Ukrainian Money a Metaphor for Independence

Reach into your wallet to buy a coffee on your way to work. Pay a utility bill over the Internet. Make a purchase at your local grocery store. Ordinary acts of everyday life may be unremarkable to many but in Ukraine, using the coin or paper money in one’s wallet these days is as much a symbol of national independence as it is an execution of daily commerce.

Ukraine’s proclamation of independence on August 24, 1991 was soon to be accompanied by the introduction of a full-value national currency, the Hryvnia, by the National Bank of Ukraine one year later. Prior to its introduction, the Ukrainian Karbovanets was the provisional currency during the country’s separation from the rouble but fell victim to the economic collapse of the country’s economy before its eventual stabilization a few years later. The Hryvnia became the only legal tender of payment in Ukraine in September 1996.

Coins have denominations of one, five, 10, 25, and 50 kopecks (one Hryvnia equals 100 kopecks) while paper notes come in one, two, five, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Hryvnia. Paper notes are both colorful and symbolic of Ukraine’s independence. The face side of all banknotes has a variety of portraits of famous activists in the history and literature of the country completed through relief printing of the paper. Images of historic, architectural monuments grace the reverse side of the currency.

Ukraine is largely a cash economy. U.S. dollars and roubles used in Russia, are easy to exchange followed by the Euro. British sterling is mainly accepted at banks and travelers will rarely receive a competitive rate. Debit cards are gaining traction with ATM machines available in most rural as well as urban locations. Credit card fraud is still a problem so paying with credit cards should be reserved for such payments as airline tickets and foreign visas before arriving so put your plastic away. Besides spending coin or paper currency is not only an act of exchange but an act of solidarity with Ukraine’s tender history of autonomy.