Each year for Easter, the Ukrainian Culture Center here in LA puts on the Pysanka Festival. Since I’m forever curious about other people and cultures and know very little about Ukraine, I was very excited to attend this festival to soak up what I could.
Before going into the Culture Center for the festival, we decided to take a peek inside the Ukrainian Art Center, which was right upstairs. Founded by the lovely Daria Chaikovsky, the Art Center houses an array of Ukrainian artifacts, traditional décor and Christmas decorations, jewelry, and paintings. Daria told me that now that the war has ended, it’s much easier to bring items from Ukraine to the U.S.
During my visit, I came across a small window that looked into another room with a stage where a dance performance was taking place. The stage was quite beautiful, framed by a large, intricately painted golden arch, which instantly imbued the performance space with a sense of grandeur. Something about watching the performance on stage through the small window as if it were a peephole gave me a feeling of being back in time. I loved everything about the Art Center and was so glad I popped in.
Next, we headed downstairs to the Pysanka Festival. A pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg, decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist method. The designs are not painted on but inscribed with beeswax. In Ukraine, each region, village, and family had its own unique ritual, with its own symbols, meanings, and special formulas for dyeing eggs, and these customs were preserved and passed down from mother to daughter through the generations.
The Ukrainian Easter eggs that were on display at the festival were absolutely beautiful and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. These eggs were not your usual dyed Easter eggs. These eggs were vibrant and extremely colorful, and the tiny, repeating designs and motifs were clean and painstakingly intricate; it was obvious they took a great deal of work and precision. I really had never seen such gorgeous Easter eggs before and was happy I got to see them up close so I could truly appreciate them.
In addition to the display of the pysanky, there were egg writing workshops for both adults and children. Curious about the process involved in this unique decorative art, I tried my hand at it. It was an incredibly interesting experience trying to learn such a difficult craft. I also loved watching how dedicated my fellow students were, particularly the children. It was heartwarming to see mothers, proudly beaming, as they watched their children learning about their heritage.
Around the festival, I saw men and women wearing gorgeously embroidered shirts and blouses. These traditional Ukrainian shirts and blouses are called vyshyvanka. I came to find out that embroidery is an ancient and symbolic tradition in Ukraine and appears in their folk dress as well as plays a part in traditional Ukrainian weddings and other celebrations. Each region has its own unique style, ornamental motifs and composition, favorite color combinations, and types of stitches. The embroidery was originally developed by women and is typically regarded as a women's activity and is not only a national pastime but also a significant part of the Ukrainian cultural and national identity. Quite a few of the men and women I spoke to told me that their mothers or grandmothers made their vyshyvanka and that you just couldn’t go into a store and expect to buy one. They did, however, have some of these beautiful, handmade vyshyvanka for sale at the festival.
In addition to the displays of Ukrainian Easter eggs and colorful embroidery, there was a booth selling handmade traditional gerdan beaded necklaces, which reminded me a lot of Sarawakian necklaces. There was also a booth selling decorative items that were small, wooden reproductions of ancient weapons of war, which I found intriguing.
I also had a lovely conversation with a Polish woman, who was there helping out her Ukrainian friend and vendor. She talked about how the Polish and Ukrainian communities are quite close, have always helped each other out, and how “the borders all get blurred.” Her words resonated with me because I’ve always been one for unity and loving one’s neighbor.
As far as entertainment, there was a poetry reading, as well as music and dance performances. The musicians wore a mix of traditional Ukrainian clothing and contemporary attire. There was a female singer who I thought looked quite a bit like Freda and who was very expressive in her performance. There were also children performing traditional Ukrainian dances, which is always fun to watch. As for food, I did get to try some traditional Ukrainian cuisine, which consisted of fried dumplings with a mashed potato filling. They were quite good.
Finally, I had the pleasure of speaking with Paul Budilo, president of the Ukrainian Culture Center, and his incredibly nice wife, Barbara, who has extensive experience in egg writing. Paul talked about the significance of the annual festival and about the importance of holding onto their Ukrainian heritage and culture here in America.
As someone who previously knew very little about Ukraine and its people, the Pysanka Festival was the perfect way to be introduced to such a rich and vibrant heritage, not to mention an excellent way to celebrate Easter. Getting to see the incredible and delicate beauty of the Easter eggs alone was worth the trip, and I hope to learn more about Ukraine and its art and culture in the years to come.