A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.
People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.
For Orthodox Christians, Easter is one of the most important and most anticipated holidays of the year. Lent is over and people joyfully greet Easter with mandatory traditional Ukrainian Easter items, like paskha (Easter special bread) and pysanky - specially painted Easter eggs. If paskha can be easily bought at your nearby supermarket (though a self-respecting Ukrainian housewife would only ever bake it herself), pysanky are something you can only make yourself. What’s On is at your service in teaching you how to make a real Ukrainian Easter pysanka. Read carefully, as you’ll want to make a couple of them for you and your friends!
The pysanka has an ancient history in this country, reaching back many centuries. The egg traditionally symbolised new life and was an integral part of spring for hundreds of years. Combined with Christian traditions, the pysanka was imbued with a deep religious meaning, as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. This is why the pysanka became a de rigeur item at Easter, bringing purification to the home, as well as an Easter present expressing sincere wishes for happiness and good fortune. At the same time, the pysanka is a work of art, the panting of which requires skills and a certain amount of background knowledge. In order to acquire this knowledge, along with the special tools required for painting pysanky, I head for the “Museum of Ivan Honchar” Centre of Folk Culture, which recently opened a school of pysanka painting. We are welcome within these walls, where Ukrainian tradition and history live on in ancient authentic vyshyvanky, pottery, wooden tools and other ethnic artefacts, by Larysa Holovnya – a master of embroidery and pysanka drawing. About a year ago, with the support of the museum, the pysanky painting school was established here, attracting hundreds of people looking to learn this tradition Ukrainian art. And we join right in!
As it is an important Easter symbol, to create a pysanka, one needs to be spiritually clean. Larysa says she never begins work without saying a prayer, so – lighting a candle – we quietly read a prayer, asking God’s help us in this special ritual.
At the first stage, the eggs should be properly prepared to become pysanky, over the course of about an hour. For this we use a special device, which is simply a metal stick with a sharp end, and by cautious drilling, we make tiny holes at each end of the egg, in order to extract the white and the yolk. Larysa says that pysanky can be painted on full eggs as well, but that these cannot be stored for long, as the inside would rot. Once the eggs are hollow, they are nearly ready to be painted.
I say nearly, because the holes need to be filled in now. For that we use the main tool – the pysanok, or pysachok. Before using it we warm the tool over a lit candle on the table. The hot iron will quickly melt the wax used for pysanky painting. We then fill the tool with wax and, in one swift move, cover the holes with wax.
Now the eggs are ready and we begin by drawing a design with a pencil. “In order to get nice, straight lines there is one rule – always turn the egg, while keeping the pencil immobile,” suggests Larysa. I follow her advice and – to my great surprise – the lines come out straight! Using the pencil, we divide the egg first into four quadrants with one vertical and one horizontal line – this is called the straight cross. We then go to divide those quadrants into a further two, forming the so-called oblique cross (reminiscent of the St. Andrew’s cross), thus coming out with eight sections. As this is my first pysanka, I ask the master to choose a really simple design and Larysa suggests I make an 8-pointed star. To draw it, we make small dots in the middle of the lines bisecting the sections and connect them with a zigzag line. Then we do the same on the other side of the egg.
The preparatory stage now over, we apply wax to the surface of the egg. We again warm the tool (pysachok) with wax and apply it to the lines we’ve drawn, following the pencil drawing. This procedure becomes almost automatic for me, as the master and I simultaneously warm our tools on the candle flame and continue drawing. As we do this, I ask Larysa about the meaning of some of the pysanka designs. The number and variations of designs is so enormous that no one can say the exact number of symbols and figures commonly painted on pysankas, but there are some basic and recurring ones. “The star is one of the figures drawn most often, as it traditionally represents the sun and fire,” says Larysa. According to old folk traditions, making someone a present of a pysanka with an eight-pointed star signifies a declaration of love.
The cross is another important symbol representing the sun. The cross is the intersection of two lines, or two spheres in the language of symbols, with the horizontal line depicting time, while the vertical line symbolises eternity. Thus, the sign of the cross simultaneously represents both being and non-being.
