One thing you cannot miss in Ukraine are the colourful and intricately painted eggs called Pysanka (pl: Pysanky) sold at every tourist shop and market.
Admiring them along the stalls of Andriyivsky Uzviz, I was impressed by their designs but found them rather awkward as they roll around and can break at the slightest knock. Well the Ukrainians have certainly taught me a thing or two about eggs.
You don’t know what you’re in for until Easter time when Pysanka mania hits.
Basketfuls took over Kyiv, giant ones sprouted out of nowhere, and they even grew on trees!
In Ivana Franka Square, a garden of hundreds of these mini hand-painted masterpieces sprung up on Easter eve. Probably the most fragile garden in the world and an exceptional sight. Pysanky were hanging everywhere with quaint egg-gazebos showing off their unique designs.
You also find colourful boiled eggs in the Easter meal, though these are called Krashanka (pl: Krashanky) and are only dyed in one colour. Restaurants abound with the edible decorations of Pashka (Easter bread) and Krashanky during the festive period. They do brighten up your plate!
So why are Ukrainians mad about eggs?
Part of Ukrainian folk artistry, they also hold much significance and history.
Egg painting dates back to the ancient Trypilliain culture which existed between 5400-2700 BC and named after the Ukrainian village of Trypillia.
Every aspect of the Pysanska has meaning. The designs reflected a bond to Mother Nature with solar symbols such as stars, and flora and fauna pictures of bears, wheat, sunflowers etc. Geometric signs were codes, sending a message of goodwill, protection, unity, despair. Different colours marked a passage in the person’s life such as adulthood or marriage. The egg represents life, earth, and creation and was thought to ward of evil. Initially part of pagan beliefs (the yellow yoke being the sun and the egg white the moon) it then merged into Christian Easter traditions.
Painting the Pysanka was a ritual in itself entrusted only to women. Usually done by night, the painter had to be clear headed, holding no negative thoughts, and no one could watch them in their craft. The Pysanska skills were passed down over the centuries from mother to daughter, thus cherishing this traditional art through the female hand.
Indeed the egg-craze is very much alive today.
Just this past weekend a 22 meter-high and 38 meter-wide art instillation made of 250,000 wooden Pysanky was erected in Sofiyskaya Square in Kyiv for three days. The exhibition was only part of the completed masterpiece constructed from 302 panels and in all measures 92 x 134 meters consisting of 3,400,000 eggs overall.
The enormous structure called “The Altar of Nations” is by Ukrainian artist Oksana Mas. People from all corners of society and all corners of the globe contributed to the egg painting with a total of 42 countries taking part.
Each egg depicts man’s sins, desires or fears. Altogether they recreate ”The Ghent Altarpiece” by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck found at Cathedral of St. Bavon in Ghent.
Now that’s Pysanka Power!
The little Pysanka has no limits and can wow us to no end: from cracking open ancient mystical secrets, creating magical gardens and decorating Easter festivities, to bringing nations together from around the world in exalting art.