After Russia, Ukraine is the largest European nation by landmass and is situated in the geographical center of the continent. Throughout the centuries, Ukrainians have struggled mightily to retain their unique cultural identity against larger powers in the region. Although still heavily dependent on grain agriculture, Ukraine has played a crucial role in world history and continues to be a dominant player in Eastern Europe. Below are just a few fascinating Ukrainian facts most people aren’t aware of.

Ukraine Has One Of The World’s First Constitutions

Way before the American Constitution of 1789, Ukrainian leaders were already working out the concept of separation of powers in government. The Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, which was completed in 1710 by Ukrainian diplomat Pylyp Stepanovych Orlyk, was one of the first documents in world history to clearly define the duties and limitations of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

Today, Ukrainians celebrate Constitution Day every June 28th to commemorate their 1996 constitution, but political leaders continue to point to the importance of the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk in global political history. The Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk is now housed in the Swedish National Archives in Stockholm.

Hot Lamps And Cool Cafés: Historic Lviv

While many foreigners haven’t heard of the Ukrainian city Lviv, they certainly have heard its greatest invention: the gas lamp. Locals claim pharmacists Jan Zech and Ignacy Lukasiewicz invented the world’s first gas lamp in their Lviv store in the early 1850s. Today, the store where the first gas lamp was built is now a café called Gasova L’ampa that (of course) houses plenty of authentic gas lamps.

Speaking of cafés, tourists are often shocked at just how strong Lviv’s café culture is when they arrive in this city. Believe it or not, Lviv has just as strong a café scene as Paris or Vienna, with approximately 1,500 cafés in the city center. For these and many other reasons, UNESCO awarded Lviv World Heritage Site status in 1998.

Kompot And Horilka: Ukraine’s National Drinks

It’s no secret that Ukrainians love a good drink, especially during the brutal winter months. Usually, Ukraine always ends up on the World Health Organization’s list of the top ten nations that have the highest percentage of alcohol consumption. Recent statistics suggest average Ukrainians consume 13.9 liters of pure alcohol per capita.

Interestingly, most Ukrainians prefer the clear spirit horilka over the better-known vodka. The term horilka roughly translates to “scorching water” because many locals put a hot chili pepper in their drink to give it an added punch. Besides warming up with horilka in the brutal wintertime, many Ukrainians make non-alcoholic “kompot.” Kompot drinks are made with different stewed fruits like strawberries or rhubarb and sometimes topped with spices.

Why Kiev Has A Heroic Status

The USSR gave Ukraine’s capital Kiev the lofty status of a “Hero City” in 1965. The main reason for this designation was due to the Battle of Kiev in which Nazi soldiers captured the city in September of 1941. Despite the fact that the Ukrainians lost this battle, the USSR awarded the city for its bravery in standing against the German troops during World War II.

In total, the USSR awarded 13 cities with “Hero City” status for their bravery during World War II including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Minsk. The only other Ukrainian city on the list is Odessa.

Chicken Kiev Is Not Ukrainian

Speaking of Kiev, the classic chicken dish associated with this city actually has more to do with French cuisine than traditional Ukrainian cooking. Indeed, many people in Ukraine and Russia still call this recipe by its French name: côtelette de volaille.

Throughout the 1700s, there was a rage for all things French in the Russian aristocracy. Most of the chefs who cooked for Russian royal families either came from or were trained in France. The chicken Kiev was apparently invented in the 19th century and slowly spread throughout Eastern Europe. For those who don’t know, chicken Kiev is a fried dish that’s made with a breaded chicken breast stuffed with parsley, garlic, and butter.

So, why was “chicken Kiev” named after the Ukrainian capital? There are competing explanations, but one theory is that this dish became popular with Western tourists and dignitaries staying at Kiev’s Continental Hotel. When restaurants started re-creating this dish in the West, they marketed it as chicken Kiev.