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    A political nation is now
    being formed in Ukraine, and… the distinction between ethnic and political
    identity does not make much sense.
    – Roman Szporluk,
    “The Ukrainian Identity


    You don’t have to speak Ukrainian to be a Ukrainian. Prior to
    independence in 1991, Ukrainian was a symbol of nation­alism but Russian was
    the language of government, industry, science, and education. Since
    independence, Ukrainian has become the official language of government but not
    all Ukrai­nians can speak it, and it is no longer the symbol of nation­alism it
    once was.

    Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian, as members of the East
    Slavic group of Indo-European languages, all have com­mon roots in the language
    of the medieval Kyivan state. Although today they are three distinct languages,
    they have a high degree of mutual intelligibility despite differences in
    pronunciation, vocabulary, and orthography, a result of po­litical and
    religious changes over the years. The most obvious Ukrainian difference from
    Russian is that g in Ukrainian is pronounced as h. Ukrainian also has
    fewer borrowings from Old Church Slavonic than modern Russian but more borrow­ings
    from West European languages by way of Polish. The spoken language has regional
    variations, but today’s literary Ukrainian is based on the language spoken in
    the middle Dnipro region around Kyiv.

    In Kyiv government offices, Ukrainian is spoken, although not
    always correctly. Russian, however, is still heard on the streets of Kyiv and
    in the workplace. Moreover, if you add the 22 percent of Ukrainian citizens who
    are ethnic Russians to the 12 percent of ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian as
    their first language, you will find that at least one-third of Ukrainians are
    Russophone, although in many areas the Russian they speak is an amalgam of
    Russian and Ukrainian.

    Language, however, is not always an indicator of national­ity.
    Many Ukrainians use Russian as the language of their profession and Ukrainian
    as the language of social interac­tion. The language issue in Ukraine, writes
    Elehie Natalie Skoczylas, “…appears analogous to the medieval times when
    Latin, the language of science and philosophy, competed with Italian, the
    language of song and sentimentality”.

    The closeness of the Ukrainian and Russian languages and
    cultures creates problems in ethnicity. Intermarriage between Ukrainians and
    Russians is common, and many Ukrainians are bilingual but with only passive
    fluency in Ukrainian. In the east, moreover, many Ukrainian children go to
    Russian-language schools and watch Moscow TV at home. Once beyond childhood it
    is difficult for them to learn to speak Ukrainian.

    Russian is still the lingua franca of the region, the language
    Ukrainians use to talk with Russians, Baits, Moldovans, and Central Asians.
    English is not as widely spoken in Kyiv as in Moscow, but German is.

    Half of the 25 million Russians who live outside Russia – what
    Russians call “the near abroad” – are in Ukraine. They are
    concentrated mainly in the east and south, especially in the Donbas, the
    industrial heart of Ukraine where half the population is non-Ukrainian. If
    living standards continue to deteriorate, they are a potential source of

    Jews have lived in Ukraine since the founding of the Kyivan
    state. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they were brought to Ukraine
    in large numbers by Polish landowners to serve as stewards of estates,
    artisans, merchants, petty traders, innkeepers, and rent collectors. Jews were
    seen by Ukrainians as agents of the Polish Catholic nobles, as aliens and
    infidels, and their occupations as rent collectors and estate managers for
    absentee landlords made them particularly resented by the local peasants. The
    Poles, it was said, brought Jews and Jesuits to Ukraine.

    Anti-Semitism intensified after the partitions of Poland when
    Jews lost the protection provided by the Polish nobles. Moreover, Jews were
    forbidden to live in Central Russia without special permission and were forced
    to reside in the Pale of Settlement, Russia’s newly acquired western territo­ries
    that included parts of Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and Lithuania. Prohibited from
    owning land, they lived mostly in small towns and villages, the shtetls, where
    they were the indispensable but maligned middlemen in an agricultural society
    composed of a small number of landowners at the top and large numbers of peasants
    at the bottom.

    Ukrainian-Jewish relations historically have been marred by
    conflict and discord. This is not surprising, as Jack Nusan Porter writes,

    …given that these two peoples have inhabited the same ter­ritory,
    aligned themselves with different powers, and lived in a land which has seen
    more than its share of famine, revolu­tion, civil war, world war, and anarchy.
    Much of the problem stems from the fact that the Ukrainians have rarely been
    masters of their own country but continually subjugated by Poles, Russians,
    Austrians, and Germans.

