this period of rule from Kiev, particularly under the prosperous leaders Vladimir and Yaroslav, that Kievan Rus adopted Orthodox Christianity, which was made easier by the standardization of an alphabet and language after Cyril and Methodius visited the Slavic lands, united under this medieval state. Visitors to Kiev can view a symbol of Kievan Rus in the Saint Sophia Cathedral, which was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople: When Vladimir chose Orthodox Christianity, he also allied himself with the Byzantine Empire and married the emperor's daughter.
St. Sophia Cathedral photo credit: iStockphoto/lior2
Tuesday March 25, 2014
Independence is an hot topic and strongly felt whenever a threat to that independence is perceived, especially in countries struggled to govern themselves after decades, or centuries, of rule from elsewhere. The countries of Eastern Europe that belonged to empires or survived under oppressive regimes, take their independence seriously. Independence days in Eastern Europe
are celebrated with parades, ceremonies, concerts, and speeches, and it's typical to see the national flag flown from houses and businesses on this day. Some countries actually celebrate more than one independence day owing to the events of history.
Flag Flown in Vilnius for Lithuania Independence Day photo credit: Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Tuesday March 25, 2014
Because they are typically destinations for Russians, Ukrainians, and people from other parts of Eastern Europe, Westerners may not be familiar with the cities of Crimea. However, given the recent news about Crimea and its current status, knowing a little big about the cities here can make understanding the region a little easier. For example, one Crimean city, Yalta, was the site of the 1945 Yalta Conference, during which Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin after WWII. Sevastopol, administratively independent from Crimea, is nevertheless in Crimea and important for its Black Sea port and holds military significance.
Sunday March 23, 2014
You've heard and read a lot about Crimea, but where is Crimea
? Actually, if you look at a map of Ukraine
or a map of Eastern Europe
Crimea is pretty easy to find. Just identify the landmass south of Ukraine that juts out into the Black Sea and which is separated from Russia by the Sea of Azov (that smaller sea to the east of the Black Sea). That's the Crimean Peninsula, well-surrounded by water and a historically contested region of Eastern Europe.
Sunday March 23, 2014
Crimea's position in the headlines doesn't seem to be falling as the political situation in the historically contested region continues to be tense. Russia's take-back of Crimea
follows a long-established claim to the region, which has occupied a position between empires throughout the centuries. Crimea, after being a part of the Ottoman Empire and a brief period of independence, was absorbed into the Russian Empire by Catherine the Great. In the 1950s it was then made a part of Ukraine under Khrushchev, a decision which stuck when Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Friday February 28, 2014
Many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate Carnival this weekend, including Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, and other countries that follow the Western religious calendar for holy days. Masks are often a central feature of Carnival observances, with each country favoring a particular type of carnival mask.
It is also the time when pagan springtime festivals mark the passage of winter into spring with the drowning/burning of effigies and other rituals, such as the sharing of martenitsa in Bulgaria.
Martenitsa for Baba Marta photo credit: iStockphoto/OmegaTransFer
Wednesday February 26, 2014
The Latvians hearken back to their pagan roots when celebrating Easter. Easter in Latvia
is, like in other countries, celebrated with the making of Easter eggs. But Latvians also have the tradition of swinging during Easter, which encourages the rising of the sun as the days lengthen and the weather becomes warmer. Latvians may also swat each other with pussy willow on Easter and play games with decorated eggs.
Monday February 24, 2014
are Lithuanian Easter eggs. They are dyed using the wax-resist technique common throughout Eastern and Central Europe, or dyed and then etched with a design. When dyed, the patterns are formed using teardrop-shaped wax application, but when etched, the designs take on any form in the artist's imagination. These distinctly decorated eggs are a beautiful marker for the springtime season!
Marguciai photo credit: Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com