We are professional historians and licensed private guides, who work in Kyiv city and regions of Ukraine. We provide private tours for foreign guests and for locals as well. We offer customized and personalized programs and routes, depending on your preferences, interests and wishes; interests; length of stay (from 4 hours to several days; group size; budget frames; mobility; preferred destination to start and end the tour.
We offer tours for 1-10 days around Kyiv city and from Kyiv to the most popular and famous destinations all over Ukraine. If you have an interest to very specific place / town / village, which are not indicated in our list, tell us about that and we will combine an optimal variant of the route for you. We are ready to travel with you practically to any place of Ukraine.
You can request the most popular and regular destinations for visiting as well as very specific objects of your personal interest, and we will try to optimize all. Just let us know about your time frames or travel conditions and we will help you to combine an optimal variant of excursions program.
We are a little more, than tour guides, local outhentic historians with a passion for Ukrainian and Eastern European history. We will bring this region history alive while see old sites.
We can help you also with transportation and any type of vehicle. You can ask any route, or your own customized route depends of your time frames and necessities.
For lovers of gastronomic tourism there are Ukrainian traditional cuisine recipes on the pages of our web-site (green color texts).
Sincerely, Kyiv & Ukraine Private Tour Guides
Kamianets'-Podil's'kyi & Khotyn
Khortytsia Island - Zaporizhia
Ukraine History Notes
Geography is an historical discipline, something that was brought home with a vengeance in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when map makers drafted and published innumerable new maps.
A good model for understanding historical geography is provided by the history of books. Before the printing press, every copy of every book was hand-written; and before the age of throw-away material, the pages of skin and papyrus on which these old books were written was exceedingly durable. It not seldom happened that an old text was scrubbed off such a sheet and a new text inscribed upon it. But in the course of years, chemical traces of the old inks, embedded deep in the fibers and not totally removed, became visible again. Greek philologists termed such documents "palimpsests," for they were "scraped again."
The Ukrainian people and land, to take a metaphor from the study of ancient books, present us with a "palimpsest": many nations have left their imprint on Ukrainian culture, language and land. This is not merely of antiquarian interest, but poses the first practical modern problem for geographers, not for Ukrainians alone, but for nearly everyone interested in the subject. What name of names shall we use in discussing this country? It helps to look at case studies involving other countries. The powerful Chinese have told the world to say "Bejing." instead of "Peking" or "Peiping." The small nation of the Finns will call their capital "Helsinki" when they speak Finnish, "Helsingfors" when they use the other language of the land, Swedish. They expect foreigners to know little or nothing of their land or language, so Finns tolerate either variety.
Dnipro (Dnieper) River in Ukraine, Twitter/Tim Kopra photo from the space station
At various times Ukrainians have been dominated by Poland and Russia and by Austria-Hungary. Even here we must exercise caution: the Austria or Russia of 1914 are light years distant from the Austria or Russia of 1500 or the 1990s. There is understandable confusion and even resentment therefore, when foreigners, who usually have little knowledge of the country, use a non-Ukrainian geographical name. Ukrainians, therefore, ought to be tolerant enough to accept defensible and traditional variation. But to correct the unacceptable error one must all the more have exact standards. And non Ukrainians, certainly historians and geographers, need to know what name and what language is appropriate and exact on a case by case basis. Now that the Iron Curtain is down maybe you will drive from "Vienna," the Italian name of "Wien," to Ukraine. Let us say you would like to visit "Bratislava" in Slovakia (Slowakei) on your way. The older road signs in Austria (Oesterreich) pointed to Pressburg. But in case you drive from Budapest, the signs for "Bratislava" read "Pozsony." Be prepared.
With the help of Kyiv & Ukraine Private Tour Guides in Western Ukraine you reach the beautiful city of - how shall we call it? - Lviv, Lwow, or Lvov, or Lemberg? A native of the town may have been born an Austro-Hungarian subject in "Lemberg" before 1918, which is what the Austrian officials called it. After 1918 our Austro-Hungarian subject became a citizen of Poland, whose officials issued documents citing his domicile as "Lwow." Although he never left home, after World War II this person was then a resident of "Lviv" in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. But our citizen's father always said this, even in the days of Royal and Imperial Austrian occupation. Officialdom in the Soviet era generally insisted on reintroducing the Russian name "Lvov," just as the British use the name "Londonderry," while the Irish insist on the Gaelic name "Derry." Since 1991 our man has lived in the independent Republic of Ukraine, capital Kyiv. If pronounced in eastern Ukrainian fashion Kyiv it will sound to the Anglo ear something like "kayiiv" - or in western pronunciation "Kayeeev." The only name the foreigner usually knows is "kee-ev," which he will accent on the second syllable. He won't know that this is a bad pronunciation of the Russian name, which for that matter is really pronounced "Kee-if," accent on the first syllable. The Slavic nations emerging from the Soviet Union have a common genesis. They are East Slavs. Their history and geography, to invoke another analogy, is like archeology. Archeologists dig from the top, from the here and now, down, backward into the past, like peeling an onion. The outer skins of two of our onions are the names "Ukraine" and "Russia." These terms suggest to the novice that the Ukraine is an appendage to Russia, which was indeed its political fate since the ascendancy of Muscovy until independence was attained in 1991 and abortively between the World Wars.