    By the end of the nineteenth century some three million Jews lived in Ukraine, the
    highest concentration of Jews in the world. Because the Jews are traditionally
    an urban people, it was not surprising, as Canadian historian Orest Subtelny
    notes, that “…over 33 percent of the urban inhabitants of Ukraine were
    Jewish, and in the shtetls of the [Dnipro] Right Bank the percentage reached as
    high as 70-80”.

    The Jewish question in Ukraine, therefore, can also be seen as
    an urban-rural problem. At the turn of the century, Kyiv was the third largest
    Jewish city in the world. Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories, on which Fiddler
    on the Roof
    is based, were written in Kyiv, and his fictitious village of
    Anatevka is Ukrainian. His memory was honored by the city of Kyiv in a Sholem
    Aleichem memorial week celebrated in 1994.

    The Holocaust and World War II decimated the Jewish community,
    which still numbered three million on the eve of the war. In western Ukraine,
    only 2 percent of the Jews sur­vived. In Kyiv, up to 100,000 Jews, Gypsies, and
    Ukrainians were executed by the Germans and buried at Babi Yar, a ravine in the
    northwest part of the city, including 33,771 Jews (by German count) who were
    systematically slaughtered there during a two-day “action” in 1941.
    Babi Yar is commemorated in a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko that was set to music
    by Dmitri Shostakovich in his Thirteenth Symphony.

    In 1994, an estimated 500,000 Jews remain in Ukraine, more than
    half of them older than forty. Some 100,000 live in Kyiv, and there are also
    active communities in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odessa. Emigration is high,
    however, as well as assimilation and intermarriage with Ukrainians and
    Russians, and the Jewish community is dwindling.

    Latent anti-Semitism still exists though, especially in rural
    areas and among the less educated. But despite the history of ethnic strife and
    the new spirit of nationalism, anti-Semitism has been condemned by the
    Ukrainian government and Rukh (the democratic opposition). Moreover, it
    is on the margins of social and political life and has not been marked by vio­lence.
    The government has encouraged the rebirth of Ukraine’s Jewish community, giving
    official support for Jew­ish newspapers, schools, and Hebrew studies in
    universities. According to a report of the Ukraine Bureau of the Union of
    Councils, a major U.S. Jewish organization:

    State anti-Semitism has receded, in no small part due to efforts
    of prominent Ukrainians…including [former] Presi­dent Kravchuk who…has
    condemned anti-Semitism. How­ever, the state anti-Semitism of the past has been
    absorbed by the Ukrainian “new right” – the national-radicals…
    [who] ar­ticulate xenophobic policies [and] advocate against ethnic Russians
    and Jews, whom they hold responsible for Ukraine’s problems.

    Still, as Jewish activist Oleksander Z. Burakovsky points out,
    “….it’s easier to be a Jew in an independent Ukraine” now that the
    “elder Soviet brother that oppressed many Jews, just the first in the
    chain, is gone”. “Ukrainians,” adds Burakovsky, “don’t have a
    pathological anti-Semitism,” but were manipulated by anti-Semitism
    “from above”.





    Don’t do these things in Ukraine.



    • THROW
      AWAY BREAD!  Even if it is bad/
      moldy/ crumbs from the table.  Bread
      became pretty much sacred after the famine, orchestrated by the former
      Soviet Union.  Feed what you cannot
      eat to the animals on the street.
    • Shake
      hands with gloves on.  This is
      utterly disrespectful.  Even if
      unintentional, you may not be forgiven.
    • Whistle
      in the house.  It brings bad
      luck.  Another superstition
      right…people will get very upset.
    • Do
      anything over the threshold-bad luck again.
    • Step
      over someone.  If you do, step-back
      across them and then go around and ask them to move.
    • Block
      a walkway-on the same note as above.
    • Give
      anyone flowers unless you really know the complicated flower giving system
      here.  You could be saying something
      you didn’t intend or want to say.
    • Wear
      your hat indoors.  Take it off upon
      entering the building. 
    • Talk
      loudly.  Not only is it a safety
      threat as you have probably already heard, but also it is considered rude,
      especially and curiously if you are in a public place. 
    • Show
      people the bottom of your shoe.  Pay
      attention to this one while in transport-crossing your legs on the train
      etc.  This goes back to the
      difficulty of cleaning.  Washing by
      hand is exhausting.  You will
      probably find this out.  People also
      pride themselves on being pristine in appearance.  They don’t want to get anything from the
      bottom of your shoe on any part of their person.  (It doesn’t matter that getting dirty is
      inevitable, especially in winter.)
    • Eat in
      public unless you don’t mind being thought of as a child.
    • Leave
      an empty bottle on the table.
    • Hang
      your clothes out to dry on Sundays in the West.
    • Be
      alarmed when your new household members walk around in their underwear-so
      long as everyone in the house doesn’t mind it.  It is awkward at first, but whatever.
    • Cheers
      with everyone and then not drink. 
      Back in the day when people drank with strangers and enemies, they
      toasted so that some of their beverage would enter the glasses of
      others.  If everyone drank, then no
      one put poison in anyone’s drink…Just put the glass to your mouth even if
      you don’t drink anything.  People
      will be happy and you will somehow get closer to them.

