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On the cover
7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidans three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countrys stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Kyiv Traditions

Pagan Meets Christian. The Deep Roots of Trinity Day

According to Christian dogma the Trinity Day holiday celebrates the Holy Spirits descent on some of Jesus apostles on the fiftieth day after Easter. The effect of the visitation was to give them the ability to speak diverse languages, so that they could prophesy the Word of God to all the peoples of the world. Trinity Day also celebrates the unity of the Holy Trinity, one of the hardest Christian concepts to understand. So hard is it to understand, historians think, that most people didnt bother trying, instead filling the holiday up with all sorts of leftover (and easier to understand) pagan traditions of the sort that have existed in Ukraine for the last millennium. The result is a holiday that represents a unique syncretism of two traditions.

The religious holiday simply overlapped with a huge cycle of folk pagan rituals connected to the plant cult, says Yulia Nikishenko, a historian of Ukrainian culture at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. The Green Holidays the name calls for making plants sacred, because this is the period when crops, and all plants, bloom and come into their power. Its the culmination of plant growth. She adds, People have finished their fieldwork and what they need to do now is pray for the plant spirits to help them gather the harvest.

Among the very strict taboos that characterised the Green Holidays among pagan-inclined farming Ukrainians of yore was a prohibition forbidding children to play in the fields, as that could annoy the forces of nature. People held to the animist belief that the spirits of the natural world, if annoyed, would rise up and take revenge. Mermaids and river-nymphs, wood-goblins and other mythical creatures, were believed to be stronger during this period and on the hunt for poor innocent souls to harrass. Most vulnerable were young girls and unmarried boys. To protect themselves women made such sacrifices as hanging up pieces of white cloth for mermaids in the forest gifts for the supernatural creatures.

The plant cult is directly connected to the ancestor cult, since people believed that your departed ancestors were responsible for a rich harvest, Nikishenko says. Spirits of dead relatives gathered around the family during the Green Holidays. They could either help the family or harm them, so the living had to honour them by making symbolic donations of food. At the same time people were afraid of evil spirits, which is why they carried fragrant herbs with them - to scare away all the evil forces.

Lost Rites
Interestingly, Trinity Day was considered the only day of the year when people could commemorate suicides and those who had been murdered.

On these days people also used to cut green branches and place them at the entrances to their houses, decorating them with flower garlands. Each member of the family got his own garland and the next morning the person whose garland had faded would be revealed as the person who would not live until the next Trinity Day. Today, however, many of these rites are no longer practiced. The only one that still is is the baptism of green plants and fragrant herbs like tatar-zillya. In ancient times people believed that on Trinity Day these herbs had outstanding magical powers and could treat numerous diseases.

Today, especially in urban places, all these traditions have lost their practical meaning and magical sense. Even on Trinity Day, baptised herbs cant cure illnesses in the city, as [the city] is already poisoned by poor ecology, says Nikishenko. I  personally dont baptise herbs as I know you cant throw away things youve sanctified. Our ancestors wouldnt have done that, because magical power is transformative. They would have given them to their cattle or buried them in the field, to enrich the harvest, or they would have burned them. Today nobody does that.

Nikishenko continues, These traditions have been de-actualized in the city, though a small part of them remains as a rite that doesnt need any explanation. People still do certain things without understanding where they come from. The part thats left over is part of our national identity.

Again, paganism crept into Trinity Day because it was easy for people to understand. Let the theologians at the Lavra meditate on the mystery of the Trinity normal people would be content with their vibrant plant cult. Incidentally, the difficulty of the concept of the Trinity explains why you dont often find images of the Trinity in the Ukrainian iconic tradition.

Nikishenko doesnt consider the fading away of the old pagan ways to be a tragedy. These traditions came to life in a rustic agrarian society that has changed drastically, especially over recent years. And as a way of life withers away, so do traditions, and we shouldnt be grief stricken about that. Instead of crying that the traditions are lost, we should look at our urban culture and see what it proposes in exchange. She adds, Today we can see the slow transformation of both traditions and worldview, and that means the evolution of Ukrainian culture.

Kateryna Kyselyova

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnt Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they dont understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades childrens favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whats On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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