Ukraine’s been in the news quite a bit lately. Seems this former Soviet republic was getting a bit too cozy with Europe for Vladimir Putin’s liking, so he found some ethnic Russians to “invite” his army in to set a spell. Currently, Moscow only seems interested in the Crimean peninsula and its strategic Black Sea port at Sevastopol. But, who knows, there are a lot of ethnic Russians in Kiev, too….
If not for recent events, Ukraine would be known to many Americans only as that particularly strategic eastern European territory on the “Risk” game board. Too bad. It’s a fascinating country with a rich and varied history.
As we continue to watch world leaders play their geopolitical version of “Stratego” in Eastern Europe, let’s sit back with a nice cold bowl of borscht as we take a Friday Fun Facts look at Ukraine.
1. Ukraine has been inhabited for more than 44,000 years, making it one of the oldest centers of permanent human habitation on the planet. The entire Indo-European language family comes from here, as does the domesticated horse.
2. Ukrainians wrote what is perhaps the world’s first constitution. Written in 1710, “Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhian Host” divided Ukraine’s government into three parts (like ours) and specified the rights and responsibilities of the government and its citizens.
3. In English-speaking countries, the region used to be referred to as “The Ukraine.” The definite article was dropped when the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
4. The Soviet Union’s top rocket designer, Sergey Korolyov, the man who helped put the first artificial satellites and cosmonauts into space, was Ukrainian. Today, Ukraine continues to be a top producer of aerospace components, including the world’s most “environmentally friendly” launch vehicles.
5. At the time of its independence, Ukraine had the third-largest cache of nuclear weapons in the world. (Thanks to the Soviet Union.) The new government immediately relinquished all claims to the nasty nukes and sent them back to Moscow.
6. Perhaps not coincidentally, Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear power plant meltdown (1986), is in northern Ukraine near the border with Belarus.
7. George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy & Bess was purportedly inspired by the Ukrainian lullaby “Sleep is Tiptoeing About,” which he once heard sung by the Ukrainian National Chorus.
9. The third-busiest McDonald’s in the world is located near Kiev’s main train station. Last year it served nearly 2.3 million hungry Ukrainians.
9. Kiev is home to the world’s deepest subway station. The Arsenalnaya Metro Station is 344 feet (105) meters underground. It supposedly houses secret Cold War -era nuclear survival bunkers built for the city’s elite.
10. Ukrainians are the fifth-drunkest people in the world. The average Ukrainian adult downs 15.6 liters of the hard stuff annually.
Happy Friday, and have a great weekend!