A triangle surrounded by symbols resembling rakes symbolises water and our long-departed ancestors painted these pysanky in hopes of summoning rain for their crops. Pine tree branches usually mean youth and good health. A stylised tree represents the family tree and symbolises fertility. A bird on a pysanka means the beginning of new life, fertility and prosperity. The designs vary by region: “In the region of Kyiv, pysanky usually feature big designs, while pysanky from western Ukrainian regions have hundreds of tiny designs and lines,” explains Larysa.
After we finish drawing the lines with wax, we come to the colouring stage. Before colouring, however, we dip our eggs into vinegar, in order to remove any grease. Our paint awaits us (the paint can be bought at any fabric shop, as regular wool dye is used, with one packet diluted in 0,5 litre of boiling water, to which one then adds one teaspoon of vinegar). I dip my egg into the red paint and keep it there for 10-15 minutes. As we do this, Larysa explains the rules of colouring the eggs: “One must understand that the areas covered with wax will remain white, while the rest of the egg will be coloured. The one rule is to always colour the eggs from lighter to darker, meaning, first yellow, for instance, then red, then black.”
The colours on pysanka have meanings of their own: red is the most meaningful colour, symbolising goodness, joy of life, and heavenly fire and, in general, the red egg is the symbol of Easter. Yellow represents heat and the harvest, while green recalls the nature’s awakening in spring. Black represents eternal life in the other world.
After we remove the eggs from the paint, we blot them with napkins and go back to applying wax. Now my egg is red and I apply wax to the area of the star so that after further colouring the star will remain red, while the egg will be painted black.
“To apply wax on larger areas, you have to move with the tool in circles, not making strokes, but spreading the wax in circles,” says Larysa. “And be very careful with the lines: they need to be carefully covered with wax, so that the contours of the star will be clear and distinct.”
This procedure takes time, plunging me into a near-meditative state, as my hands already move quickly and confidently as I grow ever more relaxed and calm. Larysa says that pysanky are best painted during Lent: “Creating a pysanka, one becomes focused on oneself and can analyze one's deeds, leading in the end to spiritual cleansing.”
Larysa herself started painting pysanky back in 1996 when, following 19 years working in a kindergarten, she came to work in the Honchar Museum. “I remember that my son and I went to an exhibition and saw a lady painting pysanky and selling the tools. My son liked them so much, he made me buy the tools and we tried to create our own. Later on, I found out that the Ivan Makarovych (Honchar, after whom the Museum is named) collection of pysanky had been compiled back in the 50s and 60s. They were in bad condition and some of them cracked, so we decided to restore them and copy the whole collection, in order to preserve the authentic designs. So I can say that I was taught to paint pysanky by museum exhibits.”
Larysa was dreaming about a pysanky painting school for a long time until her dream came true last year, allowing her to offer lessons to all comers. Larysa says that the master classes were free of charge last year and that the classes were packed! This year, you have to sign up for a master class and pay a symbolic 20 hrv. Next year, the school is planning to expand the programme to a two-year course, with the students receiving certificates upon “graduation.”
Most of all, Larysa enjoys teaching kids: “Children get excited painting pysanky. It’s an accessible form of art – one hour and you’ll see the result – and every kid goes home with a pysanka. The smallest student I had was 2 years old. She came with her mother, of course, but she also tried to draw some lines.” Teaching kids every day, Larysa says there are no ugly pysankas at all: “In Ukraine, the pysanka itself is a synonym for beauty. Even Shevchenko compared the beautiful Ukrainian village with the pysanka! As I tell the kids, any lines askew and blots only decorate the pysanka!”
I finish by covering the star with wax and proceed to colouring again, putting the egg into black paint for 15 minutes. As I take it out, the only thing left is to remove the wax.
Removing the wax is the final stage in the process. Holding the egg close to the fire, the wax melts and can be easily removed with a napkin. “Be careful not to hold the egg too close to the fire, as the smoke might leave black stains on the egg,” warns Larysa.
As I remove the wax, I see the egg has actually acquired a beautiful lustrous sheen from the process. Holding my art work in my hand, I sigh with admiration! Not that my pysanka is genuine, but the feeling of having created something with my own hands is a big thrill and I already know I will practice this art in the future, as I now know, painting a pysanka really leads to spiritual and psychological relief.
Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.
Pulling Strings Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.