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Mementos of Ukraine


Tourists, visiting foreign countries, tend to buy souvenirs to bring back home as mementos, or show friends and relations and boast. Maryna GUDZEVATA, WU senior editor, provides tourists and guests of Ukraine with valuable tips as where and how to buy real McCoy Ukrainian souvenirs.


Souvenirs that you buy when you travel help retain memories and impressions of these travels, of the emotions that you experienced. Souvenirs contain something of the countries you visit presenting them to your friends and relations you share with them your experiences.

Reading pages at the Internet sites which contain tourists opinions and comments about their experiences in Ukraine, I have to come to a sad conclusion that Ukraine continues to be associated with Russia or even taken to be a part of Russia. Unfortunately, this wrong kind of impression may be induced even by the souvenirs tourists are likely to see displayed at the places that are frequented by them souvenirs with emblems of the soviet era or all sorts of matryoshkas, both traditional and with faces of the soviet or Russian leaders, are Russian souvenirs! Incidentally, such souvenir matryoshkas began to be made in Russia as long ago in the 1890s, and in Ukraine, matryoshkas have always been considered to be typically Russian souvenirs.

But there are authentically Ukrainian souvenirs which represent Ukraine and its thousand-year old history and culture much better.



Painted eggs with their ancient symbolism were a traditional element of many Slavic countries, but in Ukraine they were particularly popular. In the pre-Christian times pysanky were painted to welcome the spring. Eggs are laid by birds and birds are harbingers of spring and thus eggs symbolize revival in general and the life-giving Sun in particlar.

With the advent of Christianity, pysanky began to be associated with Easter. The ornaments and pictures painted on them acquired religious symbolism and pysanky became symbols of Christs Resurrection and of the all-forgiving spirit. People exchanged pysanky and continue to do so as a sign of goodwill and forgiveness.

There are hundreds of traditional patterns used in painting pysanky, most of which have come from the pre-Christian times. The basic technique of decorating eggs with pictures and ornaments is a sort of encaustic.

Pysanky are supposed to be real chicken eggs, desirably emptied, and thus may be too fragile to withstand the rigors of travel. If you are not sure you can pack them well enough to protect them from damage, I advise you buying wooden eggs craftily painted over in traditional colors and designs.




Decorative geometric design, floral motifs, stylized representations of human figures, birds and other animals, the color schemes of black and red, orange and brown, yellow and green, blue and white can be found on traditional Ukrainian embroidery. The best known items thus embroidered were and still remain to be shirts both for men and women, and decorative towels too.

Rushnyky, decorative towels, were used for many purposes and had many symbolic meanings. It is hard to imagine any Ukrainian peasant house without decorative towels adorning its interior. Rushnyky were used to drape icons with; children to be baptized were carried to church wrapped in a rushnyk; newlyweds had to step on it spread on the floor of the church (this tradition still holds rushnyky are spread on the floors of marriage registry offices as well). The welcoming bread and salt placed on decorative towels were and are handed to the honored guests.

Even though many of the rushnyky on sale are machine-made, traditional patterns, designs and colors are used in making them, so they look quite authentic. Besides, they are cheaper. And of course you can purchase excellent hand-embroidered decorative towels too but for a price.



Motanka dolls

Such dolls were made with threads or pieces of cloth. Originally, hundreds of years ago, they were meant to be charms but later they were used as dolls. The motanka doll is an archetypal symbol of mother and child, a symbol imbued with positive energies. Mothers in rural Ukraine have been making such dolls for their daughters for hundreds of years.

Nothing but threads and strips of fabric were used in making motanka dolls. Even the absence of the face in such dolls was symbolic. Nothing but threads and strips of fabric were used in making motanka dolls. Even the absence of the face in such dolls was symbolic. Such dolls were opalyed with by children and they were also presented to the newlyweds. To serve as a charm protecting the future child against evil such dolls had to be faceless because it was not known what sex of what kind of a person the baby would be.



Straw souvenirs

Quite a lot of traditional Ukrainian decorative items are made of straw. The straw used comes from harvested wheat, rye and other grains. The art of making things from straw once flourished, then declined but now it seems to be going through a revival.

Stylized birds, angels, didukhy traditional straw figures, bells, lambs, horses, peasant houses, plus a lot more, were and are popular themes used in straw souvenirs.

Straw bells were believed to bring good luck; two straw bells given to newlyweds symbolized good wishes to them and happy marriage. A present of a straw toy windmill was a visual wish of well-being. A straw ring was believed to be a charm against evil, and also symbolized the continuity of the family you can move in a circle endlessly, for eternity. Straw lambs symbolized the quiet and cosines of home, and their horns were suggestive of eternity.




Earthenware and ceramics were made in the territory of Ukraine as long ago as in the fourth or fifth millennia BCE. They belong to what is known as the Trypillya culture, highly developed one for its time. Some of the ornaments, designs and patterns which adorned Trypillya items have lived through millennia to be used in the traditional Ukrainian decorative and applied arts. The authentic Trypillya artifacts are museum pieces and cannot be bought at the market, but excellent copies and replicas of them can.

Ceramic and earthenware that are available at the souvenirs markets are of an amazing variety and come from various parts of Ukraine, each region having its own style of design, patterns and colors. For instance, ceramics from Kosiv Raion in Western Ukraine are notable for their colors greenish and reddish-brown on the white background adorned with representations of birds, deer, even people. Ceramics from the village of Opishne is famous for their natural colors, and decorative vases and dishes, are often made as representations of sheep, bears, goats, and horses.



Where to buy souvenirs

In Kyiv, probably the most popular place to go to hunt for souvenirs is arguably Andriyvsky Uzviz, a street that rather steeply descends from what used to be Upper Town to Podil, a section situated po dolu, that is along the river. The display and variety of art works and souvenirs may dazzle an unseasoned tourist, but even a short search will produce good results and youll be able to find quite decent souvenirs in the traditional Ukrainian style.

The best place where you can purchase truly authentic Ukrainian souvenirs without fear of being cheated is the Gallery Svitlytsya, 31 Mazepa Street (close to the National Center of Folk Culture Muzey Ivana Honchara) next to the Pechersk Lavra Monastery. The Gallery Svitlytsya offers a wide choice of excellent Ukrainian souvenirs that range from pysanky through motanky dolls to embroidered decorative towels.

In Lviv, you can go to the square which is situated behind the Opera House (locally referred to as vernisazh) or to the store Lvivski tsyatsky at 10 Ploshcha Rynok, or to the Gallery Ravlyk at 15 Svobody provulok. Also, art galleries offer a lot of items made of wood, glass and other materials which can make excellent souvenirs.


One of the folk fairs in the Open-air Museum
of Architecture and Everyday Life of Ukraine in the village of Pyrohiv.


Photos by Olena KURSHYN

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