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Games and toys Ukrainian children used to play
Recently the Lybid Publishers in Kyiv have released a book, Dytyna u zvychayakh i viruvannyakh ukrayinskoho narodu (The Child in Customs and Beliefs of the Ukrainian People). It is a compilation of works of Marko Hrushevsky (May 5 1865 — executed by the soviet police on September 2 1938), a teacher, theologian, ethnographer, and a distant relative of Mykhailo Hrushevsky, the prominent Ukrainian historian of the early twentieth century and first president of Ukraine. Kateryna Yushchenko, President Yushchenko’s wife, wrote a favorable review of the book. Olena KRUSHYNSKA interviewed Yaroslava Levchuk, the compiler of the book and a descendant of the Hrushevsky family.
Ms Levchuk, could you, please, say a few words about Marko Hrushevsky and his legacy? What was the motivation behind publishing a compilation of Marko Hrushevsky’s works?
Marko Hrushevsky was born into the family of a priest. Following the family tradition, he studied at the seminary in Kyiv. It was during his studies at the seminary that he met his distant relative, Mykhailo Hrushevsky who was to become one of the leading historians of the early twentieth century and first president of Ukraine. Mykhailo’s powerful personality made a great impression on Marko who got interested in ethnographic studies. Upon graduation from the seminary, Marko worked as a teacher in a village school. The schoolchildren and their parents loved and trusted Marko, and he became a sort of a confidant for them, and they, both the children and their parents, told him a lot about their personal lives. Marko began to put down what he heard, and gradually there was enough material accumulated for a book publication. Marko’s observations became an invaluable source for study of the Ukrainian rural culture of the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
One little example from that book. Children talk among themselves; one says: “I wish I were a stork.” “Why?” “Because they don’t kill storks.” Says another: “And I wish I were an eagle.” “Why?” “Because they don’t kill eagles either.” Says the third one: “And I wish I could always remain a little child.”
Zenon Kuzelya, who was the first compiler of Hrushevsky’s writings, mentions in his letters that some of these works dealt with children of different ages, from toddlers to adolescents, and their education and upbringing.
Marko did his best to foster kindness and benevolence and do away with brutality and family violence by a gentle, Christian approach. In this new edition of Hrushevsky’s works, a hundred years after its original publication, we tried to combine the scholarly approach with making it useful for parents of today.
Did Marko have any children?
Yes, he did. He had four children, and three of them had their own children, so the Hrushevsky family traditions were passed on from generation to generation. My grandmother, Marko Hrushevsky’s daughter, was a great embroiderer, she taught my mother and me how to embroider, using the techniques and styles that were used in the Land of Cherkashchyna at the end of the nineteenth century. She used to tell me fairy tales and all kinds of stories that must have come from the deep past. Marko and his wife Mariya collected dolls and embroideries of Cherkashchyna and now this collection and some of Marko’s archives are to be found in the Historical and Memorial Museum of Mykhailo Hrushevsky.
The book Dytyna u zvychayakh i viruvannyakh ukrayinskoho narodu contains a lot of pictures and photographs. Who was responsible for choosing them for the publication?
Mostly it was my mother, Valeriya Hrushevska. She wanted to show in the book children as they were represented in paintings and drawings of Ukrainian artists, in Ukrainian icons, and as they appear in old photographs taken from the archives of Ivan Honchar Museum. The painter Natalka Atamas from Cherkashchyna, provided beautiful illustrations of folk dolls and games.
You mentioned icons in which children are represented. As far as I know, icons rarely represent children.
In the book we reproduced those icons in which you can see Jesus as a child, an icon which represents Jesus blessing children, an icon in which we can see The Virgin Mary Enceinte. This icon comes from the collection of Olga Bohomolets-Sheremetyeva. It was used as a board on which the umbilical cord was cut after a baby was delivered. Quite a unique icon. In the book there are also reproductions of icons of St Ustilyana with Child which were prayed to at home for the good fortune of children and for the souls of the children who died.