    • Refuse
      drinking unless you are 100% confident that you can withstand the pressure
      to drink.  Once you say no, you will
      be the object of everyone else’s efforts. 
      They will do everything possible to get you to drink.  If you don’t want to drink, cheers, put
      the glass to your mouth and don’t drink out of it.  (This subject is of course left up to
      your discretion, but I find this strategy to be much less exhausting.)
    • Sit on
      or rest against a table.  This goes
      back to paying attention to where your butt is at all times.
    • Sprawl
      out when sitting
    • Cross
      your legs-some say this can be offensive to older people and some say that
      it can be an invitation to be hit on…I personally find that the habit is
      hard to break and do it anyway, but just a heads up.
    • Be so
      trusting.  You truly have to gain
      people’s trust here.  Friendliness
      and politeness are custom.  Don’t
      read into that too much, and Don’t abuse it either.
    • Forget
      about yourself!


    Nuances, they’ll get you. 
    We are only human.  I can only
    hope that this list will help you out. 
    As you run into bumps along the road, take note of them and add them to
    this list.  It will be most appreciated
    by others. 



    The Best Ukrainian Custom


    is the best Ukrainian custom?

    by Dana Liss, Kyiv Post Staff

     The word
    “custom” leaves a lot of room for interpretation. And sure enough
    many of our readers took advantage of that room. Snot rockets, not shaking
    hands over the threshold and sex on the first date all fell into the realm of
    Ukrainian customs in the eyes of our readers.

    But at the end of the
    day, all of these worthy pursuits fell well short of what the vast majority of
    our readers said was the greatest Ukrainian custom of them all: home-grown
    Ukrainian hospitality.

    Ukrainians are indeed
    famed for their hospitality. They love to invite people over and stuff them
    with food and drink. As one reader gushed, “This custom of generous
    hospitality extends beyond the constraints of time or economy. This norm of
    behavior is by far the best example of the true Ukrainian character.”

    Not surprisingly, the
    remaining votes centered around Ukrainian vodka and Ukrainian women. One
    popular answer involved both of them: the so-called “third toast,”
    which in Ukraine is traditionally reserved for the women. Hey, what is there
    not to love about a bunch of drunk men standing up, gesturing madly and
    belching out slurred lines about their loved ones?

    Another popular toast
    mentioned by one reader is the toast “na konya.” Literally “on
    the horses,” the expression is the Ukrainian equivalent of “One for
    the road.” In Ukraine it traditionally consists of a fair-sized glass of
    horilka or moonshine. Many hosts and Ukrainian restaurants offer it to their
    departing guests at the end of a long night of celebrating. Our reader points
    out that many guests who drink na konya will “instantly drop down and fall
    asleep on the spot.”

    Lastly, a couple of
    readers pointed to the Ukrainian custom of celebrating every holiday. That
    custom has, of course, been taken advantage of by the Kuchma administration,
    which has been treating the most useless holidays as massive celebrations
    lately, knowing full well that people will respond by partying themselves into
    oblivion, and hence forget his crimes.



    1. Hospitality

    2. Kissing three times

    (tie) Celebrating every holiday

    (tie) Third toast to the women

    Others receiving votes: na konya, women marrying at 18 and
    starting to date again at 19, jet skirts, snot rockets, no shaking hands over
    the threshold, borshch and pampushki, monuments for everything, honoring
    members and veterans of the military, full banquet table, sex on the first
    date, no empty bottles on the table, family values, drinking vodka.




    Okay, you’ve been invited to a Ukrainian wedding and you know nothing. Do not fear, here everything is explained for you!  :)

    Tanya Stachniw and Koko
    Rakowsky’s Wedding

    by Koko Rakowsky


    This “FAQ” of the traditional Ukrainian wedding was
    compiled by Tanya and Koko mainly for the benefit of the non-Ukrainian guests
    attending their big event. It gives you a pretty fair idea of how a
    contemporary Ukrainian-style wedding is conducted – the questions below are
    approached with humor and aplomb, and their personal touch is evident
    throughout the text. We thank them both for sharing this very useful
    information with the readers of Brama. Welcome to Tanya and Koko’s wedding!

