Hutsul, Cossack, Vyshyvanka and Other Ukrainian Words Used in English

Grover Laughtonreviewed byKateryna Protsenko / more about Editorial Process12 min
Created: Aug 15, 2023Last updated: Feb 22, 2024
Ukrainian Words Used in English

The relationship between Ukraine and English-speaking nations traverses a path of history and culture. This intertwined history, which goes back hundreds of years, has made it possible for Ukrainian words to mix seamlessly into the English language. This article gives a clear picture of how Ukrainian words and phrases became part of the English language by showing how they got there.

The Beauty of the Ukrainian Language

Ukrainian is a beautiful language with roots in Old East Slavic and the famous ancient state of Kyivan Rus. It comes from the history records of the East Slavic languages. It's more than just a language; Ukrainians love to compare their mother tongue to a beautiful song, a symphony of phonetics with a rich vocabulary and carefully made grammar. 

It mirrors the soul of the Ukrainian people, echoing their hopes, dreams, joys, and sorrows. Ukrainian has an intrinsic ability to capture emotions and sentiments, often distilling what English might take a phrase to convey into a singular word or expression.

Ukrainian Words in English Language

English has a lot of words that are derived from different languages across the globe. Ukrainian is of those languages that influenced English in the previous century. After waves of migration and cultural exchange, a lot of words weren't translated and became a natural part of many dialogues. Let’s get familiar with some of them.


Hetman /ˈɦəˈtman/ is a title and historic political and military office in Ukraine. Historically, a hetman was the highest military rank in the Cossack armies. They played a pivotal role in the history of Ukraine, especially during the times of the Cossack Hetmanate. 

The word "hetman" is derived from the German word “Hauptmann,” meaning "chief" or "captain." It was adopted and modified by the Cossacks to denote their leaders.The term was introduced to the English language during discussions and historical accounts related to Eastern Europe, particularly the tales and histories of the Cossacks.


Cossack /ˈkɒsæk/ is a member of a group of predominantly East Slavic-speaking people who became known as fierce warriors and skilled horsemen. Cossacks are best known for their military endeavors, living on the war frontiers and defending borders. They have a distinct culture with unique traditions, music, and dances.

The origins of the word "Cossack" are somewhat disputed. Some sources suggest it comes from the Turkic "qazaq" meaning "free man" or "adventurer." The term found its way into English due to the Cossacks' interactions with Western Europe, especially during various wars and conflicts. Their reputation as fierce fighters and their distinct culture caught the interest of English writers and historians.


Although it's known as a decorated Easter egg, pysanka /pɪˈsɑŋkɑ/ is an art form, a tradition, and a legacy. Deriving from "писати,"/pɪˈsɑtɪ/ which translates as "to write," pysanka is emblematic of Ukraine's rich artistic heritage. This reflects the intricate method of "writing" or drawing designs on the egg using a special stylus and wax-resist (batik) method.

The pysanka was historically seen as a talisman for the start of life, protection, and prosperity. The designs and symbols painted onto the eggs were believed to harness magical powers, defending homes and families from evil spirits. With the advent of Christianity, the symbolism of the pysanka merged with Christian beliefs, with the egg coming to symbolize the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life.

As Ukrainian communities established themselves in Western countries, they continued their age-old Easter traditions, of which making pysanky was a central part. Over time, this beautiful art form was showcased in cultural festivals, museum exhibits, and community workshops, drawing admiration from people of various backgrounds.


Hutsuls /ˈɦut͡sul/ are an ethnic group mostly living in the Carpathian Mountains in parts of western Ukraine, northern Romania, and Poland. They are known for their unique culture, traditional clothing, handicrafts, music, and dances. Hutsuls have a long history of sheep herding, logging, and farming in the Carpathian region.

The origin of the term "Hutsul" is not conclusively defined. Some theories suggest it's derived from the word "kochul" (nomad), while others believe it may come from a local toponym or other sources. English-speaking researchers, travelers, and writers encountering the rich culture and traditions of the Hutsuls introduced the term into English, especially in anthropological and cultural contexts.