The book opens with a section which deals with pregnancy and contains descriptions of superstitions connected with it. Probably it can be of interest only for those who study Ukrainian culture of the past. But is there anything that can be of interest for pregnant women of today?
Yes, there are descriptions of old superstitions, but there are also things which could be of interest for pregnant women, medics and psychiatrists of today. Do not wear necklaces, do not spin when you are pregnant are evidently superstitions that belong to the past. But such advice as: When you are pregnant — do not attend funerals; avoid quarrels; do not beat pets; avoid stressful situations, and so on, are sound advice which is supported by the findings of modern medicine too. Hrushevsky’s book also contained recipes in which herbs with medicinal properties were used, and our publication also contains some of them.
Hrushevsky describes the methods used to develop the child’s reflexes, language skills, interests for the world around the child. The lullabies and funny stories were also part of the system that developed the child’s imagination. Of a particular interest are Hrushevsky’s descriptions of the ways of dealing with the children’s aggressive behavior. The central advice — never use aggression to deal with aggression; distract the child in some way — and songs and dances are excellent ways of distraction.
The book is divided into sections, with each section devoted to a certain age, but there have been so many changes since the time Hrushevsky’s book was first published! Can it provide any practical advice now?
Yes, it can. In his times, the children’s cultural development was an integral part of physical growth. He described children of the Ukrainian countryside where the children were exposed to nature much more than the urban children of today. The children who grow up in the rural areas still have such an advantage over the urban children.
Hrushevsky advises, and modern science supports his idea in this, that the first year of life is of a particular importance for the further development of a child. The problem of severity and punishment versus kindness and mutual understanding in upbringing children is still very acute.
Or take the problem of exposing or not exposing the child to possible infections. Peasant children were allowed to crawl around the floors of the house or on the ground and naturally they picked things and put them into their mouths which would horrify most of today’s mothers. But probably it is a better way of adjusting the immune system to the environment than keep children in “sterile” conditions.
There’s a problem of spoiled children — was there such a thing as “a spoiled child” in the Ukrainian village of Hrushevsky’s time?
There must have been but not as acute as it is today in urban areas. Children were considered to belong to two basic categories — those who were lively and those who were silent. Those in the latter category were expected to grow up to be achievers.
Children in the rural areas became more independent much earlier than they do today in the cities. When children did something wrong, hope was expressed that such behavior would pass with time and these misbehaving children “would grow up to be good people”. Conflicts and tension were avoided as much as possible.
Now let’s move on to the toys. The toys used in Hrushevsky’s time would hardly be of any interest to the children of today, would they?
Yes, of course, toys of today are radically different from the toys of Hrushevsky’s time, but those toys are of interest as part of the culture of the past. Take puzzles, for example. It turns out that in Ukrainian villages all kinds of puzzles were made of wood and other materials. Similar puzzles are made today — but of plastic.
Or take musical instruments, or rather ways of making music. You could use your hands held in a special way over the mouth, or reeds or so many other ingenious ways of making music.
Recently, we shot a TV show in which a group of children, whose age ranged from two to nine years, were given toys made by a toy maker from Cherkashchyna, Vladyslav Kuksa who used the descriptions of toys in Hrushevsky’s book. Among the toys were bows, all kinds of rotating things, tops, whistles, and small wooden wagons, and the children of today used them for playing, inventing new ways of using them. There is an opinion that simpler toys open more space for imagination, and in this sense the toys of old still have some advantage over the modern-day toys.
Which toys does your daughter Sofiyka play with?
At home we have quite a collection of toys from many countries of the world, among them Japanese and Hungarian tricky toys and dolls made of thread and rags. My daughter likes all kinds of toys to play with but now she often says, “Mom, let’s play mother and daughter — you’ll be my daughter and I’ll be your mother, all right?” We had a collection of very old dolls made of thread and of pieces of fabric which we gave the Hrushevsky Museum.
Which kind of toys of the days of old do you like best?
Dolls made of thread and of pieces of fabric. I loved to play with them in my childhood. They looked and felt so dear to me.
Is there any place where Ukrainian toys are exhibited?