    This is my first Ukrainian wedding. What should I expect?

    The Ukrainian marriage ceremony is rich with traditions that
    have their origins both in Eastern Rite Christianity and in Ukraine’s ancient
    pagan past. Many of the rituals you will see are steeped in mystery, and can be
    quite bewildering.

    Plus, following a Ukrainian wedding can be even more difficult
    if you don’t know the language. (Out of respect for our families, our ancestors
    and our culture, Ukrainian will be the official language of most of today’s
    festivities.) So we’ve put together this little guide to help clue you in. And
    should you find yourself sitting at a table full of Ukrainians, have no fear.
    They all speak English and they’re all nice people. So don’t be afraid to ask
    them questions if you get lost.

    So what did I miss?

    Unless you are a close family member, chances are that you
    didn’t get to see a significant portion of today’s festivities. A couple hours
    before the actual ceremony, the bride, the groom and their families gather at
    the home of the bride’s parents for the Blahoslovenya – or
    “blessing.” At the Blahoslovenya, the parents of the bride and
    groom convey their formal approval and good wishes to the young couple. It is
    here that the two families officially become one.

    Isn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the

    We think not. Ukrainians don’t usually fall for superstitions
    like that. We also walk under ladders, smash mirrors, and step on cracks in the
    sidewalk. In fact, in Ukraine, people often stand on the street all day waiting
    for a black cat to cross their path. This alone may explain the country’s
    perpetually stagnant economy.

    Why doesn’t the bride’s father walk her down the aisle?

    Unlike most western marriage ceremonies, in which the father of
    the bride “gives away” his daughter, the Ukrainian bride and groom
    enter the church together. There are two reasons for this. First, the father of
    the bride has already given his blessing at the Blahoslovenya, held
    earlier that day. Second, it is tradition that the bride and groom enter the
    church arm in arm – as equal partners. This spirit of teamwork and
    equality has always been at the heart of Ukrainian marriage.

    Why does it take so long for the couple to make it down the

    The first part of the Ukrainian wedding ceremony, the Betrothal,
    takes place in the rear vestibule of the church. During the Betrothel, the
    bride and groom affirm that they are both entering this union freely and as
    equals. It is at this point that the priest blesses the wedding bands and
    places them on the fingers of the bride and groom.

    Who are those two people carrying the icons?

    The starosty are two friends or family members (one from
    each side) who preside over the wedding as official witnesses and masters of
    ceremony. Back in the days of arranged marriages, the starosty acted as
    matchmakers and were solely responsible for negotiating the union. Today, the starosty’s
    responsibilities are far more limited. They lead the wedding procession and
    carry the icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary into the church. These icons will
    eventually hold a prominent place in the home of the married couple, and will
    serve as the spiritual center of the household. At the reception, the starosty’s
    responsibilities include hosting the ceremony, offering the first toast, and
    repeatedly begging the guests not to clink their glasses with silverware.

    Why are they singing everything?

    St. Augustine once said that those who sing pray twice
    a statement Ukrainians have taken to heart. The entire ceremony, with the
    exception of the sermon, will be sung rather than spoken.


    What happens after the bride and groom finally walk down the

    The front of the church is the scene of the final, most sacred
    portion of a Ukrainian wedding ceremony – the Crowning. It is during the
    Crowning that the bride and groom place their right hands on the gospel,
    exchange their vows and become married in the eyes of God.

    What’s with those wreaths on their heads?

    A Crowning just isn’t a Crowning without – crowns. These
    wreaths are usually woven from myrtle – a symbol of love, purity and
    fertility. They are placed on the heads of the bride and groom to signify the
    dawn of a new kingdom to be ruled by the couple – side by side. They
    also remind the newlyweds that their marriage is a partnership in Christ, and
    that they owe it to God and to each other to live a life of honor and love.

    Why does the priest bind the young couple’s hands?

    The hands of the bride and groom are joined with an embroidered
    cloth, or rushnyk, to signify their newly forged union. Once bound to
    one another, the couple circles the tetrapod (small altar) three times.
    This procession is called the “Dance of Isaiah,” which reminds us
    that marriage is a never-ending journey.

    These are the first steps the young couple takes as husband and
    wife, so it is only fitting that they walk around the tetrapod – a
    symbol of Christ.

    Why do the bride and groom drink wine during the ceremony?

    The couple drinks wine three times to acknowledge the importance
    of the Holy Trinity and to remind us of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding
    at Cana. The wine also symbolizes the sweetness of the love that flows from

    Did you bring enough wine for everybody?


    Where is the priest going with the bride?

