When a beetroot soup creates geopolitical tensions

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Today, the UN Cultural Agency added Ukrainian borscht on its list of World Heritage in Danger. Kyiv requested it for several years, but always met opposition from Moscow. So why is this thick beetroot soup, widely available in Eastern Europe, the subject of international debate? Our Ukrainian correspondent Mariana Tsymbalyuk investigates.

With which country do you associate sushi? And pizza? What country comes to your mind when you talk about curry? Food is part of the history and culture of countries, an important brand for them. Ukraine’s signature dish is now entangled in geopolitics.

“Borscht is xenophobia, Nazism and extremism in all its forms,” ​​said Maria Zakharova, a representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during a briefing in Moscow on 7 April. According to her, Ukraine does not want to share the dish: “Because it’s not possible to share borscht. Well, you can't [because it’s a soup]. It’s supposed to belong to only one person. To one people, one nation.”

The debate around food as cultural heritage is not new.

The first written mention of the dish and its recipe appeared in the 16th century. Since then, borscht has become a cult Ukrainian dish, acquiring its own characteristics in different parts of the country.

When he lead the USSR, Joseph Stalin tried to create a common national cuisine.He instructed politician, Anastas Mikoyan, to implement this project to strengthen the cultural Soviet identity.

In 1939, he “The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food”, which, in addition to recipes from all the states of the Soviet Union, contained quotes from Stalin. The Communist Party offered copiesto newlyweds.

In it, a total of 22 borscht recipes from several Ukrainian regions can be found under the “recipes of Ukrainian cuisine” chapter.

Although different types of borscht are quite widespread in Eastern Europe, in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine and in post-Soviet countries, UNESCO has selected the Ukrainian version in particular because it is “an integral part of Ukrainian family and social life”.

Today, according to UNESCO, the culture of making Ukrainian borscht is under threat due to the displacement of people and the destruction of fertile lands.

Kyiv welcomed UNESCO's decision. The Minister of Culture of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko stated in Telegram that “the victory in the borscht war is ours... we will win both the borscht war and this war.”

How is Ukrainian borscht prepared?

Borscht is the most popular Ukrainian dish. It is prepared with meat or vegetable broth, to which beets, cabbage, potatoes, and beans are added. Borscht is seasoned with fried onions, tomatoes and carrots. As a rule, it is served with sour cream sprinkled with parsley and dill. Fat and garlic dougnuts are popular side snacks.

What are the other characteristics of Ukrainian cuisine?

Ukrainian cuisine is very diverse: almost every region has its own traditional recipes. In addition to borscht, you should try the following dishes.


Acorn porridge cooked with milk or cream. The top is sprinkled with Brynza, cow or sheep cheese . Brynza is a traditional dish of the Hutsuls, nativeof the Carpathian Mountains. It is also the  first Ukrainian local food production that meets all European requirements and is officially recognized in the EU.


Vareniks are salted dumplings ofis unleavened or milk dough. Fillings include cheese, meat, mushrooms, cabbage or berries.

Butter and sour cream are used for dressing and Vareniks can be served with fried onions and crackers.


Traditional cabbage rolls of rice mixed with minced meat, carrots, greens and onions.

Kyiv-style cutlet

Fried chicken fillet rolled with greens and butter..

Depending on the region, all of the above-mentioned come in different styles and taste.