If likewise the language we today call "Russian" has preempted the name once common to all East Slavs, it has developed from the speech of those emigrants from Kyivan (Kievan) Rus'. The language as it evolved in "Old Rus" is now known as "Ukrainian." The common ancestor of this and modern "Russian", together with Belorussian, was spoken along the Dnipro (Dnieper) from Novhorod in the north, south to Kyiv (Kiev) Novhorod and beyond. This language is called, perilously for the naive, "Old Russian". It could as well, just as inaccurately, be called "Old Ukrainian". But scholars with a sense of humor and history will understand each other when they say, with double anachronism, "Russian is a Ukrainian dialect." The least misleading term would be "Old East Slavic."
The subsequent history of Slavic Easterners and Westerners is what sets the descendants of the East Slavs apart. After centuries of bondage under the Mongol Tatars, the received wisdom is that Muscovy's heirs are doomed to absolutism. They, on the other hand, feel that the Westerners, in the 16th and 17th centuries under the impact of the Jesuit-led Counter-Reformation, spearheaded by Catholic Lithuania and Poland, have slipped their Slavic, Orthodox moorings.
And when the power of Poland ebbed, Muscovy expanded. And Russia's sell defense against resumed German "Drang nach Osten" ("drive to the East"), Ukrainians-and Poles-were caught in the middle. (Compare "England's difficulty, Ireland's advantage".) Territorially modern Ukraine is not coterminous with Kievan Rus - the Old East Slavic ancestral homeland, and "Ukraina" is not the name that the ancestors of the nation called their land.
Furthermore, it was practice in early Europe to specify ethnicity, and only imply territory. In the documents of Kyivan (Kievan) Rus', for example, what in modern English stylistics is termed "the journey from Scandinavia to Greece" was really worded "road from the Vikings to the Greeks."
A millennium ago Christianity, i.e. Byzantine Christianity, was adopted, really imposed, at Kyiv (Kiev). The faith was accepted two centuries later in a minor Kyivan Rus' colony deep in Finnish and Baltic territory. This settlement took its name from the river on whose banks it stood, the Moskva, English Moscow.
Earlier yet, in Greek and Latin texts, the East Slavs were termed Antes. In Classical and Hellenistic, Iron Age, times the lands of today's south Ukraine were inhabited by Cimmerians, probably of Thracian language, this nation separating the Slavs from direct contact with ancient Greek culture. In the southern steppes the Scythians (700 - 300 B.C.) or Scyths and the Sarmatians (300 B. C.- 200 A.D.) held sway. These two were of Iranian language, and traces of the Scythian word for "river", "don" (Sanskrit "dhanu") can be found in several hydronyms on Ukrainian territory: Don, Dnepr, Dnieper, Dnestr, Dniester. Transcribed into English the Ukrainian forms are: Din or Don, Dnipro and Dnister. Dunai has the same intermediary source as German Donau.
Farther north in the Slavic heartland, that is, in southeastern part of Poland and western and central western part of Ukraine, there are no Iranian hydronyms to be found. Slavic river names predominate. This indicates, that the homeland of the Slavs on the eve of their expansion in the age of migrations was in this Ukrainian-Polish region, north of the Carpathians. Regions south of here, as the hydronyms attest, were won from Persian and Turkish rule in recent centuries.
Kyiv & Ukraine Private Tour Guides
Indo-Europeans = Kurgan peoples. Slavs are a branch of the great Indo-European language family that extends from Iceland and Ireland in the West to Bengal on the Indian subcontinent. Ukraine is the "center of gravity" for this language family. The term "Indo-European" belongs to comparative linguistics and "Kurhan Culture" to archeology. Students of the question of the Indo-European homeland are compelled to know Ukrainian geography, since this was the marshaling region of the Indo-Europeans, or Kurhan peoples.
Maria Gimbutas demonstrated in the late 1950s that the development of culture across Indo-European Europe from the present time back to ca. 2,500 B.C. was continuous and evolutionary, but that a horizon of destruction in the archeological record of the indigenous Europeans in the mid-third millennium could only be explained through the irruption of a warlike people from the Pontic steppe, from today's Ukraine and Russia, into southern, central, northern, and western Europe. Gimbutas names this culture after the characteristic funerary architecture, a stone or earthen barrow built over the resting place of the deceased chieftain: the East Slavic word for a barrow, or tumulus, in Ukrainian is kurhan; more frequently used in the West is Russian, kurgan.
After twenty years of further excavation, Gimbutas revised her hypothesis of a single Kurhan invasion, realizing that there had been four waves of Kurhan invaders, a thousand years apart, each over-running their kinsmen who had preceded them generations before. Here we depart from the reverse chronology of excavation to a chronology of "earlier to later".
