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Ancient artform of Ukrainian Easter eggs preserves culture, history of a nation under attack. 'It's like writing a prayer or a message'

Angie Leventis Lourgos, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Religious News

CHICAGO -- Maria Fedachtchin’s fingers trembled a bit as she etched the first intricate lines of beeswax along the smooth, unblemished shell of an egg cradled in her palm.

She’s learning to design pysanky, the ornately decorated traditional Easter eggs of Ukraine, where the 60-year-old was born and lived until her 1991 immigration to Chicago.

But her focus was rattled by news that Russian rockets had just struck her hometown of Lviv in western Ukraine, the area where her parents, sister and other loved ones still reside.

“My hands are shaking right now,” she said, periodically glancing at her phone, hoping for text messages from relatives or news alerts. “You don’t know what can happen at any moment.”

Fedachtchin was one of about a dozen women attending a recent pysanky workshop at the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago. The tenor of the room was solemn, in contrast to the brightly colored eggs on display around the museum, showcasing the artwork of different regions of Ukraine as well as various historical periods.

The class started about a half-hour after back-to-back airstrikes hit Lviv, a historical cultural center of Ukraine and, more recently, a haven near the Polish border for Ukrainians evacuating following the full-scale Russian invasion that began in late February.

 

Several workshop participants had spoken to relatives overseas and learned they were safe; others were still awaiting calls.

Artist and instructor Anna Chychula began the class by recounting one of the many legends surrounding pysanky: There is said to be an evil monster shackled to a cliff and each Easter egg — singular pysanka — creates another link in the chain that binds him. The fate of the world depends on the survival of these fragile eggs, according to ancient lore, or the beast will be unleashed upon the world.

Today, this mythical monster is widely believed to be embodied in Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose war on Ukraine continues in its sixth week.

“So you’re doing very important, beautiful work today,” said Chychula, whose pysanky have previously been featured at the Art Institute of Chicago and currently at the Field Museum. “Make the chain stronger. Know that you are making a difference. Because a pysanka is a hope. It is a prayer. It is a wish.”

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