    Toward the end of the ceremony, the priest escorts the bride to
    the icon of Mary in the corner of the church. As the priest offers up prayers
    on her behalf, the bride kneels in front of the Virgin Mary and presents her
    with a bouquet of flowers..

    As an alternative to rice, will the guests throw birdseed as
    the newlyweds exit the church?

    Have you seen the size of the pigeons in Passaic? Thanks, but
    we’ll throw flower petals instead.

    So when does the party start?

    Champagne and strawberries at six o’clock. Cocktails at

    The reception has just begun, and already there’s some big
    family reunion going on in the middle of the dance floor. May I ask why?

    Ukrainian wedding receptions begin with a ceremony welcoming the
    bride and groom into the community. With all guests present, the parents and starosty
    meet the newlyweds at the door. They offer the young couple gifts of bread,
    salt, honey and wine. Bread represents nature’s bounty, salt is a necessity of
    life, and honey and wine stand for prosperity. The newly-formed family then
    joins in a toast. In accordance with tradition, the father of the bride will
    drink the most wine out of the group, because it is usually at this point that
    he realizes just how much this whole thing is costing him.

    What’s the deal with that big loaf of bread?And where’s the
    wedding cake?

    The korovai is a traditional wedding bread that symbolizes
    community, and it takes the place of wedding cake at a Ukrainian reception. In
    pre-Christian times, it was baked by the entire village as an expression of support
    for the newlyweds. The korovai is adorned with ornaments of baked dough: two
    birds to represent the couple, and other ornaments to represent family and
    friends. In the center of the korovai is a hiltse, or “tree of
    life,” signifying life, fertility, and the building of a new nest. The
    entire arrangement is surrounded with a wreath of periwinkle, a symbol of love
    and purity.

    What is that song everybody keeps singing, and why do we keep
    having to stand up?

    “Mnohaya Lita.” Get used to this song of good
    wishes, because you will hear it a lot over the course of the evening. “Mnohaya
    means “many years.” (Its true meaning, of course, is
    “many happy years.” The middle word, however, was deleted
    after it was decided that no song containing the word “happy” could
    truly call itself Ukrainian.) It is certain that you will be asked to stand up
    and sing “Mnohaya Lita” several times at a Ukrainian wedding.
    (Only the theme from “Rawhide” gets more airtime.) As a result of
    this frequent up and down motion, it is common for guests at a Ukrainian
    wedding to suffer from a bout with the bends. There is, however, no need for
    concern. At most Ukrainian weddings, there are more than enough doctors in
    attendance to treat the afflicted. And yes, all their Ukrainian mothers are
    very proud.

    What is the band playing and why is everybody stampeding the
    dance floor?

    At some point during this evening’s festivities, the band will
    roll into a few bars of a new song, and a funny thing will happen. Ukrainians
    will actually leave the bar. They’ll suddenly swarm the dance floor to form a
    large circle.

    The shorter members of the throng will bring chairs onto the
    floor to get a better view of the action. And many of the male guests will
    calmly finish their drinks and take off their jackets (otherwise a big no-no at
    a Ukrainian reception).

    All this activity is a sure sign that the kolomeyka has
    begun. The kolomeyka is a traditional Ukrainian dance that features a
    medley of leaps, kicks, and spins.

    First timers at a Ukrainian wedding will note that the kolomeyka
    bears a striking resemblance to breakdancing. But unlike breakdancing, the kolomeyka
    has retained it’s coolness long after the end of the first Reagan

    One last question. Is there anything I can do to help Tanya
    and Corey on this, their most special day?

    Yes. If it’s not too much trouble, the bride and groom ask that
    you take a moment to reassure both their mothers that the bright red trolley in
    which they arrived, the song to which they’ll enter the reception hall, and the
    wedding program that you are currently reading – are not “weird.”


    Ukrainian Wedding Traditions



     Ukrainian wedding
    traditions have a long history. Unfortunately, at the present times, fewer and
    fewer of ancient wedding customs and traditions take place at a contemporary
    Ukrainian wedding. However, the most interesting traditions have remained.

    We will describe a contemporary Ukrainian wedding, and employees
    of our agency will demonstrate to you some customs and traditions. Some photos
    presented on this webpage are already 15 years old, and some are rather new –
    less than 2 years.

    So, the wedding ceremony begins 30-40 days before the wedding
    itself. The bridegroom, his parents and friends must ask the bride’s parents
    for her hand. The bridegroom’s parents come with a Ukrainian round loaf
    (homemade, round, big bread beautifully decorated). The round loaf is delivered
    on an embroidered towel made by the bridegroom’s mother, and on top of the
    bread there is some salt.

