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

“Religion was forbidden,” Chychula said. “Cultural identity was forbidden. All of those things that were unique to you as a Ukrainian … were just suppressed. You were just a good Soviet citizen.”

She learned to cherish the cultural practices and artforms of Ukraine, so they wouldn’t be lost.

“That’s my legacy,” she said. “Part of what I’m supposed to be is be a good steward of all of this inherited beauty and history and art and culture.”

In 1991 Ukraine gained its independence, and her family rejoiced. She recalled visiting Ukraine with her mother and father in 1993, and proudly shows a photo of the three of them at a Ukrainian museum, standing in front of shelves of pysanky.

Today, one of Chychula’s pysanka is on display in the main hall of the Field Museum. The design is divided into a pattern of 40 triangles and includes traditional Ukrainian symbols of healing and resilience.

These themes are “even more powerful today as the Ukrainian people fight back against Russia’s invasion,” the museum posted on Twitter last month.

Chychula’s parents passed away about a decade ago. If they were alive today, the ongoing war would devastate them, she believes.

To see Ukraine fighting once again for its sovereignty would be so painful, she said.

“Sadly, this is a repeat of history,” she said. “This has happened so many times previously. Ukraine will not give up. They just won’t.”

‘Coming through the dark’

The egg is dipped in progressively darker shades of dye, and each color can convey different meaning, Chychula said.

White has traditionally indicated purity, innocence and birth. Purple can signify faith, patience and fasting. Brown can represent mountains, earth and harvest.

The wax is later melted off the egg, unveiling a multicolored and unique pattern.


“There’s some symbolism there, too,” Chychula said. “Coming through the dark. Death into life. Spring. Rebirth.”

Natalie Wroble, 69, of west suburban Glen Ellyn, hadn’t written a pysanka in decades until the workshop. For her, the class was a chance to reconnect to her Ukrainian heritage.

Her parents had lived about an hour or so outside of Lviv but fled to escape Stalin’s regime, immigrating to the United States in 1949. They traveled by train to Hungary, taking only a small suitcase each.

“I remember them telling me they had one pot that they took with them and two spoons,” she said.

Her father had urged his sister to come with them, but she wouldn’t leave.

“She ended up being taken by the Soviets to Siberia and her husband was tortured to death,” Wroble said. “So my parents were the only ones that got out.”

The experience was traumatizing to her parents, particularly her father, who grappled with fear and anxiety long after he was safe, Wroble recalled. There were so many losses they had to endure, even as they rebuilt their lives here, she said.

She worries about the long-term emotional consequences for those fleeing Ukraine today. More than 4 million refugees are estimated to have evacuated the nation since Feb. 24, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

“This is not something that will end when the war ends,” she said. “This was something I never thought would happen again, in my lifetime, anyway.”

As Lviv scrambles to help evacuate Ukrainians to safety, the war has also forced the city to urgently preserve its artwork and culture. Museums there have raced to move their artifacts underground, to protect them from becoming casualties of Russian bombs.

Now those museum walls and exhibits are empty, devoid of the paintings, statues, rare books and religious icons that once shared the story of Ukraine.

“This is our cultural identity,” Chychula said. “We have to have our humanity, our connections to the past.”

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