School uni­forms, borscht, three kis­ses… Anas­ta­siya Kak­hovs­ka tal­ked about major dif­fe­rences between Fin­land and Ukrai­ne

When you start thin­king about Ukrai­ne, you pro­bably start visua­lizing ima­ges colo­red with blue and yel­low. Howe­ver, what more is the­re apart from the unfor­get­table flag?

Anas­ta­siya Kak­hovs­ka is the right per­son to ask that ques­tion. Kak­hovs­ka visi­ted our English class in Laa­ni­la High School and told pret­ty much eve­ryt­hing you can inform about Ukrai­ne in an hour. The fun­ny tra­di­tions, pecu­liar foods, strict stu­dying sys­tem, the impact of war on life, and more… If you read this article to an end, it’s ine­vi­table you get some brand new, eye-ope­ning infor­ma­tion.

Befo­re the Rus­sian-ini­tia­ted war began in 2014, Ukrai­nian lan­gua­ge, habits and ove­rall cul­tu­re was in the sha­de of Rus­sian cul­tu­re. If you spo­ke Rus­sian, it was a mark of sop­his­tica­tion. If not, you were unci­vi­lized. Kak­hovs­ka tells us an example: If a per­son who spo­ke Rus­sian came to your Ukrai­ne-spea­king vil­la­ge, eve­ry­one tried to speak Rus­sian to this person—even if they real­ly couldn’t.

The war set the wheels in motion and after the full-sca­le-war star­ted in 2022, chan­ges began to speed up radical­ly and Ukrai­nian cul­tu­re beca­me a valued mat­ter of heart. “Nowa­days, even if we have a mee­ting with East-Ukrai­nian people, we always try to speak Ukrai­nian language—when befo­re it was Rus­sian”, says Kak­hovs­ka. She her­self lived in Kono­top, which is near­by the bor­der of Rus­sia. Back in the days about 90 % of the people the­re spo­ke Rus­sian in their day-to-day life. Nowa­days the num­ber is scarce­ly that high.

Rigid stu­dying sys­tem

Kak­hovs­ka has lived in Fin­land for 12 years now and has noticed major dif­fe­rences between Fin­land and Ukrai­ne. One sizeable dis­si­mi­la­ri­ty concerns the school sys­tem.

In Ukrai­ne, all the stu­dents have school uni­forms. Usual­ly, girls come to school wea­ring black skirts and shirts and boys with black pants and whi­te blouses. In addi­tion, schools are more regi­men­ted and teac­hers stric­ter. As we can have a snack in the midd­le of a les­son, go to bath­room and tell our opi­nions free­ly wit­hout being sca­red of the con­sequences, in Ukrai­ne none of tho­se are — or at least were in Kak­hovs­ka’s times — fea­sible.

“When I once stood up for our his­to­ry teac­her and said: ‘How can you say things like that’, I got evic­ted from the les­son and lec­tu­red with my parents”, tells Kak­hovs­ka.

The rea­son for teac­hers’ cruel­ty was in Kakhovska’s opi­nion the educa­tion during the Soviet Union. Nobo­dy real­ly wan­ted to be a teac­her any­mo­re because of the dec­rea­sed pay that you got from it, so the ones that ended up the­re were the con­ser­va­ti­ve ones who got educa­ted under the old sys­tem. Kak­hovs­ka hopes that the­re have been chan­ges in the school sys­tem in recent years.

Ext­raor­di­na­ry eating habits

As eve­ry­one could guess, one big dis­tinc­tion between Ukrai­ne and Fin­land is food. One—probably the most popular—food is borscht.

“It’s impos­sible to give a specious reci­pe for it”, says Kak­hovs­ka. She tells how eve­ry fami­ly in Ukrai­ne have dif­fe­rent sec­ret reci­pes for it.

Howe­ver, the gene­ral idea of borscht is soup that con­tains beet­root and some kind of sour broth. Still, should you add any vege­tables to the soup, it can still be cal­led borscht. Self-baked bread rolls are very com­mon to enjoy whi­le having borscht. The bread rolls are dip­ped in gar­lic oil and pork fat is put on top.

Unli­ke Finns, Ukrai­nians use plen­ti­ful of sme­ta­na in eve­ryt­hing, especial­ly in tra­di­tio­nal foods. Anot­her very popu­lar side dish in Ukrai­ne is curd. Its tex­tu­re is very dif­fe­rent from the Fin­nish ver­sion. When here the curd is very smooth, in Ukrai­ne it has a great deal of lumps in it—such as cot­ta­ge chee­se. This curd is used in very dif­fe­rent ways. For example, on top of a thin panca­ke.

Sum­mer camps as impro­ve­ment tools

Ukrai­ne is a very big count­ry; almost two times as big as Fin­land. Its sout­hern bor­der is at the same level as Italy’s nort­hern bor­der. This is why Ukrai­nians tend to spend their holi­days insi­de their home count­ry. Citizens who seek sun, warmth and beach, go to sout­hern Ukrai­ne, and tho­se who want snow and good skiing oppor­tu­ni­ties go to nort­hern Ukrai­ne.

Especial­ly sum­mer holi­days are the gol­den times of Ukrai­nian ado­lescents, since almost eve­ry one of them goes to month-long camps. In the camps they learn to impro­vi­se — which is in Kakhovska’s opi­nion “the super power of Ukrai­nians”. The­re are also lots of per­for­mances, so the children learn to throw them­sel­ves into thril­ling situa­tions.

When being in the camps for so long with ran­dom people, it’s impor­tant to be tal­ka­ti­ve and open to get to know eve­ry­one. This is how you get the best pos­sible expe­riences out of the camps. Ukrai­nians are indeed very social people—much more social than Finns.

For example, in Ukrai­ne it’s very com­mon to ask for food items from your neigh­bors if you need anyt­hing at all. If you did that in Fin­land, you would pro­bably get some odd looks on your­self. You can also see the dif­fe­rences from the official gree­tings: when we Finns sha­ke our hands awkward­ly, Ukrai­nians give each other three kis­ses on the cheek.

Diver­se wardro­be

In Ukrai­ne it’s very com­mon to use cross-stitc­hed dres­ses and shirts. Pro­bably the most popu­lar Ukrai­nian clot­hing is vys­hy­van­ka — embroi­de­red shirt. The­se are usual­ly hand­ma­de and can cost anyt­hing between 50 and 4000 euros. Eve­ry area has its own pat­tern and color, so when loo­king at someone’s vys­hy­van­ka, you can deduce whe­re they have bought it. Ukrai­nian natio­nal clot­hes also inclu­de lar­ge necklaces.

Kil­ler corn­fields

Because of the size of Ukrai­ne, the­re are also areas with very good grain-growing con­di­tions. Ukrai­ne is actual­ly very sig­ni­ficant pro­ducer of grain. The­re­fo­re, when the war star­ted and loads of grain trans­ports to Africa were cancel­led, people in Africa suf­fe­red from food shor­ta­ge.

The corn­fields of Ukrai­ne are nowa­days very dan­ge­rous places to be in since Rus­sian sol­diers have hid­den mines all over them. A child of one Ukrai­nian fami­ly that Kak­hovs­ka knows, was run­ning in the field when they acci­dent­ly hit a mine and pas­sed away imme­dia­te­ly.

It’s impor­tant to unders­tand Ukrai­nian tra­di­tions and cul­tu­re, because the­re are about 40 000 Ukrai­nians in Fin­land at the moment, and more is to come.

Text: Lau­ra Kuis­ma