Ukrainian Culture


Primary Author
Kate Ohbaidze, Yuliya Ivanytska & Tetyana Hrynovetska,

Basic Etiquette

  • Ukrainians generally have a relaxed approach to time. Plans are often discussed loosely in everyday conversation to accommodate for delays (e.g.  “Come around seven” or “Let’s meet at about five”). It is common for Ukrainians to arrive 15 to 30 minutes later than the agreed time. 
  • If an important person or conversation takes longer than expected, Ukrainians tend to prioritise the person over the time.
  • Uphold any promises you make to see your Ukrainian counterpart sooner rather than later. Ukrainians tend to follow up on invitations to see friends and acquaintances quite quickly (often the same or following day from when it was offered). If you make a passing suggestion to meet, it will be expected this is organised in a timely fashion. 
  • If you are unable to meet within a week or suggest a date in a few weeks time, Ukrainians may misinterpret this as a signal that you do not actually want to see them. Therefore, it important to clearly explain the circumstances as to why you cannot meet sooner and show earnest interest in maintaining the friendship
  • Ukrainians commonly refuse or protest things out of . For example, it is the norm to decline an offer of food and wait for the person to offer it again. Therefore, if you say ‘no’ to a gesture, expect Ukrainians to persist in offering it again and again.
  • Repeat any offer multiple times to show that you are being sincere. It is expected that you will insist your help to show the gesture is genuine. 
  • Blowing one’s nose in public is considered bad manners.
  • It is impolite to yawn during conversations with others, or in public without covering your mouth.
  • Throwing away food or wasting food is frowned upon, especially bread. Ukrainians tend to repurpose leftovers (e.g. by leaving them outside for stray dogs or birds to eat).
  • It is inappropriate for strangers to approach someone else’s child. Close contact or friendliness is frowned upon if you do not know the child (e.g. patting the head or shoulder).
  • It is polite to offer one’s seat to an elderly person, pregnant woman or children in public spaces. 
  • It is respectful to assist older people using transport. Ukrainians may offer their hand to help an elderly person get out of their seat, offer an arm for them to walk, and hold or open doors for them.
  • It is the norm for Ukrainian men to open doors for women and allow them to enter first. Ukrainian women may similarly expect men to perform this chivalry as a mark of
  • There is a large tipping culture in Ukraine. It is the norm to tip at least 10% after a meal. Some restaurants may include the tip in the total bill. 
  • It is uncommon to split the bill evenly in social scenarios. Typically, the person who invited people to the meal pays for the total bill or each person pays for their own order. 



  • Ukrainians often give toasts and speeches of gratitude when with a group of people, especially during larger gatherings. It is customary for both hosts and guests to make toasts when visiting someone’s house or sharing a meal. There are usually multiple speeches throughout the night dedicated to various topics, such as health, love, luck and all the best in life. 
  • It is often expected that newcomers make a toast or speech of their own when meeting a new group of people, so be ready to deliver an eloquent greeting. 
  • Generally, the first toast is to the reason you’re meeting (e.g. a person’s birthday, the friend who introduced you). 
  • There may be specific traditions around the topics of subsequent toasts. For example, the third toast may be dedicated to love or to the women in the room. 
  • A common toast is “Budmo!” (Let us be!). 
  • Speeches are usually given in the order the host chooses or from the oldest to the youngest. The toasts tend to get longer as the night goes on. 
  • It is important to be sincere during speeches. Ukrainians are earnest toast-makers and often place great importance on the speaker’s words. People tend to be , believing that good wishes are more likely to happen when spoken genuinely.
  • Drinking is a rite of passage in Ukrainian culture. It is traditional for Ukrainians to drink a strong liquor, such as vodka, brandy, whiskey or homemade ‘samohon’ (moonshine). However, today many people opt for beer or wine instead.
  • Vodka is drunk as a shot in 50 ml glasses (stopka). This is followed by eating a small portion of food (zakuska), usually a piece of bread and sausage, salad or pickles. 
  • If you don’t drink after a toast, you may be regarded with suspicion as a person who can’t be trusted. 
  • It is acceptable to try to refuse servings of alcohol after the first toast. However, be aware your host will likely refill your glass anyway. 
  • It is often easiest to refuse alcohol on the basis of health reasons if you cannot or do not want to drink. 
  • The last toast of the evening is always “Na Konya!” (literally translated as “on the horse”). It is the Ukrainian equivalent of “Let’s have one for the road” and is the indication that guests are going to leave. 



