Ukraine has been in the news a lot lately, and mostly in a troubling light. Their eastern border is in a struggle for its autonomy, and tensions continue to escalate. However, Ukraine is a big country, and while the issues that are taking place with Russia are concerning, the largest country in Europe – at more than 230,000 square miles – there are areas to focus on for positive reasons.
Chernivtsi is in the western part of the nation, and is home to about a quarter of a million people. A mere fraction of the country’s entire population at 45 million, it is still a significant city rich in history. Alongside Lviv, the two cities are considered the cultural centers of western Ukraine. In addition to its rich artistic and cultural history, higher education is also a staple of the region. Chernivtsi State University currently resides in the buildings built for the residence of the Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans; it is a theological faculty, which the University adopted in its early years. The college eventually dropped the theological department from its offerings, only to reinstitute the focus in the late 1990s.
Chernivtsi has a storied past as its history of establishment dates back to the early 15th Century. At times it was held by the Turks and Romania; and it was acquired by the U.S.S.R. in 1940. In 1944, when the Axis Forces were driven out by the Red Army, the city was reincorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. In 1991, it became a part of independent Ukraine. The city was key to the Bricha during WWII, the underground effort that helped Jews escape post-war from the horrible atrocities of the Holocaust. The Jewish people have a long connection to the city, and this is most visibly obvious by the presence of the Jewish cemetery built in the late 1860s. It is the final resting place of more than 50,000 Jewish people, and also includes four mass graves that contain the remains of Jewish soldiers from WWI, Turkish soldiers and Romanian citizens who died in the early stages of WWII and victims of the Holocaust from 1941.
The great country of Ukraine is also home to a popular American celebrity: Mila Kunis. Most popular on TV for her work in That 70’s Show and with a host of big screen smashes, such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Ted, Mila moved from the Ukraine early in life at age 7 to Los Angeles with her family. However, their roots in the arts and culture are not dependent on American pop culture. Theaters, philharmonics, music halls and more fill the great streets of Chernivtsi, making for a vibrant scene that has hosted many prominent Ukrainian artists throughout its history. Throughout the country, its unique architecture provides a setting for their illustrious history of expressive arts.
The historical region of Bukovina, which is comprised of Ukraine and Romania, dates back to 1775; while originally part of Moldavia, it provides the geographic backdrop to this Eastern European city. Bukovina is ethnically diverse, comprised of Ukrainians, Russians, Romanians, Poles, Jews and Roma people. Home to the first Yiddish language conference in 1908, the Czernowitz Conference, Chernivtsi is truly a cultural center. With a rich and diverse amalgam of people and cultures, coupled with significant regional and national struggles to survive, Ukraine and Chernivtsi will continue to have a presence on the international spectrum, beyond what is currently transpiring in the East.