The Influence of Ukrainian Cuisine

Did you know that the culture of borscht /bɔːrʃt/ cooking was added to UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2022? This esteemed acknowledgment highlights the profound significance and enduring power of food to connect people, bridge generations, and preserve the essence of cultural heritage for the world to savor and appreciate.

Borscht is a testament to the Ukrainian soul's warmth. Directly tracing back to "борщ" in Ukrainian, this beetroot soup found favor among English speakers, especially in areas teeming with Ukrainians. It represents more than food; it's a symbol of home and comfort.

The word "borscht" made its way into the English language largely due to migration and cultural exchange. The significant waves of Eastern European immigrants to the US, Canada, and other English-speaking nations in the 19th and 20th centuries introduced this distinctive dish to new shores. 

As these communities established themselves, they opened restaurants, celebrated festivals, and held community dinners where borscht often featured as a beloved reminder of their homeland.


Being a traditional Ukrainian dish, syrnyky /ˈsɪrnɪkɪ/ are fried cottage cheese pancakes, often slightly sweetened and served with sour cream, jam, honey, or fresh berries. The term "syrnyky" comes from the Ukrainian word "сир"/’sɪr/, which translates to "cheese" in English. Given the agrarian nature of traditional Ukraine, dairy products have always held a central place in the diet of the nation. 

As well as borscht, the word "syrnyky" traveled into English largely due to the Ukrainian diaspora. With the waves of Ukrainian immigration, especially to Canada and the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries, Ukrainian cuisine made its subtle entrance into these new lands. 

Other popular dishes

Ukrainian gastronomy offers a plethora of flavors, and its linguistic contributions to English are equally rich. Apart from the renowned borscht and syrnyky, there are dishes like:

  • Varenyky /vəˈrɛnyky/: delicious dumplings, often stuffed with potatoes, meat, cherries, cheese, or other fillings. It's derived from the Ukrainian verb "varyty," which means "to boil." Thus, varenyky essentially translates to "boiled things." The term is now increasingly recognized in English-speaking culinary circles.
  • Holubtsi /ˈhɒləpˌt͡ʃi/: cabbage rolls filled with meat and rice and drenched in a tangy tomato sauce. They are served on many traditional holidays and represent the soul of Ukrainian food.
  • Kutia /kʊtˈʲa/: a traditional Ukrainian dish primarily served on Christmas Eve, known as "Holy Supper." It is a sweet grain pudding, typically made from wheat berries, which are sweetened with honey and sometimes augmented with poppy seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. The ingredients used in kutia have particular significance, with each representing different blessings and hopes for the coming year. ​​The word "kutia" is believed to derive from the Proto-Slavic word "kuty," which is linked to the word for a specific type of bowl or container. This reflects the way kutia is traditionally served in a communal bowl from which family members partake together.
  • Nalysnyky /nɑˈlɪs.nyky/: these are Ukrainian crepes, which are typically rolled with a mixture of sweet or savory fillings. A popular variation is filled with a combination of cottage cheese, dill, and egg, then baked or fried until golden. When served as a dessert, Nalysnyky can be filled with sweetened cottage cheese, fruits, or jams and often topped with sour cream.
  • Uzvar /uzvɑɹ/: a traditional Ukrainian drink made from dried fruits, primarily apples, pears, and prunes, simmered in water. It's often sweetened with honey and infused with spices like cinnamon. The word "uzvar" stems from the Old Slavic word "zvaryty," which translates to "boil" or "brew". Thus, "uzvar" essentially means "brew" or "boiled drink," describing the method of its preparation. Uzvar holds a special place in Ukrainian celebrations, particularly during Christmas Eve supper, as it's considered a symbol of unity and remembrance of ancestors.
  • Banush/ˈba.nuʃ/: Banush is a traditional Ukrainian dish hailing primarily from the Carpathian region. It's a hearty, rich meal made from cornmeal, similar to polenta. What distinguishes banush from other cornmeal dishes is its preparation with sour cream or heavy cream and savory toppings. The dish is often complemented with mushrooms, cheese (especially bryndza, a type of sheep cheese), and sometimes other ingredients based on regional variations. Served warm, banush is not only a testament to Ukrainian culinary creativity but also a comforting staple that has nourished generations in the mountainous regions of Ukraine.