Yes, there is a museum of toys which is situated in Klovsky Uzviz Street in Kyiv, and there is a section in it devoted to Ukrainian folk toys.
Did you ever think of organizing master classes of making traditional toys?
I did, but unfortunately this idea has not been realized yet. There are people in Ukraine who make traditional folk toys and once in a while they bring their toys to show them in the Open-Air Museum of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life in Pirohiv not far from Kyiv, and at a folk music and art festival, Krayina mriy, which is held in Kyiv every summer. Sometimes you can find such toys being sold at the art center in Andriyivsky Uzviz in Kyiv.
The history of toy making is an essential part of culture history of any nation. Marko Hrushevsky described over 50 Ukrainian folk toys, puzzles and musical instruments for children of different ages, for play indoors and outdoors and in various seasons.
Are you planning any further publications of Hrushevsky’s legacy?
We know that some of Hrushevsky’s writings were devoted to children of the school age and to teenagers. We hope that some of the manuscripts may be found in the archives of the T. Shevchenko Scientific Society in Sarcelles not far from Paris. Zenon Kuzelya mentions these manuscripts in his letters. We are looking for ways of accessing those archives. I hope that one day we’ll be able to publish a more complete collection of Hrushevsky’s works.
Marko Hrushevsky, his wife Mariya and their
children — Mykhailo, Anatoliy (in the arms of
his mother) and Halyna.
Marko Hrushevsky’s book published by the Publishing
House Lybid in Kyiv in 2006; on the cover — an
icon of the Virgin Mary (early 20th century, from
the Land of Kyivshchyna) from a private
collection of icons of Olga Bohomolets, a singer.
The title page of the first edition of Marko
Hrushevsky’s book published in Lviv in 1906.
This icon was used as a board on which the umbilical
cords were cut during the delivery. Probably the end
of the 18th century, the Land of Poltavshchyna.
From Olga Bohomolets’ private collection.
A bassinet and a chair combined with a little table
from the village of Multchytsi in the Land
of Rivnenshchyna. From the Museum of
Folk Architecture and Everyday Life in Pirohiv.
The icon of Jesus Christ Blessing Children.
From Halychyna, 18th century. From the collection
of the Museum Dukhovni skarby Ukrayiny
(Spiritual Treasures of Ukraine).
A musical instrument made of reeds.
Drawing by Natalya Anamas.
The family of Ivan Kasenko of Cossack descent.
The village of Hoholiv, the Land of Kyivshchyna.
From the collection of the Ivan Honchar Museum
(photo dates from 1905).
Children from the village of Kovray in the Land
of Cherkashchyna. From the collection of
the Ivan Honchar Museum (photo dates from 1917).
The icon of St Ustylian.
1914, the Land of Kyivshchyna.
This saint was believed to be a protector of health
and intellect of the newly-born children.
From Olga Bohomolet’s private collection.
Children from the village of Kovray in the Land
of Cherkashchyna with a home-made toy wagon.
Early 20th century.
From the collection of the Ivan Honchar Museum.
Whistles made of reeds which are still popular
with Ukrainian children.
Similar toy wagons have been made for centuries
Tsymbaly, a musical string instrument made
of reeds. From the collection of the National
Historical and Cultural Reserve Chyhyryn.
Drawing by Natalya Atamas.
Village Children Outdoors by Olga Kultchytska.
A toy made of reeds.
From the collection of the National
Historical and Cultural Reserve Chyhyryn.
Drawing by Natalya Atamas.
Drawings by Natalya Atamas from the collection
of the National Historical and Cultural Reserve
Chyhyryn, showing a wheel with toboggans
attached to it by ropes; below
are puzzles with knots.
During the celebrations of Vodokhreshche (Baptism
with Water) at the Museum of Folk Architecture and
Everyday Life in Pirohiv. Photo by Yaroslava
Levchuk; the young and old enjoy riding toboggans
attached to the wheel on a pole stuck in the ice.
Dolls from the collection of Marko and Mariya
Hrushevsky, representing a bride and her best
friends. From the collection of the Mykhailo
Hrushevsky Historical and Memorial Museum in Kyiv.
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