You have probably seen news pictures recently of big demonstrations in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, Europe's second largest country. Demonstrators want the government to pursue closer ties with
the European Union, while the government favours closer ties with Russia, its powerful ally.
Ukraine is in some ways a divided country, with its more industrialized eastern part very closely
tied to Russia for materials and markets. The western part of the country, where nationalism
flourishes, is more agricultural and favours closer connections with its neighbours to the west
such as Poland and Germany. Russia does not want Ukraine to have closer ties with the West, and because Russia is so important to Ukraine economically, generally Russia gets its way.
During my two-week visit to the country in 2010, I had the impression that Ukraine is very
much like Russia. Granted, I was in Kiev and areas to the south, and did not visit the western part of Ukraine. Certainly the history of Ukraine has been connected to that of Russia ever since the 10th century when a Viking prince named Volodmyr adopted the Orthodox religion and established
Kievan Rus, one of the earliest Russian states.
Like Russia but perhaps to an even greater extent, Ukraine now suffers from extensive corruption and a government that is in many ways a kleptocracy. From what I have read, virtually everything is for sale includeing university degrees, so this might not be the country to choose for your heart bypass.
Still, it is a welcoming, fascinating place and both cheaper and easier to visit than Russia because it does not have such harsh visa requirements. This may not be the best time to go, but I can strongly recommend it as a worthwhile destination that is a little off the beaten path. The picture above is of St. Andrew's Chruch in Kiev, designed by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrell who also was the architect of the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg. Sorry about the weird layout on this post--I hope to fix it for future posts.