Slightly small than Texas, Ukraine meaning 'Borderland' is gradually shifting away from its former days of being a Soviet Union appendage. The younger generation especially is embracing the country's new-found freedom, while traditionalists are worried that freedom might get the country into trouble.
Influenced by many reigning nations over the centuries, this patchwork nation is on a quest to find itself. Slavic is the dominant culture, with the east being Russian speaking, the south and middle being Cossack, and the west being Ukrainian speaking. Meanwhile the Crimean Tatars dominate on the peninsula.
Golden domes of Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches grace the skies throughout Ukraine, which also happens to be one of Europe’s poorest countries. You'll find Turkic architecture along with fascinating cave cities in Crimea, and historical artifacts left by the Cossacks on Khortytsya Island in the Dnipro River.
Aside from vast cultural richness, this is also a country hoping to emerge on the world stage in other ways, such as their hosting of Eurovision in 2005, co-hosting of the 2012 European Football Championships, and vying for a chance to host the Winter Olympics in 2018.
For a city with energy, history, and verve, Odesa is often top of the list for visitors to Ukraine. In the late 1700s, Russia’s Catherine the Great invited Europeans to come to Odessa to seek their fortunes in the new city, resulting in a southern 'eye on the world' for Russia with its new cosmopolitan inhabitants. Today, the city retains that feeling of modern vigor. Infamously known for being a Mafia stronghold, and a duty-free port, the city attracts tourists with its warm climate, sunny skies and dazzling beaches.
One of Ukraine's biggest attractions isn't the beaches, however. It's the Chernobyl Museum in Kyiv (Kiev), the capital of Ukraine. A permanent shrine to those killed following the 1986 explosion, this museum makes no attempt, as the former USSR did, to cover up the tragedy that took place here. Displaying the photos and identity cards of the dead, along with radiation contamination graphs and pictures of the area after the explosion, the museum allows visitors take in the horror of that world-stopping event. Although most of the exhibits are in Ukrainian and Russian, there is still enough here to get an idea of exactly what happened, such as videos, countless photos of deformities in both people and animals (an eight-legged pig for example). The largest exhibit contains anti-nuke posters created by artists from the world over, as well as front page stories on the disaster from the New York Times and other newspapers. It's even possible to take a tour of the exclusion zone, meaning, the 'ghost' cities which were evacuated and are today nothing but ghost towns.