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

The word pysanka comes from the Ukrainian verb “to write,” as the designs aren’t painted on the egg but instead are written in beeswax.

The artform uses a wax-resist method: Molten wax is applied to the shell of a raw egg with a traditional stylus called a kistka; the writing tool has a reservoir that’s filled with beeswax, which flows when heated under the flame of a candle.

The egg is then immersed in dye, with the wax protecting the covered portion of the egg from absorbing the color. The artist repeats the process, writing more wax motifs and submerging the egg in different colors.

“It’s like writing a prayer or a message,” said Chychula, who has been creating pysanky since she was 6. “So, your message to the world is through this. The color means something. The symbols mean something. The patterns mean something.”

Her parents were born in Ukraine but taken to Germany as forced labor during World War II, meeting in a camp for displaced persons. They immigrated to the United States as refugees, narrowly avoiding a return to the Soviet Union, where repatriated laborers were suspected of disloyalty and often killed or sent to concentration camps.

Chychula was born in Chicago but raised with a strong sense of Ukrainian identity, embracing her ancestral homeland’s history, culture and traditions.


“I grew up loving a country that I didn’t know would ever be independent or I would ever visit,” she said.

Pysanky have been a part of Ukrainian heritage for centuries. An exhibit on Easter eggs at the Ukrainian National Museum explains that earlier in history, natural dyes were used, such as red coloring derived from logwood, yellow from apple tree bark and black from old walnut or oak bark.

While the artform originated in pagan times, it was later intertwined with religion when Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988 A.D. Pysanky were traditionally written during the last week of Lent by women of the family, who would gather, pray, and use patterns and colors typically handed down from mother to daughter for generations, Chychula said.

But the ancient craft — rooted in cultural identity and Christian theology — was prohibited during Communism. Pysanka artifacts were taken out of museums and in some cases destroyed.


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