Pysanky for peace: Ukrainian Easter eggs offer light in dark time

The Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada is hosting pysanka-making workshops to raise money for humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine and to teach people about the significance of the tradition.

Proceeds from pysanka-making workshops go toward humanitarian relief in Ukraine

A selection of different pysanky painted by Lesya Lashuk, who will be teaching children the art of the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg at the Ukrainian Orthodox Hall. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Lesya Lashuk still remembers designing her first pysanka inside the halls of the local Ukrainian church in Ottawa.

Now, more than five decades later, she is passing on the Ukrainian Easter egg tradition to a new generation at a time when Ukraine and its culture are under attack.

At first, Lashuk said she was hesitant to volunteer for the pysanka-making workshops this year because of her feelings of sadness around the war in the country her parents emigrated from, but was surprised to see how much of a respite the process has been.

"As I'm engaging, my mood is changing to one of joy and hope, and I'm going to cry, but I'm very grateful for the opportunity," she said.

Lesya Lashuk said preparing to host the pysanka-making workshops has been a nice reprieve from thinking about the ongoing violence in Ukraine. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Workshops for adults and children

The Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada hosts the workshops for both adults and children and, this year, all proceeds will go toward humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

On Tuesday, Russia stepped up its bombardment of Kyiv while thousands of civilians fled Mariupol along a humanitarian corridor in what was believed to be the biggest evacuation yet from the desperately besieged seaport. On the diplomatic front, another round of talks began between Russia and Ukraine. 

Also on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Canada for its support in his address to the House of Commons but said much more needs to be done including additional sanctions and a no-fly zone.

The workshops begin Wednesday and run throughout March break until mid-April — the weeks leading up to Easter. People can also pick up a do-it-yourself pysanka-making kit.

"It certainly is a wonderful opportunity for people to discover what Ukrainian culture is about and the beautiful stories that are told through the writing of these precious little chicken eggs," organizer Tamara Rudenko Charalambij said.

A pysanka is made using a wax-resistant method dipped in various colours. Depending on the design, the process can take hours, or days. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

"It's a time for us also right now to feel a little joy and have a little bit of light in our lives during these really difficult times," she added.

The intricate designs are made using a wax-resistant method and Lashuk said each pysanka can tell a story, but inherently carries the message of life, the continuity of life and the peace of God.

She said, traditionally pysanky — more than one pysanka — are given out at Easter as talismans for things like good fortune, success, fertility or health.

"If you want to include a particular message you can choose your symbols according to the message you want to convey to the recipient," said Lashuk.

Members of the Ukrainian community in Ottawa are hosting workshops on how to make pysanky – traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs – to raise funds for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

Passing on traditions

Sofia Sawka, another volunteer, is teaching her seven-year-old granddaughter the patience and creativity that comes with pysanka-making.

"I think she's enjoying our customs, our traditions that we have in our family and I think, as she matures, she will certainly hold on to them," said Sawka. 

"It's always been important, but more so this year," she added through tears.

These volunteers will be helping teach how to make pysanky until Easter at the Ukrainian Orthodox Hall. All proceeds will be directed to humanitarian aid in Ukraine. (Alexander Behne/CBC)