The first wave (4400-4200 B.C.), which Gimbutas laveled "Kurhan 1," is seen earliest along the lower course of the rivers Don and Volga, and eastward. Pushing west, this wave reached the territory of the Dnipro-Donets culture and eventually overwhelmed it. But the Kurhan peoples were stopped when they later reached the great culture names after the find sites Cucuteni in Rumania and Trypillia in the Ukraine (in Russian "Tripolye"). This culture held the first Kurhan wave at bay for about a thousand years. Their pottery and decorative art is beautiful, as compared to that of the Kurhan invaders. Gimbutas' name for the pre-Indoeuropeans of the lands from the Aegean and Balkans to Ukraine, was "Old Europe". She placed the floreat of Old Europe between 6500 BC and 3500 BC. The Cucuteni-Trypillia culture arrived in Rumania and Ukraine around 6000 B.C. from the Balkans. Its bearers may have been of Semitic language. Many Ukrainians, complementing their anti-Russian sentiments, look for their proper forebears to the Trypillis culture, which probably in any case amalgamated with the second Kurhan wave, which flowed from 3400 to 2500 B.C. Slavic language in any case does not stem from Trypillia, but from the Indo-Europeans. And it was through this region, as noted, that Indo-Europeans migrated on their way to western, i.e. Celtic Europe. It appears that the Maikop culture brought ruin to Trypillia.
Other elements of Kurhan Wave 2 (3400-2500 B.C.) migrated from the Pontic region south into the Balkans to the Aegean, others into Italy, where in both cases they encountered a long settled population from whom the newcomers learned the cultivation of the olive and the grape. Victor Hehn wrote, that Homer's warriors had northern habits: they ate bread and butter and drank beer, while later Greece from classical times to the present prefers olive oil and wine of the pre-Indo-European Mediterranean.
Kurhan Wave 3, or "Battle Ax people", deriving from the Globular Amphora culture, give us the ancestors of the northwestern European peoples, also passed through Ukrainian-Polish territory on their way to the northwest. The "Mycenaean" type of "battle ax" is found in the Ukraine as well as in the Aegean.
Kurhan Wave 4. It was in this epoch, that the Iranian river names were established, and Indo-Aryans-Scythians, Sarmatians, Ossetians-developed in the Pontic steppe. These are regions, which were won from Persian and Turkish rule in recent centuries.
Farther north, where there are no Iranian river names, lies the Slavic heartland, where Slavic river names predominate, in west and central west Ukraine and southeastern part of Poland, which indicates that the homeland of the Slavs on the eve of their expansion in the age of migrations was in this region, north of the Carpathians. It was from here, that East Slavs settled the valleys of the great rivers to the East, in formerly Scythian-Sarmatian territory.
John Peter Maher, Ph.D
Kyiv & Ukraine Private Tour Guides
Kutia (Christmas Wheat or Barley Dish)
Cooked wheat or barley, mixed with poppy seeds, walnuts and, if the family could afford it, raisins, was sprinkled with melted honey. In poorer households, the melted honey was substituted with uzvar (compote of dried fruit). A popular traditional and ritual dish, porridge constituted an integral part of Ukrainian folk cuisine. Grain symbolized well-being, prosperity and happiness, walnuts - fertility of soil and welfare, honey - a careless and easy life, while poppy seeds, according to folk beliefs, protected from evil spirits. This acquired particular importance in winter holidays (Christmas, New Year and Epiphany), which are celebrated during the winter solstice. An assumption has been made that all these beliefs were shaped in the pre-Christian times, when people tended to attribute a supernatural force to plants. The supposition is based on the fact that a similar dish, Labajo, traditional Chinese New Year food, is made of rice mixed with different fruit and nuts. From time immemorial, the Greeks have been cooking panspermia - a New Year dish made of various cereals, poppy seeds and fruit.
While cooking the traditional Christmas Eve meal, women watched for various tokens. If, still in the oven, the wheal rose over the pot's rims in a 'hunch', the rye harvest promised to be abundant and rye sheaves would be large, or 'hunched'. The slightly dried upper grains were skimmed and given to chickens. When a woman tossed the grains, she did not "cluck" for the poultry but wailed for them to notice the food themselves. If they did, there would be plenty of strong chickens next year.
(1 kg wheat, hulled, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup poppy seeds, 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped, 1 cup raisins. Prunes or candied apricots and pears (optional))
Kutia (Christmas Wheat and Honey Dish)
Wash and put the wheat into a saucepan or a heatproof pot. Add water to cover the wheat, and bring it to the boil. Preheat the oven to 150°C Place the saucepan with the wheat into the oven and cook the wheat for one hour. If you have only a cooker, reduce the flame and leave the wheat to stew. Grains should be soft, but not sodden. Pre-stew the poppy seeds. While the wheat is in the oven, grind the poppy seeds and chop the walnuts finely. Wash and dry the raisins.
Place the stewed wheat into a deep bowl or a clay ceramic plate. Dissolve honey in boiled water and add it together with the poppy seeds, walnuts and raisins to the wheat and stir. The honey liquid should cover the wheat. Traditionally, kutia is neither too watery nor too thick.
Decorate with pre-stewed prunes, candied apricots and pears. Cover the table with an embroidered towel. Place three loafs of white bread over the bowl with kutia and put Didukh (an elaborately bound wheat or oats sheaf) by the bowl.
Kyiv & Ukraine Private Tour Guides