    The bridegroom’s father and friends ask for “bride’s
    hand”. Usually, her father gives an answer, after asking his daughter
    about her decision – whether she wants to marry the young man or not. If the
    bride wishes to take this guy as her future life partner, the bridegroom’s and
    bride’s parents discuss the time and place of the wedding party. But…if the
    girl does not wish to marry the guy, she gives him a pumpkin!

     The wedding day… Dressing
    a bride is a special ritual. Bride’s friends have been with her since early
    morning. They put a gown on her, make a hair-do and put on a bridal veil…

    The bridegroom comes to his bride in a car decorated with
    flowers, ribbons and balloons. Sometimes, a doll dressed like a bride is placed
    on the car’s hood. When the car (or cars) comes up to the house of the bride,
    they start to honk.

    It means that the bridegroom and his relatives are ready to take
    the bride, her parents and friends to the church and city hall, to get married
    and register their marriage. When the bridegroom and bride walk out of the
    bride’s house, the bride’s mother throws seeds (symbol of wellbeing) onto their
    heads, as well as roseleaves (symbol of prosperity and health) and coins
    (symbol of financial stability in a family).

    The official registration of marriage in the City Hall starts
    with the sound of fanfares. A Ukrainian embroidered towel is spread at the feet
    of the couple, they stand on it and the ceremony begins. In fact, at this
    place, the bridegroom and bride become husband and wife. Exactly, in the City
    Hall, the long awaited phrase “Zoya, do you agree to take Oleg as your
    husband, to be with him in sadness and grief, to be faithful until death
    separates you?” is pronounced.

    After the ceremony, the spouses receive congratulations from
    friends and relatives. The “newly-made” husband takes his wife from
    the City Hall in his arms.

    The next stage – getting married in church. The most touching
    and important moment to the couple, their parents, friends and relatives. The
    priest blesses the new family for happiness, health, luck, faithfulness,
    understanding, love and respect for one another.

    God’s blessing is the most serious blessing for the new family.
    There are many prejudices connected with the ceremony in church. They say that
    if the bride’s dress catches the fire from a candle, it means that the marriage
    is doomed. So it is quite understandable that the bride’s mother is always very
    careful in church, and does her best to prevent any of such things.

    The third stage – celebration. The most joyful, surprising and
    unexpected things may happen this evening. The party takes place in a
    restaurant, cafй or at the home of the bridegroom or bride. All the guests come
    with gifts. In Ukraine, ordinary things can be presents at a wedding, which
    first of all, will be necessary in a young family: kitchen utensils, linen,
    home appliances, etc.

    The party starts with congratulations from relatives and
    friends. After each toast, the guests shout “Gorka! Gorka! Gorka!” It
    means that the guests want to see the married couple kiss one another. One must
    note that the number of kisses at the wedding, as some bridegrooms have
    noticed, exceed the number of kisses received throughout the whole period of

     When the guests have paid enough
    attention to the married couple, their attention goes to the bride’s and
    bridegroom’s best friends. To be the best friends of the couple at the wedding
    is a very honorable and responsible task. The bride chooses her best friend
    (unmarried girl) who helps the bride with all pre-wedding preparations. It is
    she who puts down her signature in the document certifying the marriage.

    So, what is the role of the bridegroom’s and the bride’s best
    friend? They are called “witnesses”. When the guests shout
    “Gorko” to the witnesses, it means that the guests want to see them
    kiss, too! At one of international weddings which took place in our city, there
    was a funny thing. The guests were shouting “Gorko” to the witnesses.
    The bridegroom’s best friend spoke no Russian, so he was not really paying
    attention the shouts and continued to enjoy the delicious meal from his plate.
    When the interpreter explained to him what was required, the guy blushed.
    Anyway, he did not refuse from a kiss from the bride’s best friend. Later on,
    at the end of the evening, he asked the guests to shout “Gorko” to
    the witnesses again.

    During the party, dancing is a must. Everybody dances – the
    guests, the parents, the newly-married couple. But…a dance between the
    bridegroom and his mother-in-law and between the bride and her father-in-law is
    a must at each wedding party. Moreover, the bridegroom must prove that he will
    take good care not only of his wife, but also of his mother-in-law. In the
    presence of all the guests, the bridegroom declares that he will also be kind
    to his mother-in-law, and as a sign of his attention, he presents her with a
    pair of boots, which he puts on her!