The rich tapestry of Ukrainian cuisine has left an indelible mark on global culinary landscapes, resonating with many because of its heartfelt authenticity and historical significance. Each dish tells a story of traditions, shared memories, and cultural etiquette. As the world continues to savor these Ukrainian flavors, it not only delights in delicious meals but also partakes in a centuries-old narrative of resilience, community, and celebration.

Ukrainian Cultural Exports

Beyond cuisine and language, Ukrainian cultural treasures have been generously shared with the world:

  • Hopak /ˈhəʊpæk/: an exuberant dance form that captures Ukraine's spirit and vitality. Its high leaps, swift movements, and rhythmic patterns are a spectacle of joy and celebration.
  • Vyshyvanka /vyʃyvæŋka/: traditional Ukrainian shirt. The intricate embroidery patterns, each unique to its region, weave tales of times gone by. The term "vyshyvanka" comes from the Ukrainian verb "vyshyvaty," which means "to embroider". Thus, "vyshyvanka" can be directly translated as "embroidered shirt." The vyshyvanka is much more than just clothing; it's a symbol of Ukrainian national pride, cultural etiquette, and deep-rooted traditions.
  • Bandura /bænˈduɹə/: a traditional Ukrainian plucked string instrument, often likened to a lute or a horizontal harp. It's characterized by its unique construction, which combines elements of both the lute and the harp. The bandura typically has more than 20 strings, and its resonant body is slightly curved. The bandura became a symbol of the voice of Ukraine. Through its strings, tales of heroism, love, loss, and resistance were told, preserving cultural narratives and passing them down through generations.
  • Trembita /trʲɪm⁽ʲ⁾ˈbʲitə/: a traditional Ukrainian wind instrument, predominantly used in the Carpathian mountains by Hutsuls. Trembita is the world's longest musical instrument, with a length ranging from 3 to 8 meters. The Trembita produces deep, hauntingly beautiful sounds and has traditionally been used to signal villagers of funerals, weddings, or other significant events.
  • Gerdan /gərdən/: an intricately beaded necklace that is a significant component of traditional Ukrainian attire. Handmade, with colorful beads arranged in various patterns, it's a reflection of the Ukrainian love for artistry and adornment. Gerdans are powerful symbols of Ukrainian cultural identity. Being worn with traditional attire, they embody a sense of pride in the rich tapestry of Ukrainian heritage. Each region and sometimes even each village has its distinct Gerdan pattern, revealing local traditions and histories.
  • Petrykivka /pɛtryˈkɪwka//: an ornamental folk art named after the village of Petrikivka in the Dnipro region. The predominant themes of flowers, berries, birds, and other natural motifs in Petrykivka's paintings highlight the close connection between Ukrainians and nature. This decorative painting style, recognized by UNESCO as a cultural heritage, features vibrant floral patterns and is traditionally used to adorn household items, walls, and clothing.
  • Kobza /ˈkobzɒ/: a string instrument that played a significant role in Ukrainian musical traditions. It's closely associated with the Kobzars, the wandering minstrels who used the instrument to accompany their epic ballads, weaving tales of Ukrainian legends, history, and spirituality.

Ukrainian cultural exports serve as a vibrant testament to the country's rich heritage and deep-rooted traditions, resonating with audiences far beyond its borders. As the world increasingly recognizes these contributions, it becomes evident that Ukrainian culture holds a universal appeal that transcends geographical and linguistic boundaries.

The Increasing Interest in Learning Ukrainian Language

With Ukraine's evolving role in geopolitics, commerce, and culture, global interest in its language and traditions has surged. Ukrainian is no longer a niche language studied by a select few. Entrepreneurs, travelers, artists, and academics all want to learn Ukrainian language, realizing that it is a gateway to a deeper appreciation of Eastern Europe and world history.