  • Ukrainians generally take great pride in their hospitality. The best food and belongings are always reserved for guests even if this generosity extends beyond their means (e.g. offering the best bedroom and bed linen, using the nicest cutlery, opening the most expensive bottle of wine). 
  • Ukrainians tend to be very caring hosts and highly attentive to guests’ needs. They are unlikely to ask guests for help and often avoid drawing attention to themselves or any imposition when hosting. Similarly, Ukrainian guests may not speak about their needs openly or directly when in another person’s home.
  • Do not wait to be told how you can contribute or cater to a Ukrainian. It is important to ask your guest questions or offer your help to a host whenever possible to show you care. 
  • Take your shoes off when you enter somebody’s house. Some households may offer guests slippers on entry. 
  • Guests are not usually asked to bring food or drinks when visiting someone’s house. However, it’s customary to bring a bottle of alcohol or a cake as a gesture of thanks. Alcohol is usually a more appropriate gift for men. If a woman lives at the house, it’s common practice to bring flowers and give them to her as you enter the home.  
  • Aperitifs or ‘cocktail hours’ are not common at Ukrainian parties. Guests are usually taken straight to a table for a sit-down dinner (see Eating). 
  • Buffeting or walking around with food while socialising is not common.  
  • Do not open the fridge or cupboards in the house without the hosts’ permission.
  • Guests usually stay for as long as they wish and goodbyes can be quite prolonged from the time that someone actually announces his or her departure. It can often take several attempts and toasts to clear the door. 
  • People may not wish to give an outright announcement when the night is at its end. The final toast (Na Konya!) is the best indication that it is time for guests to leave. See Toasting for more information.



  • Ukrainians prefer to sit down at a table when eating with others. People never sit on the ground to eat, whether in a home or outdoors.  
  • Do not start eating until everyone is seated at the table.  
  • Putting feet on the table is considered impolite. 
  • Ukrainian meals typically begin with refreshments and different types of salads that everyone serves to themselves. 
  • The meal usually consists of several types of dishes, typically containing meat, potato, fish, etc. Traditional Ukrainian dishes include borshch (beetroot soup), varenyky (dumplings with different fillings), holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls), holodets (meat jelly), pampushky (garlic bread), syrnyky (cottage cheese pancakes).
  • If eating at someone’s home, expect to be served several rounds of food. It is customary for guests to be encouraged to eat multiple servings. 
  • It is important to praise the host for their cooking skills. However, the best form of flattery is to eat as much as possible.
  • Leaving food on your plate may lead a Ukrainian host to think their guests are not enjoying themselves. It is important to finish your food to show appreciation for the host’s cooking skills. 
  • Bread is an important and historically significant part of Ukrainian cuisine. It was a treasure in every household during the Great Famine (Holodomor) and symbolises wellbeing and prosperity in times of need. Therefore, Ukrainians tend to feel guilty throwing bread away and avoid wasting it.
  • Alcohol is a habitual feature of Ukrainian meals, often used to perform toasts (see Toasting). If you cannot or do not drink, it is best to refuse alcohol on the basis of health reasons. 
  • Meals are almost always followed by dessert. This is usually a cake served with tea or coffee.  The most common cakes in Ukraine are the Kyiv cake, Napoleon cake, drunken cherry cake, honey cake and sour-cream cake.
  • Once the meal is concluding, the host will most likely offer guests to finish any opened bottles of alcohol available at the table. 


Gift Giving 

  • It is polite to bring a bottle of alcohol or a cake as a gesture of thanks when visiting someone’s home. If there are children living at the home, they may expect you to bring something sweet. 
  • Ukrainians love giving and receiving flowers for different occasions and do so frequently. If giving flowers, the number of flowers in the bouquet should count to an odd number (e.g. 5, 7, 9). An even number of flowers is associated with funerals.
  • Yellow flowers are generally avoided, white is given to girls and red is often a colour of love.  
  • People exchange wrapped gifts on birthdays, New Year’s and other special life events or occasions. 
  • It is a cultural norm for Ukrainians to exchange gifts on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas, as New Year’s occurs prior to Christmas (January 7th – see Dates of Significance). Christmas is usually celebrated with a meal and time spent with family rather than gift giving. 
  • It is customary to open wrapped gifts right away in front of the giver. 
  • Close friends and family may give each other money as gifts. Cash gifts may also be given at weddings.  
  • It is common practice for co-workers to contribute money towards buying a gift for someone on their birthday or another special event. 
  • People often bring homemade food and alcoholic drinks into their workplaces to celebrate special occasions (e.g. a birthday or engagement), usually after work.

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