Ukraine possesses a wealth of cultural talent and a considerable cultural legacy. Numerous writers have contributed to the country’s rich literary history. Impressive monuments of architecture and museums displaying works by generations of Ukrainian artists can be found throughout the country, and art galleries featuring contemporary Ukrainian artists have become commonplace in larger urban centres. The country’s strong tradition of folk art also continues to this day. In addition, high-calibre performing artists and ensembles appear regularly in Ukraine’s numerous theatres and concert halls.
Because of the country’s geographical location, Ukrainian culture has been influenced by the cultures of both western Europe and Russia. Although these influences are particularly evident in the western and eastern halves of the country, respectively, there is no strict geographical division. For example, Russian is spoken in the streets and in many homes and institutions throughout the country; it also is used in national publications, radio broadcasts, and popular music. The country’s other ethnic minorities contribute to a measure of cultural diversity as well.
The social changes brought about by Ukrainian independence are most evident in the cities, particularly Kiev. The country’s capital now boasts high-end stores catering to a moneyed class, and a fashionable strip of contemporary art galleries and cafés winds its way down the historical street of Andriyivskyi Uzviz. The capital’s renovated airport stands in striking contrast to its decidedly dour appearance in Soviet times. The cities, with their broad sidewalks and extensive greenery, are eminently suited for walking. Ukrainians generally do a considerable amount of walking, either to get around or simply for enjoyment. Parks are plentiful and popular for strolling or picnicking, a common pastime among city dwellers, most of whom live in apartments. The cities also feature numerous kiosks, which sell all manner of wares.
Cultural pursuits and entertainment are widespread. Most of Ukraine’s major cities have ornate theatres with their own opera or ballet companies. Song-and-dance ensembles, most notably the Verovka State Chorus and the Virsky Dance Ensemble, have made Ukrainian folk music and dance into an impressive stage art. Though classical music remains popular, contemporary Western-style music has expanded its audience considerably and now dominates the airwaves on numerous commercial radio stations. Street concerts and club performances are common, as are dance clubs and cabarets. Imported television soap operas have developed a dedicated following, and cinemas show American blockbusters.