Ukrainian history and culture as a setting for the development of business.

Author:Mitchell, Margaret E.


This addresses the culture of Ukraine as a context for the development of business. I summarize Ukrainian culture as described by the West, and Ukrainian culture that can be inferred from the behavior of Ukrainians. I also relate Ukrainian culture to Ukraine's geography, demographics, history, and politics. Like all countries, Ukrainian culture is affected by these factors; however the effects for Ukraine may be stronger than for most countries because Ukrainian history and politics include so many dramatic events and experiences. I address Ukrainian culture specifically, rather than as part of the Soviet Union or Community of Independent States.


Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union (1), operated under a communist political and economic system until 1991. During the communist years, Ukraine was considered an example of successful industrial development. With the exception of Russia, Ukraine's economic contribution was significantly greater than that of any other republic in the former Soviet Union. For example,

* Economic output was approximately four times that of the next most productive Soviet republic (Ukraine, 2008);

* Agricultural output accounted for more than one quarter of agricultural output in the entire Soviet Union--supplying agricultural products to itself and other members of the Soviet Union (Ukraine, 2008);

* The heavy manufacturing sector played a vital role in producing equipment and raw materials for itself and other members of the Soviet Union (Ukraine, 2008).

Since declaring its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been moving toward a market economy. However, the move to a market economy has been slower and less successful than the transition for some other countries formerly under Soviet control (2) (for example, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary).

Relatively little is known about the operation of business in Ukraine. The amount of information on Ukraine that is published in international business journals is extremely limited. This limitation reflects the fact that Ukraine was one of the most isolated countries in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This history of isolation made Ukraine less likely to be studied by researchers from other countries and less able to adopt changes initiated from outside the former USSR. The lack of information on Ukraine is especially striking because international business journals frequently have published information on Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.

Information on Ukrainian culture also is limited. Most of the information available on Ukrainian culture is based on two sources: (1) studies of a combination of countries such as the Soviet Union or the Community of Independent States (CIS) (3) or (2) observations of behavior of Ukrainians and/or surrounding countries. Assumptions inherent in both types of information can be challenged. Studying Ukraine in combination with other countries does not consider the possibility that Ukraine may be different from other countries. Assuming that Ukrainian behavior (especially before 1991) is indicative of their culture also may lead to misleading conclusions. Much of Ukrainians' behavior (especially in the twentieth century) was the result of decisions forced on the Ukrainian people, not the result of choices they made.

The aforementioned conditions led to the decision to investigate Ukrainian culture as a setting for business. The analysis will begin by summarizing Ukrainian geography, demographics, history, and politics. Like all countries, Ukrainian culture is affected by these factors. The effects for Ukraine may be stronger than for most countries since Ukrainian history and politics include so many dramatic events and experiences.


Ukraine's land area (603,700 square kilometers) (Ukraine, 2008) is extremely large when compared with other European countries (4) and other former republics of the Soviet Union (World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2007). The only European country with more land is Russia (CIA, 2007b).

A similar pattern is found for the land areas of the former Soviet republics, which are located in Europe and Asia. Russia is the only former Soviet republic with more land than Ukraine (CIA, 2007b).

Ukraine often has been described in terms of its borders. Ukraine literally translates as "on the edge" or "borderline" (Reid, 2000). Ukraine is bordered by Poland to the northwest; Russia to the east; Belarus to the north; and Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova to the west and south. The remaining border is formed by the Black Sea to the south (Ukraine, 2008). Its location has been described as "... a strategic position at the crossroads between Europe and Asia" (Ukraine). During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ukraine was split between Russia and Poland. During the nineteenth century it was split between Russia and Austria. Between the twentieth centuries' two world wars, Ukraine was split among Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania (Reid).

Ukraine's existence as a borderland, combined with its flat terrain and fertile land, has contributed to its experiencing a history of violence from wars among other countries (Reid, 2000). Its location is strategic (Ukraine, 2008). This strategic location may be considered valuable, but it has lead to some negative experiences. Being between countries with histories of conflict made Ukraine a battleground for some of the world's most devastating battles--the most destructive in the last century's being those fought between Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II.

The population of about 46 million (CIA, 2007a) makes Ukraine's population the seventh largest in Europe. Compared with countries formerly under Soviet control, Ukraine has the second largest population (after Russia). Russia (with a population of about 141 million (CIA, 2007a) is significantly larger than any of the former USSR and Warsaw Pact countries. Excluding Russia and Ukraine, the remaining countries of the former Soviet Union have an average population under eight million people (CIA).

Ukraine's population also is significantly larger than that of the Warsaw Pact countries, which formerly were under Soviet control. The largest Warsaw Pact country (Poland) has a population of approximately 38.5 million. The remaining Warsaw Pact countries have populations averaging less than 13 million (CIA, 2007a).

Ukraine's population decreased since 1994 (Rashid, Savchenko, & Hossain, 2005). Lower birthrates and increased mortality rates suggest a continued decrease in population. Rashid and his associates predicted a population of 45 million by 2015.

Life expectancy decreased since 1987 (Rashid et al., 2005). For 2007, life expectancy for Ukrainian males was 62 years; for Ukrainian females, 74 years (Ukraine, 2008). This is significantly lower than the life expectancy in most Western countries. For example, in 2007, comparable U.S. life expectancies were 75 (male) and 81 (female) (United States, 2008).


The history of Ukraine ranged from being a center of power to being controlled by other powers (most notably the Soviet system). Ukraine was the center of the most powerful European state (Kyivan Rus) in the tenth and eleventh centuries. After various invasions and other conflicts, a separate Ukrainian state was established in the seventeenth century. Ukraine would remain autonomous for about the next hundred years (Ukraine, 2008). From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, Ukraine had a system of local and municipal self governance (Kovriga, 2001).

Since Ukraine was geographically located between Russia and Poland, its identity was influenced by characteristics of these two countries. Ukrainians developed a separate Ukrainian identity in the context of the political environment during the latter part of the last millennium. National identities at this time were related to residents' concerns about the political and economic power of a person's country. Citizens looked to their country as a source of various advantages (political, economic, and/or cultural) (Wilson, 2002).

Most of Ukraine became part of the Russian empire in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Ukraine had a brief independence between 1917 and 1920 (Ukraine, 2008).

The Soviet Years

The October Revolution of 1917 established the Communist Party in control at the Kremlin. A new system of central control was developed for all republics belonging to the Soviet Union. All local systems of government were replaced by a single Soviet government (Kovriga, 2001).

Ukrainians did not become part of the centrally controlled Soviet Union willingly. However, the Soviet system used various methods of persuasion (including two artificially created famines) to convince Ukraine to join the USSR. For example, over eight million Ukrainians died during the two Soviet-created famines between 1921-1922 and 1932-1933 (Ukraine, 2008).

The goal of the Soviet system was the creation of a unified Soviet people without identities corresponding to individual nations (Vassylesko, 2000). The Soviet philosophy included concepts such as "Socialist Construction" and "New Man" education in an attempt to transform the societies of the individual countries of the Soviet Union. Application of these concepts was expected to transform multiple individual societies into one unified socialist utopia (Kovriga, 2001).

The Soviet government had a Soviet nationality policy that allowed only one social identity--that is, being Soviet. The Soviet government used various means to eliminate Ukrainians' identity as anything other than Soviet: the aforementioned famines in addition to repression, mass deportations, and arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals (Vassylesko, 2000).

The Soviet government also used other means to change Ukrainians' identity from Ukrainian to Soviet. They wanted to...

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