    However… a trial is expecting the bridegroom. It may happen that
    the bride may be stolen, and the guests will ask the bridegroom to pay 50-500
    grivnas (10-100$) for her shoes, or even for the bride herself – even a bigger

    All guests are sure that the newly married couple will be the
    happiest family. But it stirs everyone’s curiosity – who will be the head of
    the family – He or She? National tradition helps to clear up this issue. The
    newly married are given traditional bread and they try to break it apart. The
    head of the family will be the person who has got a larger part of it left in
    the hands! This ritual is more like a joke on the wedding party, but as time
    goes by it becomes obvious that traditional ceremonies are telling truth!

    At the end of the party the custom of turning the bride into
    wife takes place. The bride is dancing waltz with all the young, unmarried
    girls present at the party. This is a sign that every young girl has the right
    for happiness, family and children. However, which of the present young girls
    will be the first one to get married depends on who catches the bouquet thrown
    by the bride backwards, over her left shoulder!

    After the bride says “good bye” to her friends (young
    girls), a bride’s mother’s friend brings the round loaf to the bride and
    uncovers her bridal veil. Instead, a Ukrainian national kerchief is placed on
    her head. A young bride has turned into a married woman!

    The wedding is over! Long live a new family!

    As our foreign witness once said, “We enjoyed the Ukrainian
    wedding very much! We’ll come again”.


    Traditional Ukrainian Wedding Rituals

     Collected in Central Ukraine, 1998

    by Natalie




    The traditional Ukrainian village wedding is a complex affair
    with many important functions. It cements the union between the bride and the
    groom, establishing them as a new unit, which will help perpetuate, not only
    their respective families, but the whole village. The wedding contains
    fertility symbols to insure that the couple will bear children. It serves to
    honor the parents who reared the young people about to wed. There is solemn
    religious expression in the wedding. And there is a great deal of frivolity and
    merry-making that serves to balance both the solemnity of the serious part of
    the wedding and the rigors of farming, bringing all participants, which often
    means a good part of the village, closer together.

    I collected materials in Central Ukraine, specifically the
    Cherkas’ka oblast and the Kyivs’ka oblast, in the summer and fall of 1998. For
    their help with collecting, I thank Halyna Kornienko and Natalia Havryliuk. I
    also used the archival resources of the Institute of Folklore, Ethnomusicology,
    and Folk Art in Kyiv and for her guidance in using this archive, I thank Halyna
    Dovzhenok. The description of the wedding which follows is based primarily on
    my collecting and one should realize that there is a great deal of variation.
    There was variation from village to village when I did my work. Variation
    between oblasts and between regions is greater still. Even with the variation,
    there is a certain basic structure to the wedding. I am giving a rather full
    version of the wedding below. Some older people complained that today’s youth
    fail to perform all of the steps of the wedding. By the same token, I saw great
    interest in reviving tradition, in performing the wedding in its full form,
    including wearing traditional Ukrainian dress (vyshyvka) instead of the
    western-style white gown with veil. An interesting compromise is to wear the
    white gown and veil for the civil part of the wedding, the registration of the
    marriage contract, and to wear Ukrainian dress for all of the parts of the
    wedding celebrated in the home.

    The traditional wedding in Central Ukraine starts with a formal
    engagement. The groom and several respected elders, usually two older, married
    men called starosty, visit the home of the bride and make a request to her
    parents for her hand in marriage. This visit, variously called dohliadyny,
    domovyny, and other terms, involves an exchange of gifts. The groom’s side
    provides a bottle of horilka and the bride drapes the starosty with ritual
    towels or rushnyky. Both parties give a loaf of bread to the other side. Many
    people have heard that a bride could reject her suitors by giving them a
    pumpkin (harbuz) instead of a loaf of bread. In real life, this seldom occurs
    because the young man and young woman had already courted and agreed to wed
    before the formal domovyny with their elders.

    The length of the engagement varies, the minimum being one week,
    the amount of time necessary for cooking and other preparations.

    The ritual part of the marriage process begins on the Thursday
    or Friday before the actual wedding with the baking of a special bread called a

    On Saturday, or on Friday and Saturday morning, if there are
    many guests, the bride and groom, often accompanied by a friend, the druzhka in
    the case of the bride and the boiaryn in the case of the groom, walk the
    village with another ritual bread, the shyshka, each summoning his and her
    respective wedding guests. Friday evening is usually devich vechir, a party
    during which the bride bids farewell to her friends

    and she and they make the hiltse, a ritual tree which graces the
    table during the wedding. Saturday is the day for signing the civil marriage

    Sunday is the day for the church service, if there is one. The
    main ritual, whether the civil or the church ceremony, is followed by a
    separation of the couple and the fetching of the bride by the groom’s wedding
    train. In most cases, the groom takes the bride back to her own home and leaves
    her there, returning with his friends and family to his own house. A meal is
    served at each house, after which the mother of the groom dispatches him and a
    special train (poizd) to the home of the bride.

