In the beginning there was Kyiv. Long before Ukraine and Russia came into being, its inhabitants had been already striding up and down the green hills, idling hot afternoons away on the Dnipro River and promenading along Kreshchatyk – then a stream, now the main avenue. From here, East Slavic civilisation spread all the way to Alaska.
Shaped like a diamond, this tiny subtropical gem has always been an eye-catcher for imperial rulers – from Romans to Russians. The latest invasion, albeit a largely peaceful one, took place in March 2014, when the peninsula was annexed by and once again incorporated into Russia after 23 years as part of independent Ukraine.
Clipping the country's southwest corner, the Carpathian arc has endowed Ukraine with a crinkled region of forested hills and fast-flowing rivers that feel a continent away from the flatness of the steppe. This is the land of the Hutsuls, whose colourful folk culture is laced through thin villages stretching languidly along wide valley floors.
Odesa & Southern Ukraine
This region feels New World much more than Europe. The flat steppe between the estuaries of the Dnipro and the Danube was only properly colonised after Russian empress Catherine the Great wrestled it from the Turks. It was indeed touted as the Russian California when immigrants from all over Europe poured in to cultivate virgin lands and build the port of Odesa.
Odesa is a city straight from literature – an energetic, decadent boomtown. Its famous Potemkin Steps sweep down to the Black Sea and Ukraine's biggest commercial port. Behind them, a cosmopolitan cast of characters makes merry among pastel neoclassical buildings lining a geometrical grid of leafy streets.
Layered with dark fertile soil, Ukraine's breadbasket heartlands are split between forested Polissya to the north, and the endless agricultural flatlands of Podillya to the south. Bucolic outdoor pleasures, some decidedly quirky museums and the show-stopping fortress town of Kamyanets-Podilsky are the odd mix of highlights provided by this often overlooked region.
Kharkiv (Kharkov in Russian) is one of those ex-Soviet cities that has much to say about itself, but fairly little to show. Wars and Soviet development reduced its historical centre, boasting some pretty fin de siècle buildings, to a narrow triangle between vul Sumska and Pushkinska.