It was largely undiscovered; a country many placed the word “the” in front of and a place dominated by outdated stereotypes.
But Ukraine has come of age.
Ukraine turned 21 in 2012 and finally appears to be shaking off the ghosts of the Soviet Union, this year also marked the country sharing hosting right with neighbors Poland for the Euro 2012 UEFA European Football Championship – the world’s third-largest sporting event.
The eyes of the sporting world turned toward Eastern Europe as the continent’s top 16 national teams battled in the four-week football festival. But it was away from the soccer pitch that Ukraine won hearts.
Largely overlooked and undiscovered by tourists, that looks set to change as the world is beguiled and charmed by this country set in the center of Europe.
Here are Ukraine’s top cities.
It is beautiful, especially in the warmer months. In spring, the chestnut trees that are spread throughout the city bloom as the city awakes from the long and bitter winter.
In stark contrast to the winter temperatures, in summer and into fall the city can swelter, as city dwellers swarm to beaches on the leafy banks of the Dnipro River under the golden domes of the Orthodox churches and the monumental Soviet architecture that dominate the city skyline.
It is the hub of Ukrainian power, with government, companies and most major industry based there.
While, you might find English and smiles in short supply, scratch your average Kievian a little deeper and you will find a very warm and welcoming people underneath.
From the famous Potemkin Steps that lead down to the Black Sea to the vast collection of pastel-colored neoclassical buildings above.
There is an almost majestic atmosphere here that perhaps is no surprise when you consider the city was founded by Russian royalty.
Catherine the Great ordered the city be built in the late 18th century.
Easily navigated on foot the city center smacks of careful city planning and the wealth that followed its establishment, its Russian imperial roots perhaps give Odessa a more cosmopolitan flavor than other cities in Ukraine.
Add the cool blue waters of the Black Sea and you have an experience that is distinct from Ukraine’s predominantly land-locked cities.
You will struggle to find a Soviet apartment block and by outward appearances appears to be thoroughly European in appearance and attitude with a bohemian-like coffee culture.
A center for art and culture painters, sculptors, poets and writers are perhaps inspired by their surroundings more than anything else.
The center is a world heritage site and is marked by a unique collection of largely intact Gothic and renaissance buildings punctuated by churches and cathedrals on almost every corner; this fact is perhaps even more remarkable when you consider how often this city has changed hands.
It has variously been ruled by Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union among others.