    This train is met with mock resistance, especially at the gates
    of the bride’s house, and the groom has to pay a ransom, usually horilka and
    small amounts of money. After the ritual resistance, the groom’s wedding train
    is admitted, and after further demands for payment from the groom, permitted to
    join the bride’s family at the table.

    A more elaborate meal is served and the bride’s wedding cake
    (korovai) is cut and distributed, with the guests offering gifts in exchange
    for horilka and pieces of the cake. After the meal, the party, now bride and
    groom together, travels to his home for more food, drink and dancing.

    Often, this trip back includes the ceremonial delivery of the
    bride’s wedding chest, called a sunduk or skrynia, and a ritual procession with
    a special pair of icons, draped in rushnyky. A final meal at the groom’s house
    is the occasion of the cutting the groom’s korovai and its distribution among
    the guests, along with horilka, speeches, and more gift-giving.

    The morning after, there is a ceremonial breakfast for the
    bridal couple, sometimes accompanied by remnants of proofs of virginity.

    The solemn part of the wedding is followed by a period of frivolity,
    variously called kury, tsyhani, tsyhanshchyna, vechirky. It can take the form
    of a period of general thievery and mischief, where wedding guests steal
    chickens and other small food stuffs throughout the village, bring them to the
    house of the groom, and prepare and consume them. Sometimes wedding guests
    “attack” all those who chose to return to normal life instead of
    continuing the wedding celebration. They visit their homes, take gates off of
    hinges, hide equipment, and commit other pranks. The most popular form of
    post-wedding license is the tsyhanshchyna like the one I witnessed in
    Hrechkivka, Smilians’kyi raion, Cherkas’ka oblast on August 23, 1998. We were
    driving down the street when we noticed people in costume. At the door of one
    of the houses was a man dressed as a doctor. He would administer medical
    “aid” to anyone entering and collect a fee. The “aid”
    consisted of taking the guest’s temperature with a broom handle
    “thermometer”, “injecting” him or her with water, and then
    applying iodine/lipstick, thus marking all who had been subjected to the
    entrance ritual. Inside
    the yard were many people, a few in costume, and many quite inebriated. A meal
    was served which we did not attend. We joined the party several hours later. At
    this point they were walking down the street. Several young men were pulling a
    decorated cart in which were seated the parents of the bride. The groom, we were told, was
    an orphan. If this had not been the case, his parents, would have been the
    first to suffer a cart ride. The cart and the men/horses were accompanied by a
    large procession, many of whom were in costume at this point. Some were dressed
    as gypsies, the source of the term tsyhanshchyna. Several were cross-dressed. Several were dressed in rags
    or simply had on extravagant makeup. As this procession headed down the street,
    the cart was intentionally bounced up and down or pulled over the roughest
    available terrain. Every-so-often, the men/horses would “rear up” and
    need to be given a drink of water/horilka. When they encountered anyone on the
    street who was not part of the wedding party, one of the costumed revelers
    would offer the bystanders food and horilka and receive a small gift for the
    bridal couple in return. The procession headed down to the river. The cart was
    actually pulled down the bank and into the water, where it was overturned,
    dumping the bride’s parents into the stream. Since the water was shallow
    where the cart was dumped, several men attacked the couple, especially the
    father, dousing him, trying to push him into deeper water, or trying to get him
    to fall so that he would get completely wet. The dunking of the parents was
    soon followed by general pushing and shoving, attempts to get people into the
    water with as much of their attire on as possible. Many people, the children
    especially, simply disrobed to their underwear and went swimming.

    The tsyhanshchyna may seem silly and, during Soviet times,
    authorities exerted great pressure on people not to include it in weddings,
    objecting especially to things like the leading tractor driver of the village
    cavorting in drag. Nonetheless, it is an important and necessary part of the
    wedding. For one thing, a period of frivolity exists in all meaningful ritual,
    providing tension release and balance, sealing the serious rite with the magic
    of laughter. For another, there are many not-so-silly components to the
    tsyhanshchyna. The fact that the parents are “sacrificed” means that
    they are considered precious and this perpetuates honor for elders. Water
    magic, namely dunking the parents in the river and alternatives I heard in
    other villages, such as lowering them down the well, means that there is an
    element of weather and crop fertility magic to the tsyhanshchyna. In the
    tsyhanshchyna, Ukrainian villages have preserved elements of an ancient ritual
    of deep meaning.


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