How to Learn Ukrainian

If you had seen “Home Alone,” you’ve probably heard a “Carol of the Bells” Christmas song. Have you ever guessed that it is based on Ukrainian song “Shchedryk,” originally written by Mykola Leontovych in 1901?

This testament to Ukraine's rich culinary legacy is just a glimpse of the nation's tapestry of traditions. Dive deeper into the heart of the Ukrainian language and culture with Promova — the language-learning platform designed to help learners achieve different goals and embrace diversity.

We understand that mastering a new language goes beyond mere vocabulary and grammar. It's an immersive experience, a dance of sounds, stories, and culture. Thus, the best way to learn Ukrainian is also about delving into its roots. That is why our course consists of essential elements and learning methods to ensure you grasp Ukrainian in all its authenticity:

  • Alphabet foundation: delve deep into the unique script of Ukrainian. Understand each letter, its pronunciation, and related sounds, laying a robust foundation for your linguistic journey.
  • Rich vocabulary: familiarize yourself with words that don't just convey meanings but emotions, traditions, and the spirit of Ukraine. Through our quizzes and flashcards you will get the most of interactive learning and understand different Ukrainian words.
  • Engaging listening exercises: challenge and refine your pronunciation skills with exercises designed to acclimatize you to the natural rhythm and melody of the Ukrainian tongue.
  • Functional phrases: navigate real-world dialogues in Ukrainian with confidence, armed with genuine phrases.

To help you master the correct pronunciation, voiceover for words and letters is brought to life by a native Ukrainian speaker. Experience the authentic sounds, intonations, and pitches, ensuring that what you learn resonates with the true spirit of spoken Ukrainian.

We know that language learning is not an easy journey. However, we believe that everyone, irrespective of their background, can embrace different cultures and master languages. Join Promova to start learning Ukrainian and understanding the rich history of this nation.


The Ukrainian language is one more bridge to culturally rich and historically significant knowledge. The melding of Ukrainian words into English is a testament to humanity's ability to connect, share, and grow together. Embracing Ukrainian words and culture is not just an academic exercise but a journey into the heart of Eastern Europe. 


How hard is it to learn Ukrainian?

Since Ukrainian uses Cyrillic script, a lot of learners might consider this language very difficult. However, starting with basic letters and words, you will quickly understand that it has a lot in common with words that originate from Latin. So every person can learn the Ukrainian language through dedicated practice.

How to learn Ukrainian?

As in any other language, learning Ukrainian starts with the alphabet and some basic words. Going further, you need a structured plan and dedication. Immerse yourself in the language by listening to Ukrainian music, watching films, or engaging with native speakers online or in person.

How popular is Ukrainian?

There are around 45 million native speakers of Ukrainian. In the last years many people across the globe started to learn Ukrainian due to country’s significant role in the world politics, economics, art and other spheres. Several studies found that in 2022 over 1 million people took an interest to Ukrainian.

Who are the famous Ukrainian speakers in the world?

There are a lot of famous Ukrainian speakers in the the world history. In past times, there were such people as Taras Shevchenko (poet and artist), Hryhorii Skovoroda (philosopher), Olexandr Dovzhenko (film director). Among modern speakers there are such names as Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (singer and front-man of the band “Okean Elzy”), Sergii Kyslytsia (UN permanent representative of Ukraine) and Yevhen Klopotenko (Ukrainian restaurateur and chef).


PromovaSep 5th, 2023
Certainly! In addition to the mentioned words, there are several other Ukrainian terms in English. "Kvass" refers to a traditional fermented beverage. "Shish kebab" originates from the Ukrainian "shashlyk," a skewered and grilled meat dish. "Gorilka" is a Ukrainian alcoholic beverage similar to vodka. "Baba" and "dacha" are Ukrainian words for "grandmother" and "country house," respectively, and are sometimes used in English, often with a quaint or nostalgic connotation.
SAMUELSep 5th, 2023
Could you provide more examples of ukrainian words that have made their way into the english language?